A Review

Timenergy by David McKerracher (Thoughts)

O.G. Rose
28 min readSep 27, 2023

An Invaluable Explanation on Why We Have No Time or Energy

Purchase a copy today!

David McKerracher is the founder of Theory Underground and an inspiration for us all in being a living example of how it’s possible to pursue both intellectual and creative excellence while also overcoming the difficulties and pressures of working-class life. He refers to himself as having “always been an outsider looking in,” and given the quality of Timenergy, its clear we need more outsiders to advance intellectual and philosophical life. The book is eloquent, insightful, innovative, and a gift. Purchase a copy today, and please also visit Theory Underground, from which I’ve gained greatly.

Mr. McKerracher titles an upcoming major work Time and Energy, for which he already has ‘hundreds of pages of theory on th[e] concept,’ and after reading this book, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to bear waiting for what he has planned.1 ‘Adorno’s Free Time, Baudrillard’s work on leisure time […] Nietzsche’s thinking regarding ‘Otium’ […] Heidegger and Marx […]’ — all of these are subjects and thinkers which McKerracher plans to tackle.² It should be noted that something I find impressive about McKerracher is the evenness of his perspective, praise, and criticism: he tells us how Heidegger has been a ‘huge inspiration’ but also that Heidegger ‘fail[ed] to think energy’; he notes that ‘Marx was keen on the need to focus on overcoming the form of labor unique to capital, but [Marx] did not safeguard against a reversion to neofudalism.’³ ⁴ I agree, and throughout the text McKerracher never fits neatly into an ideological box, not because he’s trying to avoid a clear position, but because he earns a clear position. He cuts no corners, and he equally and fairly considers the viewers and positions of all thinkers, political parties, movements, and the like. For this and more, I respect McKerracher.

To allude to McKerracher’s excellent presentation during the “Science of Logic Conference” at Philosophy Portal, titled “Underground Theory,” if the “scene” which is developing online is to be different than the university system, I believe what we see modeled in McKerracher is what needs to define and characterize it. It is perhaps precisely because McKerracher is an “outsider” that he is capable of providing this example, but regardless it is what I think needs to characterize “the online scene” (or what others have called “The Liminal Web”). Otherwise, I think we’ll just end up with some repetition of the same university system (just online), and that will fail and not help us cultivate timenergy. In my opinion, we of the Liminal Web must do something different, and what exactly constitutes this difference is something we can see modeled in the work and life of David McKerracher.

I — Timenergy, Leisure, and the Fate of the American Experiment

It was assumed by many economists like Keynes that as autonomation and technology spread, we would have to work less, but McKerracher notes that this has not been the case. Far from a ’15 hour work week[] […] we find ourselves working more than ever.’⁵ Why? How did this happen? First, Keynes basically thought that the benefits of technology would spread out to everyone (a perhaps fair thought before Artificial Intelligence), but it is clear that the benefits of technology seem to be increasingly garnered by the owners of capital.⁶ This doesn’t mean we don’t benefit from AI at all, but it does suggest that there is a risk of the working-class being cut out of labor entirely without access to capital, forcing them to be stuck in a poverty they couldn’t easily escape. This is one problem we face with automation, but another problem is that we are in danger if we assume that “more free time” thanks to automation will necessarily translate into “more leisure.” This is a problem which Timenergy can help us understand and articulate: we can have all the “free time” in the world, but if we have no timenergy, it will not matter. Gaining back timenergy is not just about reducing work hours (though that is part of it), but regaining control over our entire “existential horizon” by which we approach and engage in the world. Socioeconomic transformation must start with existential transformation. Timenergy is not just about how we live but about life itself.

What McKerracher is bringing to our attention is that timenergy in a way is leisure, that we cannot speak of “free time” as “leisure time” so long as we are structurally organized to be incredibly tired whenever we aren’t at work or incapable of deep engagement regardless the circumstance. If AI takes away all our jobs but (due to structural mechanisms against our timenergy) we’ve lost the capacity to focus for long periods of time, to summon “intrinsic motivation” within ourselves, or to resist addictions to consumption, then even though we might have all the time we could ever want, we won’t be able to do much with it.

