To Save the World, We’re Going to Have to Stop Working

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From The Big Issue: “Our society is addicted to work. If there’s anything left and right both seem to agree on, it’s that jobs are good. Everyone should have a job. Work is our badge of moral citizenship. We seem to have convinced ourselves as a society that anyone who isn’t working harder than they would like to be working, at something they don’t enjoy, is a bad, unworthy person. As a result, work comes to absorb ever greater proportions of our energy and time . . .

The system makes no sense. It’s also destroying the planet. If we don’t break ourselves of this addiction quickly we will leave our children and grandchildren to face catastrophes on a scale which will make the current pandemic seem trivial.”

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22 COMMENTS

  1. This is dangerous thinking. “Work” is a bad word for something that is at the very center of human life! The wiser ones among us love their “jobs” and don’t consider what they do “work.” And though I’m retired, if I didn’t have a purpose in life and some activity available to help me achieve it, I’d be very close to dead. Sure, we don’t really need factories making a new model of smartphone very six months, and manned by people who feel like slaves. But for godsakes, everyone needs something to do to contribute to the game of living! And to tell people that work is bad and that they should not desire to work or “have a job” is a criminal thing to do and worthy of extreme condemnation.

    • Larry, I think his humour has some truths in it 🙂
      Anarchy is not all bad lol.
      I think his job is selling a book HAHA.

      But yes, perhaps you like your job. Many MANY people have no choice which job they might like.
      It’s always been that way. I think it’s worse now because our society really does tell kids to
      go to school, excel and then off you go to harvard and become a shrink or lawyer.
      And if that doesn’t pan out, then we probably have ADHD or another disorder. Anyway I think we rev up our kids expectations, and it leads to feelings of failure.

      People forget that our amazon warehouses are just like old time peasant jobs.

      • I’m sorry for getting a little over-combative, but these days I am more easily dismayed that I used to be.

        What is life on Earth for? To sit around and be entertained by robots? This has to do with whether we stand up and decide to determine for ourselves what is worth doing and how we want to care for each other, or let some – who? – slavemaster? – decide it all for us. Just because it is quite possible to overwhelm people and make them feel like they have no control over their lives is no reason to accept this as our ultimate fate. After all, we can be free. There is more to living that toiling under the yoke of biology. But if we can’t confront and handle the challenges of operating as biological creatures, we will never have a chance to rise above that level and recover our spiritual abilities to the point where “work” is fun for everyone.

        I know things have gotten really rough, and have been for a long time. But many of us are here because we couldn’t stand to live under post-industrial slavery. Why give in now to the seduction of “no work” when we are so close to figuring out, finally, how to do it better?

        • My job wasn’t BS. I designed beautiful kitchens, baths, etc, for anyone who hired me to do such. And this included repeat clients from Arlington Heights, who could barely afford my company’s products. To a Georgian island “king of Junk bond” client. Who had the president of his company, who knew about the design industry of Chicago, who asked for a laundry room backsplash, from the top four design firms he knew in the Chicogaland area.

          Apparently I was the only designer in Chicago wise enough asked, that comprehended that my unknown client had enough money, that money didn’t matter. So I was likely the only designer in Chicago that gave him the two backsplash designs, as requested. But also bothered to design a third design.

          I also designed a totally wainscoted laundry room, that would allow the expensive European tiles they wanted my tile work to coordinate with, to actually incorporate the European tiles they valued, into the tile design.

          I turned a $2000 backsplash tile job, into a $70,000 wainscoted laundry room sale. What I did was NOT “irrelevant to reality,” as described by ignorant and wildly deluded psychiatrists, whose defamation of my character they hoped would never end, according to their scientifically “invalid” stigmatizations. I loved my design job.

          But I will admit, my husband confessed to me his job at Allstate was “all smoke and mirrors,” which was a confession to me that his job was BS.

          I agree with you, i_e_cox, “things have gotten really rough, and have been for a long time. But many of us are here because we couldn’t stand to live under post-industrial slavery.”

          We are in a battle of good vs. evil, where the good are being defamed as evil, or in other words, “mentally ill.” And the evil are attempting to murder, steal from, and taking away the free speech, of the good people, the truth seekers and speakers. Those of us who do go above and beyond, work hard, and do our homework.

          We are in a Spiritual battle, and just like you, i_e_cox, I don’t want to be anyone’s slave. Much to the dismay of the evil globalist banker’s son and psychologist, who recently attempted to steal all my money and artwork, since he saw the potential value in the work of a “Chicago Chagall.”

          I agree, we don’t give up now, we keep fighting, and I do believe good will ultimately prevail over evil.

  2. LOL!
    Well what we’ve discovered is that we need to invent bullshit jobs and descriptions in order to
    try and keep us afloat for as long as possible. We honestly don’t have a great handle on being
    humans, so we try to live up to what we think humans are and do. That is a job in and of itself.

