Mankind is hard-wired to work, sez Nick Boles

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man

Bollocks, sez the ermine. I could stop there and make this the shortest post on here, but such spurious claims should be consigned to the dustbin of history along with the idea you would die if you went over 30 mph and other such folly. I’ve batted on this wicket before, but it’s a good fight IMO.

Take it away, Nick:

The main objection to the idea of a universal basic income is not practical but moral,” he writes.

“Its enthusiasts suggest that when intelligent machines make most of us redundant, we will all dispense with the idea of earning a living and find true fulfilment in writing poetry, playing music and nurturing plants. That is dangerous nonsense.

“Mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it. It gives us a sense of identity, purpose and belonging … we should not be trying to create a world in which most people do not feel the need to work.

Why ever the hell not? If the robots are as good as they’re cracked up to be, then let ’em have at it. Where did this argument that work was an essential part of life come from? Clearly historically human work has been needed to arrange the world to a state more congenial to human life, such niceties as having food in the winter etc. We probably needed a narrative for why things were so shit at times, in Western culture I’d suggest it started with the Bible, to wit

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground;

Clearly the search for knowledge was disparaged in Paradise1, once the necky Adam had chomped on the apple he got a right bollocking, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread and all that. No work, no eat, buster, who’s a clever boy then?

When the Ermine household still had a telly, we watched a series by Niall Ferguson titled Civilisation – the West and the Rest. The dapper and erudite  Niall was no match for Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation,2 but he made the premise that this was turbocharged by Martin Luther, to the effect that the rest of the world got to eat our dust up to about 1950, curiously the date so many of us would like to wind the clock back to. The problem with elevating the doctrine of redemption by faith alone is that it is an invitation to slackers to sit on their backsides, so Luther gives these idlers a pre-emptive bollocking

Works are necessary for salvation but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life.

and there we have it, a straight line of reasoning from Luther to Nick Boles, via the collective unconscious transmitted through culture.

In living proof that children have no taste, the young Ermine read a lot of science fiction back in the day. I recall my mother’s face blanching when I told her I had identified Asimov as one of my favourite authors at the grammar school entrance interview after the exam. I got in anyway despite this undesirable taste for pulp fiction.

Today’s readers should bear in mind this was a world where I saw Nasa putting people on the moon live on the school TV. There was no such thing as global warming, and the Limits to Growth hadn’t been published. These were the days when the white heat of technology was going to give us electricity too cheap to meter, well, that is, if it didn’t kill us first. As such the primitive awareness of my juvenile mind saw nothing wrong with the implied myth of continuous progress that underpinned Asimov’s stories, and anyway, he was a good storyteller.

I had a particular penchant for his Foundation series, but the story that Nick Boles and his fellow Calvinist work is good for you boosters need to read is probably The Naked Sun in which we are introduced to the Spacer world Solaria, settled some two and a half thousand years hence. It is populated by humans called Solarians.

Now it has to be said that Solarians are sick puppies by our standards3, not particularly physically but mentally/culturally, they hate being in each others presence, communicating with each other through screens. Anybody with teenagers probably thinks we are nine tenths of the way there already, Asimov’s genius lay in anticipating this pathology of the human makeup before it was technically viable and out there for all to see.

Solarians would never have tolerated being in the same room as each other, but we’re getting there

Solarians have the edge on our teenagers because they have cracked the work problem totally. They are vastly outnumbered by their robots, who do all the work. Our Nick really wouldn’t like it there.

Now I don’t believe for a minute that we will be colonising outer space, ever, and the pressing problem of using fossil fuels to vastly increase our population beyond the carrying capacity of the energy flow into the planet doesn’t bode well for the idea of settling Spacer worlds in a couple of thousand years. It’s not impossible, because perhaps as people get richer they have fewer children and we might be able to reduce the overall population to a sustainable level and have energy left over for that sort of thing. Or we might split into the .01% who own all the robotic resources and the rest of us be left to starve. Let’s hear it from Elon Musk

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

— Elon Musk, CEO and Lead Designer, SpaceX

Yup. Makes you wonder why Peter Thiel is such a lightweight then and has given up on seasteading as being technically too hard – at least you get a free atmosphere and fish. Maybe he should hitch a ride to Mars.

