On Being Useless: A Daoist Reflection

Our obsession with productivity works against us.

Utility, or usefulness, is an invisible thread that runs through and organises every aspect of our society. It is a basic, universal and inescapable measure of all worth in modern lives. 

This is obvious in our attitudes to work and education. Economics treats utility as a measurable quantity which serves, and even dictates, decision-making. Many academics, particularly in the sciences, now need to justify their research in terms of “impact”, a quantifiable indicator of economic or social contribution. The governments of the US and the UK have cut down on their funding for liberal arts subjects, for lacking an obvious and measurable use. The assumption is that education should be a means to produce future workers.

But even beyond work, leisure is presented as the means to recharge our body and mind so we can keep on working, and is turned into a commodity, to be bought or sold, in the tourism industry.

This has repercussions on our moral discourse too, implyin

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ste phen 11 June 2021

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Daveed Battabong 5 May 2019

Where I live, Daoism is indeed spelled with a 'D'.
Not where you live, Kelly?
Are you American by any chance?

Kelly Grant 5 March 2019

Lovely article, but for the misspelling of Tao. It is pronounced as though the T were a D, but the philosophy is spelled Tao.