This passage declares that fulfillment derives from purpose, which is acquired through the long-term pursuit of self-improvement. Modern capitalism presents two primary devices that distract us from (and distort our notions of) meaningful work – entertainment and wage labor. Through the contemplation of work and leisure, this passage explores the nature of labor, exploitation, and fulfillment.
As capitalism developed, profound widespread lifestyle shifts occurred. The mainstream addiction to immediate gratification (primarily derived from entertainment and consumption), paired with the constant need for wages, created a society that views the two concepts of work and leisure as entirely separate spheres – with one devoted to salaries and the other to instant gratification through consumption. This artificial lifestyle stagnates the personal progression towards self-improvement by draining laborers of energy and passion. A fulfilled life requires the deliberate maintenance of personal passion and the routine practice of natural labor.
To better understand these concepts, it helps to identify the distinction between wage labor and natural labor. Natural labor is purely voluntary work. It is driven, not by strict necessity to survive, but by the individual pursuit of fulfillment. Modern individuals often perceive work as entirely separate from leisure. However, when we analyze the elements that compose our unique sense of purpose, we often find fulfillment united with the natural labor which is required. For example, I am passionate about philosophy. Understanding concepts in ethics and political philosophy provide me with a sense of fulfillment and satisfies my inner drive to understand ethical behavior and social organization. Although understanding deep concepts is often challenging, I exert a significant amount of energy reading and thinking because it will further a personal quest for fulfillment. I complete this work while aware of the apocalyptic job prospects for philosophers of my interests and ambitions. The purity, passion, and challenging demands of my philosophical inquiry constitutes it as my natural labor. Therefore, I exercise my natural labor when reading and writing about philosophy – just as others practice it by perfecting an instrument or conducting any other demanding passion. It is natural labor that builds upon and reinforces our sense of purpose. Depression and spiritual confusion arise when individuals fail to practice their natural labor, as is common in a society that distorts the meanings of work, leisure, and fulfillment.
Wage labor is motivated by necessity (as established by modern capitalism) rather than passion. The words and ideas I chose to include in this passage (and the decision to even write it at all) derive purely from self-determination. However, capitalism requires us to engage in wage labor to receive food, shelter, and other necessities of life. Wage labor is the act of renting oneself to an employer in exchange for a wage. In this trade, we consent to temporarily become a limb of our employer rather than an individual. This labor is inherently unmeaningful since it is impersonal and motivated by necessity rather than self-determination. The authoritarian structure of virtually all businesses also undermines the practice of natural labor by preventing the humanization of workers in the workplace. Workers rarely possess a voice in the management of their responsibilities or the profits which they help generate. This dehumanizing structure reflects the fact that businesses are not cooperative – they are private enterprises that workers merely lend themselves to in exchange for survival.
However, survival is not typically possible after serving one institution for a few hours per day. It is common for modern laborers to work every day at multiple institutions and still fail to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families. In the glimpses between their rigorous and endless toil, most workers are drained of the considerable energy required to practice their natural labor. Therefore, they accept the work of their employers as a replacement for their passions. This acceptance inevitably leads workers to forget their sense of personal progress and fulfillment permanently. They abandon their aspirations and devote all energy to wages. Although the institutions at which they work may expand, the lives of dehumanized workers do not progress towards fulfillment or any grand product of their labor that is personally enjoyed. They merely exist to serve their employers in exchange for survival. Laborers must relentlessly maintain their passions outside of wage labor or they are doomed to an unfulfilled life. However, modern capitalism poses a powerful distraction to natural labor outside of the workplace.
Consumerism is a synchronized obstacle to fulfillment presented to every individual by the modern economic establishment. Propaganda-like advertising bombards civilians from every angle, each seeking to provide emotional relief in the form of products and entertainment. The gratification of purchasing a highly anticipated product is almost orgasmic. However, much like the satisfaction of an orgasm, the instant gratification derived from luxury products is temporary. This conflict arises from the more rooted expectation of happiness to fulfill all time outside of wage labor. Happiness is always short-lived; thus, humans are always unfulfilled from their endless pursuit of happiness – whether deriving it from sex or consumption. The pursuit of long-term fulfillment requires difficult natural labor. However, the satisfactory moments offer a sense of achievement, pride, and satisfaction that make permanent contributions to our identity and purpose. When individuals expect all time outside of the workplace to be filled with entertainment and happiness, they neglect the natural labor that is difficult, though crucial to a fulfilled life. The widespread addiction to immediate gratification (primarily derived from entertainment and consumption), paired with the constant demand for wage labor, created a society that views the two concepts of work and leisure as separate spheres – with one devoted to wages and the other to immediate gratification. The pursuit of long-term fulfillment and self-improvement is virtually absent from modern life.
A meaningful life requires the acknowledgment that labor is the ultimate source of fulfillment. However, we must never confuse our natural work with wage labor – nor enable wage labor to replace our passion. Wage labor is intrinsically designed by a manager to serve the manager – it is the antithesis self-determination and expression. Although wage labor is necessary for survival, natural labor is necessary for truly living. Modern workers must also address the widespread addiction to immediate gratification – a result of both cultural consumerism and spiritual depression from excessive wage labor. Such a lifestyle is void of progress and further encourages laborers to abandon their passions. Rather than pursuing sources of temporary happiness and relief (such as entertainment and consumption), we should pursue personal progress and passions that make lasting contributions to our character. Happiness is always temporary. What is left after the ecstasy fades is what truly matters. Therefore, we should read or learn an instrument rather than watch television. We should question the contributions of each action to our sense of fulfillment and minimize the practices that merely offer temporary relief. Most of all, we must redefine the widespread notions of work and leisure to create a world conducive to the pursuit of individual freedom and fulfillment.