One of the main issues with Nick Boles is that a lot of his vaunted work is going to be shit work, like Uber or bussing tables and getting coffee. Now if we could train capitalism to value, or at least tolerate people, then let’s get the robots to do the work. At the moment we have people doing low end work that a little bit of investment could get the robots doing, and then let’s all chill a bit and get rid of this antideluvian work is good for you concept. In a world where human work was needed to keep it habitable and people fed, yes, we needed religious prohibitions on slackers. If the robots are up to scratch then we can let those prohibitions go and stop lauding work as an innate Good Thing. I figure a universal basic income would stop companies taking the piss and employing people on zero-hours contracts doing work a bit of investment could automate. Shit work should be automated out of existence.

Neoliberals will take pot shots at all sorts of things about a universal income. The owners of capital4 like houses will drive up rents and enrich themselves because people can pay more. After all, Piketty identified the problem, which is that the return on capital is increasing faster than the return on labour, so people who have labour and no capital are losing the fight. Not many of us are born with capital to our names, although the Guardian claims there’s hope for the millennials now, as we go back to the future and dynastic wealth starts to matter.

All of these are indicative of an economy running up against natural limits to growth – capital accumulated slowly across generations in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution, but when productivity was boosted there was enough so that people in decent jobs in first World countries could accumulate wealth across a working lifetime in some cases. Productivity is falling and growth is lower than it was in the Sixties when I read those stories of extraterrestrial derring-do. Nevertheless, the Solarians have a good message for us, and we can read it in the story of the uber-rich, down to the Kardashians, the Ecclestone girls and all sorts, all the way down to Ermines. You really don’t need work to have a good time. It is a way, and it’s right for some, but don’t generalise, Nick. Work is overrated.

  1. one of the dreadful things the EU has been doing with our money along with spending it on Welsh roads and deprived areas in England has been setting up a website to disseminate European art, from which I got the cover picture The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man by Rubens and Breughel. You can read all about it and download a massive 9Mb image so you could use your 4k TV as a display of the finest art in the continent, all for free. I really am so glad we voted to get away from such effete pursuits. Presumably the Arts Council will use its vastly improved grant resulting from the Brexit dividend to do something similar in a year or so, focusing on British artists of course… 
  2. I was a little squirt at primary school then. The Ermine household was too poor to even know anyone with a TV never mind have one so I have never actually seen this, but my mother bought the book and I read it. I am of the general opinion that children have zero taste so it was probably largely wasted on me, but perhaps some of it stuck. 
  3. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I have a sneaking suspicion the Solarians would view us as the sick puppies, and I’m minded to say they really do have a point, in a world where for example we pay the Bath vice-chancellor half a million sods plus £2 biscuit money while we condemn young people to indentured servitude paying student loans off without having the balls to tell enough of them they aren’t bright enough to realistically get any return on investment. Not to mention a world where Nick Boles shoots his gob off about work being an inherent good. 
  4. Yeah, I know. And shares 😉 This is why we need regulation, to stop the owners of capital grabbing all of it. Nobody seems to be thinking never mind pitching for the happy medium 

46 thoughts on “Mankind is hard-wired to work, sez Nick Boles”

  1. Fully agree & if you read Jared Diamond’s well-articulated works on the evolution of human civilisations, religion tends to surface at a particular stage where the population is numerous enough to warrant controlling for the elite to comfortably avoid chaos. One of the main tools of religion – used to effect control – is work … distracts the simple masses from independent thought, which could have lead to dissatisfaction at inequality or even just noticing that life for the lumpen proletariat of the time is not particularly worth living; nasty, brutish & short.

    But, if ever uncertain as to whether something is likely, I find it useful to check against the 1% rule – namely that if anything was as good for us as the rich claimed was so, then invariably they’d have already kept it for themselves.

    Arbeit macht frei was actually a zero-sum game, the rulers became free, through the work of everyone but them…..


  2. To a certain extent it depends how you define work.. If its doing something productive and meaningful with your time then its prob a good thing? If its getting told what to do by someone you’re not so fond of, then prob its a bad thing? Lots of issues tend to get conflated when people debate the pros and cons of working.

    I don’t think we’ll see a UI in the UK for a long time, I don’t think we’re the country to trailblaze with something like that, we’re too neo-liberal currently? But at the end of the day its just a point on the spectrum a bit further down the line than the welfare state. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally novel about it.

    Glad to see survivor sneaking in a last minute Bildeberg style conspiracy theory *and* dropping the Godwin’s Law bomb just before the year is out – he’s certainly commited. Maybe in 2018 he will be committed?


    1. > If its getting told what to do by someone you’re not so fond of, then prob its a bad thing?