For more on the topic of leisure.

For McKerracher, the loss of timenergy is a threat to democracy itself, for how can we possibly be informed to participate in debate and discussion if we’re too low on timenergy to ever understand topics for ourselves? Here, we might see the value of saying “without timenergy” versus “tired,” because the word “tired” has a connotation of “weakness” and “you should just get over it,” which is to say “tired” suggests something personal and not structural. For McKerracher, we will not understand modern life if we do not see the loss of timenergy as structural, and words like “tired” can remove an understanding of that structural element. This in mind, McKerracher suggests that our fate is tied to the question of if we might ‘free[] up timenergy for everyone with automation,’ and we must understand this as meaning we need to use automation to help people have “high-quality time” not merely “time without work.”⁷ “High-quality time” is a way to think about what McKerracher means by “timenergy,” and we cannot regain timenergy simply by making everyone unemployed. Perhaps UBI might help with this problem, but if people have been trained out of the capacity to generate timenergy and use timenergy well, then free time might just prove a reminder of what we have lost. Freedom could be a torture, which might suggest to us that we should get back to work (perhaps to the benefit of power), when really this should be interpreted as evidence that we need timenergy.

McKerracher speaks of Thomas Jefferson as ‘a free man whose freedom was, like the Greeks, dependent on the slavery of others,’ and though we today critique Jefferson for this hypocrisy, we also need to look closer at ourselves.⁸ Those in power seem to be in power precisely because they extract timenergy from others, which leaves us with a working-class who, even when off from work, are incapable of doing much. ‘[Jefferson] wanted an America where everyone [could] work part of the day and spend the rest reading Plato and arguing about big ideas in the public sphere [equipped with] the freedom to think, argue, speak, or worship however [they felt] fit.’⁹ McKerracher associates Jefferson here with Marx’s vision of a world where we might ‘hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner […] without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic,’ but unfortunately ‘without timenergy life becomes ‘bare life.’ ’¹⁰ ¹¹ These are the stakes, and furthermore McKerracher makes a case that democracy, productivity, education, etc. become impossible where there is only “bare life.” If we value these things, we must restructure society to make timenergy possible, a point which ultimately suggests the need for “leisure”

‘No politician, political party, or movement today understands the nature of freedom that is foundational to the humanities or liberal arts’ — McKerracher lays down the gauntlet, and I agree with him.¹² We today consider freedom as “not being forced to do anything,” and though this is better than nothing, the classical notion of freedom requires us to have energy. If we have time but not energy, then we are free only in an incomplete sense. We cannot ‘actualiz[e] higher human capacities,’ and this would mean we cannot fully actualize what Hegel calls “spirit” which McKerracher points out is more like “bildung,” which is ‘the cultivation of the soil in which humans grow.’¹³ ¹⁴ Without this, ‘universal education [which is] the condition of self-knowledge’ will prove inherently limited, and, limited as such, it will prove inadequate for equipping us to engage well in democracy, family, and community.¹⁵

II — Conflation, Misunderstanding, and Misdiagnosis

McKerracher is well acquainted with Heidegger, having taught classes on Being and Time, and something I appreciate about Timenergy is the way that he weaves together existential structure with socioeconomic organization. He notes how we tend to think of subjective time as merely “subjective time,” and so if we lose our timenergy, we haven’t lost anything of any real importance. McKerracher pushes back though, writing that ‘ ‘[m]erely subjective time’ is simply the most important time, and if this cannot be spoken of ‘objectively’ then all the worse for such forms of analysis, because we are not objects and our lives matter.’¹⁶

I really like this point, and we can see here how the distinction between “subjective and objective” can serve power, for it creates a frame in which “personal time” becomes “subjective time,” and the loss of that isn’t the loss of something valuable (or “objective”), so workers cannot think of themselves as having been robbed (they just have to “get over it”). McKerracher expands on this case well in Chapter Six, and what the section helps us realize is that we cannot divide “the scientific” from “the existential” from “the sociopolitical” — it all overlaps, and to give up one can be to give up the other.

