"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

The Radical Derelict: Giving Up The Work Ethic For Peace

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2018 at 4:14 pm



Oldspeak: “Even Epsilons are useful! So am I. And I damned well wish I weren’t!…. No the real problem is how is it, that I can’t, or rather – because I know quite well why I can’t – what would it be like if I were free – not enslaved by my conditioning…. wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example, not in everybody else’s way?” –Bernard Marx, “A Brave New World

Ooof. Powerful and thought provoking piece below. Seeing the work ethic as an integral part of this insidious system of inverted totalitarianism we’ve been conditioned to love and revere, without question. I’ve been reading the aforementioned text recently, and it truly is astounding how closely it matches the present reality in the “civilized” world. The “subtle creeds” sub and supraliminally programmed into us from birth (a.k.a. Hypnopaedia) The creeds of “error avoidance” and “competence addiction” being  paramount among them.  The pathological and omnicidal blind belief the unassailable “work ethic” in our culture. How these subtle creeds constrict our innate and self organizing abilities to think, question and explore outside our proscribed, prefabricated roles in life. Encouraging us against our nature, to be fearful and not curious about the unknown, mysteriousness and unpredictability that characterize real, unsanitized, unmediated life. Teaching us that not knowing is a grave offense to be avoided at all costs. Conditioning us to prefer instruction, approval, conformity and compliance with anti-human authorities of the state and other oppressive forms of culture and civilization over a cage-free, non-paying to exist life. We are conditioned to believe that our time and energy can be owned, metered out, and directed by variegated and omnipresent authorities that have no genuine interest in workers health or well-being if they don’t pad the bottom line. Conditioned to see ourselves as “resources”, to market ourselves as valuable commodities, with degrees & skills to be relentlessly and endlessly exploited usually for less than our life energy is worth for the ultimately meaningless “rewards” of status, identity, money and possessions. Seeing relationships as transactional, as ways to increase our value. Conditioned to believe that we are nothing if we are not useful or desireable in some state/ socially accepted way. Our whole lives, spent subject to endless abberant conditioning. To what end? We see the fruits of these anti-human ways of being playing in our lives every day. Is there any wonder that rates of mental and physical illness have exploded in “modern” times? Theses ways of being we’ve been conditioned to prefer are literally driving us to madness, suicide and violence at epidemic levels. And largely responsible for the mass extinction of life on earth.  This is not normal. This current set of living arrangements is diametrically opposed to the ways we have co-evolved symbiotically with our Great Mother and all Life in her.  Deprogram. Decondition. Decolonize. Hone critical thinking skills, question authority, explore ways you can live in healthier, more wholelistic ways. With presence, curiosity, wonder, awe, courage, fearlessness, creativity, self-determination and unconditional love for all that Is. Be free and happy in your own way, not in everyone else’s way. It won’t be easy assuredly, but it is the only truly necessary, meaningful and essential work. More valuable than a lifetime spent in the workaday world.  Let go. Surrender to the real. Enjoy this lovely poem shared with me.” –Jevon

“I surrender.

I let go of decisions, priorities, preferences, do-to lists, plans

I let go of the need to know, to understand, to make sense of it all,

I let go of the need to explain, to rationalize,

I let go of my “things i wanted to do before i die” list. I never wrote that list anyway.

I let go of all the books i wanted to read along with the magazines, blogposts, movies, concerts, shows, exhibitions, places i wanted to visit, people i wanted to meet, people i wanted to have sex with, things i wanted to do, skills i wanted to master, food i wanted to eat

I let go of the need to practice yoga and meditation

I let go of my desire to be enlightened, to evolve, to grow, to attain realization, to experience the present moment,

I let go of my mind and its games and patterns

I let go of societal cultural conditioning patterns beliefs tendencies norms

I let go of my self-inflicted suffering,

I let go of the idea of others and things as the source of my happiness or suffering

