May 9, 2017

In "Is the Gig Economy Working?" The New Yorker digs up "The Greening of America."

I love seeing that crazy 1970 book pop up — click on my Charles Reich tag to see other posts about it — and here it is in a new article — by Nathan Heller — about how the gig economy is working:
In 1970, Charles A. Reich, a [Yale] law professor who’d experienced a countercultural conversion after hanging with young people out West, published “The Greening of America,” a cotton-candy cone that wound together wispy revelations from the sixties. Casting an eye across modern history, he traced a turn from a world view that he called Consciousness I (the outlook of local farmers, self-directed workers, and small-business people, reaching a crisis in the exploitations of the Gilded Age) to what he called Consciousness II (the outlook of a society of systems, hierarchies, corporations, and gray flannel suits). He thought that Consciousness II was giving way to Consciousness III, the outlook of a rising generation whose virtues included direct action, community power, and self-definition. “For most Americans, work is mindless, exhausting, boring, servile, and hateful, something to be endured while ‘life’ is confined to ‘time off,’ ” Reich wrote. “Consciousness III people simply do not imagine a career along the old vertical lines.”...

Exponents of the futuristic tech economy frequently adopt this fifty-year-old perspective. Like Reich, they eschew the hedgehog grind of the forty-hour week; they seek a freer way to work. This productivity-minded spirit of defiance holds appeal for many children of the Consciousness III generation: the so-called millennials....

Many dreamy young people... see unrealized opportunity wherever they go. Some, in their careers, end up as what might be called hedgers. These are programmers also known as d.j.s, sculptors who excel as corporate consultants; they are Instagram-backed fashion mavens, with a TV pilot on the middle burner. They are doing it for the money, and the love, and, like the overladen students they probably once were, because they are accustomed to a counterpoint of self. The hedged career is a kind of gigging career—custom-assembled, financially diffuse, defiant of organizational constraint—and its modishness is why part-time Lyft driving or weekend TaskRabbit-ing has found easy cultural acceptance. But hedging is a luxury, available to those who have too many appealing options in life. It gestures toward the awkward question of whom, in the long run, the revolution-minded spirit of the nineteen-sixties really let off the leash.
Read the whole thing. I'd click through just to gaze at the very nice illustration, by Janne Iiovonen.

ADDED: I highly recommend Roger Kimball's 1994 article (published in The New Criterion), "Charles Reich & America’s cultural revolution/A reconsideration of The Greening of America on its 25th anniversary." Excerpt:
Introducing Consciousness III, Mr. Reich sounds at first like an epidemiologist. It began with “a few individuals” in the mid-1960s; it “sprouted up, astonishingly and miraculously, out of the stony soil of the American Corporate State”; no one foresaw its appearance, but it soon “spread, here and abroad, by means invisible.” Though it spread like the measles, Consciousness III is difficult to describe because, as Mr. Reich notes, the very attempt to say what it is draws on intellectual habits that Consciousness III rejects: “Authority, schedules, time, accepted customs, are all forms which must be questioned. Accepted patterns of thought must be broken; what is considered ‘rational thought’ must be opposed by ‘nonrational thought’—drug-thought, mysticism, impulses.”

Not entirely, though. Mr. Reich does allow that the “foundation” of Consciousness III is “liberation.” He adds that “the meaning of liberation is that the individual is free to build his own philosophy and values, his own life-style, and his own culture from a new beginning.” More generally, Consciousness III comes into being when an individual frees himself from the “false consciousness” that society imposes. People infused with the spirit of Consciousness III do “not believe in the antagonistic or competitive doctrine of life,” they “do not compete ‘in real life.’ … People are brothers, the world is ample for all…. No one judges anyone else.” Also, everyone rather likes himself: “Consciousness III says, ‘I’m glad I’m me.’”

