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What's Left of the World: Education, Identity and the Post-Work Political Imagination

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In 1960, Paul Goodman argued that the Fordist system that treated people as mere cogs in a machine had created a profound unhappiness in young people and in American society as a whole. More than half a century later, professor David Blacker recognizes that decades of neoliberalism have pushed young people beyond unhappiness and into a collective identity crisis. Overall, In 1960, Paul Goodman argued that the Fordist system that treated people as mere cogs in a machine had created a profound unhappiness in young people and in American society as a whole. More than half a century later, professor David Blacker recognizes that decades of neoliberalism have pushed young people beyond unhappiness and into a collective identity crisis. Overall, Americans no longer feel needed to do jobs that had previously anchored them in society and are becoming disconnected and purposeless. The proliferation of new identities, based not on work but on consumption, is symptomatic of neoliberalism and its hyper-commodification and deregulation of everyday life.


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In 1960, Paul Goodman argued that the Fordist system that treated people as mere cogs in a machine had created a profound unhappiness in young people and in American society as a whole. More than half a century later, professor David Blacker recognizes that decades of neoliberalism have pushed young people beyond unhappiness and into a collective identity crisis. Overall, In 1960, Paul Goodman argued that the Fordist system that treated people as mere cogs in a machine had created a profound unhappiness in young people and in American society as a whole. More than half a century later, professor David Blacker recognizes that decades of neoliberalism have pushed young people beyond unhappiness and into a collective identity crisis. Overall, Americans no longer feel needed to do jobs that had previously anchored them in society and are becoming disconnected and purposeless. The proliferation of new identities, based not on work but on consumption, is symptomatic of neoliberalism and its hyper-commodification and deregulation of everyday life.

37 review for What's Left of the World: Education, Identity and the Post-Work Political Imagination

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    What’s Left of the World is a play on words, left having two meanings here. It turns out to be a counter Ayn Rand book. People need to belong, David Blacker says. They need a narrative, they need to be part of something greater, and their lives need meaning. Pretty much the opposite of the message in Atlas Shrugged. This mirror image still has the endless monologues, the full page paragraphs that show no mercy to the reader. Blacker does go on, seemingly trying to outrand Rand. By far the best ch What’s Left of the World is a play on words, left having two meanings here. It turns out to be a counter Ayn Rand book. People need to belong, David Blacker says. They need a narrative, they need to be part of something greater, and their lives need meaning. Pretty much the opposite of the message in Atlas Shrugged. This mirror image still has the endless monologues, the full page paragraphs that show no mercy to the reader. Blacker does go on, seemingly trying to outrand Rand. By far the best chapter in the book is the first one, where Blacker shows how useless we are making ourselves. We are automating everything, lowering wages, laying off workers and removing benefits and security. We are subverting our own built up structures. Even the elite are beginning to worry. Living in the right community and sending their kids to the right schools is no longer a prescription for success. Importantly, he says “The ‘less’ that can be done more with is less of us.” From a left perspective, the abuse and exploitation of labor has always been the paramount target. But now, we face a new enemy – lack of abuse. Economic abuse becomes economic neglect, and having no career at all is worse than being taken advantage of. He says the expensive race for higher education is not about education but credentials, which are cheapened by so many having them. When everyone has a PhD, Blacker says, PhDs will drive Ubers. Human society itself has changed dramatically, he says. Being cast out is no longer fatal – not even noticed. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks any more. In the age of neoliberalism and libertarianism, everyone is only about themselves. They have their own “brands” and create their own exaggerated narratives – about themselves. Never trust anyone over 30 has become never trust anyone, period. The liquid modernity condition means everyone must be a life-learner, constantly ready to change as jobs vaporize. Precarity should be building solidarity, but it is only promoting solitude. The chapters that follow don’t have nearly the same punch. The chapter on education shows how dysfunctional higher education has become, but we know this. Issues of free speech, tenure, and treating kids like customers and education like an investment that must pay dividends is old hat now. He says faculty meetings used to raise cheers when research results were offered. Now, the loudest cheers are for research grants received, and the bigger the grant, the louder the cheers. Universities have become marketing machines, each one the dramatically innovative choice for the best careers. They all seem to employ the word impact. When he asked if it was good impact or bad impact, silence ensued. How the left figures in all this goes untreated. He looks at religion (modern and ancient), spirituality and the Earth as a single system (Gaia), also with no important new insight. There are diversions into multiple sexes, currently all the rage, and fusions among worldviews, such as Afrocentrism + futurism = Afrofuturism. But none of this is within the exclusive purview of the left, either. About the only memorable direction for what’s left of the left is that it must educate and prove its points, not simply sermonize, berate and dismiss other stances. Basically, the left needs to re-earn the respect of the populace. Is this book the first step in regaining that respect? Blacker says the book’s objective is to “look at big picture issues that are being underdiscussed in, specifically, the moral underpinnings of political motivation.” By that standard, the book does not succeed. David Wineberg

