The 19th Century witnessed old Mother Russia, still mired in its historic serfdom, while, in bold contemporary, contrast, England was metamorphosing into the sociological, political and economic epoch, which we refer to as “The Industrial Revolution.” The essentially sleepy and bucolic nation of England, was effectively transmogrified, into an unprecedented, frenetic new context and atmosphere.
The introduction of industrial machinery, capable of producing, seemingly, unprecedented, quantities of commercial products, led to profound sociological changes in English society, and, sadly, a new perspective of the common man. Russia slept deeply through its agricultural economy, based upon its atavistic and cruel mistreatment of its serfs (“souls”) and commoners. England, however, exceeded all existential nightmares, by establishing the virtual deification of profits, and sacrificed the common man, a dedicated slave, to that deity. The previous extant, minimal recognition of modest humanity and persona in the common man, was now totally degraded, to his potential capacity to perform labor. Husbands and fathers, mothers and their young children, desperately wishing to avoid starvation and extreme penury, were virtually conscripted, to perform, hard, backbreaking, and life shortening, physical labor, by capitol’s pathological mania for profit. A reference to any of the great novels by Charles Dickens, will reveal the abject misery of the common man, ensnared in the inextricable web, of unlimited and unhealthy working conditions, polluted air and filthy environment of this historically celebrated, industrial advance.
An apt illustration of the completely dehumanizing and heartless practices of the times, was the deploring institution of the feared treadmill. Being punitively sentenced to the treadmill, for any length of time, meant bodily deterioration and agonizing death. What today is a pleasant, elective, exercise appliance, was in the era of Queen Victoria, a painful, punitive and deadly, instrument of torture, whose steady operation, incidentally, provided additional power for manufacture.
Over the centuries, slow developing reform and empathic enlightenment, gradually proceeded to the amelioration of many such harsh conditions. Humane parliamentary legislation and the ultimate rise of recognized labor unions, did much to alleviate the dark, industrial purgatory, that personified Victorian Britain.
It may be said that an analogous manufacturing drama was thereafter played out, but, arguably, less dramatically, in new world America; however, the evils of slavery, in our country’s agricultural sector, more than made up for any possible difference, in the degree of comparative inhumanity with England.
It may be a startling revelation, at this point in our writing, to declare that its theme, is not the fundamental horrors of the labor practices in the Victorian Era, in England; nor the inhumanity practiced, in its earlier years, by our own Nation. Its intended purpose is to account, historically, for the common context of work, and its correct, appropriate and proportionate place in our lives.
We will hazard the expression of our radical, personal contention, that the known history of the inhuman misuse of labor, is responsible for a PTSD-like malady, which we would like to describe as our society’s neurotic, over emphasized, “work ethic.” The commonly understood neurosis is that our time has value, only to the extent, that we and it, are productive. It is truly ironic, that the mind-set of the avaricious, self- centered and mono- focused industrialist of the 19th Century, to the effect that man’s value depends on his productivity, has, eerily been subscribed to, by the ordinary citizen in our modern age, as an epilogue to the perception of labor, in past history, by some bizarre process of societally, transmitted, PTSD.
Our ingested “work ethic”, we submit, is, in reality, a perversion of the natural goal and purpose of the remarkably evolved, unique entity, called homo sapiens. The belief that man is worthless, or, wasting precious time, unless he is actively engaged in productive activity, is atavistic, unhealthy and erroneous.
We have, in past writings, acknowledged that, evolution’s, greatest and most generous gift to homo sapiens, was an advanced brain, capable of reason, advancement and ultimately, wisdom. We do acknowledge, and energetically confirm the necessity for work as part of the nation’s production of goods and services, and as well, the satisfaction of the individual’s temporal needs. We do, however, additionally, place a high value on man’s uninterrupted leisure. The latter affords the rare and invaluable opportunity to think and commune with oneself. This vital necessity, we would denominate as the priceless and mandatory, “leisure ethic.” Reading, engaging in a sport or other elective pastime, or, importantly, when the opportunity presents itself, to leisurely sit and think, is one’s own personal time; the rare and valuable opportunity to be, uninterruptedly, and singularly, himself.
Expressions such as “time off,” “break-time,” or, “coffee break” carry the clear suggestion (“off” from what?) that life and work are synonymous, and that personal time, vacation or holidays, are only ancillary to life’s natural purpose. While gainful employment, certainly, is a required activity, we are morally obliged, by our given franchise to be human, to value rare, leisure time, not as a “break,” but as an engagement in (our own) prime time.
We suggest the formal recognition and national institution of an officially recognized, American leisure ethic.