Existential Entrepreneurship: Being Sick & Tired of Pseudo-Obligations

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Our lives can be our own or they can belong to others. And in saying that, I do not mean that in the former instance we can do what we want and in the latter instance we do only what others tell us.

The reality is far more subtle.

When I take full authority to be my own singular person, I am not suddenly in possession of the truth that will allow me to disregard what anyone else thinks or needs. Rather, I accomplish an action where I engage the ever deepening process of relating myself to the world.

Now some will say, correctly, that attaining to what others tell me to attain is a way of relating myself to the world. But this is a shallow relation. Because I am TRYING to accomplish another’s will or vision, I am unable to do much with my own. I go from one place to the next connecting the dots as they are laid out for me.

Of course there are those times when I recognize someone knows more than, is more talented than, and/ or has experienced more than me. If I truly want to embrace my singularity, I must heed the more sophisticated actions & words of a master. To do this, I must stay attentive to what is going on around me. A real teacher can be encountered in the oddest places.

This brings me to how our society in over institutionalizing learning feeds a structure that normalizes how we belong to others.

Of course there is basic information, formulas, know-how, techniques, etc., that should be passed along from generation to generation. But after spending an entire life around educational institutions of one variety or another, let me say they have nearly all become obsessive sinkholes filled with over-specialized instructors and under-prepared students.

21st Century schools–like the factories & businesses they are expected to populate with their graduates–are little more than slave pens.

What are we really doing in elementary, secondary, & university schools? Helping people learn how to learn for themselves? Aiding young people in gaining the skills to be good citizens? Assisting folks in gaining the skills necessary to work?

When such things happen today, they occur almost by accident.

I know: Keith, you are saying very little if anything that has not already been said. Granted. That is what is so fricking infuriating. All of what I am saying has not only been said in the last few years but throughout most of the last two centuries. Yet we continue rolling along in the belief that if you create an instructional system that “educates” (LOL) as many people as possible, all will get better and better.

This is the delusion of infinite progress, an unending climb to the open ended future, built on the backs of every person who continues to give blood & muscle to industrial capitalism or energy & bytes to the ceaseless encoding of the Book of Life.

What have we done in all actuality? Proliferated a lot of pseudo-obligations. We oblige youth to learn not when they are ready or interested but when a formula says they should learn. We oblige people with real world job experience to go (back) to college so they can get the rubber stamp of people who have mostly perfected ways to keep the assembly line of rubber stamping moving along. We oblige folks to submit to credentialing in areas that do not require real oversight.

Pseudo-obligation occurs whenever we take on ourselves a constraint that has only relative rather than cardinal force.

For instance, when a company HR department REQUIRES a Bachelors degree for someone who will answer phones and do filing. Another example is a university that REQUIRES everyone to take class X or else not graduate. In these examples, speaking with staff in either kind of institution shows a similarity in imposing the pseudo-obligation: if one challenges the need for college education to answer phones or for a required course in a school, you are told that you can happily seek employment or instruction from an institution that does not have such a requirement.

In doing what opens up my own singular path in the world–a path hopefully alongside others doing the same–I am doing Existential Entrepreneurship: venturing into & through reality as THE stakeholder in my own life. As a stakeholder, I must address REAL necessities not the pseudo-obligations that are propagated by institutions.

Are you as sick & tired as I am of selling yourself to others by buying into their pseudo-obligations?


  1. Keith,

    You’ve done a quite wonderful job of pointing out a rather serious problem that faces everyone involved in the 1st world of global capitalism and to be frank, it speak volumes to my own personal situation as it stands today: looking for work after graduating with a bachelors degree in philosophy. If I could, with all humility, I would like to add another branch to what you call ‘pseudo-obligations’ (one might even think of the change as simply a substrata to one of the main points made); one is (pseudo-) obligated to obtain a Bachelor’s degree that is aimed at one particular line of work: business, medicine, computer science, logistics, public affairs, etc. Were one to make such a bold move as to step out of their obligation and attempt an ‘education’ (studying English, Politics, Philosophy, Psychology, Anthropology, even more daring Women studies or Ethnic Studies, and worse yet Art or Art History), one sets upon themselves the very ambiguity of their studies as it relates to the goings on business, the ‘real’ world. In my experience, both sides of the interview table are completely perplexed as to what skills these studies provide one who is set on the beginnings of a career. Employers, as I have come to know, don’t see many students of the humanities busting down their down in search of gainful employment, and when I reflect on my own education, I come up with little ‘real’, ‘hard’ skills to jot down on a resume. Another side of the aporia comes from media sources, as well as the worried advice of the parents who raised the generation that is now entering the working world; the advice given comes in a sort of ‘blame the victim’, ‘how to avoid assault’ mentality: ‘don’t choose degree paths that aren’t firmly aligned with a subsequent career path.’ If that itself it not one of the biggest pseudo-obligations of our time, I don’t know what it would be. I am definitely sick and tired of trying to sell myself as some brand of person that is ultimately tooled towards the betterment of some business, and perhaps it is that very spirit of ‘existential entrepreneurship’ that is cultivated in resistance to this kind of obligation. But I don’t quite see where I fit into it all, being that I am one who foolishly ignored all advice and went forward with my study of philosophy, giving little thought to the road ahead of me. Whats to be said of those who both cannot abide by the obligations of the system but also lack the ability to turn things around for themselves? I’d like to know your thoughts on it all, I look forward to hearing from you!


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