    • Fiachra…do you really really believe this? What would you do if you didn’t “have” to work? If you don’t want to pick tomatoes yourself, you better be willing to service the tomato picking machine. Or would you rather just starve to death? It’s your choice, I guess.

      • My problem is I honestly don’t like “fresh tomatoes.” I only et my tomatoes in ketchup, salsa, taco sauce, tomato sauce or sometimes canned well smashed tomatoes. My poor Dad could never understand it and I am not sure if he’s totally forgiven me for my penchant of putting tomato ketchup on a good grilled steak. But, he’s in heaven, now, so I forgive him, even he could never forgive me on this one small point. Thank you.

  3. Actually, in my opinion, the only thing that makes sense here is the author’s third proposal about stopping “planned obsolescence” which costs people way too much money and does fill our landfills unnecessarily. I do concede that there are a lots of jobs that are known as “paper-pushing jobs” although now many are done virtually. But, we need to work. Work is good for the mind, the body, and the soul. We would literally go “stark craving mad” without something to do. In many ways, we need to return to parts of the pre-industrial and the pre-technological age in regards to work. We need more work that uses as the Shakers would say “our hands and our hearts.” The best thing to happen to the world is more people to really not be afraid to get their hands dirty and as my father would say give us “a good tired.” We also would do well to stop this 24 hour obsessive world we live in and to begin again with real one or two real days of rest. Perhaps, our grandparents and great-grandparents were “on to something” that we have forgotten. Thank you.

  4. This was a really interesting article. He makes a lot of good points. I don’t see a problem with work in itself, but the economic drivers, both in policy making and on the individual level.

    When countries’ only or primary goal is to grow their economies, it is inevitable that you will end up with incredibly wasteful and/or destructive projects and work. They psycho-pharmaceutical industry is a good example. Despite whatever destruction it wreaks in people’s lives, its ability to boost the GDP probably makes it politically untouchable. What politicians want to touch highly profitable, but wasteful and/or destructive industries, and perhaps make the US economy number two in the world or number ten?

    Because so many people have to work jobs they hate under terrible working conditions, they may never be able to develop their God-given gifts and talents, not only in the realm of paid work, but in terms of becoming who they were truly meant to be and having life and having it to the full. How many great innovators and artists will never be able to make their mark on the world, because they’re stuck doing dishes at McDonald’s in order to merely survive? How many loving and nurturing people never get married and have children, because they cannot afford it? If it weren’t for immigrants, the US population would be declining.

    The author is right that there is huge moral judgment against people who don’t work for money. A person’s place in society so much depends, not only on whether or not someone is employed, but on how much he earns. This moral judgment further turns into second-class citizens the many who contribute billions of dollars worth of unpaid work that keeps families, communities, and countries afloat, i.e. women’s work. Maybe this need to prove oneself as valuable through paid work is one reason why people who don’t really need two incomes still choose to farm out child rearing to strangers.

    I think most people would like to contribute something that they find meaningful to society, but I don’t feel that it always has to come through paid work. Doing something, rather than nothing probably works for most people who are able. But I agree with the author that the current ways of doing things are unsustainable and bad for the environment.

    Personally, I’d love to have a decent paying, basically enjoyable job that helps, rather than hurts people, and that is what I am working towards. To what end, I don’t know. Maybe if my early years hadn’t been so screwed up, I would have been better able to duke it out in the US socioeconomic systems to attain to a better life to begin with. The US economy can hardly be said to be person-centered.

    • I can see that you have thought about this, and it’s helpful I think to point out that there are aspects of the “anti-work” argument that are appealing.

      If you have gone through anything like what I went through in the process of discovering how much agony and suffering exists in the world, then I am sure you have spent plenty of time wondering how we can ever manage to make things better.

      Work, though, is a very basic part of life. Of course there is the question of how much one earns from work, but if anything it is more obvious with people who “work for nothing” that on the one hand the desire to survive compels us to work, while also the desire to contribute impels us to work. Those who don’t feel both of those desires keenly are probably anywhere from a “little off” to downright criminal. But how did we get to a place where some people love to work and seem to find meaningful things to do almost by magic, while others can barely stand it (I’ve seen survey reports indicating about 1/2 of the workforce worldwide are unhappy with what they are doing) and still others refuse to work and would rather “work to steal” than to make money by honest means? The answer to that comes from a study of life, not just of psychology or economics.

