Monthly Archives: July 2018

Review of Douglas Kellner’s: American Nightmare. Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism


© Darrell Arnold Ph.D.– (Reprinted with Permission)  http://darrellarnold.com/2018/07/09/american-nightmare-donald-trump-media-spectacle-and-authoritarian-populism/

Donald Trump developed skills in marketing and show business, as a savvy self-marketer and a reality TV star, able to exploit new media — to plaster his name on the side of buildings, on boxes of steaks and on a fake university. He’s something of a 21st-century version of P.T. Barnum, able to garner popular attention, but with new media unavailable to the 19th-century showman/con-artist.

Douglas Kellner’s American Nightmare: Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism examines Trump’s political rise against the backdrop of contemporary media but also [against] the work of Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor Adorno.

Kellner holds a Chair in the Philosophy of Education at UCLA. He is known for early work on the Frankfurt School, Marxism, and Postmodernism, but he has done more recent work on media culture. The first part of American Nightmare provides the media theoretic and philosophic framework for the book. The latter part focuses more on specific instances during the Trump campaign and early presidency in which Trump generated media spectacle. In his final chapter, before the “provisional conclusion,” Kellner indicates that the analysis of Trump in this thin volume (109pp.) is to be continued.

“Media spectacle” is one basic concept that Kellner uses to analyze Trump’s political rise. Such spectacles are “media constructs” that “disrupt the habitual flow of information” (3). The constructs seize people’s attention and emotions and can come to dominate a short news cycle or become be of more long-term interest. Especially in our emergent new media landscape, with the rise of social media and new sources of information, such media spectacles are playing an increasingly important role in politics. Kellner had already analyzed Obama in reference to his use of media spectacle, “blending politics and performance” (4). Media spectacle thus does not originate with Trump. However, Trump has especially benefited as “a successful creator and manipulator of the spectacle” (5). Indeed, Trump rode to his election success as one “whose use of the media and celebrity star power is his most potent weapon” (6).

As the host of The Apprentice, Trump had found a popular following, and one that had an interest in a “Trumpian pedagogy of how to succeed in the cut-throat corporate capitalist business world,” where “aggressive, highly competitive, and sometimes amoral tactics are needed to win and gain success” (8). Trump’s presidency attracted many of those who admired his alleged no-nonsense business background. In any case, Trump was able to draw on a popular base through a TV audience and to exploit that media, while at the same time mastering Twitter and using it to frame issues as he wanted and to draw attention to himself and incite emotions.

The Republican primary became a media spectacle dominated by Trump. Using inflammatory remarks on TV and Twitter to generate attention, by mid-June 2015, when he announced that he was running, through mid-July, “Trump was in 46% of the news media coverage of the Republican field, based on Google news hits; he also got 60% of google news searches.” Further academic research on this is being conducted. Trump, for his part, explained the attention he was getting: “RATINGS…it’s the ratings, the people love me, they want to see me, so they watch TV when I’m on” (11). This media saturation was a key to Trump’s election success.

While Trump was happy to use the media for his purposes, he was also undermining any media sources that were critical of him. As he noted: “The media is simply a business of distortion and lies…the press writes distorted and untruthful things about me almost daily” (qtd. 16). This attack on the media has by now become a refrain of the Trump administration. A part of his “branding” is to discredit any media messages that counter his own messaging.

In the early middle chapters of the book, Kellner moves from an analysis of Trump’s use of the media spectacle to an analysis of Trump and Trumpism that relies on the work of Erich Fromm and the Frankfurt School, especially their psychological analysis of authoritarian personalities. Wanting to avoid a too strict of comparison with the particularities of Nazi Germany, Kellner labels Trump not a fascist but an “authoritarian populist” (20)

An analysis of Fromm’s Escape from Freedom nonetheless shows that certain parallels between Trump and the earlier demagogues are clear. Like Hitler, Trump has organized a mass movement outside and critical of traditional party politics. Many of Trump’s base, whipped up by anger and rage, have a similar “idolatry toward their Fuhrer” to that shown by earlier supporters of dictators (21). Like such dictators, Trump presents himself as a quasi-magical leader, the only one who can set things right and “make America great again.” Much of his base adopts what Fromm characterized as “authoritarian idolatry.” Like various dictators, Trump plays on widespread “rage, alienation, and fears” (24). As in the context of those dictators, this generates an extremist support from his base. He may have correctly understood the fanaticism of his base when he stated, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and  I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Like various dictators, Trump presents a bleak view of the present political reality that resonates with his base and points to himself as the only possible leader who can allow escape from this bleak reality. However, he lacks the typical discipline of the well-known European dictators. Much of the time Trump plays on these emotions in apparently undisciplined Tweets or media outbursts.

