Saturday, October 12, 2013

Work is Good

work in progress for class

So someone said that it would be nice if everything were automated so people didn't have to work and we could just get allowances from the government to live off of (referencing sci-fi author Heinlein?). You know, I've definitely day-dreamed about not having to work. To be able to have money just handed to me so I could do whatever I wanted.

But I believe there is great value in work, innately appreciated by mankind. I can't help but remember a passage from Anton Pannekoek's 1948 classic, Workers' Councils, which addresses this very subject. And I shall revisit it here:

"Labor in itself is not repulsive. Labor for the supplying of his needs is a necessity imposed on man by nature. Like all other living beings, man has to exert his forces to provide for his food. Nature has given them bodily organs and mental powers, muscles, nerves and brains, to conform to this necessity. Their wants and their means are harmoniously adapted to one another in the regular living of their life. So labor, as the normal use of their limbs and capacities, is a normal impulse for man and animal alike. In the necessity of providing food and shelter there is, to be sure, an element of constraint. Free spontaneousness in the use of muscles and nerves, all in their turn, in following every whim, in work or play, lies at the bottom of human nature. The constraint of his his needs compels man to regular work, to suppression of the impulse of the moment, to exertion of his powers, to patient perseverance and self-restraint. But this self-restraint, necessary as it is for the preservation of oneself, of the family, of the community, affords the satisfaction of vanquishing the impediments in himself and the surrounding world, and gives him the proud feeling of reaching self-imposed aims. Fixed by its social character, by practice and custom in family, tribe or village, the habit of regular work grows into a new nature itself, into a natural mode of life, a harmonious unity of needs and powers, of duties and disposition. Thus in farming the surrounding nature is transformed into a safe home through a lifelong heavy or placid toil. Thus in every people, each in its individual way, the old handicraft gave to the artisans the joy of applying their skill and fantasy in the making of good and beautiful things for use."

All that to say that work is good. It makes us feel good and all that stuff he said.

That's all I was going to share, but the next part kept being interesting. It goes on in a less uplifting way. It gets wordy, so if you want to see what's skipped with ellipses, ask me for the book. Continue at your own risk:

"All this has perished since capital became master of labor... Formerly a worker in moderate hours –leaving room for occasional strong exertion– could produce enough for his living. But the profit of capital consists in what the worker can produce in surplus to his living... His standard of life is lowered as much as possible, his hours are increased, the tempo of his work is accelerated. Now labor loses entirely its old character of pleasant use of body and limbs. Now labor turns into a curse and an outrage. Workers [are] compelled by the threat of hunger to strain their forces at foreign command, for foreign profit, without genuine interest, in the monotonous fabrication of uninteresting or bad things... Ignorant economists, unacquainted with the nature of capitalism, seeing the strong aversion of the workers from their work, conclude that productive work, by its very nature, is repulsive to man, and must be imposed on unwilling mankind by strong means of constraint."

Okay, so he goes on to talk about how Capitalism is a system of squeezing, to which all who have worked in food, retail or in a factory must attest. But that's not why I brought this to your attention. I think it is valuable to note that meaningful work is good and satisfying and that mankind is not lazy. We are used to a system that squeezes us in many ways and we are largely unfamiliar with this meaningful, pleasant work. Any job you go out and try to get* is going to put you at the mercy of ruthless managers whose very function is to get more out of you than you have. 

This was written way back before fast food and car washes, before the world was so paved, before there were endless stripmalls, but it rings true, no? I mean, that car wash I managed provided a salary that came out to $12 an hour (no benefits), which was unreal to me. I'd never made that much! But it definitely squeezed the life and soul out of me. And no matter how much I did, it was never, ever enough.

Even when I was scraping out the ditch in 13 degree fahrenheit weather with a child in utero. Oh, but the sense of futile accomplishment when the ditch was clean! Priceless.

*Unless, of course, your privilege allows you to obtain degrees or get grandfathered in somewhere, etc.

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