I let go of perfectionism, laziness, procrastination,

I let go of my past decisions, plans, commitments, responsibilities, promises, vows and oaths

I let go of labels, definitions, categories, identifications,

I let go of belongings, possessions, financials,

I let go of the idea of money as a source of security, fulfilment, joy, status

I let go of the idea of poverty as a prerequisite to spiritual growth

I let go of the idea of spiritual growth

I let go of the need to belong, to matter, to be seen appreciated acknowledged thanked,

I let go of beliefs, ideas, dogmas, theories, philosophies, traditions

I let go of fear and the fear of fear

I let go of stress, busy-ness, anxiety and worry

I let go of my image in the eyes of others

I let go of judgements perceptions bias generalizations

I let go of the need to be right, to be better, to be smart wise knowledgeable and experienced

I let go of my genetic, cultural, religious, social, ethnic, racial background

I let go of guilt and shame over my actions and the actions of any group I thought I belonged to

I let go of everything that doesn’t really serve me

I let go of control

I let go of control

I let go of control,

I surrender

I allow life to unfold

I call upon inspiration, inner guidance, and intuition to decide for me

I welcome the unknown, un-manifested, indescribable, ethereal, eternal

I surrender.

I surrender.

I surrender.”


Written By Jeffery Shampnois @ Negative Geography:

The same relentless energy driving a toddler in its Terrible Twos still drives that voice in my head. However, when I see a toddler, I know I’m in the presence of a genius, albeit a naïve one. It’s not the size of the intellect, but the velocity of learning that describes its intelligence. I, on the other hand, tend to move in well-worn circles, constrained by prejudice and vested interest. I’ve learned to “circle the wagons”, so to speak, around particular conclusions.

Essentially, I’m what happens when a toddler’s unstoppable urge to learn gets diverted into supporting a predatory status quo. Open-ended learning gets replaced by a narrowing framework of instruction as the driving force; and a dawning sense of some innate order or intelligence in the world gets short-circuited by dependence on authority and by conformity to the culture’s creeds and isms.

I don’t feel like a conformist or very obedient. But the creeds and conformities that constrain my perceptions are difficult to notice from inside the ism itself, such as white or male privilege. But even these patterns are easier to notice than the more subtle ruts that limit my sense of reality itself, and which prevent a more ecstatic realization of my shape-shifting place in this miracle of a living earth.

These subtle creeds constrict the flow of meaning, making me weaker and dumber than I might otherwise be. The main culprit is “the creed of error avoidance”. A toddler is certainly no role model, but there’s a quality in that beginner’s mind that was thrown out with the bathwater: A toddler doesn’t know error as something to avoid, something “bad.” To a toddler, error is a friend. Everything is unknown, and every mistake is a clue to wider and more inclusive worlds.

Some training is necessary, of course. But if training becomes a pathway to approval, a proscribed path forms, which separates an autocratic right from wrong. Then a prejudice against error becomes internalized, turning error into a boogeyman. This cripples an exploratory spirit (a playful, Trickster’s spirit). And the child begins to fear its own errant probing of the world, and no longer trusts its own intelligence. And this develops into an oppositional or warlike relationship to its own now “unruly” thoughts, which leads to that voice in the head, which is constantly working to maintain an impression of correctness.

In other words, as an adult I’ve been taught to resist error by breaking awareness into fragments, and escaping into the delusion of being the better angel, who can look back at its dim-witted past from an improved distance. As if I were superior to my own immediate past. And these internal revolutions occur in quick succession, like a dog chasing its tail.

And this means that when I encounter my own white-privileged thinking, for instance, I don’t learn; I retreat from this fault by way of clever, dissociative feelings of guilt, or by denial and self-condemnation (as if “I” were the victim of these bad thoughts).

In other words, I lose that essential ingredient of learning: The ability to be edified and bemused by my own stupidity.

Questioning the Work Ethic

I’m claiming that this little quarrelsome dynamo of error avoidance is the engine propelling awareness down ever-narrower and more practical paths, which makes a person susceptible to darker indoctrinations.