Kellner approvingly quotes Evan Osmos’s analysis from The New Yorker of Trump’s unique brand of populism: “From the pantheon of great demagogues Trump has plucked some best practices — William Jennings Bryan’s bombast, Huey Long’s wit, Father Charles Coughlin’s mastery of the airwaves — but historians are at pains to find the perfect analogue, because so much of Trump’s recipe is specific to the present” (25). In Trump, the appeal to authoritarian populism is coupled with “celebrity politics.” Many of those in his “mobocracy” also simply find Trump quite entertaining (27-8).

Kellner refers to Fromm’s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness as a further part of his personality analysis of Trump. Using the Freudian terms adopted by Fromm, he sees Trump as “the Id of American politics” (29) He is “often driven by sheer aggression, narcissism, and rage” (29). “Trump, like classical fascist leaders, has an underdeveloped superego” — understood as referring to the voice of conscience and morality (29). Kellner points to Trump’s Ego, “that has fully appropriated capitalist drives for success, money, power, ambition, and domination” (29). He proudly “brags of his ruthlessness in destroying competitors and enemies” (29). Unsurprisingly, from someone who seeks continual domination, he has few long-term friends and has numerous failed relationships.

Trump has the typical characteristics of the “authoritarian character,” as described by the Frankfurt School.  He displays characteristics of a sadist, described by Fromm as “a person with an intense desire to control, hurt, humiliate, another person” (30). He deflects blame continually and is extremely vindictive to those who have been critical of him. He also has the classical characteristics of a narcissist. As Fromm describes it: “Narcissism is the essence of all severe psychic pathology. For the narcissistically involved person, there is only one reality, that of his own thought, processes, feelings and needs. The world outside is not experienced or perceived objectively, i.e., as existing in its own terms, conditions and needs” (qtd. 31).

Kellner views Fromm’s psychoanalysis of Hitler as describing ” the authoritarian leader” in a manner that is “an uncanny anticipation of Donald Trump”: “he is interested only in himself, his desires, his thoughts, his wishes; he talked endlessly about his ideas, his part, his plans; the world is interesting only as far as it is the object of his schemes and desires; other people matter only as far as they serve him or can be used; he always knows better than anyone else. This certainty in one’s own ideas and schemes is a typical characteristic of intense narcissism” (qtd. 31). Similar depictions of Trump’s narcissism in the meantime proliferate. As Christopher Lasch notes: “diagnosis of Trump” has become “a kind of professional sport” (31). Not only are his narcissism and authoritarian character clear, but so is his “malignant aggression,” evident in his “spontaneously lashing out at anyone who dares to criticize him…” (33).

Much of the second part of the book chronicles instances in which Trump has exemplified some of the characteristics described and used the media as spectacle to whip up the emotions of his base. Here, we see Trump’s disregard for the facts and for standards of law play prominent and play well enough with his base. We see this in his incitement of his base at rallies throughout his campaign, where, for example, Trump offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who might be taken to court for beating up dissenters at his events, or where the crowds would recite “Lock her up” as kind of chorus to Trump’s references to “crooked Hillary.”

On display throughout his campaign and since are such appeals to violence or force. Not only was Clinton threatened with jail, but other forms of force were hinted at in innuendo. At one rally, where Trump talked of Hillary appointing judges, he noted first that there would be nothing that his people could then do, but then added, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” The appeal to threats of violence clearly resonates with much of his base, again showing the tendencies not only of Trump but of his movement to authoritarian populism.

Another element shared with dictators is Trump’s desire to be taken at his word. A turn of phrase Trump continually came back to in his campaign was “Believe me!” — something Kellner sees as a “revealing sign of an authoritarian demagogue who wants his followers to [accept] his promises as binding and his Word as the Truth to which they must submit” (57).

