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Do we need to work to be active and happy?

By News Express on 26/02/2018

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Increased automation has not reduced our workload. Why not, and what, if it did?


Some people worry that life with little work would be slothful, leading to psychological depression. They think that human beings need work to have a sense of purpose in life, or just to get out of bed in the morning. They look at how depressed people often become when they become unemployed, or at the number of people who just veg out when they come home after work, or at how some people, after retirement, don’t know what to do and begin to feel useless.  But those observations are all occurring in a world in which unemployment signifies failure in the minds of many; in which workers come home physically or mentally exhausted each day; in which work is glorified and play is denigrated; and in which a life of work, from elementary school on to retirement, leads many to forget how to play.

 Look at little children who haven’t yet started school and, therefore, haven’t yet had their curiosity and playfulness suppressed for the sake of work.  Are they lazy?  No.  They are almost continuously active when not sleeping.  They are always getting into things, motivated by curiosity, and in their play they make up stories, build things, create art, and philosophise (yes, philosophise) about the world around them.  There is no reason to think the drive for such activities naturally decline with age. They decline because our schools, which value work and devalue play, drill them out of people; and then tedious jobs and careers continue to drill them out.  These drives don’t decline in hunter-gatherers with age, and they wouldn’t decline in us either if it weren’t for all the work imposed on us.

 Schools were invented largely to teach us to obey authority figures (bosses), unquestioningly, and perform tedious tasks in a timely manner. In other words, they were invented to suppress our natural tendencies to explore and play and prepare us to accept a life of work.  In a world that value play rather than work, we would have no need for such schools.  Instead, we would allow each person’s playfulness, creativity, and natural strivings to find meaning in life to blossom.

 Work, pretty much by definition, is something we don’t want to do.  It interferes with our freedom.  To the degree that we must work: we are not free to choose our own activities and find our own life meanings.  The view that people need work in order to be happy is closely tied to the patronising view that people can’t handle freedom. That dismal view of human nature has been promoted for centuries, and reinforced in schools, in order to maintain a placid workforce.

Do culturally valuable discoveries, creations and inventions depend upon work? 

People love to discover and create.  We are naturally curious and playful, and discovery and creation are, respectively, the products of curiosity and playfulness.  There is no reason to believe that less work and more time to do what we want to do would cause fewer achievements in sciences, arts, and other creative endeavours.

 The specific forms our inventiveness takes depend in part on cultural conditions.  Among nomadic hunter-gatherers, where material goods beyond what one could easily carry were a burden, discoveries were generally about the immediate physical and biological environment, on which they depended, and creative products were typically ephemeral in nature: songs, dance, jokes, stories, bodily decorations, and the like.  Today, and ever since, creative products could take all these forms, plus material inventions that transform our basic ways of living.

 Nearly all great scientists, inventors, artists, poets, and writers talk about their achievements as play.  Einstein, for example, spoke of his achievements in mathematics and theoretical physics as “combinatorial play.”  He did it for fun, not money, while he supported himself as a clerk in a patent office.  The Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga, in his classic book, Homo Ludens, argued, convincingly, that most of the cultural achievements that have enriched human lives - in art, music, literature, poetry, mathematics, philosophy, and even jurisprudence - are derivatives of the drive to play.  He pointed out that the greatest outpourings of such achievements have occurred at those times and places where a significant number of adults were freed from work and could, therefore, play; in an environment in which play was valued.  A prime example was ancient Athens.

Would we degenerate morally without work? 

The 18th century poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller wrote: “Man is only fully human when he plays.”  I agree. And it seems as clear to me as it did to Schiller, that part of our humanity, which rises in play, is concern for our fellow human beings.

In our work-filled world we too often fall into a pit where the duty of the job overrides our concern for others.  Work detracts from the time and energy - and sometimes even from the motivation - for helping neighbours in need, or striving to clean up our environment, or promoting causes aimed at improving the word for all.  The fact that so many people engage in such humanitarian activities already, despite the pressures of work, is evidence that people want to help others and make the world a better place.  Most of us would do more for our fellow humans if it weren’t for the sink of time and energy, and the tendencies towards greed and submission to power that work creates.

 Band hunter-gatherers, who, as I said, lived a life of play, are famous among anthropologists for their eagerness to share and help one another.  Another term for such societies is egalitarian societies - they are the only societies without social hierarchies that have ever been found.  Their ethos, founded in play, is one that prohibits any one person from having more status or goods than any other.  In a world without work, or without so much of it, we would all be less concerned with moving up some ladder, ultimately to nowhere, and more concerned with the happiness of others, who are, after all, our playmates.

 So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem: cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?

•Being part two of the series “Economists are obsessed with job creation, how about less work?” 

•Lawrence Chukwuemeka Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via (07066375847).

Source News Express

Posted 26/02/2018 6:50:25 PM


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