Cut off from that rapscallion love of error and mystery (cut off from learning), faith is placed in authorities, ideals and dogmatic certitudes, (in training). Attention shifts from a mysterious reality that is constantly erring from expectations, to the smaller fictions of an idealized Self — whether rebellious or conformist — which needs to be constantly preserved from failure and doubt.

And this anxiety-driven Self inevitably seeks refuge in the larger and more confident ego of an organization, whether it’s the nation or the corporation (or some reactionary group crushed by this pyramidal caste system). And it’s this dynamic that lends a vicious spin to the macro-level hurricanes destroying the world. In the upper reaches of this economic pyramid system, among CEOs and presidents, that dynamo is magnified. Their private desperation for status becomes the desperation of empire. But on all levels of the pyramid it trains dutiful soldiers for what Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism”. And the work ethic is one of the main pillars of that totalitarian system.

In other words, most people like to complain about their jobs, but I’m trying to complain about this whole workaday world (this blinkered trek down some career path towards a diabolically mundane vision of the earth as a grab-bag of minerals, and life as a frantic search for status and distraction). It’s hard to complain about something that all-encompassing.

But that’s probably because something this overwhelming begins to look “only natural”. And adults like to pretend they’re serious enough to face reality and not drift off into Utopian fantasies. However, the workaday world is also a fantasy: not a fact of nature, but an artefact of indoctrination. And an inability to question (and bitch at) this dumbed-down way of life is collusion.

The Work Ethic as a Pillar of Inverted Totalitarianism

Joining the workforce requires being subjugated to a regimental authority. Here a bear-sized human potential gets stuffed into the parakeet’s cage of a job. What I get in exchange for this reduction in human potential is money, yes, but also something equally fictitious: status, a cripplingly small façade of identity.

This façade inevitably generates a repressed frustration, which some metabolize as an urge to push the work ethic on everyone else, transforming the ethic into a moralizing judgment against “derelicts” who refuse to sing communal hymns to the harness. And I think this betrays a fear and resentment of the cage-free human being, and a refusal to face my own caged spirit.

Mind you, I’m not criticizing work itself. I work hard if someone needs my help or if there are finite tasks that need doing. But the timeclock represents an obligation to the pyramid itself. It claims that my life belongs to an organization from at least 9 to 5. And if I allow my life to be metered in this way I’m essentially agreeing that my time and energy can be owned and directed at the system’s discretion, which is a form of slavery.

After all, these work contracts aren’t presented in good faith. It’s either sign or starve. And I have more pressing responsibilities to the real economy of earth than the responsibilities imposed on me by a company or nation.

Nevertheless, I know it’s hard to distinguish an honest desire to do well at any given task, or a need to work three jobs to provide for a family, from a true believer’s devotion to duty, which goes beyond those necessities, becoming a duty to the lifeless momentum of work itself.

And I know it’s also difficult to distinguish doing something I love from the passion of a workaholic who loves a particular task with devotional blinders. For instance, scientists working on weaponry obviously enjoy analyzing the problems they encounter. But this “love” emerges from a blinkered vision that can only produce what the system itself can monetize. That is, these creative endeavors emerge from an infantilized mind that goes where it’s directed and enjoys the entitled status of not having to think too widely about the consequences of what it loves to do.

To Hell with Morality

Frankly, I often do feel a “moral duty” to support this economic way of life. It’s the Stockholm Syndrome. It restricts my freedom to think or act outside the interests of the status quo. I become reflexively hostile to the idea that I (or especially Others) could ever be trusted to live unrestrained by economic necessities (as if this mad culture’s coercions and controls do anything more than agitate a human spirit already starved of love and learning).