To this is added his continual attack on the press. Like other demagogues, Trump has moved to undermine external criticism and the reliance of a narrative other than his own. Those who should believe him would better not have his messaging interrupted by the press. In line with this, Trump has not only recently brandished mainstream media as “fake news.” On his campaign, he also promised to open up libel laws, so that it would be easier to sue journalists. As Kellner notes “never before has a presidential candidate threatened to curtail freedom of the press or ban certain publications that criticize him from rallies and public events” (65).

Kellner wrote his book as the campaign had ended, with a focus on the campaign and the earliest days of Trump’s presidency. Since the publication of the book, Trump has shown little sign that he is letting up. In Charlottesville, where right-wing extremists killed a protester, Trump spoke of “some very fine people on both sides.” His attacks on the media have grown only louder, and increasingly been accompanied by attacks on the justice investigations and the court system. Trump undermines, thus, not only the fourth estate but the constitutional order itself in a way very similar to demagogues who the Frankfurt School analyzed.

As noted, much of the later part of Kellner’s book simply catalogs the instances in which Trump displayed his manipulation of the media and put his demagoguery on display. It was clear to Kellner when he finished the book that such a chronicling would need to continue. It does. The early sections of the book provide some tools to help in the analysis. At present, we are still moving down the road Kellner began to analyze and we can still conclude with him: “It is … worrisome to contemplate that Trump has developed a large following through his demagoguery and that authoritarian populism constitutes an American Nightmare and a clear and present danger to US democracy and global peace and stability.” Let’s hope the nation soon wakes up!

Why Do Conservatives Tolerate Trump?

© Darrell Arnold– (Reprinted with Permission)
http://darrellarnold.com/2018/07/25/the-morally-upside-down-world-of-the-trump-base/

Oh, the times they have a’ changed, but not for the good. As Jonathon Freedland has noted in an opinion piece in the Guardian, the recording released in late July by Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, speaking to Trump about the need to pay hush money to Karen McDougal, would have likely been enough to undo any recent presidency, including Clinton’s. It implicates the president not only in the sordid affair but in possible campaign finance breeches. Yet, the fact is that hardcore Trump supporters are simply unswayed by traditional moral argument. The “moral realm” they inhabit is one in which any act by Trump, however brazen, is justifiable as long as it keeps Democrats out of office — because the greatest moral threat to the country, in their view, comes not from the daily lies, the sexually predatory behavior or even the threat to our global political alliances of the president but from Democratic policies.

Some of them see this great threat to consist in the Democratic Party’s cultural policies, which support gay marriage and abortion, promote equal pay for women, and support diversity in education and the workplace and a more generous immigration policy. Each of these policies is thought to threaten traditional ways of life.

But the hostility extends toward social programs to alleviate the poor, to provide medical care for all, to increase debt relief for students, and to regulate corporations. Insofar as these are connected with tax increases, much of Trump’s base rejects them — even if those tax increases are only for the wealthiest Americans. In the positive light in which Trump supporters see this, their own policy choices reflect the value of self-reliance. Everyone is to take care of themselves. Policies that require solidarity are to be rejected — even if when we look around the world we see that they pay off in higher life expectancies, greater literacy rates, lower infant mortality rates and a host of other quality of life issues.

Much of this is tied to a hyper-masculinity. The cultural policies outlined threaten the dominance of white males in America. The fiscal policies noted require empathy and point to a sense of community responsibility, both of which are rejected by the hyper-masculine, who live in a world where each takes care of himself, and there is no acknowledgement of the social character of the self, but an illusion is cultivated that each of us is self-made, not a product of our own decisions against the backdrop of cultural and social forces that were not of our choosing.

So Trump can do what he wills. He will suffer no repercussions from his staunch base because that base has a quasi-religious ideological entrenchment. When it comes down to it, many of them will chalk up the political dispute to cultural values. Of primary importance to many of them is a cultural war, in which they see themselves as the preserver of traditional values and, as startlingly mad as it may seem, view Trump as the champion of these values. Because Trump at times talks with respect about traditions they value (even while invoking prejudice and sexism), is willing to make promises about them that he cannot keep and fights against a world that makes his base feel uneasy, his greatest sins are forgivable. The Democrats, by contrast, threaten Trump’s base with an openness to new cultural mores and with the support of policies that require, as Obama put it, quoting scripture, that we acknowledge that we are each our brothers (and sisters) keeper.