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    "Today’s identity-focused left is in principle less forgiving because its conception of moral failure is much more existential than it is belief-based; it’s much more a matter of who you are (identity) than what you believe." When I read "Many would welcome the chance to be exploited economically," I was quite taken aback and concerned about what the author's intentions might be throughout his philosophical book, but after further thought, I agree with the author. Marx viewed such work as exploit "Today’s identity-focused left is in principle less forgiving because its conception of moral failure is much more existential than it is belief-based; it’s much more a matter of who you are (identity) than what you believe." When I read "Many would welcome the chance to be exploited economically," I was quite taken aback and concerned about what the author's intentions might be throughout his philosophical book, but after further thought, I agree with the author. Marx viewed such work as exploitation, and while I don't disagree that many workers are exploited and this must be rectified, many people, myself included are very keen for a steady, reliable "exploitation" (meaning a job). Not just because of the financial necessity, which is obviously vital, but because of what having a job gives us - meaning, an identity, and arguably a purpose; something you often hear chronically-ill and thus jobless people focus on; and that low-paid, insecure, menial workers find missing from their jobs and yet still strongly desire. In fact, the lack of these things are often the problem they have with the job - more-so than the low wages! The book did drag a little at the beginning and I was slightly tempted to put the book aside, however, from the following quote the book really starts to kick off and the author's keen insight and ability to see through the propaganda and noise becomes apparent, and his writing really engaging. "In it Graeber tries to account for the fact that not only has all the automation and “laborsaving” machinery not resulted in a reduction in the quantity of work hours being performed, we seem to be experiencing a huge proliferation of service and administrative jobs that take place at farther and farther remove from the site of anything recognizable as production. Fewer industrial and agricultural workers and more financiers. Fewer professors and more higher education administrators. Fewer product developers and more advertising and media placement types. Fewer investigative journalists and more news aggregators and pundits. And so on, a trend that has involved “the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations.” Additionally, as Graeber points out, the growth in these areas does not even reflect “all those people whose job it is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.”" (!!!) I hadn't really considered how today's obsession with micro-identity labels - in sexuality, gender, etc - could be connected to a general lack of connectedness to any stable identity (that is often tied to our jobs and role in society on a macro level), but yeah, that makes sense actually. It really does; as does his analysis of university funding and educational goals. Every time I read a good point and thought 'ah, but what about x perspective...' the author ended up following up his analysis with answering my question. It was delightful to see how well he understood both the subject and possible questions and thoughts of his audience. I rarely include quotes from books, but in this book's case it's because there are so many fantastic points and arguments that I would be forced to basically copy the book itself. The author's arguments, refreshingly, don't lend themselves to soundbites or one-liners because they are too nuanced and thoughtful and take time and introspection to grasp fully. Like an expensive perfume, the first casual understanding is nowhere near as rich and bodied as that which develops. From a difficult beginning, the book manages to break through the soil and flower into something incredibly interesting. I kind of want to hand out copies, but the list of people who need to read it is too large and unfortunately I think those who could benefit most probably wouldn't read it because of how well it challenges their perspectives! This is a book worth reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    Vital reading; even if only for the sake of pondering some of the questions Blacker attempts to answer in this text.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Though I didn't always agree with every point Blacker has a great go at arguing his points. Lots of valuable ideas worth pondering further. Though I didn't always agree with every point Blacker has a great go at arguing his points. Lots of valuable ideas worth pondering further.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Roth

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mikko Ojanen

  7. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is an interesting book, The main premise is that the the elimination and take over of stable jobs, that made up people's identity, has left people anchored and in search of a new identity. I,myself,am of a more right wing persuasion so the left wing slant concerned me but I was pleasantly surprised. While I didn't agree with all of the authors conclusions and proposed solutions the self reflection was nice.This was a bit long atsome point but interesting nonetheless . This is an interesting book, The main premise is that the the elimination and take over of stable jobs, that made up people's identity, has left people anchored and in search of a new identity. I,myself,am of a more right wing persuasion so the left wing slant concerned me but I was pleasantly surprised. While I didn't agree with all of the authors conclusions and proposed solutions the self reflection was nice.This was a bit long atsome point but interesting nonetheless .

  9. 4 out of 5

    Harry Burgess

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Montalvo

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Schleis

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rodrigo

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marion Monguillon

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  15. 5 out of 5

    J Simpson

  16. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marco Briceño

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ryne Viaene

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonas Nilsson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Walsh

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gwynbleidd

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alain

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anne Taves

  26. 5 out of 5

    Reedo

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Fleischfresser

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nadia Gribkova

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kim Johansson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erik

  31. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Wragg

  32. 5 out of 5

    Amber

  33. 5 out of 5

    Sloane

  34. 5 out of 5

    Jairo

  35. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  36. 4 out of 5

    Ilya

  37. 4 out of 5

    Lorinda

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