      That’s ever so slightly too narrow IMO. Obvious characteristics of work are also that you get paid for it, with the subtle though not necessary implication you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t. However, the reason you do work is because you don’t have the choice, bad shit happens in your life if you don’t. That ranges from not being able to put your children into public school or drive a new car at the most benign end, to losing your home and not getting to eat at the bad end.

      I am proof positive that when someone gets the option, then work isn’t necessary to enjoy life, but I have met enough others to know I am not unique in this. I’ve done things in the last year or so that many would class as work – I wrote a report to survey and improve a dilapidated bike trail recently and one about the tribulations of house sparrows. What makes these not work is that any point I can walk away, particularly if that point looks anything like targets, performance management or similar claptrap. I hated managing volunteers at work, and now I know why – they are their own men 😉 The key thing I favour is hit and run jobs though, zero hours contracts but from my viewpoint. So even on the Nick Boles angle the world is not untouched by Ermine claw since leaving work. But the ermine is untouched by the Man’s claw…

      No, I don’t think the UK will do the UBI any time soon. But I really would wish that we stopped torturing the unemployed with all the pettifogging rules and sanctioning and bullshit. We should be more honest with people. Globalisation and automation are raising the required smarts bar all the time. If we require people to work we need to identify what peculiarly human skills are likely to have value in the new world and train people if they have aptitude for those. At the same time we need to find a compassionate solution for the increasing proportion of us who just can’t be applied to goods and services that there’s a market for. Destroying that vile Calvinist work is good for you myth would be a good start because is makes people feel shit about themselves, and accepting more and more of us are effectively disabled/disenfranchised from the workplace due to a lack of smarts/other aptitudes would also be a start. After all, the robots are being used because they are making the goods/services for effectively for a better ROI than humans, it’s not like the stuff isn’t being produced.

      At the same time we need to be honest that with more people joining the global workforce and a burgeoning human population people in the first world are going to get relatively poorer than their parents at the same life stages. I doubt they will fall as absolutely poor as we were in the 1960s, but in the 1960s we felt better about things because things were getting better. That downswing in a culture that believes in the myth of endless progress will be a tough crunch with reality. Combined with the vile changes in the welfare system those dashed hopes could lead to serious social unrest. The FT fears the latter too

      Falling incomes have received less attention than research showing top earners pulling away from the rest of the population, but the phenomenon is corrosive, since it acts as a brake on GDP growth and could also be fuelling social and political disgruntlement.


      1. Here’s an interesting take on it from the Atlantic, written some years ago and somehow prophetic – to quote:-

        “In a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means. The more money can buy, the more affluence—or the lack of it—matters. If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to afford yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would matter less than they do today. But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What I thought was odd was that Nick didn’t seem to count writing poetry, creating music and growing stuff as work. IMO they are exactly the sort of work that humans ARE hard wired to do – creative, challenging, fulfilling and demanding pursuits. So I’m with him in the sense that I think humans need to be occupied. But it’s grunt work that gets in the way of meaningful occupation, surely? So I’m entirely with you – get machines to do grunt work and then people can get on with, well, being human.


    1. I confess I don’t count those as work either, unless you get paid for it 😉 But I am with your general sentiment. Possibly I have an overly market-oriented internal definition of work!


      1. Its really simple ermine – Its to do with people instinctively wanting to protect their children. Inheritance is one means to that end.. Not saying its right necessarily but I think it is bound up with a fairly strong component of human nature


      2. @The Rhino – I can see the instinct, but in more optimistic times before a certain lady told us there was no such thing as society we used to push back on that instinct to try and find the middle ground. With each looking after their own kids they create a world for the fruit of their loins that runs by the law of the jungle, and eventually the Morlocks come for the Eloi…


      3. 100% doesn’t look much like middle ground to me

        Agreed, but I ain’t got a dog in this race and I’ve read far too many articles a bitchin’ and a moanin’ about how absolutely disgusting an IHT limit of £1000,000 is in impairing people’s ability to favour their kids at the expense of the rest of us.

        Nobody wants to pay tax but I’d rather do it dead than alive 😉 What’s wrong with teaching your blessed kids the ways of the world, not to spend more than they earn unless there’s a good reason and all that good stuff. If it takes a village then there has to be something for the rest of the village in it too. Like reasonable house prices for example…

        It’s absolutely frickin’ shocking that everything that the Government does to do with housing buggers it up. The old IHT limit of about £400k ISTR struck me as an acceptable balance. But now to except the primary residence from IHT up to a million sods basically jacks up the price of houses for all the rest of us because people lucky enough to inherit a house can either BTL the bugger or sell it and out compete the rest of us and jack prices up. Your children may be favoured by that, but I’ve actually been to parties where everybody is whinging that their precious kids can’t afford to buy houses and it takes great effort of will after too much red wine not to say to the charming host “FFS, your kids can’t buy houses because of the political choices you made in life”. There was an awful lot wrong with the postwar consensus but there seems to be even more wrong with what we swapped it for.

