Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why You Should Work Less

From AlterNet:

John de Graaf, a longtime television producer and creator of the award-winning documentary "Affluenza," was in my discussion group. He noted the irony of how we live in the most affluent society in the history of the world, yet are increasingly time-poor. John had put his finger on the number one reason why people often can't do anything other than try and make their own lives better -- there's no time for anything else.

Then someone brought up FLSA and said, since FDR signed the bill into law, the time most people spent laboring had only increased -- to the point where, for millions of gainfully employed Americans, working 40-hours a week doesn't pay the bills. An increased workload also diminished most people's ability to even spend quality time with their families, to say nothing about getting involved in social activism.

More here.

This may very well be my number one issue. I mean, health insurance is up there, and so is peace, and the environment, as well as economic justice. But working all the that's just the suck life. Let's get really basic: why do we work? Most of my life I've been steeped in the bogus "career" point of view, that you are your work, that it's your identity. I've also been socialized to some extent into this work-as-civic-duty point of view, which has some truth to it because if we didn't work, civilization would fall apart. But really, the vast majority of us work in order to pay the bills, to survive, whether we like it or not. Rare, indeed, is the person who truly loves his work, who sees it as a life's calling. Most of us, myself included, are just work-a-day schmucks.

Really though, when you dig a bit deeper, the why-we-work question isn't about paying the bills: it's about being subject to the vast concentrations of wealth that decided long ago that most of us are just drones, void of humanity, good for nothing but making the rich get richer. Here's a novel idea. We should work for ourselves. We should work in order to give us meaningful lives outside of work. The essay linked above goes into great detail about how taking time off has fantastic health benefits, which it does indeed, but what I'm talking about is quality of life, or rather, having a life at all. And I don't mean playing video games and watching TV. We need more time with our families, much more time. We need more time to participate in and build community, which includes a more dynamic role in politics. We need more time to tell and hear stories. In short, we need more time to be human beings.

The character John Keating put it best in Dead Poets Society:

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Or better yet, just listen to this song: