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wonderpup

The Evil Of Work

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One of the oldest stories in the world tells of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for reasons that need not detain us here except to note that this expulsion was intended as a punishment for some rather esoteric transgression.

One aspect of this punishment does however have an odd relevance to one of the issues often discussed here, which is the 'threat' of technological unemployment- in the biblical text our unhappy couple are booted out of Eden where the essentials of life were readily available with little effort into a harsh world where such essentials could only be obtained by the sweat of their brow- that is by working.

So at the time this text was authored work was considered not as some kind of right or privilege but as a punishment- as an evil imposed on mankind by a vengeful God.

Yet today we take very much the opposite view- which is that work is in and of itself something to cherish and preserve. We even hear people talk in a serious way about the right to work.

So the debate now rages about whether technology is or might soon be a 'threat' to jobs.

So what the hell happened here? How come the 'evil' that was work to our ancestors is now viewed as some kind of human right? And what on earth would those ancestors make of this idea as they strove to extract a subsistence living from the land with backbreaking toil? They would think we had all gone mad! A right to work??? WTF? In their reality work was a curse, not a gift.

Somewhere along the line the necessity of labour has been rebranded as something essential to human dignity, something that is required to make us complete and proper people.

So the rise of technology is not a threat to 'work'- what it really represents is a threat to our very definition of what it means to be human- this new breed of smart technology poses an existential challenge to our sense of who and what we are- so it's not our 'jobs' that are ultimately being threatened here, it's our identities and the roles that define us in society.

A man of working age with no job is what exactly? Biologically human yes- but socially does such a man even exist? He literally has no place in society.

So perhaps the real challenge represented by the 'rise of the robots' is not really a practical one but an existential one- if it turns out to be true that huge numbers of people in the future will be without jobs the problem this will create will not only- or even primarily- be economic- the problem will be that we will need a new definition of what it means to be human.

Are the mental pygmies that currently run the world up to such a task?

Edited by wonderpup

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[. . .]Yet today we take very much the opposite view- which is that work is in and of itself something to cherish and preserve. We even hear people talk in a serious way about the right to work.

They would think we had all gone mad! A right to work??? WTF? In their reality work was a curse, not a gift.

Somewhere along the line the necessity of labour has been rebranded as something essential to human dignity, something that is required to make us complete and proper people.

Hmmm... this is my concern if you ever got your cosy Universal Income £25K+ (or whatever the figure), gobbling up others productivity and equalising high skills/hard work vs lower skillsets and laziness.

In your last thread you suggest it would give those claiming it (against other workers) opportunity to become workaholic productive entrepreneurs. In reality I think it's more as you set out here... all a big front for the right to kick back and relax, whilst others work. Feasting on others productivity.

Work might not have played much of a role in man's early history, but it sure did after the big-bang of the Agricultural Revolution (farming), violence, control, power.... and the rise of civilisation. (Etymologically, the word civilization relates to the Latin term civitas, or ”city”.)

It's the only way we've got for the moment (work) until capitalism -even this ponzi capitalism that probably prevents breakthroughs due to high house prices and perhaps some genius individuals not being able to reach their full potential... not even attempting to go London to house share in some chronic place costing a fortune vs incomes - delivers the tech for a 'money is a sign of poverty' society. * And you are not your job... it's up to individuals how they handle and respond to pressures in society, poor and rich.

Little Work, No Savings

Anthropologists believe that our ancestors in the primeval economy "neither collected nor maintained" food surpluses. It seems certain that they did not work very hard, probably no more than two hours per day. Anthropologists observing remaining hunter-gatherer societies, such as Eskimos, Australian Aborigines, and Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, find that they spend little time collecting food, even in their harsh habitats. When circumstances oblige them to work longer one day, they usually take off the next few days to talk and relax. They save nothing.

No Theft, No Government

Humans in the primeval phase of existence had little or nothing to steal. Other than a few personal ornaments and weapons for hunting, they had no private property. Ownership of other resources was held in common, or to be more precise, factors that we today consider resources - like land - were not resources, and therefore were not owned by anyone. Primeval society had no occupational specialisation, no structure or leadership, nor any formal hierarchy for settling disputes. Decision-making was democratic for fundamental megapolitical reasons. All men were trained as hunters to kill big animals, and those in good health were of practically equal in military power. Violence seems to have been rare, in part because the groups could dissolve and look for food somewhere else in a vast countryside almost empty of other humans. When crimes did occur, they were punished by ostracism, shunning, and blood feuds. When there was plenty of room to roam and essentially nothing to steal, neither crime nor government could have been paying propositions.

