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Underbelly: 10 Things - Useful / Useless

Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly
#106 in a series of wild and precious things to help you decide what is useful.

  1. TWIL (This Week I Learned)
This week I contemplated uselessness.
Since 2012 I have been contemplating where capitalism intersects with our mental health.
This week, several events coincided in a fascinating way to help me further contemplate this topic. First, a discussion I had during counseling. Second, a podcast episode I listened on Behind the Bastards <= I know, what a name! And finally, I had the good fortune of listening to the next 7 hours of The Master and His Emissary.
The Master and His Emissary is filled with so much academic evidence to point to the idea that yes, actually, the stuff that actually separates us from other animals, is stuff that actually matters to us as humans. Stuff like, for example, music. The moment I realized that the theme for my week was the idea of usefulness was when I heard Iain McGilchrist quote Steven Pinker saying that music is useless.
(I bookmarked the section in The Master and His Emissary but can’t find it…the quote from Pinker that McGilchrist refers to is this: “Pinker compares music to "auditory cheesecake”, stating that ‘As far as biological cause and effect is concerned, music is useless’“ This is strongly rejected by Daniel Levitin and Joseph Carroll, experts in music cognition, who argue that music has had an important role in the evolution of human cognition.[55][56][57][58][59][60] <= Those footnotes are the articles cited in wikipedia that help to reject Pinker’s quote.)
We need to redefine useful and useless if we still use those terms in a purely capitalist sense.
Useful — Does it aid us in being better humans?
Useless — Does it aid us in being better machines, better units of labor?
2. Quote
"Part of the reason that people with disabilities have behavioral problems, behaviors that we find challenging, is that they’re protesting the crappy lives that we offer them,” she said. ‘It’s that person’s only form of protest and it’s a critique of the life that they’re being offered.“ "It’s like there’s no greater human impulse than to be in charge of your own life. And what JRC does, to an extent beyond what any other provider in the country does, is strip people of choice and control.’” — Nancy Weiss, quoted by Robert Evans on Behind the Bastards episode 54:44 The Judge Rotenberg Center
“So much of the problem here…on the whole, all the state usually wants to do…it’s a mix. They’re willing to devote more resources to the kids who will be able to work a full time job and like, ‘make a living,’ right? A lot of these kids for whatever reason aren’t going to be able to do that. They’re not going to be able to live…an economically productive life. And so the goal becomes ‘How do we warehouse these kids for he least amount of money?’ As opposed to, ‘Is there anything we can do to give them a richer life?’
— Aidan Bonacci "It’s something we’ve seen time and time again. Not just here … It’s depressing and it’s infuriating.”
— Robert Evans “It is and again the villain here is the reduction of human beings to their pure economic potential.” — Robert Evans and Aidan Bonacci, Behind the Bastards, The Judge Rotenberg Center, 21:05 - 22:10
“The model we choose to use to understand something determines what we find.” ― Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
3. Prompt
So, are you useful? How much of your day, life, week is spent doing useful stuff?
It’s a hard prompt for me, honestly. Is the majority of your life filled with that stuff humans do so well — creating art, music, devising a moral code, intuiting science, etc — or is it spent either numbing yourself or being “useful” in the sense of economically productive?
4. Quest
What I have found odd, honestly, is that a large portion of my adult life has been by necessity “unproductive”. It has given me the opportunity to stand in that uncomfortable compost and observe. And it’s been quite challenging at times.
I encourage you to observe “usefulness” this week, in yourself and others.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
I encourage you to be a more useful human, to the extent possible in your life this week. I clearly understand that necessity of “buying in” to the capitalist system we are all in.
And maybe you disagree with me? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. My stance is that we need to pivot toward a moral code that rewards human usefulness.
6. Video
RSA Animate - Iain McGilchrist: The Divided Brain - A Cognitive Whiteboard Animation
RSA Animate - Iain McGilchrist: The Divided Brain - A Cognitive Whiteboard Animation
7. Podcast
8. Poem
Useless Landscape by D. A. Powell - Poems | Academy of American Poets
9. Hero
Claudia Sahm on Substack
10. Share/Connect/Action
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Wendy Kelly
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Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly @wendykkelly

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