        Sorry about the rant. There is no doubt a middle ground, but all the push seems to be on the “I want to privilege my kids at the expense of everyone else”, which is how we got to such a ridiculously favourable approach as the one we have now. Monevator makes the case in a much more rational and measured way, as always 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I was thinking about this just recently from two extremes.

        One is you make it to a ripe old age, say 100 and leave an inheritance to your 70 year old kids. I think neither me nor the kids would be that bothered about it, you could take it or leave it – everyone’s already had their time in the sun.

        The other is you and the missus get knocked off the tandem without your helmets on while your in your thirties leaving some really young kids behind. In that scenario, the thought of leaving all your assets to govt is *really* unappealing, actually not just unappealing, but viscerally scary?

        As always, some middle way is preferable, and I agree that continually changing the rules just because houses are expensive almost certainly doesn’t help?

        I’m of the opinion that all tax thresholds should be index linked and then ideally left on auto-pilot as opposed to jumping in weird fits and starts. It would be easier to plan against that way.


      5. The other is you and the missus get knocked off the tandem without your helmets on while your in your thirties leaving some really young kids behind.

        I’d certainly agree that this appears more deserving. The problem for society trying to draft tax laws is covering edge cases makes bad law. After all the current non-property limitation of £400k (possibly per parent, but then the whataboutery goes into kids with one parent, parents with 19 kids, etc etc) should be enough to see them right to 18 and probably university as it is?

        Children can’t always avoid the financial errors of their parents, in your example the right way to hedge that risk is term life insurance. Observation shows middle class parents with young children don’t usually have any net equity as it is, and their exposure to catastrophic risk is at its highest when the baby makes it’s first cry since that’s when the period of dependency is at its longest. That’s what insurance is for, and 21 year term life insurance is cheap for the young.


      6. @ The Rhino, you maybe interested to know that the catholic church banned marriage (not sex) so that there was no competition from the priests for the wealth of the church – (see Fukuyama)


    1. @Underscored – I’ve not read any Fukuyama so you’ve lost me there.. are you talking about celibacy for priests? or something else? and as for banning marriage but not sex, that doesn’t sound like any catholicism I’ve encountered.

      Bringing together the strands, Catholicism is an INTJs worst nightmare – the unprovable dogma, brings me out in a cold sweat! Makes sunday tea with the MIL quite a challenge 😉

      I’m wondering whether INTJs can be religious? If they do exist, I imagine they are like hen’s teeth?


      1. OK – interesting links!

        Two new books on the reading list – C.S Lewis Mere Christianity and Fukuyama Origins of Political Order..

        I did try and read Guns, Germs and Steel relatively recently but had to give up on it (quite rare for me). I found it too verbose and self evident, I read a good chunk of it and felt I hadn’t learnt anything new? But a lot of people consider it to be a bit of a classic?


  4. I have followed your blog for a couple of years now. So much of what you write resonates with me. Perhaps because we have similar backgrounds and work experiences – although I did spend a lot of my time on the management dark side 🙂
    Having endured several management consultancy led “change projects” in my working life, I have a jaundiced view of business consultancy in general. (Lots of money, time, emotion and effort but little real change.) However, there’s a lot to think, and possibly worry, about in that McKinsey research report. What are the possible longer term corrosive effects of these issues, particularly as they are often misrepresented in the popular press? Maybe the last year or so in politics was a knee-jerk reaction? Who knows? Hopefully the exposure of the alleged behaviours of various wealthy people and groups of right wing persuasions in the EU referendum and US elections will alert the world to how opinions can now be manipulated via social media and use of ‘big data’.
    One thing I have learned though is that polarisation of opinions generally takes you nowhere useful.
    Anyway, best wishes for the new year and thank you for continuing to document your thoughts and experiences! Your writing is consistently thoughtful and there’s always so much wisdom in your posts.
    I look forward to continuing the journey.


