When we hold the scope of human activity into view in order to categorize that which is good from that which is bad, that is, to separate that which is socially sanctioned from that which engenders guilt, one criteria stands above anything else: productivity. The difference between how we answer the question, “what DO you do?”, with haste or hesitation, depends on what has been produced from the doing. “What has been produced” is completely material and must be presentable. It is unimportant how useful the production is; whether it is a clothed orphan or a phallic carving is simply a matter of taste, and the procedure that of eccentricity. Taste and eccentricity belong to the subject, they are its freedom and cannot be scorned. But some activities are regularly scorned, those that do not imitate, and reproduce, the system of production. What matters is making material, and that material is made without rest.
Is this not correct? We can only answer inwardly ,each one of us ourselves, and only an unflinchingly honest answer can illuminate our path. But, if the answer be positive, how shall we move forward? The benefits of work are always already as clear as daylight. We should endure tirelessly to help others. We give ourselves actualized meaning through labour. Practical self interest drives economic prosperity and political equality. It must be conceded that each argument for work is true. After all they focus on what has always been necessary, and pays close attention to what our interests are most likely to see. Each is convincing, otherwise it would have been abandoned long ago for a different source of motivation. However, each apologia covers as much as it reveals.
What follows will sound like a defense of consumption, of priveledge, and of laziness. In many ways it is, but in just as many ways it should be understood as precisely against such a reductive vision. To do nothing in the face of injustice is to allow evil to triumph. To sit in passive consumption is to be alienated from our ownmost being in the world. To not affirm a telos we create with reflective mediated action in responsibility for all of humanity is to hand our freedom over to the whims of nature and despot alike. Much in work should be lauded, but not so fully enacted that we lose balance in favour of reduction to fetishized means. By busily looking only at the immediate needs, filled with the reflected glow of the hypothetical world they are claimed to be achieving,we miss how our lifeworld has been colonized by the form of production while other lived values have slowly been eroded and unmoored. We need to dissolve false oppositions, between production and consumption and labour and pleasure, which tie the Gordian knot in the logic of busyness.These serve as justifications for righteous work, but with all their honesty and hope they distract from the fearful whispers of marginalized discontent.
These load bearing oppositions composing our current cynical ideology have been power’s most successful strategy. What is meant here is not a powerful entity, although their cunning is often enfolded in the greater force at play, but power abstracted, where consciousness is a beneficial tool but not a necessary condition. The power inherent in all forces by which processes ensure their own reproduction. Institutions and human behaviour alike have evolved into shapes defined by the function they perform in a greater system. Humans continually become less like organisms, even unlike cells, playing more the part of proteins in the assembly of ourselves. Within the tintinnabulation of development there is an unheard siren song calling us to shore. Why should we constantly endeavor? What good has this inflation in effort effected? Only itself. The processes of production, cultural, political, and economic, live off us for their own ends and by their own reason. This is not a conspiracy hatched by the wicked, it is a symphony of rule governed movements which beget their own continuity. Consequently we civilize ourselves into Pavlovian beasts. We have interpolated rationality so well that we cannot stand a moment wasted. We choose to eat alone while typing yet another document circulated for the purpose of circulating documents. At home with family and in public amongst friends, the final topic of conversation is always our latest project. It is only in unending disquiet for more that we feel peace.
When we rest, we waste our most precious resource, our time. But this is only the means of production speaking from our mouths. Work is just as much a loss of time. sold so cheaply and never regained. In reality, our hobbies and pastimes, that which we feel most proud of, are simply the continuation of deliverables. Our hobbies the reflection of specialization in the pursuit of added value. Reading a book is simply processing ourselves so that we realize a higher value in markets. Sport, atomized into exercise, in order to increase fitness and efficiency in our public capacities. Fitness to beget fitness, efficiency aiming towards efficiency. We are managing our human capital, becoming workers under ourselves, so that we are not wasted. We treat ourselves as easily quantified transforming being into uniform substance to be input into systems of exchange. If we were to do something truly wasteful, to squander our lives in foolish enjoyment, we would give up our right to enjoy life.
What must end is endless toil. Having been told we are labouring to satisfy the needs of others, what we are really producing is our form of production. Work must continue, but but not as a Milgram experiment writ large. Not so that we are ashamed to spend a day doing nothing. Only so that all individuals can access basic human needs. Among these needs, including sustenance, shelter, and healthcare, is a form of life that leaves space open to joy for the sake of joy and a love with no goal whatsoever. We need to pay more attention to how we produce the change we want to see in the world. Otherwise we are creating, in rational self interest, a form of slavery that will be expected from future generations. Instead, we should live the life we want for all people to live; the goal is not the improvement of Society, a coercive reification of contingent social relations, but the improvement of life for all persons. We need a maxim of labour that we can will to be a universal law.
History has never known a time when people were free of the need to work. Regardless of whether you see history as a sequential arrangements of ever refined facts or as the narrative of bloody victors recording values most pragmatic for their own survival. History, society, needs problems like a train needs fossils. Crises are the fuel for history’s hegemonic drive, it records problems, and only its own problems, because problems are required to mobilize all forms of capital. Even if history is filled with points of rupture, even though it always lacks its other and is negatively defined by what has not called to societies’ interests, even with all of that, there has never been a moment without need. No society has ever levied enough power, impressed enough soldiers, or forced enough slaves to even temporarily solve disparity or suffering. Whether or not this is possible is not of interest. Work must continue toward Utopia if we are to gain any traction towards improvement. But this much is certain: for you to work just a bit more is not the hair to break the back of injustice. The thought is as fantastic as it is egotistical.
As long as were are, as long as we progress, we will have need. Lack will never be lacking, it constitutes us as it constitutes history. It does not matter how many weekends we work. It does not matter how much food we produce. It does not matter how much theory we revalue. There will still be need and there will still be injustice. New needs and new injustices, certainly, but need and injustice all the same. They will call out for ever new solutions to alleviate pain and revolutionize social relations. Some solutions will fall and more than few will become obsolete. Others the substrate for future solutions and some, perhaps the most effective, will themselves become problems requiring new solutions. And by no means should we be deaf to their call. We should not fall prey to the fear of this eternal return. Let there be new suffering as we create a new world. But we must be ever vigilant, we must continually fight the all forms of production we don’t desire, lest it become glorified into normalcy. I cannot abide any precedent for a normal life without uselessness or peace. By constantly working for the good, you will not eradicate peace, but you will eroded the exact thing we should want for all humans. The freedom to be more than just a process, and the freedom from being perfect.