Made For More Than Disturbing Dirt
On the imposition of daily work and the demands of labour on the souls of human beings
Essays in the Future Work section of Sunday Letters may have been previously published and are edited and short-listed for inclusion in the upcoming anthology with the working title “The Slavery of Work”. The book’s essential theme is, as the title suggests, the imposition of work on the freedom and liberty of human beings and what we can do to change things. It is the pursuit of an answer to the question of commanding our own daily work. Supporters of Sunday Letters will receive a free digital and print copy of the book upon release.
As I consider the variety of work I do–work for which I receive payment and not work I do for enjoyment and work, I’d rather not do–it strikes me that most of what feels off about it comes from having to do it. It is the sensation that someone is looking over my shoulder, waiting impatiently for me to fulfil a prior obligation. Under the critical eye of a headmaster, priest, or overbearing matriarch, I have capitulated. And as this sensation of external pressure weighs on my consciousness, I wonder, was it always this way? Have the majority of human beings always worked on command?
It seems to me, and I’ve written on this many times before, that with the advent of industrialisation came the widespread imperative to work on the say-so of others. I accept that work may have always involved an arrangement of sorts between a relatively flush party and another willing to work for some form of payment. However, unlike the patronage arrangements of the Enlightenment period, for example, where artists and craftspeople worked by their own design, in today’s work, we do as we’re told. Even under the patronage of another, there is a sense of obligation, and perhaps most workers have never been free to direct their own work.
Philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt is noted to have said of human beings and their work, “Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being, but remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness…we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is.”
Perhaps this is our lot.
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