Language matters, and where “person” is conflated with “subject” and “subject” means “subjective” in a world where only “objectivity” is considered valid, then the loss of our “subjective time” is no loss at all. Similarly, if “rest” means “lazy” and the system removes from us the time to “rest,” then the system is good for us because it forces us not to be “lazy” (everything works so subtly). McKerracher makes the point that ‘[t]he word for ‘school’ traces back to ancient Greece [and] ‘scholé,’ a term which is generally ‘interpret[ed] […] as ‘leisure,’ ’ and yet the connection of “school” to “generating leisure” seems to have been entirely lost today.¹⁷ Why? Well, we think “leisure” means “lazy,” and school is all about working hard and not being lazy; hence, it can have nothing to do with leisure. And so “an education in the humanities” becomes impossible and lost, and with it training in how to maintain timenergy also wanes…

‘Self-control [once] meant freedom,’ but freedom now just means freedom from ‘economic necessity,’ and that is what school in helping us get “a good job” exists to do.¹⁸ Its conception of the human is deeply economic, and economics today is “participation in a system” more than the ‘ancient sense [of] managing one’s private affairs to the point of having all that in order.’¹⁹ Today, I’m of the opinion that a person who is financially secure but doesn’t work for a big company can be seen in a negative light (for all our talk of disliking corporations, if we don’t work for one, we can suffer socially for it). Freedom then is found in corporations and systems, not from them, and in this way our understanding of freedom is arguably almost its opposite. This doesn’t mean that working for a corporation is necessarily bad, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be quick to think of what we are doing as “gaining freedom.” In one sense that might be true, but not in another.

The consequences of misunderstanding “freedom” are steep, but so it goes with “misdiagnosing” our plight, which brings to mind Chapter Eight. Here, McKerracher makes a strong case that we need to discuss “timenergy fragility” more than say the “white fragility” of Robin DiAngelo. I have witnessed firsthand what McKerracher describes in this chapter, and I completely agree that what often happens is that the working-class responds negatively to being told that they must accept something as true which they have no time or energy to investigate for themselves. I have deep admiration for thinkers like Charles W. Mills, but the work of DiAngelo has indeed always struck me as problematic in that it is unfalsifiable, and yet if we don’t accept it on its terms, that’s evidence of the thesis. It reminds me of how in Christianity I’ve seen people interpret denial of Christianity as evidence of Christianity, for if someone doesn’t believe in Christ, it proves they are controlled by sin and thus really need Christ. The Christian is right no matter what; likewise, the deck is stacked in favor of DiAngelo under all circumstances. I also agree that a problem with DiAngelo is that she ‘teaches workers to see themselves as having more in common with people who merely look similar, regardless of class.’²⁰ This might benefit the ruling class, for this makes it more difficult for the working-class to work together on their own behalf.

‘Timenergy fragility is when a person feels frustration or impatient with the topic being centered, because they simply lack the time and energy to adequately research and then participate in the discourse […] Most people have a sense of dignity, which means a resistance towards being told how to see and think of things. We want to be reasoned with, i.e. treated as rational adults who are capable of coming to our own conclusions if we are given the facts.’²¹

I agree, and my experience with working people is not that they disagree that racism is bad or should be stopped, but rather they resist being told how to think and the notion that if they don’t agree “they are part of the problem.” I think this has been a poor strategy of some Liberals today, who claim to care about the lower classes, but in supporting projects like DiAngelo’s, they fracture the working-class and make the ruling class more powerful. Perhaps this is according to the plans of the ruling class? Perhaps…

‘If an authority figure in the workplace wants me to sit in DiAngelo’s workshop, where she is advancing politically controversial theses as dogmas we must accept if we wish to not be perceived as racist [and eve keep our job], that is going to feel wrong to many…’²² Exactly, and I really like how McKerracher put it when he wrote:

‘When it comes to a controversial topic that requires a lot of research, but you don’t have the time or energy to thoroughly flesh out the different perspectives within the field, you learn to either take the authority of the supposed expert on faith, or you at the bare minimum nod along and learn to say whatever you’re supposed to in order to get back to whatever priorities have been demanding your attention.’²³

