Puritan Work Ethic

For a change, this is short.

Like this:  without ever having it spelled out in so many words, I was brought up to believe that doing good things was a Good Thing.  I extrapolated from this in the simplistic sophistication that children bring to philosophy; if I do good things, I’m good.  If I do bad things, I’m bad.  If I fail to do good things, which am I?  At best neutral, at worst bad, probably not good, because we’ve defined good as “having done good things.”

Y’okay.  Pretty simplistic, and failing to take other things into account, like ability, cost, circumstance, responsibility, responsibility to be happy and fulfilled…simple.  For a kid, it worked.  If it works, I don’t fix it.  And, being me, I took things to their extremes.  After all, if it is good to do Good Things, it will be better to do more Good Things…and if I don’t do Good Things, I won’t be a good person.

Hellooooo John Calvin.  I had, by accident, fallen into the premise of Virtue by Works, with the implied corollary that if I fail to provide Works, I fail to have Virtue.  No Salvation, to Worth, no Love.  No worth or love, either.  Implied in this is the concept of “total depravity”, which isn’t nearly the fun the name indicates.  Basically, it is the notion that we are inherently sinful and without value unless we do Works.

  1. I am a valuable person only if I am useful to others
  2. I am only loveable if I provide value to others
  3. I have no inherent worth, only derived worth
  4. I am inherently corrupt (well, that’s true, but I work at it, too) and worthless and unloveable

Wow.  I’m pretty sure that most of that is either wrong or is based on false assumptions.  #1 is false; I can have value to me without being useful to anyone else.  I can have value because they like me and feel better when I’m around.  #2 presumes that my being loved is in my control.  It isn’t.  People love who they love.  Given time and diligent effort I might convince someone to stop loving me, but it would be just that; convincing.  And, if they don’t love me, I can’t get them to do so by Works.  #3, I suppose, is just a restatement of #1.

#4 is what I say to myself when I am overburdened and depressed thereby.  I’m not accomplishing all that is set before me, therefore I am useless.

Which means that, if I am burdened to the point of failure at work, I determine that, by my failure, I am useless.

If I am fraught and tired and depressed because I am stupid and think I’m useless because of work, and I don’t write, I am further useless.  Not because I didn’t do something I enjoy doing, but because I didn’t Accomplish Things.

I am determining my happiness by my value to other people. No wonder I frequently fall short on my own best interests; they aren’t even on the list, except that they matter to those who love me.

Cotton Mather, you were a horse’s ass.  I can tell by your works.

Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry