Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Work. Why I Hate It.

From Marx's Early Writings:
With the advent of barter [the labourer's] labour became in part a source of income. Its purpose and existence have become different. As value, exchange value, equivalent, the product is no longer produced on account of its direct personal connection with the producer. The more production is diversified, i.e. the more needs become diversified and the more the activity of the producer becomes one-sided, the more completely work falls into the category of wage-labour until, finally, no other meaning is left to it. It thus becomes wholly accidental and unimportant whether the relationship between producer and product is governed by immediate enjoyment and personal needs and whether the activity, the act of working, involves the fulfilment of his personality, the realization of his natural talents and spiritual goals.

Wage-labour consists of the following elements: (1) the estrangement of labour from its subject, the labourer, and its arbitrariness from his point of view; (2) the estrangement of labour from its object, its arbitrariness vis-a-vis the object; (3) the determination of the labourer by social needs alien to him and which act upon him with compulsive force. He must submit to this force from egoistic need, from necessity; for him the needs of society mean only the satisfaction of his personal wants while for society he is only the slave that satisfies its needs; (4) the labourer regards the maintenance of his individual existence as the aim of his activity; his actual labours serve only as a means to this end. He thus activates his life to acquire the means of life.
I really hate work. I know this cycle all too well, and I felt it before I ever read a paragraph of Marx. Labor is our means to life, and so, labor becomes our life. Of course, being aware of this type of estrangement and alienation makes it all the more hard to bear, I think. Why is it, with this critical perspective of work, I can't make myself do any less work or try to think about it any less in my day to day? Why do I still feel guilty when I don't work? Why can't we shape a life or identity apart form work, once we know it has the power to overtake us? And why does society insist on praising for my annoying "work ethic," as if there were some moral triumph in wage-labor.

2 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Alienation is one of Marx's most powerful observations. I think that it is right up there with the fact that capital accumulates (giving more social advantage, political power, and wealth to those with the most, thus, limiting competition rather than promoting it).

T said...

I think this point is further corroborated by the wealth of pop culture examples of songs ('take this job and shove it', etc.), TV shows, etc. explicitly rejoicing in the fact that the working day or week is over. I mean, in addition to 'TGIF', there is a major restaurant chain named in honor of the fact that a lot of work is an alienating experience that we celebrate our escape from every weekend!