I think this puts it well, and is it any wonder then why working-class people have come to resist the Liberal Party who tends to suggest that people ought to be put through these situations? It might seem crazy to many that many working-class people favor Trump, but we might understand better what is going on if we understand “timenergy fragility,” an understanding which I also think is needed if Liberals don’t want to prove their own worst enemy…

McKerracher also discusses ‘[e]pistemological gaslighting’ and ‘social blackmail,’ two other terms I really liked, but at this point I find it difficult not to just rewrite the whole book, seeing that there is so much gold found in its pages.²⁴ McKerracher really has given us something special.

III — Schooling and Education

Timenergy seems to always have something important to say about the most important topics, and so we find in the book excellent thoughts on the pros and cons of homeschooling, which can seem like “the answer” to the problem of public education which so ruthlessly destroy timenergy, but we should not be so quick to assume this notion. If “homeschooling” is just “school at home,” this could be a problem, as we tend to find trouble where ‘parents are reacting to mainstream ideology’ versus cultivating something unique and educationally advantageous.²⁵

For more general thoughts on education:

If I am homeschooling just to keep children away from Wokeism, my motivates are likely bad, and my children could end up fragile; furthermore, I might not have structural reason for keeping my children out of public school, which means I might just repeat the same methods which destroy timenergy at home. Furthermore, although homeschooling tends to be better at providing ‘unstructured and unsupervised playtime,’ we should not assume that this is the same as providing ‘large blocks of energy-infused time [during which] one can enlist the tutelage of mentors when needed.’²⁶ Sounding to align with “intrinsic motivation” (as I often discuss), McKerracher tells us that ‘the human spirit yearns for freedom to explore, develop, and expand. The cultivating of this yearning is more important than anything else,’ but we cannot assume that just giving kids a ton of “unstructured time” will necessarily cultivate this spirit.²⁷ It might, but it also might not.

What McKerracher calls ‘garbage time’ is not a benefit no matter how much we have of it, and that kind of time can look like “free time” — a mistake that can hurt homeschooling if we are not careful.²⁸ I sympathize with the ‘anti-homework movement,’ but also agree with McKerracher that we have to be careful to not ‘miss[] the importance of incentive, assessment, and accountability structures.’²⁹ That said, I agree with McKerracher that ‘[f]rom what I can tell, compulsory schooling in an age segregated and ranked context with tons of homework’ results in a lot of “educated people” who ‘retain just about nothing.’³⁰ Agreed, which to me means “the trivia classroom” is a disaster, central in why ‘there has been a genocide of voice.’³¹

McKerracher is right to say that we should consider the ‘learning webs’ of Ivan Illich, that ‘we must experiment with new ways of fusing energy back into time, of organizing our other activities around large blocks of repeatable time. Without this, [McKerracher] genuinely believe[s] we are doomed.’³² I agree.

For those interested in Ivan Illich

IV — “Coolness” and Distinction

Organized and existentially structured by the economy and school to both “work hard” but at the same time “signal our giftedness,” we find ourselves torn between conflicting value systems that seem to contradict. On the one hand, we want people to see that we “work hard”; on the other hand, we want people to see that we are “gifted.” But if we’re gifted, we shouldn’t have to work hard, but if we work hard, we shouldn’t need to be gifted. If we’re gifted and do well without work, that seems unjust, but then it also seems we can work hard our entire lives and just stay “working-class.” What’s going? Indeed, something paradoxical and strange…

McKerracher helps us understand how we got here in a way that way that can help see beyond these conflicting values, which is necessary if we are to regain our timenergy. To put the case generally, what we understand as “cool” is a leftover of a classic system of “social signaling” that once managed to organize and balance conflicting values and “signals.” And though that signaling system is gone (because the upper-classes are “just like you and me” now…), the values still linger with us, unorganized and unnamable, causing difficulty.

