August 28, 2012

LET'S SEE GRANDPA PLAY ANGRY BIRDS FOR TEN HOURS:

Virtually Exhausted : The limitations of the American work ethic (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

To every age its virtue. For the Greeks, courage; the Romans, duty; the Middle Ages, piety. Our virtue is industriousness, in the industrial age. (It is one that would have been incomprehensible to other times. The Greeks had a word for people who worked harder than anyone else: slaves.) It is the Protestant ethic, in other words, made general by the Victorians as the factories rose. That it is a virtue, not merely a value, is proved by the aura of righteousness that surrounds it. A virtue is not just a personal excellence, it is something that is felt to call down blessings upon the community, that wins the gods' approval, that possesses not just practical but metaphysical worth. We're in a panic, as a nation, that we don't work hard enough, and blame this iniquity for our "decline." God--the one who blesses America--is withdrawing his favor. Hence the sanctimoniousness with which the topic of work is approached. If you don't work as hard as people think you should, you're not just morally inferior, you're committing a kind of spiritual treason. And if you deny the value of work as a matter of principle, you're treated like a heretic.

That we're dealing here with something like a national religion is proved by one of its most cherished articles of faith. If you work hard enough, the maxim goes, you can do anything. This is one of those notions that is so stupid it has to embody a deeply held belief. If you work hard enough, you can be a poet. If you work hard enough, you can play for the Knicks. If you work hard enough, you can become a brain surgeon, a model, the president. Obviously no one believes those things. That it doesn't occur to anyone to consider them means we must be dealing with a matter of dogma.

Nor does it occur to many to question whether there's a difference between being at work and doing work.

Posted by at August 28, 2012 4:59 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« CAN'T SEE THE BODY FOR THE WINGS: | Main | WHO DOESN'T LOVE A FREE LUNCH?: »