    1. Thank you! I have a similar view of management consultancy as I have about Drucker. However, these places are staffed by fiendishly bright people and that McKinsey report had much I saw as realistic 😦 There’s a general theme that finacialisation is doing society no good, perhaps what’s missing in the report is the mea culpa, after all a lot of management consultancy seems to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I also growled under my breath when I read Boles’ comments. Humans do seem to be exploratory, creative, sense-making and story-telling beings. What they are not is hard-wired to carry out tasks for other people in exchange for money. That is a specific set of social behaviours that have evolved over time.

    Many years ago Charles Handy wrote that the idea of a ‘job’ (a one to one relationship between you and an employer with fixed tasks/responsibilities and fixed hours) only emerged with the industrial revolution. He also speculated that it might not outlast the 20th Century. I think he could be right.

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has not been bettered as a simple model of human activity. If we need to struggle to meet basic needs, that is where our attention goes. As our basic needs are met we turn our attention to other activities, which can be selfish or generous, beneficial or damaging to the community. There is a good reason why in earlier times so many historians, scientists and naturalists were Church of England clerics, why you needed independent means to be an MP, and why the Hellfire Club had few blacksmiths as members.

    If we can liberate people from the bottom layers of Maslow’s hierarchy, bring it on. As long as we recognise the disruption it will cause and help those who are hit by the transition. UBI is one answer, but there are others. In the end, it is a political decision how you manage the transition.

    That’s why I worry about the national management of that transition being in the hands of people who believe that being poor, under- or unemployed is a moral failing, that childcare and work in the home has no value to society, and that we are hard-wired to work in a capitalist/industrialist economy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Humans do seem to be exploratory, creative, sense-making and story-telling beings.

      I do so love the poetry of that – it sums up the activities that have given me most pleasure since leaving work and getting over the couple of years decompression. And, oddly for an introvert, I increasingly like getting together with others and help them tell their stories. Thank you for summarising it so succinctly 😉


  6. On the introvert note – I’m hoping wephway’s (deliberate life) latest post may tempt MBTI classifications out of the FI community. It would be interesting to see how we stack up?


    1. I fear INTJs will be overrepresented 😉 ERE had some good stuff on this, and more here although it would interesting if it has changed in the intervening 10 years. Not everyone in the UK PF community strikes me as an INTJ – anybody goes to a PF meet-up probably isn’t, at a guess?


      1. Those old ERE articles on MBTI types are really entertaining. He’s hugely biased towards INTJs and massively dismissive of everyone else. I get the feeling he suffered a bit as a younger man and those posts are cathartic in a ‘last-laugh’ type way?


      2. Perhaps it is the age old truism that we start from the assumption everyone else looks out from eyes similar to our own 😉

        Or perhaps INTJs are just ornery barstewards, after all wephway’s list of weaknesses include: arrogant, judgemental. In my valedictory primary school report the headmaster said “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” and in four decades of enquiry since I have never really discovered why that was so wrong. I’m with ERE there -fools shouldn’t be suffered, they should be run out of town with extreme prejudice and the brightest spotlight shone on their foolery possible.

        The most telling weakness in his list is the one I liked best – “Loathe highly structured environments”. Yes, that’s the world of work as it is becomeing more structured, no wonder these INTJ guys want to give The Man the bum’s rush ASAP.

        ERE was great fun and inspirational in those early days. I miss his caustic wit, and occasionally I reflected and came to the conclusion I was that damn fool he was observing and that the time to stop that folly was right now 😉


      3. well ERE is the only blog that has been put on repeat that I still regularly read, which must mean its good quality stuff. I think I know every article off by heart?

        As for “Loathe highly structured environments” – that needs refining a touch. If you are the architect of that environment and the only one inhabiting it, then I would argue it is very heaven?


      4. If you are the architect of that environment and the only one inhabiting it

        The trouble is you don’t tend to have any customers if you’re the only one in your universe;) I worked in enough engineering places to see this as a widespread problem. I never actually heard someone say don’t talk to me about lusers/customers, I’ve got a network to run but I’ve seen the thought cloud often enough. More seriously though, B2B is very much more transactional than it used to be, and I never learned how to pitch properly. I’ve pitched ideas and changing the ways of doing things in an existing structure, but can’t pitch selling things. Mrs Ermine can, but even trying to analyse the thought processes I can’t get from nothing to something. I can improve an existing pitch and support others.

        And I’m old enough and ugly enough to know that I don’t need to do that – if I needed more money then some time spent working out how to make money off money is probably better spent that working against 50 years of grain going the other way.


      5. Yes, I think those that organise and attend any sort of PF meetup are probably not meeting the majority of FI types. I wouldn’t attend one for all the tea in china.. totally unappealing?


