HISTORY OF IDEAS Work – Free Ebook

One of the things that’s the most peculiar about life in the developed economies in our own time is the way we look at work and in particular, the way we think that work should be about two things: Making money of course. But also in far more strangely: Finding fulfillment, creativity and meaning. It’s a beautiful idea, of course. But it’s also a highly unusual one which causes us quite a few headaches as well. It’s worth taking a look into the history of work… The garden of Eden 3,900BC According to Christian doctrine when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating an apple that punishment for defying God’s wishes is work. “By the sweat of your brow, you’ll lead your food until you return to the ground”. the Lord informs them. Work is what distinguishes life inparadise from the world we know. Adam will have to work until his 930 years old. Athens 335 PC Aristotle opens his public school: the Lyceum a centre of learning for wealthy and cultured young Athenians. Aistotle make a bold claim: The life of the mind is only open to rich people. “Anyone who has actually to earn money to live is a slave.” Aristotle tells us. However, outwardly grand their life might be, the pursuit of money and good intellectual work is simply impossible, the philosopher declares. and he’s widely believed for hundred of years. Hippo, Roman Africa, 396 AD Saint Augustine becomes the Bishop of Hippo and in his sermons resurrects the Christian notion of work as a result of original sin. In his sermon of the New Testament, Augustine tells his audience: Many of whom slaves, the work is always going to be miserable. From this cup of sorrow, no one may be excused. The cup that Adam has pledged must be drunk. The only relief is to look forward to the next life in God’s kingdom. Rome 1508, The Florentine painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo begins painting the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel commissioned by Pope Julius the 2nd. He’s given complete freedom to design the work and promised a lot of money in return. Michelangelo, along with his fellow Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci embody a new approach to work: They work for money; hiring out their talents to the highest bidders in the courts of Europe but they’re evidently not slave. At the same time they do not work just for the money, They do it for the inherent fulfillment that the work brings. Our modern ideas of work are a lot the Renaissance idea of remunerative creative genius. Our own ambitions are now democratized versions of the aspiration of men like Leonardo and Michelangelo. We too, wish to be paid and creative. Württemberg, Holy Roman Empire 1520 Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, makes mementos point That one could serve God through work of many different kinds and not just as it previously been argued by Catholicism simply by entering the the priesthood. He proposes that, the common work of a servant or handmaiden, can be more acceptable to God than all the fastings and works of a monk or a priest. God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid. For Luther, God has endowed each one of us with talents that can be used to help another out, which is how work becomes moral. Everyone undertaking essential tasks, he mentions cleaning, milking, downing, teaching is wearing what Luther calls the mask of God, since God is behind each task. This, Luther says, demonstrates God’s love. He ensures that we’re endowed with the qualities to look after one another through our work. Work for Luther, is therefore the best means to employ the doctrine of “Love thy neighbor”. Protestantism is responsible for a momentous reevaluation of the worth and dignity of ordinary labor. Paris, France 1750, Diderot and d’Alembert published the first volume of the Encyclopédie which sets out to cover each and every branch of human work There is one chapter in which Diderot writes with particular admiration about bakers There are others on the work of farmers, bellmakers, locksmiths, and cloth weavers. It’s the longest illustrated poem in praise of ordinary work ever written and it has a huge impact on how people perceive the prestige of work. Paris, France, 1844 the exiled Karl Marx finishes his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” A series of notes on capitalism containing some of his most interesting thinking about work. He attacks capitalism not because workers don’t get paid enough or are exploited but for a far more interesting reason: because too often, their work is boring. And it doesn’t allow them to develop their characters. That’s the true problem with capitalism in Marx’s eyes. Marx, who worked 12 hours a day most days is no enemy of work. What infuriates him about capitalism, is that it seems to prevent us from enjoying our work, enjoying it as much as he enjoyed his. because it encourages the production of goods, disconnected from the talents and aspirations of the worker. that’s what he so desperately wishes to correct. Communism isn’t a project for getting rid of work, it’s about making work more enjoyable. University of Chicago, USA, 1899 An irritable American academic publishes his first book: The Theory of the leisure class. In it Thorstein Veblen captures very clearly an idea of being upper-class that’s about to die out forever Veblen argues that as soon as people make it in society, they try to show that superiority by displaying signs of what leisurely and idle people they are. Veblen writes that: “The characteristic feature of the rich is a conspicuous exemption from useful employment” Veblen well may be right for his own day… but everything is about to change. Within a few decades, everyone falls prey to a new cult: the cult of working hard and being very very busy all the time Soon, only the unemployed are idle. Everyone else is working away furiously. The richer you are, the more you keep working to show that you’re good and serious. Be idle is the new taboo. Washington DC, USA, 1945, With work newly prestigious, one of the major challenges of societies becomes that of correctly mining the talents of everyone. and helping them to find their way into the right jobs, that is jobs that will fulfill them and make them money. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers run the first Briggs-Myers Indicated test On George Washington medical school students. This test developed throughout the second World war, indicates personality types, and tries to pair people out with ideal jobs. The test uses 93 questions to figure out which one of 4 main personality types you might be. Introverts/Extroverts; Thinkers/Feelers; Sensers/Intuitives; Judgers/Perceivers. So for example, an introvert will enjoy thinking and working alone in small peaceful groups, and will be suited to work as an accountant, a dentist or librarian. but an extrovert will enjoy action-dominated, high-octane work and might go for acting, salesmanship or trading in financial institutions. The gole Briggs and Myers says: is to find the type of work that suits you best, work is about making the correct lifestyle choice that suits your personnality. It’s not about arbitrary aims, such as money. Living rooms, USA, January 22 1984, Apple Computers launches the only national airing of its famous 1984 advert during the halftime commercials of the Super Bowl. The 60-second advert sees a heroine, dressed in bright running gear, saving army of soulless workers from the conformity of standardized work, by destroying their Big Brother-like leader. It’s an idea as old as the Renaissance: there’s good work and bad work And the good work is the creative kind, except now, unlike in Michelangelo’s day, thanks to technology, this is for everyone. The advert carried the famous tagline: You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”. The advert underlined the liberating colorful and energetic Mac as a deliverance from the technophobic drudgery of industrial labor. The future of work is going to be fun, original and expressive in Apple’s hands. But, for millions of the unemployed or the unhappily employed, the dream has not turned out to be so easy. It can be doubly painful, when you meant to having such fun at work to find no work at all, or work that doesn’t fulfill your soul. The modern world has made the career crisis one of the central difficulties of existence. We’re asking so much of our working lives. So no wonder they sometimes don’t deliver against the expectations that we now have of them. Too often our jobs are closer to the toil of Adam than the life-enhancing creativity of Michelangelo. That remains the challenge for the future of work.

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