Sunday, July 02, 2017

"What is the purpose of work?" by JD

Today's essay follows on from JD's earlier post:

- and the two together are a response to Sackerson's piece on capitalism vs socialism:


Apart from the production of necessary goods, what does the worker get by working? What does 'useless toil' do to the psyche of the worker?

Brian Keeble's book (cited in part one of this discussion) has the title "God and Work" That title was a deliberate choice and is explained in the introduction and in the preface:

"The words God and Work are seldom closely associated in the modern mind. The former denotes something remote from daily affairs, even unlikely and outmoded for a significant number of people. Work, on the other hand, concerns only what comes to hand in the expenditure of time and effort required to secure a livelihood. Is this division healthy? Is this division inevitable? We spend the best part of our lives at work. Are we to conclude that during all those hours of using our mental and physical faculties there is no reason to connect our effort with possible answers to those persistent questions we have concerning our identity, place and purpose in the world?"

We must go back again to the beginning of the machine age after which the 'division of labour' became part of the process of speeding up production. The idea of 'division of labour' is a traditional one with its origins in the Perennial Philosophy. It is the root of the caste system in which some are born to rule, some are born to serve, others are born to the priestly class or the warrior class or the mercantile class etc.

And whatever you may think of a caste system, the idea of a division of labour has a valid natural justification. We are all inclined to follow a career path which matches our inner sensibilities. In the past people would follow their vocation and work as 'artisans' in a trade or profession according to their ability and temperament. That was the traditional way of life up to and even into the industrial/machine age.  Work, in the traditional sense, is about husbandry and caretaking. Work  involves the co-ordinated use of the hand, the eye, the mind and the heart in following the chosen trade or profession. To work in this way is to concentrate on the task at hand with the care and discipline necessary to do it well. And such concentration causes the 'monkey mind' to fall silent, to cease the endless chatter that goes on in our heads. As the mind focuses on and becomes absorbed in the task then work is transformed; laborare est orare, to work is to pray.

"The tradition of the handicrafts as instruments of livelihood, conceived and elevated to the level of a spiritual discipline, allowed man to live for millenia in harmony with himself, in harmony with his fellow men and in harmony with nature."

That may sound strange, alien even, to the modern secular mind but it is nevertheless true and the idea of division of labour following a natural order is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita -

 All mankind
Is born for perfection;
And each shall attain it
Will he but follow
His nature's duty.

The ignorant work
For the fruit of their action:
The wise must work also
Without desire
Pointing man's feet
To the path of his duty.

That division of labour was steadily further sub divided with the introduction of the 'production line' as a means of producing more goods in less time. Work was divided into tasks and the tasks were sub-divided and with each division the worker was further distanced from his or her own particular skills. Eventually the worker's skilled input was reduced to merely carrying out a task designed by others. At this point the worker has become part of the machine and because time was now the governing factor of production the worker had become little more than a galley slave; don't think, don't stop, time is money!

Where work had once been vocational it had now become repetitive and boring and tedious. The worker thus has no outlet for creative energy but that energy does not disappear, it will be transformed and manifest itself as dis-ease as outlined in this video by Terence Mc Kenna (apologies for the unnecessarily overloud music in parts of it)

McKenna mentioned how we now have shoddy products in the shops and that is partly a consequence of divorcing the worker from the craftsmanship that was needed for work in days of old. As stated above, the worker now carries out a task designed by others. That applies equally in the office environment as it does in the production line. Those previous skills, being no longer required, become atrophied and eventually disappear. The result is that, as time passes, the average worker loses the ability to discriminate and can no longer tell the difference between a well-made product and a badly made product. Hence the shoddy goods in our shops.

This inability to discriminate has been encouraged by an educational system which has itself become a sort of production line, the end product being the piece of paper or certificate of competence in whatever discipline. Such certificate does not guarantee the recipient is competent, it merely tells that the recipient has been 'approved' by the
"pharisees of verbal orthodoxy" as Aldous Huxley called them in his many essays on the educational process.

We now call it 'dumbing down' but it has been predicted for many years; Huxley saw it coming and so did T.S.Eliot -

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

 -from "The Rock."

Were Eliot alive today he would have added another line thus "...and where is the information that has disappeared into the black hole of data processing?"

The politicians and business 'leaders' continually speak of the 'skills shortage' without ever specifying what these missing skills are. They are blind to the atrophying of the skills we used to have, stolen by a mindless production process and an equally mindless education system.

And the future of work? Do we continue on this path or do we go back to 'the old ways'?
I don't know the answer to that question. The politicians do not even ask that question so the long predicted financial crash is inevitable. When it happens our western 'civilisation' will collapse. But vast areas of Asia, Africa and other parts of the 'primitive' world will not collapse. They will continue with their lives, living as they have always done. They might even improve after a, no doubt temporary, absence of interference from the West. And there are large parts of our western world where people will very quickly pick up the pieces and continue. The older generation, those of us with practical knowledge, those who were of the 'make do and mend' generation, the rural and farming areas etc will survive; the smartphone generation in the big cities will be well and truly

In the old traditions it is said that the end times are the most enjoyable of all so, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

That is the fatalist view, that nothing can be done. Politicians are famous for doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result; a well known definition of insanity.

The alternative is to go back, to stop worshiping the false god of progress. It is not as if we came blindly to this impasse. "Coming events cast their shadows before" (cf Thomas Campbell's poem Lochiel's Warning)

Those shadows are first 'seen' by artists, particularly poets and the more percipient of scribes. Think of Huxley's "Brave New World" or Kafka's "The Trial" or perhaps Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn" adapted from Ecclesiastes. Think of McKenna's optimistic outlook in the above video and think of Hamilton Camp's song - Pride of Man:

Turn around go back down back the way you came.
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of God is raised.
On Babylon that mighty city rich in treasures wide in fame.
And it shall cause the towers to fall and make of thee a pyre of flame.
Oh thou that dwell on many waters rich in treasure wide in fame.
That bow unto a god of gold thy pride of might shall be thy shame.
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again.
And only God can lead the people back into the earth again.

It is not too late to pay attention to Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote:

“Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”

That is the way it used to be, that is the way it ought to be and that is the way it can be if so desire.

Reading list:

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
-René Guénon

Revolt Against The Modern World
-Julius Evola

Art: For Whom and for What?
-Brian Keeble

Bhagavad Gita
-Sir Edwin Arnold (tr)

A Guide for the Perplexed
-Ernst F Schumacher

La rebelión de las masas
-José Ortega y Gasset

The Perennial Philosophy
-Aldous Huxley

The Perennial Philosophy; a critique
-Jules Evans

The Holy Science
- Sri Yukteswar Giri

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Robert M Pirsig

- Walter Scott (tr)


A K Haart said...

"A people calling itself great and living in a city also called great go to their houses a mere disorderly mass of humans cheaply equipped. Everything is cheap. When the people get home to their houses they sit on cheap chairs before cheap tables and eat cheap food. They have given their lives for cheap things. The poorest peasant of one of the old countries is surrounded by more beauty. His very equipment for living has more solidity."

Sherwood Anderson - Marching Men (1917)

CherryPie said...

Yogananda on the 'true' meaning of the Caste system:

What are we here to do...

Paddington said...

I retired this week as the Chair of Mathematics in a large mid-Western US university.

I made it a goal to try to have the grades awarded in our Department have some actual meaning, which is becoming ever harder, as the powers-that-be want to measure education by percentages passing, and other totally stupid metrics.