Dignity of Work

Out of all of the virtues America extols, few are held in such high reverence as the dignity of work. It is supposedly based on the so-called Protestant work ethic; implying that people who are not Protestants are inferior. We value work over any other activity in our culture, including leisure. This has been promoted to the point that what we do for work is our identity. However, our view of work and the experience of the proletariat has presented many social problems.

When we think about the dignity of work, we do not think about slave labor. Slave/free labor built most of the economy of the western hemisphere. Treatment and conditions were exploitative and humiliating with no reward or regard for human dignity. The practice was so lucrative it never really went away. The only change is the location of the slaves and the color of their skin. Seeing as how slave labor is used to make most of our modern conveniences, people try not to think about that issue too much. As long as we do not have to look them in the eye we can pretend that technology we use everyday is a reward from God for all of our hard work.

Making enough money to have a comfortable living is what makes work dignifying. Working for employers who pay their workers a pittance is a shame. With the massive disparity that workers surplus value creates there is no reason the proletariat should have to rely on the government to survive. Society views the lumpenproletariat as somehow deserving their station in life so the problem will continue. Precariousness has led to people becoming unquestioning servants to moneyed interest.

The leisure society portrayed by the Jetsons is just a fantasy despite technological advances.   The idea that people will be defined by their leisure more than their work  was within our grasp.  Americans love the concept of work, but look down upon people who do manual labor. We celebrate Labor Day, but that is seen as the last day is summer.  Class issues are rarely discussed in America, which is why we are truly exceptional.


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