“Proletarians, brutalized by the dogma of work, listen to the voice of these philosophers, which has been concealed from you with jealous care: A citizen who gives his labor for money degrades himself to the rank of slaves, he commits a crime which deserves years of imprisonment.” Paul Lafargue, The Right To Be Lazy, 1883.
(Translation as per this site.)
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 13-12-2008. This post is 3 years old and quotes a text of almost 150 years old. For all of the crying out for change the truth is that everything which is happening and everything being talked about on both left and right is about The Duty To Be Industrious. Too bad, it will cost us another couple of decades before we see the new light. Read to the end of you do have the stomach for it; the language is bad but the twist at the end is nice.]
There you have it: you think you have an original idea just to find out it has been discovered a mere 150 years ago, by a rather obscure pamphlet-writer of rather more than less blackandwhitery, no less. The vice of modesty may still have its virtuous moment 😉
He is right of course, for the same reasons as I was right: neither you nor I whatever our origin and whatever our talents, are really anything more than the instrument of an upper class when we sell ourselves to further the goal of others. We are even less than instruments when the sale is made to further the goal of an anonymous organization; never mind whether it is of the so called beneficial kind.
The idea of the ‘duty to work’ however proves to be imune to all reasoning. There are always new people grouped in new groups that gain so much from it that they discover fresh ways to convince all of the rest of us that the ‘right to work’ is the last blessed thing surviving the deaths of all Gods.
For a long time now in the West we take comfort in the fact that we cannot be slaves because a. the people we work for can’t starve us to death when we refuse to a complete surrender & b. we are increasingly working with our brains. The first assumption is wrong because every instance we claim more freedom we get just a pittance of it, to find out not much later that [yet another] ‘the economic crisis’ is on its way threatening this beautiful right to work.
The voices of the reasonable soon after emerge to convince us of the fact that we should not press such rights but give up large portions of our little bit of freedom if we don’t want the right to become just a far-fetched ideal. No physical whips but constant economic terror: if there is such a thing as a mastermind in this system, it surely knows that the threat of some loss is sufficient to whip us into ‘correct’ behaviour.
Never will a right be more like a duty as in the case of the right to work. And whilst it is a fact that we tend to sell our brains rather than our bodies as time goes on, what is better: to be encarcelated or to be brainwashed?
But this quoting fool is sounding more and more like he’s rambling as much, if not more, than that quoted fool – Let me move on to …
He is wrong of course because like all of them drawing in black-and-white only, he is wanting to make us into something that is changed according to what he believes to be what we ought to be. He idiotically presupposes that we can make abstraction from what presently is our reality to make it easier on him to run, on our behalf, after the abstraction he favors. An abstraction that suits his instincts, his wealth as well as his specific social network.
Such is the way of idealists. They’re optimists, but only at our expense and when they despair they do so based on the insight that what they deem to be important for us is not acknowledged by us as as important enough in their view.
So maybe I’m still original in believing you can be right in these matters without at the same time being black and white about it. We needn’t prescribe work nor prescribe non-work; just like we mustn’t prescribe non-consumption nor decry consumption.
The “right to be lazy” should not in its turn become a new duty of a new church condemning the non-lazy. There is time, we work less than in Lafargue’s time. More importantly: there is time, more & more of us find employment in things that can’t rightly be called ‘work’ even if those so employing themselves persist in the convention of calling it ‘work’. This is possible only because the free markets allow to exchange entertainment and ideas, trading talent for talent.
The machines were welcome and they were necessary – but, contra Lafargue, they are not sufficient. To liberate us from work we need a market, a place where we can come with the result of our creative, talented laziness and get the benefit of some other talented, creative laziness. Only this free exchange will be sufficient to liberate us from the necessity to work.
The problem then is this (seen from where we stand today): how do we divorce free market from capitalism when they seem so inextricably linked for ages? The one good and the other bad, their separation is essential to set human beings free to do whatever the hell they feel like – even work, since no God or Organization can forbid it. Free – free to compete in what they themselves believe to be their strength and pleasure.
A question at the end. I have no answer yet. But not to worry: there is time. The more irreversible the evolution to a free market is and the more irreversible the desire to escape the compulsion to work, the quicker we will speed to the insight that we need. Much quicker than with a revolution that unavoidably will impose again on every citizen a duty to work towards the success of it. It is such a duty that is the essential cause of the felt compulsion to work and therefore it is those revolutionary changes that we will need to avoid whenever possible.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Evard Grieg, Lyric Pieces as was perfomed
by Mikhail Plethnev (with the insurmountable “March of the Trolls”).]