If you are looking for a concrete example of what Mr. Reich had in mind when he praises this higher consciousness, think back to the American campus in 1970. “One of the few places to observe man partially free of the competition and antagonism that are the norms of our social system is in a college dining hall where many of the students are Consciousness III people.” Be that as it may, Mr. Reich was certainly correct to see the American university as one of the chief breeding grounds for the revolution he envisions. He speaks in this context of the “conversions” that are “constantly seen on campuses today”: “In a brief span of months, a student, seemingly conventional in every way, changes his haircut, his clothes, his habits, his interests, his political attitudes, his way of relating to other people, in short, his whole way of life.” Indeed.

One might have thought that the author of these millenarian sentiments must himself be a happy Consciousness III type, full of confidence, optimism, and sassy derring-do. Not a bit of it. In The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef, an autobiography that he published in 1976, Mr. Reich reveals himself to have been a pathetic soul, paralyzed with nameless fears and unsatisfied longings. The ordinary tasks of daily life filled him with dread; normal human relations were completely beyond him. “The most constant presence in my life was fear and anxiety,” he wrote,
I would wake up in the morning and feel the need to clench my fists and clamp my teeth and squeeze my toes together, which sent tension all through my body as waves of fear and worry came over me. The particular things I worried about changed from day to day or hour to hour or week to week but that terrible feeling of dread remained with me almost all the time. I hated that feeling. It made me afraid of living. It made me not want to wake up, not want to go out, not want to come home, not want to go to sleep.

I worried about getting to work on time. I worried about my clothes and my appearance. A tiny slip in a brief I wrote might cause inconceivable disaster. I feared criticism or pressure from the senior partners. A business trip by plane filled me with worry about reservations and hotels and connections. And yet work was the last of my worries. It was in the rest of my life that I was most overwhelmed. I think I feared most the discovery and exposure of my secrets. All of my sexual feelings were repressed into an intense fantasy world that filled me with unsatisfied desire.

22 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

Bookmarked for later, except to note my first encounter with the word "precariat," which perfectly describes these times.

(And, yes, I'm now a member of the gig economy, sort of, at 57. If it weren't for my IRA, I'd be feeling pretty precariat right now.)

Paco Wové said...

"Many people". "Some". Embubbled young Northeasterner cranks out essay about his friends, calls it a trend.

And "gestures toward"? WTF? Why not "Raises eyebrows at" or "Jerks its chin at, with small grunting sounds"?

Rob said...

An astute classmate observed, "As far as I can tell, Comsciousness III is just drug-induced Comsciousness I."

We were all at Yale Law witth Charlie Reich in 1970. My favorite Charlie Reich story is about a friend who asked Reich to autograph a copy of his book. A little embarrassed, my friend requested the inscription, "To Edith, Happy Mother's Day." "When's Mother's Day," Reich asked. "Next Sunday," my friend told him. "Oh wow," exclaimed Reich, "you saved my life!"

MikeR said...

Well, I was in a college campus dorm in the '70s. He is deluded.

Ann Althouse said...

This is my favorite Charles Reich story, about the funeral for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black:

"The minister selected to deliver the eulogy went to Black’s library and found various books that Black had underlined, including The Greening of America, by Charles Reich, one of his former clerks. The minister selected some of the underlined portions to read at the funeral. During the eulogy, Brennan gently nudged Stewart. “Hugo would turn over in his grave if he heard that,” Brennan said. Only Black’s intimates knew that Black thought Reich’s book absurd, and that Black underlined the sections he disliked."

Woodward, Bob; Armstrong, Scott (2011-05-31). The Brethren . Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

BillyTalley said...

I think the Reich in Bolinas Reef is a Consciousness III type too. Not all Millenials I know are full of derring-do.

Angel-Dyne said...

Digging up Charles Reich is a marker of the sheer intellectual exhaustion of the chattering class.

Matthew Sablan said...

I'll try and read the rest of the article later.

The gig economy has always existed, I think; now it is just on the Internet for people to see and for the gig doers to more efficiently gig.

Fernandinande said...

Paco Wové said...
Why not ..."Jerks its chin at, with small grunting sounds"?


That's what I started doing when I hit the part about the cotton-candy cone of wispy revelation, and didn't get any further.

Mike said...

From your excerpts, I'd say Reich was far more accurate about the future than Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) or Toffler (Future Shock). Interesting.

Freeman Hunt said...