‘[A]n epic skateboard trick is only cool if the one who pulls it off makes it look effortless,’ McKerracher tells us, ‘[b]ecause we are torn between two masters and skateboarders are trying to serve neither.’³³ McKerracher writes:

‘[Skateboarders] don’t want to be feudal aristocrats, nor do they want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet they live in the world and, like the rest of us, have internalized elements of both visions for what makes one deserving of belonging and actualization.’³⁴

Influenced by the zeitgeist, ‘[w]e want to hear that our president struggled to succeed, but not if that struggle was making up for a lack of natural giftedness.’³⁵ I think McKerracher is right, but why is this the case? Well, McKerracher offers a compelling explanation that it has something to do with how we need to believe that “generally” everyone ends up in society where they belong, and yet at the same time it’s clear that many people who are poor work harder than people who are rich, so isn’t that unjust? Not if we believe that social standing is a complex mixture of “working hard” and “being talented”; that way, if hard work doesn’t pay off, we can say it’s because of a lack of talent, and if someone is successful without working, we can chalk it up to talent. In this way, the strange mixture is a feature and necessity of social organization and arrangement, for if “working hard” fails to seem just, we can turn to “natural talent” to make up the lack of justice, and if “being talented” fails, we can say the talented person didn’t work hard. Hence, we gain an “intentionally ambiguous, socioeconomic psychotechnology” (a mouthful, do forgive) in combing the values of “talent” and “hard work” which helps people live with the results and “picking order” of life in the West. But this “ambiguous psychotechnology” (which I’ll call here AP for short) comes at the price of easily making us pathological and unhappy. Furthermore, AP is solidified and enforced in the school system, for ‘balancing intellectual effort and charisma [becomes] an effort to satisfy teachers.’³⁶

McKerracher expand further on the case of how AP is reinforced in education (say how ‘[c]ops service the big Other, [while] teachers serve the superego,’ an insight I particularly liked), and he also expounds on Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu to help us understand the logic behind AP and why it exists at all.³⁷ We learn from Bourdieu that ‘an economy of cultural goods [exists] but it has a specific logic,’ and that it exists for specific reasons.³⁸ If someone is capable of watching, experiencing, interpreting, etc. art in “x way” versus “y way” (for example), that can function as a signal of a person’s standing and location in a social hierarchy. And if it is notably difficult to engage in “x way,” then if those who do x receive benefits, it might be easier to believe this reception of wealth reflects justice. If it is incredibly difficult to eat food “x way,” then those who carry out “x etiquette” can be seen as accomplishing something in doing so, and thus worthy of benefits that person might receive. And if the ruling class must eat food “x way” to be kept in the ruling class by the ruling class, then the working-class can perhaps “see” justice and fairness in the ruling class indeed being “the ruling class” (rightly or wrongly).

Historically speaking, ‘art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social difference.’³⁹ “Legitimating social difference” is a key phrase here, for the elite class always has the problem of needing to be experienced by lower-classes as “legitimate” in their elitism and wealth. In considering this, Bourdieu notes that ‘[s]ociology is rarely more akin to social psychoanalysis,’ and indeed we should never overlook the “psychoanalysis” at play in sociology.⁴⁰ Doing so has contributed to us overlooking thinkers like Philip Rieff and Peter Berger (in my view), and we have also failed to understand how though sociology has a lot to do with “power” (as thinkers like Foucault stresses), it also has a lot to do with “tragedy” and “tradeoffs.” If we remove difficult etiquette and cultural standards and suggest anyone of any kind can be “upper-class,” we’ve increased access, but we’ve also perhaps made it more difficult for average people to accept and handle socioeconomic differences, leading to “existential anxiety” and “totalitarian backlash.” Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily: it depends on how we “address” what is explained in Belonging Again (Part I)

