Curious Soul Workshop on Alienation

My friend Monica Vilhauer, founder and owner of Curious Soul Philosophy, an independent philosophy organization, is running a series of workshops this fall on alienation. I’d attend myself, but I’m on a bit of a hiatus from things nowadays, so I can’t. That said, I would if I could, so I highly recommend giving it a shot: I can vouch, personally, for Monica’s acumen and skills as a philosophical interlocutor. Whether you want to re-live your long-lost glory days in grad school, or just figure out why alienation seems to be a ubiquitous fixture of our lives–or both–I think you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Information below, and via this this link to Monica’s website.

Even if you happen to miss this particular workshop, take a look around at CSP’s other offerings–there’s a bit of something for everyone. Incidentally, I asked Monica if she’d consider doing a workshop on Gadamer (her AOS, and the subject of her book, Gadamer’s Ethics of Play), and she said she would if I could get a handful of people to sign on with me. In other words, For a fee/She’s happy to be/Our Gadamer Girl. That’s where you guys come in, PoT heads. So get your truth and method on, and let’s take a ride down Continental Lane one of these days (but yeah, you’re going to have to wait until I’m back from my Exile in Hiatusville). Img

How do we come to feel like strangers in our own societies, in our own work, in our own bodies? Is there a remedy?

Curious Soul Philosophy Workshop
Where: Online via Zoom
When: Saturdays, October 15, 22, 29, 2022
What Time: 2:00-4:00 p.m. Pacific time

Workshop Description: The “progress” of civilization — with its rise in technology, the single-minded pursuit of profit, contracts to handle all interactions, and exhaustive rules of social appropriateness — is not always experienced as an improvement in our lives.  It is often felt as a loss of connection with nature, a reduction in meaningful human relationships, a suppression of our animal selves, and a life lived as a cog in a machine over which we have no control.  We often feel lost, powerless, frustrated, and cut off from what really matters.  In this workshop we’ll consider voices from the history of philosophy (Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche) who analyze the causes of different types of alienation.  We’ll discuss the ways in which their analyses relate to our lives, and brainstorm remedies for alienation that we might experiment with.

About Philosophy Workshops
Philosophy Workshops emphasize discussion, life experience, and practical application. Philosophy Workshops are led by a philosophy professor committed to accessible language and open conversation. No prior philosophical training is necessary . . .  just an open mind, a respectful approach to others, and a sense of humor!

The Theory and the Lab:
There are two portions of this discussion-based workshop: 1) the Theory, and 2) the Lab.

In the Theory portion of the workshop (the first half of each session) we’ll work to understand key concepts from our reading for the day and from supplementary mini-lectures given by the workshop leader. In the Lab portion of the workshop (the second half) we will reflect on the ways in which the theory applies to our own time period and our own personal struggles. We will devise “experiments” for putting key concepts into practice in our lives, and we will discuss with each other how our experiments work out.

If this is your first philosophy workshop, you can learn more about what to expect here.

Saturday, October 15
We will begin by reading and discussing Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” in which the freedom, health, and natural compassion of our “savage” state are praised. On the other hand, our “civilized” dependence on conveniences and our obsession with property, social status, and competition are criticized as bringing on weakness, envy, misery, and slavery in man.  Thus, “man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.”  We will brainstorm strategies for minimizing alienation brought on by technology, competition, and inequality.

Saturday, October 22
Next we will consider what the quintessential thinker of alienation has to say — Karl Marx.  In “Estranged Labor,” Marx’s diagnosis focuses on the way in which historical transformations in labor have produced alienation a) from our products, b) from our productive activity, c) from other people, and d) from our species. As a result, we experience ourselves no longer as human beings, but as commodities.  We will consider whether we think it is possible to overcome alienation (even if partially) in an economic system that (according to Marx) is fueled by its dependence on estranged labor.

Saturday, October 29
Finally, we will take up Friedrich Nietzsche‘s analysis of alienation by focusing on the second essay of his On the Genealogy of Morals, in which he identifies the source of man’s bad conscience about his animal self, and his sense of estrangement in society. Nietzsche’s main target is traditional morals, which say “no” to life and turn us into domesticated, controlled, soft, and weak-spirited creatures. (On the other hand, such a regression turned us into “interesting” animals!  So, there’s some good news and some bad news.)

Preparation:  For each meeting there will be a selection of reading (pdf), which we recommend you read before that meeting in order to get the most out of our conversations. The readings will be emailed to you a week in advance of the workshop.

Cost: $175 (for three 2-hr philosophy sessions)

  • The workshop has limited space. Register today to save yourself a spot!
  • Deadline to register is October 8, 2022.
  • Register by clicking the button below and following instructions to use PayPal. If you do not have a PayPal account, PayPal still allows you to pay using a credit card.
  • [Scroll to the bottom of Monica’s site for these links.]

12 thoughts on “Curious Soul Workshop on Alienation

    • Well, I don’t know where you are in Australia, but 2 pm Saturday North American Pacific Time is, I believe, 7 am Sunday Australian Eastern Time, so you could wake up bright and early Sunday morning, and get some Rousseau et al into your system–along with a bit of Monica.

