Offered Without Comment 09

Posted: April 3, 2021 in Culture, Mental Health
Tags: , ,

From Alan Jacob’s Breaking Bread with the Dead (2020):

The German sociologist Gerd-Günter Voss outlined the development, over many centuries, of three forms of the “conduct of life.” The first is the traditional: in this model your life takes the forms that the lives of people in your culture and class have always taken, at least for as long as anyone remembers. The key values in the traditional conduct of life are “security and regularity.” The second model is the strategic: people who follow this model have clear goals in mind (first, to get into an elite university; later, to become a radiologist or own their own company or retire at fifty) and form a detailed strategic plan to achieve those goals. But, Voss suggests, those two models, while still present in various parts of the world, are increasingly being displaced by a third model for the conduct of life: the situational.

The situational model has arisen in recent social orders that are unprecedentedly dynamic and fluid. People are less likely to plan to be radiologists when they hear that radiologists may be replaced by computers. They are less likely to plan to own a company when whatever business they’re inclined toward may not exist in a decade … they are less likely to plan to have children … They might not even want to plan to have dinner with a friend a week from Friday …

… the situational conduct of life is … a way of coping with social acceleration. But it’s also, or threatens to be, an abandonment of serious reflection on what makes life good. You end up just managing the moment … The feeling of being at a “frenetic standstill” is highly characteristic of the depressed person.

  1. leavergirl says:

    Planning one’s life does not work.
    Being tradition-directed is possible, but only possible surrounded by other traditionalists. And even the Amish do invent it as they go along; being localized and decentralized actually makes that doable.
    Frankly, I wish I had a manual way back when. The manual would outline the main challenges of each decade, and give examples of how people have coped, and whether in retrospect they are happy on balance with the choices. When you have to wing it unsupported by tradition, it’s easy to make big blunders.

    • Brutus says:

      Good point about traditionalists surrounded by other traditionalists, with subcultures functioning as oases or sheltering ports against the storm.

      You wrote a blog post against planning, right? Winging it, making it up as one goes, improvising, and conditional decision-making are all restatements of situational conduct. The main difference is that the time needed to transform conduct get shorter and shorter, creating historical discontinuities that are haphazard and disorienting.

      Most of us at some point contemplate wishing we could go back in time, knowing then what we know now, to fix our errors or at least navigate more optimally. The pessimist in me suspect it would only be the occasion for all new mistakes.

      • leavergirl says:

        I think there are mistakes so glaring that it makes no sense to not be warned against them. Having kids when you are young and stupid… is the way to go. Waiting for when you are wiser can cost you reproduction.

        Yeah, I wrote several posts against planning, and had more in mind. I have been testing that in real life, and it works… and it keeps me sane amidst upheavals. What I was advocating is keeping one’s eye on the star… but at the same time, evaluating carefully in the present… both the consequences of one’s actions, as well as the position and nature of the star. I would not call it situational… that is too reminiscent of “situational ethics” which I find repugnant. It’s about being centered in the present. It’s about keeping always in mind that the means used today will become ends tomorrow. :-)

  2. cafebedouin says:

    Being replaced by machines is often an exaggerated problem. What machines do is take away low level work. You don’t have to call the operator anymore to get a business’s number, that’s largely available in Google Maps. In the case of radiologists, their job will be to fix the machine or to step in where the machine fails, so the work doesn’t go away, it becomes more complex and difficult. Some people won’t be able to adapt and perform at this higher threshold but it will be rare for machines to replace everyone or that the skill needed to cover gaps in machine performance transcends human capability.

    • Brutus says:

      Job loss is by no means limited to low-level work. Maybe we’re reading different accounts. My principal reference is Nicholas Carr, especially his book The Shallows,, which discusses technological unemployment, as it’s called, and deskilling.

      Seems to me danger of replacement falls into two categories: information processing and movement of materials. The first is exactly what computers do so well, with automated processes (software) replacing and in some respects far exceeding human know-how. The second is also accelerating quickly, with driverless vehicles (especially offroad farm and mining equipment) in particular removing humans from the equation.

      Of course, things change. Apologists often remark that the buggy whip and butter churn have been replaced by better technologies. I would add to those software that has made typesetters nearly obsolete. My example is a technology that is more efficient by a large factor yet loses recognizable human qualities (weirdly, both errors and quality control) that have caused many to return to mostly abandoned processes for special cases, such as bespoke wedding invitations prepared via letterpress.

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