‘It must never be forgotten that the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated ‘aesthetic’ which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominate aesthetics,’ which is to say that what aesthetic a people enjoys always entails “social signaling,” and if “high class aesthetics” are more difficult to enjoy, then this “social signaling” can also be “social justification.”⁴¹ ‘Legitimate manners owe their value to the fact that they manifest the rarest conditions of acquisition, that is, a social power over time which is tacitly recognized as the supreme excellence.’⁴² If I am able to read great literature, it suggests I have acquired something hard to gain and valuable, and then it is important for me to act and carry myself “like someone” who reads great literature: it is socially not enough for me to have such tastes if I do not indirectly communicate that I do, which is to say if I do not communicate my standing and status. And since these “tastes” are considered difficult to obtain, there is a nobility and respect gained in having them (rightly or wrongly), which helps working people come to terms with and accept their class. The harder it is thought a “taste” to achieve, the more that “taste” is evidence of difficulty, and if “harder tastes” are found in upper-classes while lower-classes have “easier tastes,” then this can help people experience class arrangements as just. Of course, all this might be manipulation which benefits the ruling class, but the point is that “taste” functions to help socially organize and then to help a people live with and accept that social organization.

At this point, an aesthetic arises in which a people can identify “who’s who” without really knowing much about them: if I see a person reading Shakespeare, then I can recognize that the person is “upper-class” without knowing anything about the person. Bourdieu draws special attention to the function of ‘a recognition without knowledge,’ and we could ultimately say that “signaling” has a lot to do with generating the condition in which “recognition without knowledge” is possible.⁴³ This is critical, for it means upper-classes can be seen as “upper-class” without having to argue, persuade, etc. — their “recognition” is basically automatic and self-explanatory: if people see x aesthetic, it means there is y class. Everything is understood without question. And everyone is organically self-organized by sights of these aesthetics to fall in line (it’s “given” to use language from Belonging Again). The upper-class aesthetic suggests that x group consumes and lives y way, and if y way is hard, then a respect is incurred; likewise, if the lower-class aesthetic is identified, then it is assumed the people consume and live w way, which is easier than y, and so the lower-class is seen as belonging where they belong. The aesthetic communicates that everyone is where everyone belongs. Aesthetics then create habits, and the social positions are solidified and reinforced by feedback loops.

Much more can be said, but the point is that classically etiquette and “taste” functioned to “socially signal” who belonged where, and this system helped organized society and make it intelligible but at the risk of oppression and manipulation (like “givens” in Belonging Again). Funny enough, this suggests that a problem we might have today is that ruling classes wear blue jeans, drive trucks, and try to “look like” everyday people, which can unintentionally cause radical and deep social and existential confusion. The “social signaling system” breaks down, and if a rich person drives a truck, seeing as I also drive a truck, why aren’t I rich? I share in the aesthetic of the upper-class, and so the fact I myself am not upper-class can easily strike me as an injustice. All “the signals say” that I should be upper-class, and if I’m not the signals are broken. This would suggest the society is broken, and thus the society should be overturned and restructured. And so efforts of the upper-class to seem “down to earth” can thus backfire: where aesthetical distinction is not honored, so the society as a whole can be questioned. Is this a good thing? It might be, but it all depends: again, as Belonging Again tries to argue, we face an opportunity precisely where we face a potential crisis.

‘[T]he representation[s] which individuals and groups inevitably project through their practices and properties [are] an integral part of social reality,’ and where “representations” are deconstructed we gain freedom, but with freedom can come anxiety.⁴⁴ Representations matter, and we are organized by how reality is represented (as if one big, Hayekian “social information technology”). We all struggle to move beyond ‘the representation [we] have and give of [our] position’ (aesthetics can organize us more than we think), and in this we can see where freedom is hard earned.⁴⁵ At the same time, if we do gain our freedom (if we do deconstruct “givens” for “releases”), we must be ready to handle the anxiety which comes. I do think this is possible, but I do think it will require us to have timenergy — hence the stakes and importance of McKerracher’s work.