      6. I think those that organise and attend any sort of PF meetup are probably not meeting the majority of FI types

        I did actually go to one way back when. It certainly was interesting, but even after a lifetime of training I wasn’t outgoing enough to do any network. Plus I had little in common, I was older than most, I was totally financially unambitious for the future, I didn’t understand why people are trying to recreate work once they are FI (I do take dearieme’s point that not everyone is like me, but only reluctantly) and was generally a fish out of water. I didn’t get the culture. I had a good time because I learned different points of view. I was in the group but not of it. Plus the one big difference, of course, they were still running the race with an eye to the prize. Whereas shattered and weakened, I had just about breasted the tape and collapsed on the ground holding my bottle of champagne. It’s still a big difference, I don’t know of that many PF types still reporting from beyond the event horizon. Perhaps Jim from SHMD but he’s back at work. I don’t know of any of the more extroverted types who have made it yet – perhaps they as FI but not RE. I did make the case that introverts are better set for the RE side of things, perhaps there’s something to that.

        But I had only just left work then, so the freedom from was very much in my mind, I had not passed through the period of decompression

        I don’t know about the majority though – I think there is a definite two cultures element between the more extroverted PF bloggers and the more introverted ones. You see that in the venn diagrams of the common parts of their blogrolls. I look at Huw’s FIRE Escapes and think that’s not for me, but then I look at how he runs his life and the thought of all that activity gives me the vapours, while it’s clearly spot-on for him. I wouldn’t necessarily make the case the FI/RE introverts are more numerous, take a look over the pond at MMM’s extroverted crew, but perhaps the blighters are quiet and lurk in the shadows more.


      7. “I didn’t understand why people are trying to recreate work once they are FI”

        Haha – but you clearly are recreating work now that you are FI! At least the bits you like? All those electronics projects, sound-recording etc. (I think I’ve made this point before, apologies if its getting boring?)

        That’s ‘serious-leisure’ right there. And in my book ‘serious-leisure’ and work are pretty much indistinguishable.

        So either you’re blind to it, or we have a different definition of the word ‘work’?

        Work, for me, means effortful direction of attention to achieve something, ideally challenging, difficult and complex. I’ve divorced its definition from financial concerns or from doing someone else’s bidding – though of course these can still be side-effects of partaking in the process.

        I’ll concede that’s a pretty romantic idealised remodelling of the term ‘work’ that’s only really available if you’ve already won lifes lottery as they say – but hey, isn’t that what’s at the heart of this FIRE malarkey? Trying to live the Socratean good life? Really, the RE bit is a misnomer, what we’re really trying to do is push work a few rungs up old Maslow’s ladder and FI is the means to that end?

        My feeling from reading SHMD is that he couldn’t generate ‘serious-leisure’ (or ‘work’ by my book) activity under his own steam, i.e. outside of paid employment, he was just doing things like going to the gym and drinking coffee (simple-(p)leisure?) so he inevitably got bored. He’s probably extrovert as well – and I agree with you that serious-leisure options are more plentiful for the introvert, they’re certainly easier to organise?

        I don’t know what to make of the MMM phenomenon and its British franchise (I’m not totally sure Pete knows there is a British franchise, I doubt TEA is paying him royalties?). I liked MMMs early articles but got a bit turned off when a google search turned up his ‘how to create a cult’ presentation. Its all a bit ENTJ for my tastes 😉

        You can tell I’m on a dry ‘no news media’ January and how much time that frees up by the frequency and length of all these posts? Anyway, back to some serious-leisure time..

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Work, for me, means effortful direction of attention to achieve something, ideally challenging, difficult and complex. I’ve divorced its definition from financial concerns or from doing someone else’s bidding – though of course these can still be side-effects of partaking in the process.

        I think by that definition I’d have to throw in the towel and ‘fess up that I’m with SHMD and am the returned, without the pay to show for it, mostly. However, when I was working, I called those sorts of things recreation/leisure and they were most definitely not work. Although both you and Monevator have made a cogent case that I have a dysfunctional definition/relationship to the word work 😉

        Really, the RE bit is a misnomer, what we’re really trying to do is push work a few rungs up old Maslow’s ladder and FI is the means to that end?

        I haven’t actually managed to find something wrong with that, although it feels wrong. I like your style!

