March 19, 2015

Work and Other Four-Letter Words

A book I'm reading ("Detroit: An Autopsy") has an interesting paragraph about how many folks of a certain age had their work ethic undermined by the mere presence of factories:
Still, we had all gotten a taste of [factory work], summer jobs sweeping the floor or working the press. It was horrible. The yellow lights, the stink of grease and oil and acid. The unblinking time clock. You walked in the door and the first thing you’re trying to figure out is how to get out. If you don’t know that about factory work, you don’t know anything. What our generation failed to learn was the nobility of work. An honest day’s labor. The worthiness of the man in the white socks who would pull out a picture of his grandkids from his wallet. For us, the factory would never do. And turning away from our birthright—our grandfather in the white socks—is the thing that ruined us.
I'm of that certain age, growing up during the '70s when factory work was still common in our neck of the woods. It seemed - at least as described to me - a slow torture, a dehumanizing job that involved no creativity, just doing the same brainless, mechanical motion over and over and over again. It seemed scarcely distinct from prison and made me think something was fundamentally wrong with capitalism that such work existed.

Perhaps some people enjoyed it or at least dealt with it more sympathetically. Not all people are suited for all jobs and I could've been projecting my ten-year old, book-loving sensibilities on a job I was not called to. And certainly if you're starving in a Third World country factory work must look like Nirvana. But there's always this intrinsic sense, I think, that if someone is slighted or abused, then the system is fundamentally flawed.  Of course the root problem is we live in a fundamentally flawed world, one not too often confused with Heaven.

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