Showhorses and Workhorses

During one of the numerous conversations I had with my master’s degree final paper supervisor in what were the final days and months of my official student life, he made an important distinction between what he called “show horses” on one hand and “work horses” on the other hand. In his view, there are “show horses” and “work horses” in both government and society, and the difference between the two is that the “show horses” barely do any work but get all the credit and acknowledgment and recognition for everything, while the “work horses” do all the work but get virtually no credit or acknowledgment or recognition from anyone because they are largely hidden from the public’s view. 

This distinction which my professor and final paper supervisor made between “show horses” and “work horses” relates to a large extent to the concept in traditional philosophy of there being both “hidden” power and “visible” power. Modern philosophy perhaps overlooks the fact that in reality, there has always been both “hidden power” and “visible power” and in turn, the “hidden power” is what keeps the “visible power” alive. Moreover, in today’s world, given the fierce competition and the fierce impulse of taking down one another in the public sphere as well the short lifespan of visible power, it is perhaps better to have ‘hidden power’ rather than having ‘visible power’ not just for the reasons that were just mentioned, but for other reasons as well. These other reasons are best known to the people who actually wield “hidden power” and these reasons are perhaps overlooked by those who are caught up in the frenzy of having “visible power.”

In turn, there are subconscious and sublime causes or drivers or factors behind a highly-educated and highly-intelligent person’s desire for knowledge and power, namely, the search for both meaning and pleasure. Arguably, the more educated and knowledgeable and informed a person becomes, the more hidden and sublime the person’s pursuit of meaning and pleasure becomes. One woman who started off as a ‘Foreign Service Officer’ (FSO) after her student life and then took the time to get a PhD told me that once she entered into the peace and solitude of PhD-level research and work, she could never really will herself to come back out of the peace and solitude and into the frenzy and hysteria of the public sphere and visible power.

An interesting fact or statistic shared by CNN yesterday was that while 60 percent of people preferred to work on-site before the coronavirus pandemic, now, only 6 percent of people prefer to work on-site. This perhaps means that subconsciously, the notion of meaning and pleasure is transforming amongst large swaths of the American population for a number of reasons. Personally, the switch from visible to hidden meaning and pleasure-seeking was something I made many years ago, and it is interesting to see that so many people are now making the same switch which I made. Hopefully, this broad-based and widespread change or switch which is occurring on the societal level is something that is acknowledged and recognized and internalized on the governmental level and in turn enables the reorganization of economic and social life which many Americans are both consciously and subconsciously yearning for.

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