*One Culture adage is, Money is a sign of poverty, meaning that money only has a function in a scarcity economy, and therefore its existence betrays a pre-abundant (poor) society.

Edited by Venger

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Those humble toiling farmers... back in ye olde days. Too often serfs and slaves. Farming brought on math and calendars. Then rise of the artisans to sell to the richer farmers/lords. To the rise of the cities.

Imagine a genius UK type of young Charles Steinmetz today? Ok in his circumstance he was fleeing persecution in Germany (as I remember it), and immigration at Ellis Island didn't want to let him into USA (in 1889). Recall something about a tall handsome Danish fellow who became a friend on the journey over blagged the immigration with a story. Got a job in low-end tech for a small business owner.. but was super productive problem solver, and made the boss/company wealthy. GE wanted him but he was loyal to his employer, but GE wanted his genius and so paid of the employer big-style buy buying the entire company for significantly above its real market value.

UK version today (not fleeing his country under threat of political persecution) would probably be better off (stress wise).. not going to study physics at university or pushing for advancement... paying fortune for rental lodgings in Cambridge/London. Probably better off working at Asda.. rising to stock-controller on the computer, and buying a terrace near Stanley Park in Blackpool for £75K-£80K. Not even bother studying physics at Uni (fees), and possibly recoils from idea of dingy super expensive flat share in tech centre / Cambridge / London.

Life has been brutal and tough for many since the Agricultural Revolution, serfs.. (note the US farming slave population 1860... in the gradual/constant 'rise in technology' tech changse/society change. Although it's been just fine and dandy for many on the power-side of the equation.

The older HPIers (often with the nicer homes, valued at fortunes, worth many times what they originally bought them for) /BTLers are the power side today. (Although may be prone to a future HPC). As are crony capitalists.

You have to be a pretty senior banker to have benefitted as much from the Potempkin economy as a middle-class London home owner, but no-one wants to talk about that.

"Mr. Steinmetz," he explained, "yesterday my boss called me in and announced he had a terrific front-page story for me to send out. The story was that we've just sold a sixty-thousand-kilowatt turbine generator to Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. Well, golly, this may sound like big news to us, but not to the public. The story will get maybe a paragraph on the financial pages, that's all."

"Hmmmm," said Steinmetz. "The problem is to get the story on page one and thereby save your job. Right?"

"Yes, sir," Wagoner said bleakly. "But there's nothing dramatic about a generator."

"Nothing dramatic? Well, let's see." Steinmetz picked up a pencil and began to figure rapidly on a fresh sheet of paper, talking to himself as he did so. He murmured, "A sixty-thousand-kilowatt turbine generator produces the energy of eighty thousand horsepower. Each horsepower is equal to the muscle work of twenty-two and a half men; therefore, eighty thousand horsepower equals one million eight hundred thousand men. However, men cannot work twenty-four hours a day, while our generator does. Therefore, we multiply the generator manpower by three eight-hour shifts and we find it produces as much energy as five million, four hundred thousand men.

Now then, the slave population in 1860 was four million seven hundred thousand. Ha!"

He threw down his pencil and turned to the disconsolate young man. "I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War."

In these dramatic terms, the giant turbine generator did make the front pages of all the newspapers in the nation and Wagoner kept his job and later went on to build for General Electric a news bureau that brilliantly pioneered industrial reporting.

-Charles Proteus Steinmetz

It's tough now in other ways (not brutal tough), with generational gap, ponzi capitalism/corporatism, in my opinion. A period where it's difficult to achieve and get ahead, but that's not a call to kick back and be lazy on on big Citizens Income. More of a call to have a HPC and rebalancing, and opportunity where work pays vs speculator ponziness / hpi bubble protection. Not enough productive capitalism, for opportunity is blocked out in many ways. Way too much parasitic activity.

You've just touched on something that I think is a fundamental failing in our culture. The inability to distinguish between productive and parasitic activity within a market economy. We've been brainwashed by neoliberalism to think that any distinction between activities within a market economy is marxism.

If I create a new product that improves people's lives and enriches me in the process, then I have achieved the pinnacle of capitalism's promise. I have - by helping myself - helped others. If I buy finite resource with 100% borrowed money and then rent it back to someone who's only disadvantage is that they not have access to as much debt as me, then I am engaging in completely parasitic and monopolistic behaviour. The idea that it is difficult/ unwise to distinguish between these two activities is a blindspot in our culture that never ceases to shock and depress me.

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I know the points being made go deeper than my 2 dimensional view but it has always fascinated me for the past 30 years the way people do talk about "work is something to cherish and preserve. We even hear people talk in a serious way about the right to work".

