The Futility of Work

When you step back and look at society, it becomes obvious that we’re on the wrong track. We’ve accomplished great things with scientific progress and new technologies, making our lives slightly more easy, and we’ve even relieved a large number of people from suffering, but at the same time we are working our asses off, more than ever, only to make a few rich people all the more richer.

I feel we could do a lot better.

We have a schooling system which generally puts our children into a grading structure from the very beginning. We let our children work hard to prepare them to become a useful part of the economic machine. We want them to be happy, and strangely enough we believe they can only achieve that if they succeed financially, and to do this they need to learn as much marketable skills as possible. So we force our children to go from kindergarten to graduate school to college, to get those grades, to get more skills. We push them into learning programs that put a focus on marketability, so when they finish school they can become engineers or computer programmers or sales persons.

The result of all of the above, is that we are now a nation of slave laborers who are persuaded that the way to success can only be achieved by working hard in some bullshit job. We keep on laboring away, convinced that this will, eventually, make us happier. Only later in life we become conscious that everything we’ve been told was a lie and that we are living in a meaningless dystopia.

It is for instance a painful paradox that the older we become, the more money we usually have, but we also have increasingly less time to enjoy the freedom we can buy with that money. That’s pretty bizarre, since the purpose of earning money should be to do things that make us happy, like playing, doing nothing, hanging out with friends, experimenting, creating, and doing stuff that makes our life more meaningful.

Instead we join the rat race, often doing things that we hate to do. Work has become a mix of the job itself, the emotional benefit of accumulating money, the hunger for status, and the ability to afford a wealthier lifestyle than our neighbors. There’s a forceful idea that gets fixed in our minds. We believe that our ultimate goal is getting closer every day, this fabulous thing we are working so hard for, the ‘success’ that will give us freedom.

This goal can – of course – never be achieved. That is why many people in the west spend their entire working lives doing tasks they believe to be unnecessary or plain nonsensical, but they keep doing it anyway. The obsession of our leaders with maximizing economic growth, with keeping control over us by making us increasingly work harder, is a subtle form of slavery. It causes serious psychological distress which damages our personality in a far worse sense than we realize.

As we grow older, we have so much responsibilities and stuff going on, that we don’t have time left to engage in new, meaningful relationships, anymore. People start expecting us to behave very much like they do. They want us to be efficient and productive. The times of youthful exploration, of being delightfully immature, have faded away, and we’ve inevitably grown into the responsible adults our parents always wanted us to be.

Unfortunately being an adult seems to mean to be more effective and practical, to be hard-working, to be responsible and to act important. Let me ask you this. Who wants to be practical and efficient, hard-working, when they can have adventure and passion in their life?

People are essentially playful. To suppress this desire to play is unnatural, but we all do it, and in this sense we all bear responsibility in sustaining this senseless work culture, which contributes nothing beneficial to society, and which was only designed to push us into submission.

We gradually have reduced our leisure time to less than half of our waking hours during any given working day. We have sacrificed this free time to the sacred duty of being employed. We work to get higher up that ladder that corporations have installed for us, to keep us working more effectively and productively. We could be doing constructive and rewarding things, things that we perhaps dreamed of when we were young, but we go for mindless work, as we are told that this will be favorable to us and work is the only normal and honorable way to achieve anything worthwhile.

So… We worship our job, create a family, and get in the habit of doing more, to have more, so that (at least, this is what we believe) we’ll be more. This is of course a misconception. In fact, we get so caught up in earning money, in running by a to-do list, in boundless paperwork, that our perception of what is important gets totally distorted, and we forget our creative nature and our desire to play, while being driven to use extreme time management to get everything done.

As the so-called opportunities grow in our lives, we go faster and faster. We become workaholics, constantly moving forward, but we are not going anywhere. We are just treading water, trying to keep our head above it.

Social dynamics encourage a productivity that goes far beyond the amount of work we actually need to do, in order to feed ourselves, and have a roof to live under. We are encouraged to work for the bigger house, the fancier car, the nicer clothes, the cooler technological gadgets, etc, etc. Everybody knows this, but nobody talks about it. We all just go along with it, like mindless working stiffs, living to work, instead of working to live.

Deep down we know that being unproductive is vital to us and that efficiency and productivity is for robots, not for humans. When humans have time to reflect, to stand still and look around, we get to know ourselves a lot better. When we don’t worry about work, areas connected with introspection, creativity, and abstract thought flare up. We are able to seek a more stimulating scene with people who strengthen rather than weaken our character. In that sense, a fixed circle of friends (which is what most of us try to sustain) has some disadvantages. When your friends put work before anything else, they tend to infect you. If you are surrounded by workaholics, chances are that you are one too, or fast on your way to become one.

But where does this reflex of ours, to join the working community, come from? It’s because we’ve been continuously indoctrinated into believing that we have an obligation to contribute and to add our skills and effort to the improvement of society. The cultural norm has always been that, if you can work, you should work, even if there is no meaningful employment available.

Still, when I was a child, technological progress was said to result in us working less, with machines doing the work for us, and this is what actually would’ve happened, if capitalist thinking wouldn’t have gotten in the way.

So what the hell happened?

In the late sixties, the fear was increasing about a future society consisting largely of uncontrollable bohemians with too much time on their hands. The establishment decided to take action to prevent this, as they believed that more free time would undeniably result in more crime and degeneracy. So, we are now working harder than ever, more focused on the job at hand, wasting our talents in stupid careers that only generate more money.

We’ve shifted from a technology driven world, that would create a better future for everyone, to a venture capital system that amplifies labor discipline and social control. The control they have over us is so immense that we aren’t even aware of it, anymore.

To work, just for the sake of working, is humanity’s biggest, most tragic mistake, and still this is what we keep on doing. There is so much time, intelligence, and human happiness squandered, but even if we admit to it, we refuse to accept that this system isn’t sustainable.

We should ask ourselves if we would still be doing our job, if we didn’t need the money. If the answer is no, we are wasting our valuable time.


© 2018 – David Lee Kollberg

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  • Ignace Pollet

    Well said, sir! Further reading: The Right to be Lazy (Paul Lafargue, 1880 or about) & the early Americans, cfr Thoreau and Emerson (Sorry, have to keep this comment short as I do this during working hours)

    • DLK

      Thanks for the reading tips, Ignace! And yeah, don't spend too much of your working time on reading or commenting on 'subversive' blog posts ;-)

  • Matheus

    I don't agree. There is still a lot to be done. There are many imperfections, but overall there is progress. It would be much worse otherwise. Or maybe I am just lucky, and work at something that I think it is meaningful, and have time and resources to be creative, maybe even playful. If I were a bus driver in a crowded city maybe my opinion would be different... Anyway, good text, even though I don't agree with the main message.

  • Clare Smith

    Agreed. I say this after working in the same line of work for over 30 years (a few different jobs). I've been through all the usual processes of enjoyment, fulfilment, cynicism, hating, anti-establishment and plain bored. Unfortunately I'm still a workaholic but have sidelines completely unrelated to my usual line of work and make time for interests which again couldn't be further from my world of work. If I had my time again I'd do something relatively in keeping with what i'm naturally inclined to do. At least then I would have felt i was working rather than being worked (big difference). I picked something I wouldn't normally gravitate towards. Made my world of work that much more futile.

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