        While I don’t disagree with much of what MMM says, much of the fight he’s fighting just don’t apply to me. It is possible the INTJ personality is less susceptible to consumerism, or more accurately, when someone points out the contradictions of consumerism, they are less resistant to the message. When I was 47 a colleague of a similar age told me about the virtues of AVC contributions to save 40% tax, saying if you’re working here beyond 50 you’re nuts. I listened, and started skimming off the 40% tax the next month. A couple of years later I found I wanted to get out, and ramped that massively, and cut spending.

        He was at my leaving do. His wife and kids didn’t like the loss of consumer lifestyle they would have taken for him to execute his plan. He’s still there. He was way ahead of me on the planning, but couldn’t pack in the consumerism enough. Most of what MMM rails about is fighting consumerism.

        Most of my consumerism now is stuff to do interesting shit with, tools to make things, items to help tell a story with/about/to people. But the pay is crap and there is a highly negative ROI, which is the usual case with leisure pursuits, that’s why they aren’t Work – they don’t pay the rent. To some extent I am much closer to @richardmiller587’s

        There is a good reason why in earlier times so many historians, scientists and naturalists were Church of England clerics, why you needed independent means to be an MP, and why the Hellfire Club had few blacksmiths as members.

        and fortunate enough to be able to afford it in time and money. It’s still closer to leisure than work though, just not passive leisure/simple (p)leisure.


      9. This part of the discussion provokes two thoughts; one on the why of work and FI, and the other on MBTI.

        First, I have always been extremely sceptical of Myers-Briggs. Inhabiting the corporate world I got to take it many times. The most disturbing thing was how much I shifted around depending on what job I was doing at the time and what mood I was in. Since it is supposed to be a definitive and stable characteristic of your personality, that raises a red-flag for me. My most common reading was somewhere around the ENTP, ENTJ, ESTP cluster, but I also wandered further afield. The only stable part of the analysis was Extrovert. I now see it as astrology +, and worry about the hold it has on some organisations.

        For thinking about my ways of working, other people and team dynamics I find the social-styles matrix ( much more useful as it is focused on behaviours, not personality.

        It promises less, is simpler and quicker, and I would argue more practically useful. It looks at behaviour on two axes. Are you generally an ‘ask’ or a ‘tell’ person, and are you emotionally ‘open’ or closed’? My preferred style is highly open and tell, a creative or expressive style, but the key thing is I can flex my style to work with other people if I wish. You can pick up someone’s preferred or current style by listening and watching, which means it can be simply and quickly done to a first approximation ‘on the fly’. Very useful when you are trying to get things done.

        On the ‘what is work’ and FI question I find myself very much with @TheRhino. FI gives you choice, and what use you will make of that choice is down to the individual history, circumstances, and many other factors. At at the core, are you seeking FI to get away from something, or to move towards something? Are you running from or to?

        Overall I loved my work throughout my career. I worked for organisations whose mission and values I believed in, and would put up with the boring and not-so-nice parts of the job for the sheer buzz of seeing things work out (actually that understates the emotion, but talking about an orgasmic adrenalin rush feels over the top!). Periodically, the business strategy, circumstances, or leadership personnel and management style would change in a way that shifted the balance in the wrong direction. If it looked like it was going to stay that way, I moved somewhere else where I could find that excitement and sense of achievement again. I was lucky, that only happened five times in a 35-year career (not quite a seven-year itch but that general direction). Each move was into a new industry or type of work, but it is possible with hindsight to pretend there was a logic.

        The last time I came to a crisis (about 18 months ago) I ran the numbers and decided I had reached FI. My choice was then do one of my shifts to something new and exciting, but to which I would need to dedicate at least a few years to master, or bail out. So just over a year ago I gave up on full-time employment.

        Have I retired? That just leads to hoots of derisive laughter from my partner. Am I still working? Well I spend a lot of time doing ‘stuff’, and much of it looks like the things I used to do. But the dynamic is completely different. I am very selective about the projects I get involved in. Some of them are paid and some of them are not, but I don’t think you could tell by observation which is which. I still have to put up with some personalities that rub me up the wrong way, boring meetings, and irritating admin, but I am doing that because I think I can make a difference and I enjoy trying. And I have carved out time to try to get better at some hobbies/leisure activities that had been frustratingly on the back-burner for many years.

        I had lunch a couple of days ago with a contemporary and ex-colleague who does two days a week at his local university. He has no fixed accountabilities, gets to poke his nose into all kinds of interesting projects, and they think his experience and insight is useful. As he said, “They introduce me to wonderful people trying to do exciting and difficult things, and ask me to help them when they are struggling. And they pay me to do it! Why wouldn’t I?”.

