Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Work - What Is It Good For?

Work, what is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
-Sung by Bruce Springsteen, misheard by yours truly


The recently reviewed Zen Pencils got me thinking. As I have noted in my review, one insight that hit a soft nerve of mine was the one asking why we have to lock ourselves in an office for 40 hours a week in order to generate 10 hours of productive work. Doesn't that turn work into a prison? Wouldn't future generations of humans, centuries (but perhaps decades) from now look back into what we did to ourselves and feel flabbergasted at the sadistic torture we've inflicted upon ourselves, the waste of that most precious of commodities called human life, simply by going to work?
Not everyone would agree with such far stretching conclusions. Check wile.e.coyote out in his comment to a previous post of mine dealing with work: the coyote was openly mocking my disenchantment with work.
At the other hand of the spectrum, science fiction author Charlie Stross' analysis of work is heading down my thought lane. [No surprise there, since Stross' insight has been known to affect my perceptions on a regular basis; I highly recommend his blog.]

All of the above inputs have worked to help me congeal my views about the modern institute we refer to as "work".
First, I will state the obvious and argue that using work as the main feeder for one's self esteem is a dangerous affair. Sure, Tim Cook can pat himself on the back and say "you've done well". But if you look at the 7 billion people on this planet, only a tiny minority of them can do the same without losing face; the vast majority are stuck in dead end jobs, doing all sorts of things they wouldn't do out of their own free will if it wasn't for the need to bring food to the table and a roof above the head and the various restrictions imposed on them from above to block them from becoming Apple's CEO.
The question then turns into that Stross is asking: do we really need to work in order to be able to be able to acquire the necessities of life, given that technology coupled with over population have brought us to a state where there are not enough jobs for everybody? Given that job shortages are only going to grow worse as newer technologies, such as the self driving car, come along? Given that we are already producing more than we need and more than the planet can sustain?
Do we really need to imprison ourselves for 30 hours a week, every week?
Which brings me to the crux of the matter. I argue that, as per contemporary world order, work is not about being productive but rather about the division of status between members of society, with status being the true scarce resource, the true currency of our society. Status gets paid with dollars, which in turn correspond to power.
Think about it. Why do various professions hosted almost unanimously by middle aged white men hold the highest salaries, while the truly important jobs - the ones that make life or death differences, the ones that affect people's entire lives, jobs like nurses and teachers - earn peanuts in comparison? Is it because those middle aged white man contribute more to society? Yeah, what a joke.
It's because the middle aged white man have managed to shape society to a manner that benefits them best. A society that propagates their elevated status while offering limited mobility to the masses and delusions of grandeur such as The American Dream.
And what if the masses are imprisoned for 30 hours a week? That's a benefit; think of the damage these people can do if they were to be set loose.

Image by Bille Wilson, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

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