V — “Coolness” and Distinction (II)

Alright, but why does “the collapse of social signaling” lead to a widespread anxiety manifest in “coolness?” Because we find ourselves still having to “signal” somehow, and since our very “aesthetic” doesn’t do that signaling, we have to take that work upon ourselves to make happen. And this looks like a lot of storytelling, an act which is itself very difficult (and much harder than just “aesthetically signaling”)…

‘Workers would not look up to their nobility with anything other than resentment if not for the fact that they put off an aura of excellence,’ McKerracher tells us regarding the work of Bourdieu, and we’ve already discussed the unintended consequences of what can occur if upper-classes try to “look down to earth.’⁴⁶ The aesthetic and aura of the upper-class ‘is the glue of meritocracy,’ and today where we lack ‘hyper refined table manners’ and aristocracy which “looks” aristocratic, we find ourselves falling back into ‘tell[ing] our stories in a way that will make people think we deserve more.’⁴⁷ ⁴⁸

McKerracher makes examples of this in how some stress stories of suffering while others in elite institutions discuss all the AP courses they took — it doesn’t matter (and in this we can start to see the school system not as primarily in the business of education but in the business of offering difficult rituals like hyper-difficult etiquette precisely so that those who receive elite status can talk about “all they did to be here,” and indeed, they often did work hard, but we must ask if much was retained; if not, does school educate?). Regardless what we overcome or do, we ‘won’t get […] spotlight unless [we] figure out how to tell []our story in the petit bourgeois rhetoric’ (a narrative of struggle and “hard work,” basically), and so what we end up with is a strange mixture where the upper-class has to signal that it’s not upper-class while it is, a paradox which invites questions and creates anxiety.⁴⁹ It simply difficult to understand how the upper-class can “be just like us,” and so it has to be explained to us through narrative, story, etc., but this means society today is held together through “recognition through understanding,” and that is existentially burdensome compared to “recognition without understanding.” The jury is still out on if a society can be effectively organized in this way, and so far the answer seems to be “not so fast,” but we’ll see…

McKerracher makes the point that ‘[k]nowledge appreciation is a prerequisite of recognition’ (which addressing Thymos, as the great “Owen in the Agon” discusses), which is to say that only those who are skillful in literary analysis have what is needed to tell if someone is skillful in literary analysis.⁵⁰ Furthermore, if no one around us has the knowledge needed to recognize us, then we can feel demotivated to seek and use timenergy as we went. But didn’t we say that social signaling in the past was possible thanks to “recognition without knowledge?” Indeed, we did, but with the loss of “givens” we’ve entered a new sociohistorical moment, and now we cannot assume that a given people share a similar lifestyle or worldview, as perhaps once could be the case where “knowledge appreciation” was simply “given” because everyone thought similarly according to class. When the upper-class all lived according to x etiquette, then everyone of the upper-class could recognize one another while lower-classes recognized the signal (“that is the upper-class”); sure, perhaps the upper-class did not receive a bit of Thymos from lower-classes due to the lack of “knowledge appreciation,” but they could still gain this from one another. Now though, where people of the upper-class all live different lives, and some “signal” and others don’t (or some signal but it is through the size of their home and things they own versus their “noble” mastery in something difficult like advanced table etiquette or artistic “taste”), then shared “knowledge acquisition” cannot be assumed but must be discussed, negotiated, and understood, making “recognition” much harder to gain.

‘This is why [McKerracher] say[s] timenergy, as a social surplus, is conditioned by potential communities of care or recognition.’⁵¹ Otherwise, timenergy cannot create “communities of recognition,” which means timenergy ends up ignored and devalued, at which point it becomes easy to ‘fracture[] and put on call as a standing reserve of labor power.’⁵² As McKerracher writes:

‘Timenergy gets reduced to labor power on call for the world market at an early age, thus we are left with non-repeatable-time-with-restless-energy or time-without energy before we have even developed our sense of self. Reclaiming timenergy is not as easy as quitting your job.’⁵³

As an example of how the system can undermine us even when we are off work, McKerracher makes a point how we can gain ‘jouissance from undermining [our own] vision[s],’ which is to say we are trained to engage in self-destruction and enjoy that self-destruction, which further disables us to resist the system (in addition to our loss of timenergy).⁵⁴ There are ways we come to enjoy not having timenergy or realizing our visions, and we might be trained into this enjoyment by the zeitgeist precisely so that we can cope with our plight (a form of “Stockholm Syndrome”).