I am absolutely on board if that is the case - but then those people moan about the "job" and pay and lack of time to do the things they want. Eg climb a mountain or charity work in Africa.

I am at an age where I see friends applying for and being made redundant and indeed receiving the last of the good pensions this world will see as well as eye watering payouts - at 53/54 years old. But 3 months later they are doing a similar job elsewhere despite promising they were going to be an art student or travel the world. It is as though if they are not working 9 hours a day - they are at a loss. Excuses about needing the money are used but their net pensions and payouts exceed earned old income. I don't judge and have not walked in their shoes but I always believe and hope the minute I no longer need to be an employee doing 50 hours - then I won't.

I guess it hit a nerve. I have been a wage slave in an industry of wage slaves - yet I do see this identity created by work.

I understand vocations, completely different. But the 'right' to sit 'on a till all day' to earn money for stuff you don't need has always been something I could not work out. And these people do not yearn for another vocational job or a different role (those that do I have more understanding of). .

I guess I just always wish I had been a jet pilot or astronaut. If work is a right and to be cherished - then try do something you enjoy or cherish. If its a means to an end like mine - then go in, do a great job and when asked if you enjoy your work say no. Although that does not add to the well being in the place.

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Anthropologists observing remaining hunter-gatherer societies, such as Eskimos, Australian Aborigines, and Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, find that they spend little time collecting food, even in their harsh habitats. When circumstances oblige them to work longer one day, they usually take off the next few days to talk and relax.

Sounds a bit like how I work.

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Both me and my partner are going part time next week. Obviously were going to look at other income streams that we enjoy, but for now it is a good start. Technology has made work both boring (no time to design or think) with a highly compressed workload deadlines, compared to '00' years. Did £1000 overpayments or more for a long time. After the career ladder lie for the last 20 years (did a lot of contract work in the end, luckily) they can do one! Thank goodness I built up a load of hobbies that are interesting.

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I enjoy your posts wonderpup. Whether or not I agree with (Or even fully understand) them, they are thought-provoking.

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if work was a good thing, rich people would do more of it

they don't - not in the normal sense of work

the trick is to make your work something that you would do anyway, but with wages attached

not easy, but possible

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Again, what's the point of the thread really? Technology, right to work... the first has been evolving for quite a long time and has allowed for the division of labour as productivity has been increasing - this in fact has made it possible for many disadvantaged people to not only make a decent living but become rich in many situations, which wouldn't be possible in the organisation of any other species. And there is no right to work, it's a necessity to survive. A better focus would be to discuss how various government interventions including those of self-serving unions have made the labour market so much more challenging and inaccessible in many situations than it would be otherwise.

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I find it interesting that if you read accounts of even peasants from earlier ages - they did a lot less work than us on a daily basis (and did a lot more feasting and drinking).

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/08/29/why-a-medieval-peasant-got-more-vacation-time-than-you/

As someone else points out, running a household took up more of their time:

http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/regulation-industry/medieval-peasants-really-did-not-work-only-150-days-a-year/

But in terms of having to work for the man (taxman and employer/rentier) I still reckon we worked far less.

The good news is that there people actively rebelling against the status quo (cf Four hour work week, and the various copy cats/spin offs). They have worked out - that you can live very well indeed on less or better work.

Personally, I'm rather torn. A few years ago I reached the point that my job was no longer necessary (for at least a decade if I lived frugally and probably indefinitely with a small amount of effort) - but this realisation took the stress away from my work and so it became more enjoyable. I can be more challenging of my employer, demand better conditions etc without fear - and by and large, I am getting what I want. Work has become what I always hoped it would be - a vocation (mostly).

Edited by StainlessSteelCat

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I only ever saw work as a way to reach a stage where i didnt need to work.I had decent jobs for the north east (£28k+) with final salary pensions,free shares,bonus,6 months sick pay,36 days holiday etc etc.I lived very very frugal to pay off my house and then start a small business.

I now live on roughly £200 a week from my business (i do have dividends from some blue chips that amount to £60 a week but i re-invest them for now).Working roughly 3 hours a week.Im 43.I will never work for an employer again and il never make more than the tax allowance.I could easily 5x that income but i have no interest in doing so to have my labour robbed in tax.

I enjoy things that are free,or nearly free.I enjoy reading peoples opinions on here far more than id enjoy a new car.I enjoy walking in the local countryside than i would a foreign holiday.