"When it was published by Random House in October, it instantly became more than a best seller; it became a national preoccupation. The New York Times had just started its Op-Ed page in September 1970, under the editorship of Harrison Salisbury. That fall, Mr. Reich appeared not once but three times on the Op-Ed page with restatements of his argument. In short order, John Kenneth Galbraith, George F. Kennan, Herbert Marcuse, and Marya Mannes weighed in there with commentary on the book. This is in addition to the reviews and feature articles that the Times ran about the book. Everywhere one turned, The Greening of America was being discussed, praised, criticized, often in the most solemn terms."

Information from the past telling us that most new books we get excited about will be mostly forgotten.

Simon Kenton said...

Reckon I'm irredeemably C1, but I thought gigging was what you did to frogs, with a thing like a trident? So, like what Reich did to book buyers and public intellectuals?

Luke Lea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Lea said...

"He speaks in this context of the “conversions” that are “constantly seen on campuses today”: “In a brief span of months, a student, seemingly conventional in every way, changes his haircut, his clothes, his habits, his interests, his political attitudes, his way of relating to other people, in short, his whole way of life.”

Those kinds of sudden personality changes were usually signs of dropping acid.*** In any case, Consciousness III types have been found in every Western society going back centuries: artists, writers, entrepreneurs, creative types of all sorts often have biographies that fit that template. Maybe there weren't so many but then they didn't have acid back then or a new generation in elite educational institutions that had just discovered it. The counterculture was an acid phenomenon to an extent that is not nowadays fully appreciated.

**See here for a dramatic example of a conventional housewife turning into a flower child in the course of a single afternoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si-jQeWSDKc

Ron Winkleheimer said...

“In a brief span of months, a student, seemingly conventional in every way, changes his haircut, his clothes, his habits, his interests, his political attitudes, his way of relating to other people, in short, his whole way of life.”

When people do that outside of a university campus people usually assume they have joined a cult. Back in the 70's and early 80's they even had people who would kidnap them at their relatives behest and attempt to "deprogram" them.

David said...

“For most Americans, work is mindless, exhausting, boring, servile, and hateful, something to be endured while ‘life’ is confined to ‘time off,’ ” Reich wrote.

More respect for the common wo(man) from the intellectual elite.

Ambrose said...

When I applied to Yale in the mid-70s, the informational brochure had a line to the effect "'The Greening of America' was written over a series of lunches in the Yale dining halls" [for people who know Yale, I think it specified a particular dining hall - Morse or Styles, I can't remember now]. The book was such a phenomenon that this one line was very effective marketing - evoking close student-faculty interaction and a chance to join the Eastern establishment.

mockturtle said...

Digging up Charles Reich is a marker of the sheer intellectual exhaustion of the chattering class.

Uh-huh.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Specialization of labor is one of the most important ways of increasing the efficiency of labor.
Having three careers that you half-ass focus on doesn't seem like a way to get ahead.
Gig economy doesn't sound like a career path for a person of modest means who would like to marry and raise a family.
Be a college student forever, I guess?

Barbara said...

“The Greening of America,” a cotton-candy cone that wound together wispy revelations from the sixties.

Hardly. "The Greening of America" is a hate-filled book. America is awful and does awful. Americans are awful and do awful things. Consciousness III is the deus ex machina, the way out, like being born again.

So sad. It doesn't take much reading between the lines of his 1976 autobiography, "The Sorcerer or Bolinas Reef," to see that he hated his life and the people around him because he refused to admit to himself that he was gay, to accept himself as gay.

So sad.

readering said...

A teenager in that period, The Greening of America (1970) was one of four non-fiction best-sellers I remember reading to get a sense of America and the contemporary world, the others being The Selling of President 1968 (1969), Future Shock (1970)and Limits to Growth (1972).

Probably should have just read The Joy of Sex instead (1972).

exiledonmainstreet said...

Probably should have just read The Joy of Sex instead (1972).

5/9/17, 1:33 PM

That creepy hippie dude they had in the illustrations didn't do anything for me. I guess they were trying to make average looking guys feel all right about themselves, but from the female POV, I found the illustrations quite disappointing.