Does our species naturally long for work? Would modern workers continue their labor if they lacked the incentive of capital? Through the contemplation of work and leisure, this passage explores the nature of labor, exploitation, and fulfillment.
Does our species naturally long for work? Would modern workers continue their labor if they lacked the incentive of capital? Although these questions may seem similar, they hold significant differences and widely contrasting answers. To understand these questions, it helps to note the distinctions between what I call natural labor and capitalist exploitation, as well as the flaws with the current widespread perception of work, leisure, and fulfillment.
Natural labor is purely voluntary work. It is driven, not by literal necessity to survive, but by the passion of the individual. It is the work which builds upon and reinforces our life’s higher purpose. We often perceive work to be separate from leisure; however, when we genuinely analyze the things which give us joy, we tend to find fulfillment inseparable with the natural labor which is required. From the toddlers’ struggle to take its first steps, humans are built with a drive to grow, discover, and create. This is not incentivized by capital, but the innate human longing for fulfillment, combined with the creativity, intelligence, and ambition of the human mind. I believe that depression and spiritual confusion arise when individuals fail to practice their natural labor, as is common in a society which frequently distorts the meaning of work and leisure.
We are trained to view the two concepts of work and leisure as entirely separate spheres – with one being devoted to repetitive tasks and the other to consumption. However, both these practices are direct and crippling obstacles to the pursuit of fulfillment. Entertainment and consumption bring only temporary joy and artificial fulfillment and thus reinforce an endless quest for immediate gratification through the consumption of products. Instead, ‘leisure time’ should be devoted to the practice of natural labor and fulfilling the inner drive to create, learn, and discover. Pursuits such as learning a craft, exploring concepts, and building relationships will result in lasting fulfillment, which will contribute to one’s overall character. However, meaningful leisure requires a great deal of energy and work, which most people lack because of their tiresome exploitation. At the end of their daily toil, most workers are drained of the energy needed to pursue natural labor and thus submit to the lifeless cycle of instant gratification, temporary joy, and artificial fulfillment.
Most of the population’s labor is devoted, not to our natural labor, but capitalist exploitation organized by large, complex institutions. This work is inherently unmeaningful due to the nature of exploitation. We usually complete tasks necessary to sustain an institution, yet we are still left with a sense of unfulfillment like we failed to actually accomplish anything. I believe this deep, everlasting unfulfillment is caused by the (often subconscious) recognition that we did not complete our natural labor, but rather the work of our employer. In many ways, the worker did also fulfill the needs of the community as well; however, this would be greater appreciated by the worker if they were engaging through a democratic institution structured to fulfill these needs rather than make a profit for the owners. Natural labor requires personal meaning and self-determination, which are undermined by the authoritarian structure of all businesses able to compete and survive. Fulfillment is difficult when all energy is devoted to following orders rather than engaging and growing.
To return to my original question; do humans have an innate longing for work? I believe that all humans are born with curiosity, creativity, and a drive for spiritual fulfillment. These elements persist throughout our lives, although they remain in constant conflict with the external forces which seek to suppress and distort them. My other question, “Would workers continue their current labor if they lacked the selfish incentive of capital?”, is one of perhaps even more complexity and direct importance. I believe that most workers would refuse to continue their current labor if they lacked the incentive of a paycheck. However, this is not because of laziness, but rather a desire to truly work, grow, and prosper. Perhaps if businesses were structured to allow for worker participation in management and operations, there would be a greater sense of purpose in our work, and individuals would choose to continue this labor by choice. If capitalist institutions were designed to enable worker control and financial security, then the businesses which we utilize would more likely become meaningful to the workers and the community. However, in their modern form, capitalist institutions are inherently incapable of bringing true fulfillment to its workers as only the most competitive and inhumane businesses can survive in the current economic climate.
If we are to pursue a meaningful life, we must recognize labor as the vehicle of growth and fulfillment. However, we must simultaneously reconsider the contemporary notion of work, and realize how its widespread modern form (that of wage labor) is directly opposed to the pursuit of a fulfilling life. Likewise, we must reconsider the concept of leisure and realize how an endless cycle of consumption only perpetuates a life of seeking immediate gratification – and thus always lacking long-term fulfillment. Until we come to grips with these inconvenient truths and work to liberate ourselves, we are doomed to remain in the endless cycle of capitalist exploitation, unfulfillment, and spiritual depression.