Every morning, Monday through Friday, as soon as your alarm goes off, think this: When will it stop? What if I don’t wake up? What if I only stay here for a day and don’t go to work?
Fondling this possibility, looking at the ticking clock and even when we’re already in the process of giving up staying in bed, this other thought generally comes up: But yeah, after all, what’s the point of working?
We know that, deep down, what good is work : money first. Society, then, consists of rules, mores, and habits for living there. Have fun, after all, sometimes. Yet, that thought still haunts us already in the shower: Why work?
We may have the answers, the idea does not stop there, it crystallizes, insists, and continues, and here we are with our soap to ask ourselves: But yes, and if we cancel the work?
Silly, amusing, fanciful, the question is no less frequent. and related. How does one break free from a job that has become alienated? This is actually the question that not only moves most of us but also some of the philosophers of the twentieth century, especially Karl Marx who coined the dream of a society without workers.
I do not, however, think of him, but of one of his fiercest critics, especially a good reader of them, I think of each of those mornings when he embraced me at this famous prospect of not getting up. at modern man statusHannah Arendt confirms this enormous contradiction in the thinker of Capital: “Marx defines man as ‘animal workers’ before he has dragged him into a society in which we no longer need this power, the greatest, the most human of all. We are left before the sad alternative of choosing between productive slavery and unproductive freedom.”
Criticism is fierce because it touches the heart of Marx: how can he assert that man is essentially a working being when he wants to deprive him of his essence? How can he at the same time suppose that the work is essential and separate? And how can he finally dream of a society in which man, emancipated, remains empty-handed?
This is the great paradox that presents itself each of these mornings when one hesitates to get up. Yes, there is money, yes, there is social organization, yes, there is also pleasure. But above all, there is life. The idea is hard to hear, or perhaps too easy because it is exaggerated: but yes, we work to live and live to work.
Anyway, that’s Arendt’s position. Work is not an activity like any other in his eyes: it is the response to our vital necessities and the desire to be freed from these vital necessities is to let oneself die, and worse: to give up being a man.
That being said, there would be a host of objections… What if business, as it appears to us today, responds no longer to vital necessities but to needs arising from scratch? What if it wasn’t necessities but work that bound us?
It is indeed this critique that we, in turn, can address to the philosophical critique: what binds us to action, isn’t this fundamentally misconception what makes it something vital? Are we not actually conditioned, like Hannah Arendt, to the idea that work is life?
And if I stop working, will I stop living? Wouldn’t my breathing be the same? Will my vital needs stop challenging? I will certainly have harsher and more complex living conditions, but I will not cease to live either, in the basic sense, vital, alive.
And even I go further: my life, rid of its schedules, its tasks, its socio-professional husk, life in its greatest bareness, could it not be shown to me more clearly? Can. But then, what a life, sure, a living life but only a living …
This is the whole problem that arises when we begin to think about the possibility of life without work… Here we are reduced to this terrible alternative (just like that put forward by Arendt): the identification of life with work or their opposition. Thinking that work is life or imagining life as something other than work.
What if we are wrong? What if we very quickly define or contrast the two terms, life and work? What if work is part of life and not all of life? Conversely, if life consists of work, surely in large part, but not only? Essentially, what is at stake is not what work, its definition, and essence are, but the place it occupied: why do we wake up thinking about work?
Because yes, let’s go back to our everyday experience: Why do we wake up and sleep and think about work too? Why doesn’t answering a professional email leave us feeling guilty? Why our rest, weekends, holidays, are you just considered to get rid of work pressure?
What is remarkable is not that work has an objective place (consisting of schedules, tasks and a socio-professional cortex) but that it overflows in our consciousness.
Remarkably, not only is work a major issue in our societies (unemployment, wages, administrative excesses) but it has become one of our only conversation topics.
What is remarkable is not that you have to work but that everything becomes work: work at work, work at home, work on yourself …
It does not matter whether work is life or not: the truth is that it has become the meaning of our life. And that again, which is a shame, we will have to work to reduce the work …
Article from T La Revue No. 9 “Labour, Is It Really Reasonable?” – Currently on newsstands and available at kiosque.latribune.fr/t-la-revue