Barry Seidman marks Labor Day with a discussion of the rhetoric and effects of the so-called Protestant Work Ethic, which has allowed a separation of work from “jobs” in the American mindset. If as humanists we value “the good life,” along with creativity, freedom and the interest in each of us becoming the best we can be, why do so many of us ignore or even encourage a socioeconomic system which deprives so many of us of these things?
Work in the normative sense is about the natural human proclivity to be productive, contributing members of society via creative, liberating and satisfying efforts. Such work is about freely associated labor, equal opportunity, the ability of each member of society to find and perform whatever kind of work he or she enjoys and can excel at, and work performed without relying on command authority or any other form of coercion.
Work as “jobs” (that is, work as we know it today under capitalism), is quite something else. We worship work (jobs) in today’s culture, identifying those who can’t work or find it difficult to find satisfying, joyful work, as lazy, deviant or “too picky”. When people can’t succeed in our work-money centered society, we blame them rather than the system they’ve found themselves in. We even go as far as to argue that those who don’t well adjust to the system are therefore mentally or emotionally challenged somehow!