I’m at First Things today!

I’m at First Things today! August 28, 2012

Remember the post last week on careers and hookup culture where I eschewed punny titles in favor of non-verbal rage?  Well, I’ve expanded on some of those ideas and picked up a few new digressions in an essay for First Things‘s On the Square feature.  My essay is titled “The Sad Secular Monks” and here’s a teaser quote:

After graduation from college, young adults lose their deadlines. We stop making transitions as a cohort, and are expected to figure out when new stages of life begin on our own. Maturity, we’re told, is a kind of existentialist skill, learning how to define and describe your life. But we could use some better archetypes to draw on. There’s no more weakness in being part of a tradition and a structure than there is in an author drawing on one of Joseph Campbell’s narrative types.

The high-commitment jobs that drive Rosin’s interviewees to forgo intimacy and that sunder Slaughter and her peers from their families are pernicious because we don’t yet have an expectation of when and how to leave them. There’s no exit strategy, no moment when your life as a turbine ends, and your real life as an adult with responsibilities and vulnerabilities begins.

And, in a nice bit of synergy, the other On the Square column today is also contrasting conventional careers and monasticism (though James R. Rogers is talking about the opportunities each offer to do good work for others, not the structure they give your life.

Hie thee hence!  And if you see any interesting reactions/rebuttals, let me know and I’ll give links at the bottom of this post.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Thank you for taking on the concept of vocation. It’s something people need to think about more. Not just “how can I make money, how can I succceed” or even “how can I serve” but “what was I created to do and be?”

  • Bo Tait

    Interesting article. It’ll be real interesting if “the job” starts changing forms in order to be more accomodating to families. And if it does, it’ll be interesting to see how men react to it.

    In the article you talk about Mormon missionary work as a couple years devoted to a higher purpose, and that there isn’t a secular equivalent. I was wondering if countries that require youg adults to serve in the military for a set amount of time would be considered equivalent. Most of those countries only require men to do it, but in others (Germany, I think) women are expected to work for the city in lieu of military training.
    Could working for the State be considered working for a higher purpose?

  • speaking of FT, you might be interested vis a vis the Natural Law discussiong of several posts ago on this piece by Leroy Huizenga: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/08/the-bulverism-of-same-sex-marriage-supporters.

    In all my reading of Lewis I’d managed to miss the description of ‘bulverism’ and I found it rather apropo to your frequent exhortation to put all your cards on the table, pick fights in good faith, etc.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’m contracting at a company which is more family friendly. “I need to go to take care of my kid” is an excuse granted for everything, and telecomuting is common.

    But the result is almost horrific. All the full timers seem to be online 16-18 hours a day most days, with little holes punched out when the kids need them. It is absolutely expected of IT personnel to, from time to time, take their laptops home, have dinner with the family, put the kids to bed, then get back online.

    I do not think it is possible in America today, with globalization breathing down our necks and a need to compete with people who earn under $1.25/day, to continue to justify our standard of living AND have a family. And the result can be seen in the abortion rate.

    • Steve

      Yes yes I agree I ag… wait, abortion rate?? WTF??

      • Ted Seeber

        A huge cause of abortion in America is “hookups with failed contraception” for young women who either see themselves on a career path or, alternatively, whose overbearing parents see them on a career path. In modern America, if your contraception fails and you aren’t prepared to take on the responsibility of parenthood out of where you are in your schooling, abortion is seen as the proper response.

        And contraception DOES fail, regardless of method (well, permanent sterilization is far less likely to fail, but it does happen from time to time; and if you depend on the free condoms handed out on college campuses or shipped to Africa, you’re basically playing Russian Roulette with two bullets chambered).

        • Steve

          What does any of that have to do with globalization and competing with nations who pay their laborers pennies on the dollar?? I mean, you made a bit of jump essentially mid-sentence there…

          • Ted Seeber

            As American laborers in general, we work longer hours to earn our exceedingly high salary, to the detriment of family, friends, and especially children. There is a reason why we’re one of the few first-world countries to not offer any standard maternity leave, and it shows in the abortion rate (as women who see a child as derailing their career, take the obvious choice when becoming pregnant to not give birth).

      • deiseach

        From what I’ve seen of our neighbouring island, not to mention the debate in America, if you’re in school (and this can be secondary school, not university) and you get pregnant unplanned, the expectation is almost “Of course you’ll have an abortion, you can’t derail your education right now or else your life is ruined”.

        Same when you leave school and start on a career – if you don’t intend to start a family until you’re in your mid to late thirties, getting pregnant at twenty-five/twenty-eight can be seen as a disaster (“I’m just getting to where I worked so hard, I absolutely can’t have a baby now!”)

        There is also the new alternative a pregant woman can be offered, if she is carrying twins or triplets – reduction to a singleton. I’ll let you read the story for yourself.

        We’re probably going to go back soon to the polls for yet another referendum on abortion here in Ireland, and it’s going to be messy.

  • This not only makes marriage impossible. It actually makes teleology impossible. Any ultimate good or ultimate truth we accept requires us to reorder our lives around it. What are the odds that is going to get in the way of your promising future just like a marriage does. So you don’t just sacrifice family but religion as well. At least any religion that is not safe. You could still be a liberal Christian.