It does not appear that this will change. In fact, the more frightened the Trump supporters become, and the more who join them in the fear, the less open these voters will be to policies that reflect openness and challenge us to social solidarity.

For now, we find ourselves in a strange, topsy-turvy world where a base strongly supports the least moral president in our lifetime at least in part for reasons that many of them find morally imperative.

Review of Timothy Snyder’s, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century


© Darrell Arnold– (Reprinted with Permission)
http://darrellarnold.com/2018/07/16/on-tyranny/

In bite-sized chunks of two to eight (short) pages Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, offers a practical guide to understanding and possibly averting tyranny. [In his new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.]

At 126 pages, this small paperback is a great, quick read that offers lessons Snyder has accumulated over years of studying tyrannies around the world. His advice, accompanied by anecdotal stories from authoritarian regimes in twenty chapters, includes: Defend institutions, Remember Professional ethics, Believe in truth, Establish a private life, Be a patriot.

In Chapter 4, “Take responsibility for the face of the world,” Snyder asserts that “life is political”: “the minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote” (33). In everyday life, then, we should be attentive to our effect on the social and political world around us. In Hitler’s Germany, for example, small delinquencies in the everyday cascaded into increasingly larger ones: those who were able to be stamped as “pigs” were easier to later boycott because they were Jewish; and they were so much the easier to target more egregiously later. After first dehumanizing them in speech and with symbols, it was later possible to completely dominate them.

In Chapter five, “Remember professional ethics,” Snyder mentions both how legal and medical professionals came to the service of the Nazi regime. Professional lawyers helped twist the law to the Nazi’s perverse ends. Medical professionals proved quite willing to participate in ungodly experiments with Jews to advance medical knowledge. Collectives of professionals who are committed to the ethical codes of their professions can offer some resistance to dehumanizing practices supported by a government. As Snyder notes: “Professional ethics must guide us precisely when we are told that the situation is exceptional” (41).

In Chapter eight, “Stand Out,” Snyder reminds us of great individuals throughout history, like Rosa Parks, who were not afraid to stand out and follow their consciences in the face of opposing political forces and who set positive examples for the struggle against domination. In various historical examples, we see it is all too easy to accommodate those who dominate. However, Winston Churchill in 1940 was another counter-example, as he entered into war to help Poland, which was largely seen by many others as a lost cause. As Snyder writes: “he himself helped the British to define themselves as a proud people who would calmly resist evil…. Churchill did what others had not done. Rather than concede in advance, he forced Hitler to change his plans” (54ff.).

Chapter 10, entitled “Believe in Truth,” begins with the prescient statement: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights” (65). Once truth is disarmed, and people simply reject it as the adjudicating criteria for belief, politics can quickly descend into spectacle. Hostility toward verification dominates. “Shamanistic incantations,” which Victor Klemperer described as “endless repetition” of some key phrases, takes over: Think of “lock her up” or “Build that wall.” Magical thinking also comes to dominate, accompanying the confused view that one particular political leader alone can solve the nation’s ills. As in the German example, people come to accept that one just needs faith in the “Fuehrer.” Our post-truth culture increases our vulnerability to this. In Snyder’s words: “Post-truth is pre-fascism” (71)

To break the spell of magical thinking and incantation, it is important to “investigate” (Chapter 11). Clearly, much of the information that we encounter every day is false. Some of it is purposefully meant to sew confusion. So it is important to learn to think critically about sources of information and to pursue a correct understanding of the world. As Vaclav Havel had written, “If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living in truth” (78).

In “Practice corporal politics” and “Establish a private life” (Chapters 13 and 14), Snyder highlights the need for contact with people in one’s private life, partially in civil society (churches, clubs, organizations). Since “tyrants seek the hook on which to hang you,” he also advises “try not to have hooks.” Secure private information, for example, on your computer. But also publicly we can join groups that preserve human rights (91). This is related to Chapter 15, “Contribute to good causes”: The contribution can be in time or money, but it is a form of active engagement in shaping the world in accord with our own values and views.

