Keys are good, but keyholes are bad

What Work Is Really For

I found the above article and added it to my customary list of things-to-read-today. Reading it was interesting and made me think about my ‘utopia’ where I could simply spend time on the manifold projects that interest me and not have the joy of life squeezed out of me by ‘work’. The above author indicates that capitalism, because of its laser focus on maximizing profit, basically forces people to ‘work’ in order to consume whether the consumption was actually beneficial to the consumer!

But capitalism as such is not interested in quality of life. It is essentially a system for producing things to sell at a profit, the greater the better. If products sell because they improve the quality of our life, well and good, but it doesn’t in the end matter why they sell. The system works at least as well if a product sells not because it is a genuine contribution to human well-being but because people are falsely persuaded that they should have it. Often, in fact, it’s easier to persuade people to buy something that’s inferior than it is to make something that’s superior. This is why stores are filled with products that cater to fads and insecurities but no real human need.

While I am not sure I have articulated the above sentiment ‘aloud’ in my mind, it does resonate so thoroughly that it is clear that it is ‘truth’ to me. Consumerism has run amok, but has failed to take the road to the path that would free humans instead of enslave them. I have noodled an idea for a while (triggered when I started to calculate how many people this planet could support via aquaponics) about a pure virtual economy where people are basically ‘paid’ simply to consume. There would be no ‘work’ left since everything essential would be produced in some automated factory somewhere and delivered automagically as needed. I haven’t worked out the details yet (the document I started to record my thoughts consists entirely of the title, so really, this is a bit of an understatement) but it seems to me that it is the direction our society should be moving towards.

In the above article is a link to a very interesting document (which is where I got the title for this post) written in 1932 by Bertrand Russell called In Praise of Idleness. I might have blogged on the above article on its own merits, but reading Bertrand’s article really got me going. It really speaks to me in a way that I am not sure I can articulate. First, I want to start with a quote that hits on our current situation (really, except for just a couple of anachronisms, Bertrand could have penned this yesterday):

In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.

This is today, exacerbated by recent economic turmoil initiated by the people allied with the ‘executive’ leisure class. The below, though, is how things could be if we took the path toward my idea of the pure virtual economy:

In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.

To me, ‘work’ is some activity that I am compelled to do, but wouldn’t do otherwise. The construction of our house had times when it was ‘work’ and there have been several times when our greenhouse/pool project has been ‘work’ (a lot recently), but a perhaps surprising (to someone inculcated with our current leisure abhorring culture) quite a bit of relaxed enjoyment despite the back-breaking physical effort involved. I long for financial independence not to sit idly by smoking cigars and watching the clouds float by (though, to be sure, I would squeeze in as much of that each day as I could) but so I can explore various areas of science inquiry, spend some time on inventive ideas, tend plants and animals and perhaps, if I were to achieve the pinnacles of my ‘leisure’, space stations capable of housing hundreds of thousands of my fellow humans.

Instead, I am obliged by our capitalistic consumer society to engage in ‘work’ that saps my energy and creativity and generally acts as a road block for my ‘leisure’ activities that might actually have several orders of magnitude higher positive impact on our society, were they permitted. I am quite certain I am far from alone in this respect; I suspect that there are huge hosts of people in our society who would engage in vastly more physical and/or mental effort in ‘leisure’ activity for society’s benefit than they currently do in ‘work’. People talk about the lucky few who actually enjoy their ‘work’ and would engage in the exact same activity had they won the lottery. Why can’t we all be those people? I bet our society would be worlds (universes!) better if we went down that road. Instead, it seems we are stuck with an imposed ‘leisure’ class due to economic constraints where the ‘working class’ is required to engage in maximal effort and the rest are relegated to unemployment and despised for their idleness. All orchestrated by the oligarchical leisure class imposed by our capitalistic consumerism society.

Back to the real world now…

Author: Tfoui

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