        If I wanted to devote the rest of my life to poetry, conservation work, or travel, I could. But I don’t. I now do more of those things than before, but my main focus is on trying to drive change in industrial innovation, where I have spent most of my career. Between investments, pensions and work I am paid for I can afford to do this, and I think it is important.

        Working, retired, semi-retired? Who cares? Financial independence and the choices that gives – that’s what matters to me.


      10. Fascinating insight, made me think! I think MBTI works much better for extremes, it helps qualify the sociopaths but I’d say it’s mushy in a lot of the centre. Some of it is does the mental model work for you. I struggled to place myself on the social styles matric, other than obvious low responsiveness 😉 Which leads to the nub of it –

        I still have to put up with some personalities that rub me up the wrong way, boring meetings, and irritating admin

        Above all else, it is anything that tastes of that that I have sought to eliminate in life post FI. Hence the predilection for hit and run jobs with no commitments. I’m happy to leave money on the table for the other guy if that sort of things is involved. Which sort of brings me to the MBTI thing again, I am one of the types that plays the bad guys in movies, so it isn’t surprising that I have a low tolerance for human foibles 😉 I’m not averse to working with people, but I want the power balance to be in my favour – I want to be able to bring things to the party in my way and if it’s not my way it’s the highway. That often precudes being paid, because money is a claim on future human work. Indeed, I have a preference for no fix no fee jobs, for the freedom that gives to walk off the job.


      11. @TheRhino – yes there is a very powerful Barnum effect with MBTI. Just as with star signs there is sufficient vagueness for everyone to see themselves in whatever ‘type’ you are supposed to be, and sufficient positive descriptors for people to accept their ‘type’. You have to admire what a masterpiece of pseudo-science and marketing MBTI is. I looked into it in some detail a few years ago, and it is a scientific mess. And the scary thing is the ‘practitioners’ and users don’t seem to know how flaky it is.

        @ermine – fully understand the choices you make, but that is you using the opportunity of FI in the way that works for you. I’m prepared to accept some of the bullshit that would drive you out of the room in pursuit of my goal of changing the way people do things. It might work, it might not, but it is fun (for me) trying.

        The freedom of FI allows us to be true to our life-goals, whatever they are (if that is not too grand a term). Today I met a retired IT person who now works more or less full-time as a volunteer(?) in quite a senior position in the Woodland Trust. He has to deal with some serious shit trying to preserve and restore our ancient woodlands. He has to deal with the conflicting demands of land owners, locals, local- regional- and central-government. More hassle and conflict than I am prepared to handle, but he continues to do it because he believes in the goal and thinks he can make a difference.

        We all respond to FI in different ways, and that for me is the point of FI. It’s liberation and an opportunity to do something different, or even the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. On the biblical interpretation: before the Fall, Adam was placed in the garden to tend it (Gen 2:15) (= work), but after the Fall, work became fraught with difficulty (which accurately reflects the current situation). Work as productive activity is one aspect of fulfilment; whether you get financial reward for it is another matter. So, ideally, work is not punishment.


  8. ‘In my valedictory primary school report the headmaster said “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” and in four decades of enquiry since I have never really discovered why that was so wrong’

    Well this heard a loud hoot of laughter sound out from Mrs Ermine’s corner of the Ermines’ nest. He really doesn’t suffer them much at all…. !


  9. Hurrah! You have risen from the ashes Ermine! I clicked through from your 23.12.17 post several times & found myself on one of your other blogs. I have been worried since then that you had decided the move to Somerset meant “pastures new” in your blog work too & your wonderful blog was forever lost.

    So happy to see your new words on my screen this morning 🙂

    My friend who FI’d to France a couple of years ago recommended this book to me:

    It was a very interesting read, though perhaps more for us as we’re both raising youngs kids. I know you’ve blogged about education a few times over the years so i thought this might be of interest to you between visits to all the Megaliths 😉

    His other book on the dumbing down of education will be on my reading list now too.


    1. > I clicked through from your 23.12.17 post several times & found myself on one of your other blogs.
      No, that was incompetence rather than conspiracy. I moved that one and developed a crafty .htaccess to redirect previous posts to the wordpress versions. Then replicated it on here without changing the domain name. D’oh.

      I’ve been out of this computeracy game for a while!

      The intro to Gatto’s book is interesting, heck anyone who cites HL Mencken, source of the quip that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”. The endless testing regime supports his thesis, though it’s probably also an artefact of our collective problem observed in that MicKinsey report of us knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.


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