I am happier than i have ever been.Its also amazing how cheaply you can live once you have no debt and time (no wonder they want to trap everyone in huge debts).Our food bill alone is down from £90 a week to £35 a week and far better quality and healthy.Free from work means free to go into Tesco at 4.30pm when the butcher reduces the finest ham etc from £4 to 60p,the fishmonger reduces fresh kippers from £1.67 to 49p.Three days veg from £3.00 to 70p.Only yesterday i got £40 worth of food at original price (good quality) for £11.40,.Time to then cook from scratch.

For me,the only reason people put up with the horrors of work is to pay debt on overpriced houses (or save to buy one).That is the reason the government needs to trap the part of the population that will work in debt.In reality in the present set up,nobody should bother working.

For those of you down south trapped in this you should consider moving north.Buy yourself a decent terrace house for £50k and find some way to make £200 a week for yourself.Work in this epoch really is the serpent forcing you from the Garden of Eden.

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Guest eight

I only ever saw work as a way to reach a stage where i didnt need to work.I had decent jobs for the north east (£28k+) with final salary pensions,free shares,bonus,6 months sick pay,36 days holiday etc etc.I lived very very frugal to pay off my house and then start a small business.

I now live on roughly £200 a week from my business (i do have dividends from some blue chips that amount to £60 a week but i re-invest them for now).Working roughly 3 hours a week.Im 43.I will never work for an employer again and il never make more than the tax allowance.I could easily 5x that income but i have no interest in doing so to have my labour robbed in tax.

I enjoy things that are free,or nearly free.I enjoy reading peoples opinions on here far more than id enjoy a new car.I enjoy walking in the local countryside than i would a foreign holiday.

I am happier than i have ever been.Its also amazing how cheaply you can live once you have no debt and time (no wonder they want to trap everyone in huge debts).Our food bill alone is down from £90 a week to £35 a week and far better quality and healthy.Free from work means free to go into Tesco at 4.30pm when the butcher reduces the finest ham etc from £4 to 60p,the fishmonger reduces fresh kippers from £1.67 to 49p.Three days veg from £3.00 to 70p.Only yesterday i got £40 worth of food at original price (good quality) for £11.40,.Time to then cook from scratch.

For me,the only reason people put up with the horrors of work is to pay debt on overpriced houses (or save to buy one).That is the reason the government needs to trap the part of the population that will work in debt.In reality in the present set up,nobody should bother working.

For those of you down south trapped in this you should consider moving north.Buy yourself a decent terrace house for £50k and find some way to make £200 a week for yourself.Work in this epoch really is the serpent forcing you from the Garden of Eden.

Do you have kids? It's interesting that even though me and the ball'n'chain have managed to shake off the work to an extent, the whole school thing and all it's associated activities is almost a job in itself. And boy does it cost..... Three cheers for "free" education.

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if work was a good thing, rich people would do more of it

they don't - not in the normal sense of work

the trick is to make your work something that you would do anyway, but with wages attached

not easy, but possible

This.

In a nutshell.

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So much of our attitude to work is cultural. In Japan, it's unacceptable to leave the office before the boss. So workers sit idle until 9 at night, pretending to be busy.

Having spent a couple of months in Papua New Guinea, I can confirm that a typical day for a bloke there involves standing by the roadside and waving in case a car drives by. The land is so bountiful, people just walk into the bush and take the food they need. Winters are so warm that basic shelter is sufficient year-round. With very little industry, water from streams is abundant and on the whole drinkable. People are generally the happiest I have met anywhere. Sounds like paradise - until one of your kids gets ill and there's little healthcare around (besides the local witchdoctor).

The Imperial French administration in Indochina noted a similar tendency in some of those they ruled, with the 'Vietnamese planting the rice, the Cambodians watching it grow and the Lao listening to it grow'.

On the whole, I think there is enough automation in the UK for everyone to work a four day week. Instead we have those on five days and others on zero-hour contracts. Tax credits and other benefits are used to smooth the social problems this could create. I could do the same work I do in less time - I used to work in an environment where once the work was done, people could go home. They would still get the same pay. While this was very motivating, I could see how this could lead to corners being cut though.

The BBC is all over this at the moment, with robots about to replace all our jobs. That debate is decade's old though and it hasn't happened though.

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"blessed is he who gets paid to do what others do for free"

I can understand not wanting to do work, 99% of it is pointless busybody nonsense. I really love what I do and would do it if i had no money or a million quid. Its fulfilling ,satisfying rewarding and inspiring.

The only issue I have with it it having to interact with "dicks" in the work place who are playing the whole career progression pointless suit thing. It would be better if they just went home and left us to do it. I estimate a good 90% of the workforce is pointless or could be automated.

