I’ve a test on Kant, and various interpretations and critiques, in just a few short hours, but am coming up for a bit of air and a break before my brain melts out my ears, as it is wont to do whenever Kant’s the subject of conversation.
I’ve been pretty clear about my general dislike of Kant, and how absolutely dirty and in need of worshiping at the altar of utilitarianism after going out of my want to defend Kant and especially the motive of duty. That said, the more I read, especially of Michael Stocker, the harder it is I find to disagree with one of the very basic of Kant’s maxims: never treat people merely as means, but also as ends. (I think part of it just comes from the traditional German wordiness of that time period; say what you mean, people, not just what sounds pretty!) Treat people as persons, as moral agents, and not just as things that let help you accomplish your own motives and desires.
That’s sort of hard to argue with.
Further reflection also led me, roundabout, to realizing that it’s one of the key things that influences how I relate to people, and especially how I relate to jobs. I’ve been known to insanely throw myself into my work, often at the expense of everything else in my life. (Saying I lack a well-honed ability to balance between obligations is about the biggest understatement. Ever.) Microsoft is probably the best example of this, where my entire world became nothing but Services for Macintosh. Not much of my time there is documented here; I had a different blog at the time, and it was mostly focused on my marriage and then lack of marriage. But while at the Evil Empire, I ended up being the only software test engineer on a project, partnered with a software programmer who’d have rather been doing anything but working on Macs. It wasn’t a good combination, especially when I ended up taking on not just one or two roles, but the role of an entire test team – from getting to work at Insanely Early for the morning team meetings (and having to collect all the test reports, and interpret them, prior) to staying late for new builds and running the build verification tests.
Although I had a home about 6 blocks from the campus I worked at, I ended up bringing my ferrets into my office (in a large travel cage) several nights a week, and just staying there 24/7. Why not? They fed us, watered us, there were showers in the basement, and room to keep spare clothes in my office. It was just more convenient.
And deadly to any sense of balance or relationships I had.
But I’ll admit it, I was happy. I was happy to have something so specific to focus my life and my somewhat OCD behaviour on, I liked the people I worked with, and eventually learned at least a little balance – in that I’d spend a day or two a weekend gaming nonstop instead of working nonstop. But at least it was social (if, in the end, just as, if not more, destructive).
I quickly became unhappy, though, when we had one of the never-ending reorgs, and I went from having a distant but amusing boss to a micromanaging witch of a woman who was threatened by having another female around (I so wish I was kidding on that front). She brought in several full time employees to ease the workload, but still expected me to function as team lead and general head of the show, even as she took credit for it. She got in the way of my hiring on fulltime, arguing I wasn’t needed, and then threw a temper tantrum of spectacular proportions when I announced I was giving my two week notice, but would be willing to work a few hours every evening to help the transition past that. Her argument for why I couldn’t leave? The team needed me too badly, I was the lynchpin that held everything together, since I had been the only person working on the project for that long aside from the programmer, they needed me.
That was when it hit me, really, what I had suspected but then clarified into knowledge. They didn’t care about me, my dedication to the job, the endless nights I’d put in there, the fact that my marriage was ruined over the work. They didn’t care that my average work hours per week for the 6 months before I left was 90 hours a week, all they cared about was my brain, and the fact that I was tool that would get them what they wanted and needed. Sure, I was a valuable tool, but a tool nonetheless, and one they would throw away the minute they were done with me. The loyalty I had fostered for the team and company was not, in any way, returned.
I left that night, and never looked back. Probably one of the sanest decisions I made, even with the longrun result of the company I moved to shutting down due to losing our venture capitalists in the WTC collapse.
I don’t like being used as a means. I am not a thing. I am a living, breathing human being, and when I get involved in a project, I throw myself, heart and soul, into it. Maybe that’s a me-problem, and maybe I shouldn’t give so much that I am inevitably hurt. But if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be nearly so valued, either – which might, in hindsight, also not be such a bad thing.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to think about my other places o’work, and I can tell you with some certainty that I’ve always reacted like this – the minute I notice I’m being used as a thing and not valued for being me, I check out, and pretty quickly after, will actually leave. I guess my loyalty only goes so far as I feel it being returned.
All of which boils down to – damnit, Kant was right about something. Which means he might be right about more things, which means a lot of reading Kant in my future. Plus side: Howell is teaching Kant again in the fall, and I need to take it for comps, so it might not be as painful as I’ve been fearing. Down side: voluntarily reading more Kant.
Great post. I love Kant; he is the poster child for postmodern criticism, and often unfairly so, at that. He wasn’t stupid; he knew damn well virtually no one lives according to the moral law, and that the kingdom of ends might as well be on Mars, so far is it from our current world.
But as a vision, in More’s sense, it isn’t as horrifying as it’s cracked up to be, especially if one engages the work of the neo-Kantians. As with any other great thinker, we modern interlocutors need to sift through and think deeply on his claims and views. Surely, there are aspects of his project to be jettisoned — the obsessive rationalism, for one — but much to admire and learn from, IMO.
I’ve taken a couple of graduate seminars on Kant, and found each of them to be rewarding.
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