“What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.” (Zorba the Greek)
I suppose it's an oversimplification, but for me Marx stands for the idea that value is rooted in labour and worth is rooted in capital. History, on this view, becomes a struggle for control of the means of production. I was once a "Marxist" in this sense, but I will never forget the strange lightness that came over me many years ago when I was reading Ezra Pound: "Nature habitually overproduces. Chestnuts go to waste on the mountainside, and it has never yet caused a world crisis."
The other side of this insight is that almost everything that is worth having is free, almost everything that has to get done "just happens". The sun, the rain, even the long process of fossilisation, owes us nothing. The creativity of the seed far exceeds our own inventiveness. Even our own bodies, as Zorba points out, are mainly self-operating, self-cleaning natural processes. We put some fuel in them and out comes human behaviour. Without granting too much ground to Freud, we even have to agree that most of our mental activity goes on without our knowledge or guidance.
There's the old joke that 90% of life is just showing up. We can expand this:
99% [virtually] everything just sort of happens [think the burning suns, the spinning galaxies]. Life mainly continues—"goes on", as they say. It is as important to get out of the way as it is to make an effort. Even when we do work, it's not so much a matter of putting your shoulder to the wheel as pushing in the right direction. Most of the process is already underway.
This is important to keep in mind when working on your intellectual projects. Not only should you not try to lift them and move them somewhere all at once, not only should do a measured amount of work on them each day ... You should remember that an intellectual project, both as it exists within you and as it goes on around you, both as it belongs to you and as it belongs to others, is always already making progress, always already going somewhere.
It doesn't need you to do all the work. Certainly not all the time. Most of it happens all by itself. And many of the chestnuts really do go to waste. It happens all the time. It's not a crisis in the history of ideas when it does. [Update: with so many of us thinking so hard about so many things these days, I think I can rest assured that an idea I don't happen to make the most of will be "independently discovered" by someone else soon enough.]