Work and Meaning

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I go to war that my son may be a politician, that his son may be a merchant, that his son may be an artist. ~ Ben Pieratt

As I wrote before in Parent to Child Propagation of False Meaning, I am skeptical of most justifications for parenthood.

As a single person pursuing his own goals in life, I generally hear one of the following reasons for people having kids:

I just want my kids’ lives to be better than mine…

That’s lame. I didn’t ask why you care about the kids you have. Who wouldn’t? I asked why you had them in the first place.

I think it is just…you know…natural for us to have kids…

Weak sauce. It’s natural for men to want to shag every attractive woman he sees as well; that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

It grants me immortality–knowing that my kids will live on past me.

Progress. At least we’ve established now that the reasoning here started as a selfish one.

I don’t know…I just knew that for various reasons I had to. My spouse wanted them. My parents wanted me to have them. Etc. I just didn’t see how I could avoid it.

Ah, the refreshment of honesty. I can get behind that. Seriously. I respect the self-awareness and truth of this approach. I only wish more had the oomph to say it when it’s true.

Corporate work

But we were talking about work, not kids.

The reason I got sidetracked was because I see them quite the same. Those that use the conformist argument for having children are also likely to use it for doing work that is either devoid of meaning or clearly over the line into malicious.

And the reason is always the same:

I do it so that my kids won’t have to.

Bullshit. It’s turtles all the way down.

Let’s say you’re in the business of denying healthcare claims to sick people. Yes, in this land of freedom and profit worship, this stands as a good, honest, god-lovin’ American job.

And let’s say I call you on it.

Dude, Chris, this is horrible work that you do. You’re hurting people. Your job has no meaning other than profit. Why are you doing it?

Invariably, the defense is as follows:

Yeah, I know it’s bad…but at this point all I care about is my kids. I just want them to have a good life, you know?

Unfortunately, I do know. That trick goes like this:

ME: Oh, cool. So you don’t want your kids to do the same kind of work, right? You want them to do something meaningful, right?

CHRIS: Oh, yeah, definitely.

ME: Cool, so you’d be cool if they decided to not go to school and be an artist or something then?

CHRIS: (Angry) Are you kidding me? My kid is absolutely going to Harvard or another top business school so he can get the best possible jobs.

ME: You mean the best possible corporate jobs, right?

CHRIS: Yes, absolutely. I want him to have more opportunities than I did.


Going back to Ben’s quote above, which I find to be beautiful, I have to say that I’ve never really seen this in practice. What I see instead is unhappy people working corporate jobs, claiming to do it so that their kids won’t have to work soul-sucking work like them, and then grooming them for the exact same soul-sucking work themselves.

If someone is a coal miner, and they’re working so that their kid can NOT be one, that’s a clear distinction. But when you work a meaningless corporate job and you’re setting your kid up to be by the book (grades, college, “good job”), you’re just propagating to them the exact illness that you’re claiming to endure for their benefit.

I think we’re at the stage now where instead of saying that we are soldiers so that our kids can be politicians, so that their kids can be artists, we should instead say–right now–that war and politics are destructive. We should just try to be artists immediately.

How practical is this? Not very. I type this working for a large corporation, and that’s WITHOUT kids. So I’d label that as pretty hypocritical. The difference of course is that I’m not passing the ailment down to another generation, and that I spend a considerable amount of effort fighting the good fight.

Anyway, love the quote. Love the concept. I just worry that people aren’t really breaking the cycle of meaninglessness like they claim to be doing. They’re actually just keeping it going.

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