      I live in a suburban university town, but I work in a dull place called “Metropark”–a set of arid, inhuman office complexes next to a major transit hub. So I am decidedly alienated. This is what my daily life is like:

      Multitasking as Epistemic Injustice

      I only have time right now for a quick look at your website, but I like it. Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also fortunate to be retired and living near the transition from homes with swimming pools outside a town of about 80,000 and dueling banjos territory. We have woods on much of our two acres, and I enjoy doing the physical work of making our firewood. This is the first real estate I ever owned, and when we first got here, I’d go around thinking “this tree is mine, and this tree is mine, . . .” We’ve planted and tended shrubs and trees (often failures but some come through). We do what we can to outsmart the deer. We don’t have pets, but wildlife every day—many types of birds, the woodchucks, chip monks, squirrels, foxes, snakes, etc. A neighbor’s cat comes over to help out with the moles. This morning and several more just past I spent pulling crabgrass from the front “lawn.” I find this setting and its physical work grounding, as you put it. Physical is only afternoons; morning is for studies and writing in my library, which has basically taken over the house. This is life not alienated. In my commercial work life earlier, which made all this now possible, I was not alienated (as I was interested in and loved the production of our ultimate product), except that I was gay in places where that was not heard of and mostly beneath contempt (until my last work years in the late 1990’s). One more thing about alienation: when I was a child, I grew up in a family that built its own house on a lot about this size my husband and I own today. My folks were first generation off the farm, grew up in the Great Depression, fought WWII, and knew how to do most anything. We children were required to work on the place most all the time, like farm children would be, but not children in our neighborhood and school. That was pulling weeds with alienation, on account that it was not the project or property of we children, we were not paid, had no allowance, and we stepchildren were told in no uncertain terms we would inherit nothing. I think ownership of what you put your labor into is one preventative of alienation in work.


      • I think Monica’s seminar reflects three different kinds of alienation. The Rousseau segment is about alienation from nature; the Marx segment about alienation from the products of one’s labor; and the Nietzsche segment about alienation from oneself. It sounds like you’ve mostly avoided all three while having to contend with a different form of alienation, namely alienation from a hostile society.

        I would say that I’m alienated in the first two of Monica’s three senses, but more the second than any other. I do connect to some degree with nature, but only very fleetingly. Being reluctantly single, I don’t connect much with my own nature as a sexual or romantic being, and don’t see much prospect of change on that front. So that’s a bit of Rousseauan alienation.

        But the really deep alienation is work. I was essentially forced out of a 26 year career in academia through the corruption of the institution. I’ve ended up in health care, which might be a meaningful second best, except that the American health care system is utterly dysfunctional, irrational, and corrupt. I was able to conceal this from myself (at some cost in alienation) when I worked a labor intensive job in the OR. The work was hard, but meaningful and engaging. If one focused on nothing but that, one felt no alienation. But we were colossally overworked, and not paid enough to afford necessities. So it was not sustainable.

        My current job is on the financial side of health care, and is maximally alienating. It has no meaning except to collect money for other people in a system where there is no rational connection between work and earnings, or merit and reward. To use a recent example: when a “free sample” of a few milligrams of ocular antibiotic costs $556, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve lost touch with reality. And it’s not an isolated example: I could multiply examples by the hundreds or thousands. I see dozens every day. The forty hours I spend at work are mostly spent on tasks best described as senseless contributions to a senseless whole.

        If you want a good sense of the senselessness involved, I would recommend reading Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness (specifically on health care), and Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction (on the malign role of Big Data in insurance and finance generally). Deaton and Case’s Deaths of Despair and the Future of American Capitalism tells the larger story. I’m not sympathetic to socialism in political economy, but I think Marx is insightful about the pathologies of modern American capitalism, as described by these and similar works.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There is a contradiction in that sleepy note I wrote. The resolution is why I’ve lately been doing outdoor work in mornings: because it’s cooler then. We had an exceptionally hot summer here.

          Thanks, Irfan, for the explanations. Recently, I’ve been learning about the Popular Enlightenment and about the experiments of German Rationalist Christian Wolff that increased the yields of grains. In the Enlightenment movement to bring science to the advantage of agriculture was the poet and scientist Albrecht von Haller of Bern, Switzerland. He wrote against the picture from Rousseau that the sciences were absorbing all scholarly attention, neglecting agricultural practice. I don’t know if he had anything to say concerning Rousseau’s ideas about alienation from Nature. He opposed Rousseau’s reverence for “dumb blindness to the works of Nature.” The grandparents of my stepmother were homesteaders. That was in the years of McKinley, who replaced land runs in opening of lands for homesteads with drawing lots for acreages recorded on slips of paper and drawn by children from a rotary drum, a more orderly way of getting initial claims. Her parents, who were the only grandparents I really knew, began farming with mules, though by the time I knew them, they had moved to tractors. Every family member was working from before dawn. Those folks were always looking for improvements in their productions. Although they had the usual sense that “Heaven is my home,” it seemed they loved their work and transformations of nature and had no alienation on that score in their lives.

          The story of your present commercial work is about the saddest work story I’ve heard since stories of friends become professors for classes of students with no real interest in the subject. Most friends I’ve had who had personal passions for some intellectual area or for some art they can make have had to make money by other labors. But none in such an alienating way as you are caught in. I admire your honesty. Culturally, I’m down from those German-American farmers with their strong dose from Luther of putting “the best construction on everything.” Still, fully awake is good.


          • Well, there are worse things in the world than alienation, but alienation is certainly a consequence of the work I do. That said, I have a front row seat on the workings of Big Data and on the financial side of the health care system, which is often interesting and illuminating in its own dismal way. One thing I didn’t have as an academic was a real connection to the world of practice. I often wished I did. And now I do, both for better and for worse.

            Liked by 1 person

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