Steven Savage's latest post is about "rethinking work", and it reminded me of the following anecdote courtesy of Milton Glaser:
One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognised the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceeding well prepared for my old age’ he said.
I have the same affection for Cage that Glaser does; constant readers know this. I even have some of the same philosophy Cage does about work: don't have a "job", just have things to do, and keep vigilant. But I don't like the idea of recommending Cage's solution as the solution to such things. It was his solution. It doesn't scale to the size of a society. The stoic disciplines that people find on their own do not lend themselves to being systematized without also turning into cruelties of whim. Unfortunately, I keep running into people who think that's a great idea.