Sometimes I assume it’s beyond my pay grade to question the shape of a system that runs my life. Stay practical, nose to the grindstone. In this way, the work ethic masks a deeper laziness, or reluctance to face the ambiguity, uncertainty, and “error” of myself; a reluctance to do the “real work” of giving up the façade of identity and status that represents my collusion with this way of life.

What Activates Maturation?

I collude in this destructive pyramid system the moment my unruly energy gets tricked into the circular pursuit of status; or as long as it turns constantly towards distraction and escape. Then I become the system’s battery pack, a dynamo in pursuit of an ever more idealized and fetishized commodity of Self.

This dynamo is the desire to avoid error. It embodies a predatory system’s perfect ideal, which rejects what it means to be human. Life, after all, is inseparable from error, mutation. Without it, the maturation process stalls, and the human becomes a monstrous child. Learning requires the freedom to go wrong and not compound the error with circular systems of control. Intelligence (greater maturity) can only be activated by encountering the uncontrolled and the unknown.

And I feel this directly, because in the absence of that subtle enslavement to an economic authority (after my own internalized slave-drivers of guilt and status-seeking have been laughed off), I rediscover a freedom from circular thinking; and relearn how to drift and stumble into a world that resembles a kaleidoscope of cascading visions of order.

And this exploration of order inevitably leads to a clarity about what really needs to be done (as opposed to what I need to do in order to succeed in this pyramid system). And this real need requires no ethic. The self-organizing intelligence of the world is primarily a widening and deepening realization of responsibility to life itself. And this realization trumps duty and morality.

But this responsibility isn’t heavy with moral seriousness. There’s joy in discovering this responsibility and connection. The whole workaday world was built on a false conflation of adulthood with seriousness and striving for perfection. But a “perfect conclusion” would mean the ending of learning. That is, when playing stops, so does learning. Maturation doesn’t mean outgrowing being playful, errant and mischievous. It simply means learning to play in ever more subtle fields.

And by denigrating profound play, society suffers the consequences of leisure, which is little more than a gaudy parole from the everlasting chain of workdays. But if I’m not trained to oppose my errors, then perception is freed from a Literal or dogmatic tendency to pin the world down, becoming entirely metaphoric. And then the uncertainty I was trained to fear and resist becomes something beautiful and inviting.[i]

A Dereliction of Duty

There’s a spot of dialogue in the movie version of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row that I love. The natural leader of the bums, Mack, is baffled by the earnest efforts of Doc, the proprietor of the Western Biological Laboratory:

Dock: I got a problem, Mack. How am I going to light them?
Mack: Light what?
Dock: The octopi. Octopi are afraid of light. How can I light them without scaring them?
Mack (with bewildered exasperation): Why don’t you just give up?

Mack is no role model. And despite Doc’s genuine love of learning, thwarted ambition burns a sad hole in him too. But Steinbeck wasn’t writing a moral fable about becoming better angels. He was writing a love story about real people, who will always be diamonds in the rough.

Look, if I can’t love the Mack in me (or the Doc), then I’ll keep striving to “overcome” myself, and denigrating the derelict and the failure in me, and never moving into wider fields of play.

This is contrary to every subtle creed I’ve been taught, but I need to trust my own intelligence here: Learning (maturing) isn’t a path to perfection, but a surrender to an ever more daring honesty. This is only possible when I stop throwing out the bum with the bathwater.

And that means giving up the whole destructive dynamo of self-condemnation and self-promotion that has corralled human energy and attention; giving up that morality of the competitive pyramid; and rediscovering the same broad view Steinbeck had, or that most people have in the presence of a toddler. Only then is it possible to see how deeply you and I have been made sick by work and war.

And then it’s possible to recognize diamonds of wisdom in what is childish, and the spirit of rebellion in a derelict. Because for all his faults, Mack knows something: the battle with ourselves, and even for ourselves, for status and admiration, is worth giving up. Mack is on to something here. Something big.

Shampnois has two web sites: Negative Geography and Subtle Mud.

[i] See the essay “What Is Real?”



  1. Much obliged.

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