      What I am convinced of is that conditions can be improved. But those improvements rely on at least some of the population taking a “quantum leap” in their understanding of life, and then being willing to take leadership positions in the world and work hard to improve things. Even in a tribal village, leadership has something to say about how the work that needs to get done is portioned out among the villagers. And I have never lived in a place where dust did not fall out of the air and onto surfaces which then needed to be dusted off. In a “traditional” culture, they hire a cleaner whose sole job is to dust off things. Well, many people would find that a bit tedious. In my group, we have an Estates Manager whose job it is to train the staff on how to keep their own spaces clean, makes sure they have the supplies needed to do so, and makes sure they spend a bit of time on it each day so the appearance of things is kept up. It took a conscious decision from leadership to organize routine cleaning in the building that way, rather than hire a bunch of janitors. So sane and inspired leadership could have a lot to do with how employees experience work, as well as how much they earn and so on.

      The whole question of what portion of human activity is really necessary and ethical versus how much is frivolous, wasteful, or even criminal goes way beyond the subject of work itself. Again, in a society like ours, the onus is on the managers to be wise enough and sane enough and creative enough to make better choices about how they run their businesses and organize their people. Ultimately, it will take a world where everyone is knowledgeable enough to make wise decisions that protect civilization from sliding back into a more sloppy way of living. There is no doubt that we have indulged in a lot of sloppiness in recent times, and that various pressures only seem to make it worse.

      But to target work as the problem is extremely misguided! That this website has existed as long as it has is an indicator that, in spite of ourselves, human sanity is a very real problem. Psychiatry has not solved it and does not seem to be on any road that will lead to a solution. Others think they have solved it, yet are shouted down as “cultists” or whatever. I seek to keep the basics of what we are discussing here – human life – in plain view and being discussed. I think that bringing it all out of the brain and letting Spirit take its rightful role makes for a much more interesting and fruitful discussion.

  5. A world without work — the ultimate “woke” millennial fantasy!

    There’s probably a point here somewhere, one which was addressed ages ago by both Marshall McCluhan and Abbie Hoffman — people don’t need “jobs,” they need ROLES.

    What is being addressed as “work” here is more like capitalist exploitation, which is alienated and alienating.

  6. Work can be satisfying is you know others appreciate what you do. I appreciate the people who stock the shelves at Walmart, even though I don’t feel like I can just tell them that. Early in my working life I worked on development of an artificial arm, and I sensed there were people who liked what I did. I think companies do try to meet the needs of the customer, like in phones, they know that new features will emerge, and people will want a new phone every so often as a result, so they don’t build them to last forever and cost more.

  7. Of course “work” and labor that benefits society are two very different things. It’s why we have highly paid mid level management jobs and have totally devalued “house” and “women’s” work. We have been very heavily propagandized, as evidence by the pushback in the comments here to what aught to be a very obvious concept. “Work” is a function of capitalist exploitation and fed by religious dogma.

    • But what dogma does this “anti-work” concept spring from? Is it not just as dangerous? Do I want all the farm workers to just go home because they don’t get paid well? How would the cities eat? How far can you really take anti-work and anti-capitalism? It’s just another dead end to me. The truth lies well beyond these issues.

      • It springs from the fact that the people who do the necessary work like farming and teaching and trash collection and nursing and grocery work – all of those “essential workers” – generally get paid lower wages while truly unnecessary work like most management positions get paid handsomely. Most of the work that benefits society is performed by women and minorities while most unnecessary work is performed by white men. The “professional class” is overpaid and overvalued while laboring for the good of society is devalued. Our traditional artisans are a dying class as well because capitalism has valued cheap mass produced products with built-in expected lifetimes so you’ll keep buying crap that breaks trapping people in regular consumption cycles.

        This argument isn’t about encouraging laziness, it’s about valuing those doing necessary work as well as valuing the environment by shunning consumption – both of which are baked into the greater plan to make as much profit as possible. Human kind would be better working in cooperation but capitalism, and the class system specifically, requires outright exploitation while constantly messaging that the people who get to the top did so because of hard work (meritocracy) while those working themselves to the bone usually can’t get ahead and are being hamstrung at every turn.

        Hey, can we talk about payday and title loans next? How about credit card interest or student loans? Let’s talk about how middle class stay at home moms get praise while poor moms are shamed as welfare queens and forced into the wage labor market…

        This has never been about people not wanting to work. Praising “work” as a nebulous concept is a way to keep those at the bottom down because that is what the capitalist class system requires. It requires those who’ve been lucky enough to be born in the right families (Money, education, connections) or to be able bodied and intelligent to judge those who aren’t as able to move up the class ladder. It’s intentional, it’s insidious, it’s pervasive, and changing things will require that those who are better off join the fight for those who aren’t to get a fair share. But asking people to give up some of their privilege, whether financial or otherwise, has proven to be folly. Because deep down, we all know the system is set up in such a way that it’s all too easy to lose your place and slip back down the ladder, which keeps people competing to get an ever bigger share.

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