Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Limitations of the Work Ethic as Moral Paradigm


The puritanical, capitalist work ethic is one of the most entrenched and powerful moral paradigms of the Modern World - 'moral' in the sense that it judges things in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. 

Whether one is employed or not, has a 'real' job or not, is an economic contributor or not, a 'taxpayer' or not (although see post Who are Taxpayers?), is a default and ubiquitous way of measuring a person's worth, so that activities not pertaining to monetary considerations and societal trinkets are often seen with a suspicious glance and commonly denigrated as 'self-indulgent'.

In my post Puritans as Self-Loathers? I suggested the psychological possibility that much modern-day, conformist puritanism could be rooted in self-loathing or, at the least, some pent-up resentment as expressed in much of the right-wing vote (Considerations on the Right-wing Working Class Vote).

In any case the ubiquity of the capitalist and therefore conformist mindset - capitalism being the economic system now in favour with which, by and large, all have to conform (see Truthfulness and Money) - is daily revealed by the question many if not most people ask on first meeting you: 
"What do you do for a living?"
As I wrote in The Superficiality of Normality, one of the key divides and conflicts that affects and has affected the human population is the one pertaining to the priorities of conformists as against the preferences of misfits. 

For the Daily Mail reading public, the work ethic is the criterion for measuring someone's morality so that the abuses of bankers, corporate owners and other 'hard-working' types, including in terms of something as harmless and mundane as drug abuse, is of no import as opposed to the inadequacies and said drug abuse of benefits 'scroungers' who are not employed although, like me, might apply themselves diligently in many areas (see post What is Work?) including in terms of voluntary, unpaid work.

The argument of this post, therefore, to say that the capitalist work ethic is a conformist (and, arguably, superficial) way of (morally) evaluating people and activities as opposed to other, less established ways of making moral judgements such as the one expressed in my writing How to Become Master of the World which puts thoughtfulness as the prime criterion for rightful, care-ful, action, conscious of its effect on others (an angle also put forth in my post Thought and Responsibility). I indeed define 'enlightenment' as treating oneself and others with care (Meaning of Enlightenment).

It goes almost without saying that, taken in isolation from other considerations, the puritanical work ethic can in fact be highly immoral if it is used, as indeed it is, to harm others, whether by shaming them for not wanting or being unable to work or by forcing them into a position of exploitative subservience, since undermining their conscious ability to resist the apparently self-evident requirement of selling one's labour to others to be able to continue to exist - employment as a form of modern-day (wage) slavery.

The work ethic as a methodology to enforce capitalist practices on people and as an instrument of incalculable mind control since repeatedly and constantly reinforced by mainstream political discourse says nothing of the harm actually caused by work itself, i.e. employment, whether it be the nature of the work in question, should it be of a harmful and violent nature (see, for example, Business is Business), such as practices employed by food giant Monsanto or Arms manufacturers, or the conditions that permeate the work context (see Culture of Fear in the Workplace) which have worsened over the years due to anti-labour, neoliberal policies and are in any event a huge component of daily human stress, agony, misery and even injury.

Post Scriptum: This blog post is of course very symptomatic of the privileged lifestyle and economic conditions prevailing on my person at the time of writing. For all that I do hope my argument transcends, at least in part, the singularity of my social and sociological position.

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