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Can we ever fully separate our work and home lives? Philosophy suggests we should stop trying

Writer : Peter West, Instructing Fellow in Early Trendy Philosophy, Durham College

In the event you might take work-life stability to its most literal excessive, what wouldn’t it appear like? That’s the central theme of Severance, the sci-fi collection that has simply completed airing on Apple TV.

Workers working for the fictional company Lumon are capable of bear a process the place their consciousness and reminiscences are divided between work and residential. Workers who’ve been “severed” don’t bear in mind something about their life at work once they clock out, or something about their residence life throughout working hours.

Severance rapidly turns into unsettling when it’s implied that in isolating the reminiscences of somebody’s work life, a brand new individual is created – a slave who lives solely to work. These “new” staff (individuals’s work-selves) are informed they’ll go away the workplace each time they like, however inevitably discover themselves despatched again to work by their residence life counterparts who don’t need to lose their jobs and should not have to endure the horror of dwelling solely within the workplace.

It’s protected to say most of us wouldn’t bear such a process – in spite of everything, work can be a spot the place we make mates who may even assist us in our residence lives. However the idea introduced in Severance raises deep philosophical questions concerning the relationship between our reminiscences and ourselves.

Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

Working to make a distinction on the earth however struggling to avoid wasting for a house. Making an attempt to stay sustainably whereas coping with psychological well being points. For these of us in our twenties and thirties, these are the sorts of issues we cope with each day. This text is a part of Quarter Life, a collection that explores these points and comes up with options.

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The present trades on the concept personhood might be diminished to 1’s aware experiences. The concept being that “I” am the sum whole of my remembered experiences, ideas, needs and feelings, and that my life is the narrative these reminiscences come collectively to kind. As one Lumon worker places it, “Historical past makes us somebody”. There’s a wealthy custom of philosophical enthusiastic about reminiscence that shares this fashion of understanding private identification, most frequently related to the 17th-century thinker John Locke.

Questions on personhood –- what makes you you and never any person else -– had been crucial at Locke’s time of writing. For a lot of 17th-century thinkers (for whom Christianity was a part of the material of society, and atheism was just about inconceivable), it was a provided that after our mortal lives, we’d go on to stay some type of afterlife. However who precisely will stay that life?

Locke’s reply is that for everybody, “consciousness at all times accompanies pondering, and ‘tis that, that makes each one to be, what he calls self”. In different phrases, I’m what I’m aware of. He provides that “so far as this consciousness might be prolonged backwards to any previous motion or thought, up to now reaches the identification of that individual”.

Locke teaches us that no matter I bear in mind doing –- and solely what I bear in mind doing -– was executed by me. Thus, as long as I proceed to have aware experiences within the afterlife (and bear in mind my previous ones), I live on.

The case of literal work-life severance is fascinating exactly as a result of the method creates a brand new individual -– one who comes into existence (begins being aware) solely when the severing process is over. Since that new individual solely remembers being aware at work, that individual solely exists at work. This additionally appears to be how individuals inside Severance are enthusiastic about issues. By chopping myself from my work life, I can keep away from having the stresses of labor “leak” into the remainder of my life, and be a unique individual once I clock out.

The Locke downside

The early episodes of the present recommend that the seemingly neat separation of work-me and home-me goes to trigger issues. Likewise, philosophers who responded to Locke -– 18th-century thinkers like George Berkeley and Thomas Reid -– identified that his account of personhood results in absurdities.

Am I not the newborn who was born on my birthday, as a result of I don’t bear in mind it? Will I not be the outdated man dwelling by the 2050s if I don’t bear in mind this specific day in 2022? Am I to be absolved of any crimes I commit once I get blackout drunk as a result of I’m not, now, within the chilly gentle of day, aware of them? Such questions led these thinkers to develop different accounts of what makes me me – maybe it’s my soul?.

A man's feet with a professional shoe on the right foot, and a casual sneaker on the left foot
What if our work and residential selves had been fully totally different individuals – actually?
Black Salmon / Shutterstock

There are indicators that throughout the world of Severance, there’s extra to an individual than what they’ll bear in mind. Within the opening episode, the primary character goes residence to search out that he has a reduce on his brow from an accident at work that after all, he can not bear in mind. That is an ominous signal that the scars that your work-self accrues are scars on you, and never another individual. Extra worryingly, maybe which means severed staff are subjecting themselves to a tortuous existence –- one made worse by the truth that they can not bear in mind it.

There are good causes to imagine that who “I” am is extra than simply what I bear in mind – in spite of everything, many issues have occurred to me that I can not simply recall. How many people wrestle to recollect massive moments in life, like job interviews?

The timing of Severance’s launch is fascinating as a result of, after two years of working from residence, real work-life separation appears much less real looking than ever. For a lot of, “work” shouldn’t be some place we go away residence for each morning, however maybe a spare room or a kitchen desk. Consequently, many people are in search of methods to ascertain a clear divide between work and our private lives. However – in step with the message on the coronary heart of Severance – maybe as an alternative, we must be making an attempt to make peace between the totally different elements of our lives and thereby perceive our full selves higher.


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