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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DE BEER, Fanie. The ethos of the contemporary knowledge worker. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.2-2, pp.481-500. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article reflects on the ethos of the contemporary knowledge worker and its relevance for the sciences of the spirit today as explored by Alan Liu in his book The laws of cool: knowledge work and the culture of information. According to him the tone of contemporary life needs repair. Why and what does this mean? Something must be wrong, but what? If one reads between the lines it may have to do with "the ethos of 'unknowing'", referring to what has been, in the framework of this ethos, abandoned through "creative destruction" (the established, the customary, the familiar, the comfortable), and to what has vanished in terms of "cool" (when cool is interpreted as the techno-informatic vanishing point of contemporary aesthetic, psychology, morality, politics, spirituality, and everything): the disastrous consequences of "an ethos of unknowing". In brief it can be stated that it is about the absence of or loss of insight and wisdom in favour of calculation. The ethos of unknowing puts obstacles in the way of knowing; it forbids access to certain domains of knowledge; it reflects the culture of "creative destruction". This refers specifically to the currently forbidden domains of the sciences of the spirit, to the deeper senses of knowledge. These deeper senses of knowledge are disturbing factors to the flow of information and therefore it must itself be disturbed, even fatally if possible. These manifestations are all linked: This is the contemporary tone of life that characterises societies in desperate need of repair. To help with this required repair it would be necessary to inform well. In order to inform well in such a way that the tone of contemporary life can be repaired, we have to accept the challenge posed by "the ethos of informationalism" with its focus on "creative destruction" (Castells) and with its solid involvement with operationalisation (Lash) and with the pertinent implication of "an ethos of unknowing". For this purpose a counter-ethos is suggested by Liu when he inverted the question of Castells: The question should not be What is the ethical foundation of the network enterprise or spirit of informationalism, but rather what ethical foundation enables identities to live an un-networked, and counter-informational fantasy within the spirit of informationalism? What room may there be for a counter-ethos within the dominant ethos of informationalism? Although this spirit cannot be escaped the struggle remains within it in order to overcome its absolutised position that can only materialise when a life-informing attitude provides the inspiration towards "destructive creation". What is this life-informing attitude? It should be an attitude that does not primarily focus on needs of whatever nature, or on problems in isolation. The life-informing attitude is comprehensive and all-inclusive in nature and should focus on sense-giving and care-taking that involves the whole person in a whole world. This is where spirituality comes into the picture: wisdom is needed. Hereby emphasis is put on the capacity humans have, and only humans, to be life-informing beings. That is precisely why the position and presence of the sciences of the spirit ought to be non-negotiable. What is the deepseated inspiration and mindset of the life-informing attitude? The answer is: an awareness of and an indulgence in the ethos of the unknown that refers to the imagination of the age of knowledge work, in other words to the capacity humans possess to penetrate right into what lies beyond it, and to what it does remind us of, as well as to what we can only dream about or fantasise about. This is the reason why a counter informational fantasy is necessary here - a fantasy about the currently forbidden domains or activities of the sciences of the spirit. It is almost a matter of the absolutisation of the incalculable. We have to re-introduce what is abandoned and what has vanished away, what is forbidden and what is forgotten: comprehension, meaning, care - the spiritual, in other words - and life in particular, a poetics of life.

Keywords : Knowledge worker; ethos; the ethos of unknowing; the ethos of the unknown; life-informing attitude; socio-pathology; socio-therapy; counter informational fantasy; the new literary.

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