In Chapter 16, “Learn from peers in other countries,” Snyder urges us to not only learn from others but to make friends with those in other countries. And in case the tyranny comes, “Make sure you and your family have passports” (95).

In “Be Calm When the Unthinkable Comes,” Chapter 18, we are urged to consider that demagogues often exploit crises to implement Martial law. In the search for safety, it is precisely in times of crisis that people are often more willing to compromise civil liberties and to allow changes in the constitutional order. Realize this, and counter it if it begins to occur. Understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. In “Be Patriotic,” Chapter 19, Snyder encourages us to serve the ideals of our rights-based democracy, not to be victims of an authoritarian politics carried out by nationalists who are often completely out of sync with the ideals of the nation. Chapter 20 enjoins “Be as courageous as you can”: “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny” (115).

Snyder finishes the book with a short epilogue contrasting two views of politics that he views as anti-historical, the “politics of inevitability” with the “politics of eternity.” Inevitability politicians work with a teleological view of history in which the course of history is maintained to be known in advance. It is anti-historical insofar as such a view presumes that there is no real freedom to escape the final end of history. Eternity politicians are anti-historical in another way. They focus on a past, but as an ideal type, not one comprised of real facts. So, eternity politicians refer to the soul of a country, pure, and often under siege by external forces. In contrast, Snyder sees what we might call a politics of freedom under which “history permits us to be responsible: not for everything, but for something” (125).

This typology is developed further in Snyder’s “The Road to Unfreedom.” Regardless of whether one finds the typology ultimately compelling or accepts Snyder’s apparent moderate liberalism, one may still admire Snyder’s attempt to highlight the importance of human freedom. Those attracted to Snyder’s book, which I hope will be many, are likely to agree with his appeals that we ought to “begin to make history” (126). Otherwise, various authoritarians surely will do it for us.

Since Snyder wrote his book, the possibilities of an increase in authoritarianism, unfortunately, do not appear to be abating. Rather, there increasingly appear to be very good reasons to heed Snyder’s practical suggestions for a politics of resistance.

Fox News: An Information Ecosystem For Fallicious Reasoning

Fox News Channel logo.svg
© Darrell Arnold, Ph.D. – (Reprinted with Permission)  http://darrellarnold.com/2018/07/16/fox-news-an-information-ecosystem-for-fallacious-reasoning/

Fox news has long functioned in the service of America’s conservative movement. What is particularly concerning is their willingness to do so even if it undermines truth and sound reasoning. One way that it regularly undermines truth and clear reasoning is through subtext in the framing of their stories. Another is through editorial decisions on what stories to feature — not the framing of their stories but their framing of their news environment. This creates a kind of informational ecosystem that facilitates fallacious reasoning for ideological purposes. As an example of this latter issue, on their webpage on the day of the Helsinki Summit, after many hours they finally featured a story about “bipartisan backlash.” Yet one of their other featured stories of the day was about — you guessed it — Hillary and Bill Clinton. The day’s lead story thus dealt with the issue of the day. The other though didn’t but served as a reminder for the Fox viewer of all the “Clinton scandals.”

Fox’s decisions in this instance, like on so many others, borders on serving as propaganda, and the informational ecosystem they create facilitates fallacious reasoning in service to their ideological agenda. By selective editorial placement a modern media company like Fox will not exactly commit the Tu Quoque fallacy, sometimes known as Whataboutism (though they do this often in enough of their commentary) — but it can certainly facilitate it among its audience, or create an environment for it.

Whataboutism is a version of the Tu Quoque fallacy. Tu Quoque means “you too” or “who’s talking?” The fallacy in its various forms functions as a diversion, directing people’s attention away from the issue under discussion by focusing on how those making a particular accusation are themselves guilty of the same kind of thing they are accusing others of. Whataboutism in a context of a political scandal will often draw attention away from a scandal by pointing out that an opposing political party also has committed scandals that are just as bad or worse.

