Work Makes Us Slaves

I’m not really sure if we are capable anymore of a society where people enjoy their lives and work is part of living and not done to make money so that they can live. We’ve dug ourselves into a pretty deep hole and can’t imagine anyway out of it. Work for many people is simply doing somebody else’s bidding, or their shareholders, or your managers. Maybe this is just what was inevitable. After all, we don’t need to work our land anymore so that we can survive, we just get to go shopping instead.

The more I think about ‘work’ the less I like what we as a society have done with the word. How can work honestly be a thing that takes up 40 hours of our week and then gives us money after? How have we got so far from needing to work so that we can survive? Now we work so that we can get money so that we can survive in the world that we have created for ourselves (paying mortgages, going to grocery stores and entertaining ourselves). I wish we could create a life for ourselves where work had to do with the direct action that you had to take on your environment so that you could live another day. We are way to separated now from our survival that we don’t depend on our neighbours, community, family or our work to provide anything for us. I really wonder what that has done to us. Now work usually is something completely separate from what we need to survive. Most of us sit in front of computers or boss people around, a bunch of us work in the plants and monitor gases or on an assembly line, never really making anything ourselves….it might be a great job, but it’s so disconnected from who we are as humans and what we need to survive. Most of us have no idea how to work the ground to survive. I think that would be good for us to know at least and probably start living lives that are more and more connected to our local environments and making our work about ourselves and our communities rather than our employers or for money.

In light of the issue of the spiritual health of human beings, the issue of wages may be more or less arbitrary or irrelevant. What would be a just wage for a life of carrying off other people’s cans and bottles? A million dollars a year would not be enough, because such a job can be performed only by the forfeiture of the effective life of the spirit in this world. Such work is not, in the usual sense, an accomplishment. It is not productive work. The only conceivable standard for it is quantitative; it can be done thoroughly or not; one can haul off either all the cans and bottles or only some of them. It is work that by its nature cannot be good work; though it can be done carefully, it cannot be well done. There is no art in it, no science, and no skill. Its only virtue is in its necessity. But it is necessary only for a bad reason: the manufacture of “disposable” (that is, virtually worthless) products. The people for whom this work is done will be made unhappy or unhealthy if it is not done. So long as it is done, they will scarcely think of it. It is work, then, that is entirely negative in its value. Its most desirable result is to leave no visible trace.

– Wendell Berry

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