April 18th, 2020
Erfolgsleere. Philosophie für die Arbeitswelt (Michael Andrick, 2020)
The title of the book is a pun - phonetically similar to "Erfolgslehre" ("theory of success"), "Erfolgsleere" could be translated to "emptiness in success". Michael Andrick tackles the risks of the omnipresent conformity in today's workplaces, and our ideas of careers and success.
He argues that success is a reward for sacrificing essential human qualities like critical thinking and compassion, in order to live a seemingly convenient life by serving the purpose of others.
There is absolutely nothing original about a career, it's merely following a well-defined path. It's not Sinatra's "My way". It's about anticipating what the expectations of the people in charge are - the people who are distributing "success" - and acting upon these expectations. People with careers are "Funktionäre", agents of the ruling class, upholding the severely imbalanced status quo.
Careers imply success, and success is harmful. If there are successful people on the one hand, people who are "winners", there must also be losers on the other hand. Success is a way of placing yourself above others. There is something deeply violent and inhumane about success.
Deconstructing "Arbeitgeber" and "Ehrgeiz"
Michael Andrick has a great way of deconstructing words and letting us question our own beliefs. For example, the german word "Arbeitgeber" (employer) literally translates to "work giver". It implies that the employer is beneficial by letting people have a job. However, it is actually the other way round, the employees are the ones who "give work", they are the ones expending energy and creating value - the employer is the beneficiary, not the other way round!
"Ehrgeiz" is also a great example - it's the german word for "ambition". It has an entirely positive connotation nowadays, however it originally meant "Gier nach Ehre", roughly "greed for glory". This doesn't sound so nice, and originally it was not a compliment. "Ehrgeiz" is the willingness to sacrifice your own definition of "success" in order to earn "glory" defined by someone else. "Ehrgeiz" is "selling out" - by compromising your own judgement and abandoning your intrinsic motivation, you end up numb, with a feeling of emptiness in success, as the book title says.
Morality and relativism
Relativism is a fairly new idea, it roughly says that there is no objective truth - truth is always subjective. The problem is, that a strict relativism implies that there is no universal truth, something that has lead to the rise of "fake news". The consequence is, that not having a universal truth also means there is no morality, nothing "good" or "bad" in absolute terms.
The absence of morality is a convenient way of dealing with ethically questionable decisions, as ultimately, you are never responsible for anything, you can get away with anything - just think about the housing crisis or the "Dieselskandal" in Germany. As Marx and Engels have put it, "Die herrschenden Ideen sind die Ideen der Herrschenden", roughly "the predominant ideas are the ideas of the dominant". And relativism is a perfect fit for a world that is losing its balance more and more.
A world that is exploited for the benefit of a few, with the help of an army of ambitious success zombies, is not a world that will thrive and prosper. It is a collapsing world. Just now in my Twitter feed are images of workers in the US who are angrily demanding to get back to work, despite of the risk of Covid infection. It's alerting that we value conformity, careers and success higher than survival now.
The world needs people who think critically and out of the box, people who follow their intrinsic motivation. The world needs anti-fragility. I'm thankful to Michael Andrick for this book and encourage you to read it - if you don't have the time, check his website, he has a few videos about the core ideas there. It only takes a few minutes, and it's time well spent.
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