In our given example, on the one hand, we have an extraordinarily serious scandal of a sitting U.S. president undermining his own intelligence agencies and the preceding U.S. administration, with no apparent reason other than the fact that Vladimir Putin very strongly protested the charges. Indeed, the event was serious enough that Senator John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances of an American president in memory.” John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said “Donald Trump’s press conference … rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” Various Democrats also clearly condemned the president’s actions at the summit.

The bipartisan reaction to Trump’s performance is highlighted in the main story of the news of the day. On the other hand, we have the “scandals” about the Clintons, which have been thoroughly investigated but already dismissed. In the case of the Hillary “scandals,” for example, the Benghazi Affair was Congress’s longest investigation, costing over 7 million dollars. The Email controversy was investigated by various bodies over numerous years. In both cases, no criminal wrongdoing was found. But a new story about the Clintons is placed a story or two under the lead story of the day. So we have the Trump issue presented, but the Fox audience is at the same time presented with the question: What about Hillary? What about the Clintons?

Fox is facilitating the Whataboutism fallacy as it subtly suggests a false equivalency between a very real scandal of the day and a trumped up one. This is something they have done regularly over the years and continue to this day, bringing up both of Hillary’s controversies on a regular basis. Through their editorial decisions about what stories to feature and highlight (and to run regardless of credibility) and then by decisions about how to place these in proximity to other stories, media companies and information providers like Fox can serve the purpose of facilitating fallacious reasoning, and in the case of Fox to do so for reasons of ideology.

Though this observation here focuses on one story, an observer of Fox will easily find that this is going on regularly. Add to it the regular commentary of certain media figures and the regularity with which it brings up stories with little credibility at all, and we can see that Fox in particular is essentially an information ecosystem that continually nudges toward fallacious reasoning for ideological purposes. It has long been doing this at the service of the Republican’s moves to undermine democratic norms. Now it is apparently pleased to assume the role in support of an administration with clear authoritarian characteristics.

Finding Work That You Love

Steve Jobs, in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, argued that we should do the work we love. Here is an excerpt of his main idea:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle…

In the past few days I have encountered four separate articles concerning the question of whether one should (only) do the work they love. Each piece had Jobs’ claims in mind.

In “A Life Beyond Do What You Love,” philosophy professor Gordon Marino argues that doing what we don’t want to do—doing our duty—is more noble and ethical than just doing what we love. He doesn’t take kindly to the physician who quit his practice to skateboard all day. In, “In the Name of Love,”  the historian Miya Tokumitsu says that the “do what you love” ethos is elitist and degrades work not done from personal passion. It neglects that work may develop our talents, be part of our duty, or be necessary for our survival. The socio-economic elite advance the do what you love view, forgetting their lives dependonn others doing supposedly less meaningful work. In, “Never Settle is a Brag,”  the economist and futurist Robin Hanson critiques Jobs’ advice that we shouldn’t settle for unfulfilling work. If everyone followed Jobs’ counsel a lot of needed work would go undone. Note too that the advice works best for the talented, so by advising others to not settle for anything less than work they love, you signal your status. You are bragging. Finally in “Is Do What You Love Elitist?” philosophical blogger Mark Linsenmayer recognizes the flaws in Jobs’ prescriptions but finds in them an obvious truth too—the good life requires that we not be wage slaves in a market economic system. Thus we should change the system so that work can be more satisfying.  

I agree with Marino that doing our duty, even if it doesn’t make us happy, is admirable. And I agree with Tokumitsu and Hanson that elitists, who often do the most interesting work, fail to value more mundane work. But I think that Linsenmayer makes the most important point. We need a new economic system—one where we can develop our talents and actualize our potential. Most of us are too good for the work we do, not because we are better than others, but because the work available in our current system is not good enough for any of us—it is often not satisfying. (I have written about this previously.) As Marx wrote almost two hundred years ago, most of us are alienated from the work we do, and thus ultimately alienated from ourselves and other people too.

Still we do not live in an ideal world. So what practical counsel do we give people, in our current time and place, regarding work? Unfortunately my advice is dull and unremarkable, like so much of the available work. For now the best recommendation is something like: do the least objectionable/most satisfying work available given your options. That we can’t say more reveals the gap between the real and the ideal, which is itself symptomatic of a flawed society. Perhaps working to change the world so that people can engage in satisfying work is the most meaningful work of all.