Lacking clear “social signaling,” stuck only with talking and telling stories, which is “recognition through knowledge” versus “recognition without knowledge” (as Bourdieu discusses), we find ourselves engaging in socially more ineffective and existentially more difficult practices that ultimately might not work. We have to somehow tell a story that makes us hard working but also talented at the same time (otherwise, everyone who worked hard would be like us, as would everyone who was talented), and when we try to explain this double move, it can sound ridiculous (and also has to be explained every time to every person). But if we could just show our status and that automatically be recognized (without knowledge), as etiquette and “taste” according to Bourdieu once made possible, then not only could we avoid trying to story and narrate our lives to justify our status (which seems doomed to fail and/or at least bound to cause tribalism), but we also could signal our status at a widescale to everyone we were around: we wouldn’t have to “tell our story” over and over again (and please note there’s never a guarantee that people understand us or trust our story, especially if there is a “legitimization crisis” of some kind, as Habermas discusses). This all suggests “the problem of scale” where negotiation will not work to socially organize the larger the system (as I’ve discussed regarding the debate between “Game B” and “Dark Renaissance”), but where we lack “social signaling through aesthetics,” all we seem to have his negotiation, story-telling, language, etc., and if that method can’t work at scale, then again we seem doomed to fall into tribalism. This I think is part of our challenge, and it might suggest a need for us to regain and master “The Oral Arts” — but that is an investigation we will consider at another time.

VI — Closing

‘Timenergy lack is structural. It does not just structure your perceived reality, but the structure of the possibilities you consider plausible vs. unrealistic.’⁵⁵

Timenergy by David McKerracher is a wonderful book, and I have only touched briefly on the critical and valuable ideas you will find in it. ‘I don’t know if timenergy can actually be reclaimed en masse,’ McKerracher writes (which is what I feel about “Childhood en masse”), but I agree we must try.⁵⁶ But I resonate with what McKerracher tells us next:

‘I genuinely fear for and feel a terrible sadness for all the hundreds of millions of children who are, on a daily basis, told they cannot explore their interests and hone talent for its own sake; who are told that they are inferior and destined to failure if they can’t force themselves to care about the arbitrary interests of others from period to period all day every day from week to week for decades.’⁵⁷

I agree, the stakes are high, and I also agree with McKerracher that our fate is tied to learning how to use AI to extend humanity versus replace it (a concern shared by Ivan Illich). The road is not easy or clear, which is why we need books like Timenergy by David McKerracher: we have to know where we are to have a chance to know where we can go, and McKerracher certainly has provided that compass. For that, I am grateful. Please purchase a copy today and leave a review, which I myself have found easy to do, given the richness of the text:





¹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 129.

²David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 130.

³David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 130.

⁴David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 131.

⁵David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 139.

Rise of the Robots by Ford helps show why AI is such a radically different technology from traditional forms of “labor saving” automation: the difference between “labor saving” and “labor erasing” is significant.

⁷David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 101.

⁸David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 31.

⁹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 31.

¹⁰David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 31.

¹¹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 32.

¹²David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 33.

¹³David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 32.

¹⁴David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 34.

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¹⁸David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 23.

¹⁹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 23.

²⁰David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 53.

²¹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 53–54.

²²David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 54.

²³David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 55.

²⁴David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 55.

²⁵David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 123.

²⁶David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 125.

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²⁸David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 126.

²⁹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 127.

³⁰David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 127.

³¹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 128.

³²David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 128.

³³David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 108.

³⁴David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 108.

³⁵David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 111.

³⁶David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 113.

³⁷David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 115.

³⁸Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 1.

³⁹Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 7.

⁴⁰Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 12.

⁴¹Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 41.

⁴²Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 71.

⁴³Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 249.

⁴⁴Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 483.

⁴⁵Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1984: 484.

⁴⁶David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 103.

⁴⁷David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 103.

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⁴⁹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 105.

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⁵¹David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 43.

⁵²David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 43.

⁵³David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 71.

⁵⁴David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 72.

⁵⁵David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 6.

⁵⁶David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 127.

⁵⁷David, McKerracher. Timenergy. Boise, ID: Theory Underground Publishing, 2023: 127.




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