Why Work Matters

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Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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13 Responses

  1. I really liked this post and might even read some of the books you mention.

    When you talked about reaching a position in your job last year where you admit to slacking and not doing enough, I thought to myself, “there but for the grace of god/dess go I.” If, as may very well happen, I’m on the labor market in 6 months, I also fear that the jobless period will be longer and more unrelenting and unforgiving than previous ones. Speaking for myself, having a job is a great thing, and I’m fortunate to have one now.

    I also like the idea of “falling in like” with whatever one’s job is. That’s a healthy attitude.Report

  2. Avatar Roger says:

    Zen and The Art of MM is, along with the follow up book Lila, my favorite set of fiction books of all time. In the early nineties I had Lila on my nightstand for a year or two and would reread it constantly when unable to sleep.

    Gumption. Dynamic quality. Static quality. The cutting edge of experience. Pirsig’s hierarchy of inorganic, biological, social and intellectual quality.

    I know it is all pop philosophy. But I got a lot out of it at the time.Report

  3. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Mike, This is a really good post. I’m dealing with a lot of similar issues with my 29 year old son right now, who confuses the idea of having a dream job with the absence of having to do actual “work”. Work, in it’s best sense, is an internal property of people (it seems to me), a desire to accomplish stuff, either because you’re being paid to do it (which is a character issue) or because you have goals you want to realize. In either case, tho, the motivation to work – expend energy to accomplish the tasks at hand – comes from wanting to be productive, to do something useful, to see the results of your efforts, a property which I think (like you) is part of what it means to be human.

    {{Is anyone watching Ghana-Germany? Holy cows what a match.}}Report

  4. This and Gabriel’s guest post the other day are my two favorite posts in awhile.Report

  5. Avatar Fnord says:

    You see that many people are unhappy with working. Why jump to the conclusion that the the only problem with this picture is the people? Yes, people (at least some people) may be able to fix that by taking the proper attitude. But you can fix a lot of things by taking the proper attitude (if we’re talking about Zen, we’re talking about the belief that “attitude”, defined broadly, can fix all the suffering of life!).

    Given that work is necessary to live, as things stand now, taking the attitude described here may well be, as you’ve experienced, good for your mental health. But it doesn’t follow that work is inherently important to people, or that “humans are not intended for a life of leisure”, as long as leisure isn’t reductively defined as pure idleness.

    I agree that people need a purpose in life. I contest that work (in the sense that it’s used in this post and this symposium) is the best or only source of that purpose. The fact that you’ve observed that many people’s (especially men’s) identities are tied up in their profession is accurate, but that’s a fact about our culture; it doesn’t mean that’s an immutable part of the human condition.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Fnord says:

      @fnord

      I contest that work (in the sense that it’s used in this post and this symposium) is the best or only source of that purpose. The fact that you’ve observed that many people’s (especially men’s) identities are tied up in their profession is accurate, but that’s a fact about our culture; it doesn’t mean that’s an immutable part of the human condition.

      Can you offer a substantial example of a culture where this is not the case?Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        For most cultures through out history, for MOST people, work was necessary to live. But until relatively recently, one of the defining traits of aristocracy was NOT having to work to make a living.

        Of course, they still did something. And their identity was, no doubt, still bound up in the things that they actually did. Those things might even have been productive in the sense of being of value to society at large. But they weren’t (at least aspirartionally) the things that they derived their housing and food and so forth from.

        Which is my point. Peoples identities are bound up in what they do, to be sure. But there are more things to do in life than things that earn income.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        But even for idle rich, their identities are often bound to the work they do, even if it is charitable volunteer work. It may not be work that covers the living basics, but it is still work. It takes some nominal effort & they gain benefit from it & part of them is bound to it, else why bother with the effort?.Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Sure. As I said in my previous post, people need some purpose in life; naturally, their identity will be bound up in that purpose. And the charity or art or whatever is likely to require at least some effort.

        But even if “work” is sometimes used to mean “anything that requires effort”, that’s not really how it’s meant in the symposium (“jobs and the wages those jobs may (or may not) provide”). And it certainly seems like the “jobs and wages” meaning of “work” is what’s being discussed in the OP.

        The false equivalence between those two is the very thing I’m pushing back against. My entire point is that jobs-and-wages work is not the only way for people to have purpose and not the only thing that people can use to define their identity. If you want to talk about “The Value of Work”, using the expansive anything-that-requires-effort definition, that would be another discussion. My objection, here, is the attempt to argue for “The Value of Work” in specifically the jobs-and-wages sense.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        @fnord

        I see your point, thanks.

        I didn’t quite get that feel from Mike’s post though, which is why I was pushing back. Falling in “like” with your income producing work kinda gives lie to that. I’ve known people who have liked their job well enough, but their life-defining work was more of a hobby.Report

  6. Avatar Michael M. says:

    @fnord “I agree that people need a purpose in life. I contest that work (in the sense that it’s used in this post and this symposium) is the best or only source of that purpose.”

    Double ++1, or three snaps in Z formation (the Zorro snap!).

    The constant equating of a intrinsically capitalist definition of terms like “productive,” “industrious,” and so on with concepts like worthiness, value, and purpose across most posts and discussions in this symposium has been breathtaking and thoroughly depressing.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Michael M. says:

      Wait just a moment- What makes industriousness intrinsically capitalitic? Hasn’t the concept existed long before anyone even came up with the concept of capitalism?

      I think you may be unfairly tarring the fine concept of industriousness with materialism and acquisitiveness.

      Industriousness- that is, participating in the construction and operations of our environment and society- can be completely in harmony with a world which rejects materialism and greed.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LWA says:

        @lwa

        I can’t speak for Michael M., but I think the argument runs like this:

        “Industriousness,” whatever its other virtues, can quickly become code for “doing whatever the boss wants.” Therefore, valuing “industriousness” is part of a superstructure of the capitalist class, of those who own and manage the businesses and whose profits depend on convincing as many people as possible to work for lesser wages and to demand fewer beneficial working conditions.

        I’m not sure I agree with that view, and in fact in the last 10 years or so, I’ve gone to the other extreme of valuing industriousness as a virtue in itself. Still, I have a hard time ignoring the uses to which such value-laden ideas like “industriousness” can be put. I guess I have to keep one foot in the Marxist world if only to understand that there’s a flip side to what I endorse now.Report

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