I have no doubt a form of technological anarchy is coming, its moving so fast now the dinosaurs in gov will never see it coming. old hierarchies and structures can be rendered obsolete overnight.

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pretending to be busy

So much 'work' involves this, it's not funny.

I think moving to a four day working week would be a great move. Absolutely no need for everyone to be sitting in offices etc for 5 days - especially as automation and computers take over.

Edited by Errol

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Do you have kids? It's interesting that even though me and the ball'n'chain have managed to shake off the work to an extent, the whole school thing and all it's associated activities is almost a job in itself. And boy does it cost..... Three cheers for "free" education.

Yes but my daughter is a nurse and is just buying her own place with her partner (he is very frugal and saved a 30% deposit and is aiming to pay mortgage down quickly,).They are well educated from me on the system etc and both will never have any other debt. My other two live with their mum and are college age and both in small part time jobs so mainly odd tenner in their hands now.

My partner works 24 hours a week (two days) so my food bill is for two adults and one night a week when i feed six.My partner is 100% on the same sheet as me.She uses her wages after her few expenses to buy blue chip shares so she could stop altogether in a few years.

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I really love what I do and would do it if i had no money or a million quid. Its fulfilling ,satisfying rewarding and inspiring.

You are part of a tiny, tiny minority.

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You are part of a tiny, tiny minority.

yes, and it didnt come without a heroic amount of effort.

I do know many in the totally wrong job often for financial reasons as what they love wouldn't enable them to be able to support there family so have to endure tedious shit in order to pay the rent.

I knwo many who enjoy a simple job such as cleaning cars or gardening so I think with a citizens wage we would have no shortage of folk to tend parks or do day to day stuff. I do think gov offices and banks would be empty though.

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It's the great lie of our time and our children are being brainwashed too with all the emphasis on getting good grades leading eventually to a good career. Complete bulls***. I believed it too and got all the qualifications (up to and including PhD) but then had to do any old job after a long career break and getting divorced and having to become the bread winner. I agree most jobs could be done in a fraction of the time and I used to feel completely p****** off with the "presenteeism" when I knew I had loads of things to do at home. Then when I did have time I was too knackered to do any of them.

I was so relieved when I could finally stop work. Like durhamborn and others on here I live frugally and have never been happier. I don't know why looking after the house and raising children isn't considered to be work when it's the most important thing for most people.

Maybe I would have felt differently if I could have had the "career" but I doubt it. There is no freedom in the workplace at any level. The question is "Do you work to live or live to work?"

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Hmmm... this is my concern if you ever got your cosy Universal Income £25K+ (or whatever the figure), gobbling up others productivity and equalising high skills/hard work vs lower skillsets and laziness.

If the machines really do start to take over much of the available work some kind of UI will become inevitable if we want to preserve capitalism in some form.

But I think you miss my point really, which is that the apparent concern over the loss of work is really masking a deeper issue which is the degree to which work defines who we are.

Having a large number of former middle class workers kicking around with nothing to do and without any meaningful connection to the wider the culture is as good a recipe for mass social unrest as any- given that historically most revolutionary movements originate from within the ranks of the disgruntled middle classes.

So the issue is not will we all get lazy if robots do most of the work but will the social disruption caused by the loss of job specified identities create a level of social incoherence that will bring down the system?

Identity is the glue that holds our society together- but if the answer to the question 'what do you do for a living?' is 'nothing'- then to whom am I speaking? Who are you if you don't work?

In our current society the answer to this question is 'no one'- a man of working age without a job is almost literally a nobody.

The question then is this- suppose technology were to displace large numbers of people who then become 'nobodies'- at what point does this collection of alienated individuals create sufficient critical mass to become problematic- given that it's highly unlikely that they will be content to accept their new designation as 'non persons'?

So to argue that new technology is a threat to jobs is true- but also an oversimplification- what it's also a threat to is the sense of self of millions of people for whom what they do at work is a large part of who they claim to be.

And it's this loss of a viable social identity that might prove to be the real flashpoint in a scenario in which machines take over the workplace- to put it melodramatically; the machines are not just coming for your job, they are also going to steal your soul- robbing you of a vital aspect of what makes you the person that you are.

This is why I would not be surprised to see the formation of anti AI and Technology groups in this scenario- in a very real sense people would be fighting not just for their jobs but for their very existence as viable social beings. And the same fight/flight response to threats seen in animals can be seen to operate in human beings regarding their 'ego' or self- we experience similar responses to loss of social status as we do to actual physical danger.

In a situation in which technological unemployment meant instant relegation to the status of a non entity with little chance of escape thereafter the luddite solution of smashing the machines might once again start to look attractive.

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