    • Ted Seeber

      Even liberal Christianity has it’s demands on your life; you have to sacrifice the profit motive for one.

  • Steve

    While I sympathize with the notion that individuals, couples, parents, etc. are pulled more to work longer hours at jobs that pay less, this whole article just seems naive. Unfortunately middle-class life in much of the US often requires both parents to work at jobs that are often demanding of your time and efforts. If you don’t like the hours you work, quit and go work 20-30 hours a week for $8/hr at McDonalds or at a local grocery store or at Walmart. Of course you’ll be broke in no time. Americans are competing on a global stage with countries that still pay their labor force a fraction of what’s paid here, so if anyone think’s we’ve hit rock-bottom, so to speak, prepare for more disappointment on this front. The loss of intamacy due to the burden of additional work is a separate issue from the loss of intimacy (a point I disagree with) due to a ‘hook-up society’. The former is an adult issue… the latter is a problem for people who haven’t grown up.

    • Emily

      I think it’s not naivete so much as unremarked-upon class divisions – Slaughter and Rosin acknowledge this more directly in their pieces, which Leah references, but they’re talking about upper class women seeking positions of economic and political power. In those cases I think it is more an issue of career as vocation. The people you’re talking about, people who *have* to work long hours at demanding jobs for decreasing pay, who don’t have a choice about “dialing back” or “switching fields”, and who actually ARE threatened by “global competition” (often in structural ways, since when a company wants to switch an office or plant overseas the productivity of individual US workers is irrelevant) are often in a very different class position.

      Career as vocation is a privileged problem, in some ways, and talking about global competition is a folk theory about motivation for those people at best, a red herring at worst; career as intimacy-destroying necessity is a more middle and lower class dilemma. And I really think it’s one that requires structural changes to the way workers are treated and valued, NOT just individual choices of individual employees. (Not trying to argue for a particular political program here, just saying that I agree what you’re talking about has little connection to hook-up culture, but isn’t completely in the control of workers and their families anyway.)

  • Steve

    True, I referred to this phenomena with regards to it being a middle or lower middle economic class issue of ‘necessity’ rather than one of choice, but that’s not why I was claiming the essay was naive. Personal intimacy isn’t something all people value and some people just enjoy working 12+ hours a day. Neither of these points require a person to be sad. While it’s odd to think this way, and I wouldn’t say this holds for a majority, but some people take joy in fuddling with a spread sheet. People can find purpose of doing all sorts of work, whether it’s computer programming, working with your hands, selling real estate, or simply climbing the corporate ladder doing whatever. That they choose to give more time to their careers (as opposed to those who have to do so to survive) at the cost of not spending time elsewhere isn’t something they should feel sad about or guilty over. Ignoring that many people might prefer longer more immersive work is, in my point of view, an omission made by someone who is simply too young to recognize this.

    There are claims about no clear ‘exit strategies’ from high-pressure jobs. Again, for people who choose these jobs in the first place (as opposed to people who need them) it involves sending out emails to colleagues & contacts, checking on in-company vacancies, calling head-hunters, submitting resumes, browsing the classifieds, doing some soul searching and simply leaving. I’m not suggesting this is the easiest thing to do, but I can’t really shed a tear for coddled yuppies who choose to get into demanding fields and complain that finding a job more suited to their happiness actually requires some effort. I’m not losing too much sleep if your great spiritual battle is that you have a job that pays well but occupies too much of your time and no one is holding a gun to your head to remain there. There was an SNL skit the past year called ‘white people problems’. Now, they shouldn’t feel ashamed at leaving, and I think attempts to remove any stigma from work that gives people a more traditional 40 hrs a week are worthwhile. This is all really a lot like that. I also don’t see how this phenomena is caused or is the cause of a ‘hook-up’ culture (nor do I think this is really a problem to begin with).

    • Ted Seeber

      I believe it is your last sentence that explains best the rest. You don’t see a problem with a hook up culture, so of course you don’t understand the rest.

      Where I see an economic system that fails to allow people the time necessary to reproduce and raise children as being ultimately a non-sustainable economic system. Oh, it may take 80 years for the cracks to begin to show, but first a lack of demand, then a lack of available labor will catch up with the system.

  • Steve

    I can’t help but think you’re attempting to suggest a causal relationship here that simply doesn’t exist. You’re making an unwarranted leap between ‘An economic reality that doesn’t allow people time appropriate to tend to their family life’ and ‘the cause of this economic reality is due to people having sex in a more open way’. There should be a coherent reasonably clear way to link 1 to the other, and thats simply not in anything I’ve read here.

    I’m not sure what you think will take 80 years, what exactly might be lacking or will be lacking in demand nor how a lack of labor will catch up to whatever system you’re talking about.

    I’ll go out on a limb and try and piece together the argument I think you’re trying to make: Due to higher instances of casual sex in a ‘hook-up’ culture where abortion is an available option, we’re eliminating people who otherwise would have been born, would have created a demand for services and eventually been additions to the labor force that would allow the same tasks to be divided up amongst more people thereby allowing individuals more time home with their families to raise their children.

    Before I waste time arguing against my own argument, is this the overall point you were looking to make?

    • Steve

      Damn it… twice I meant to reply in nested comments but created a new one… sorry.