There were many good responses to these last few blog posts on the future of work – some very worth exploring. But largely our leaders of politics and economics just return our questions with a deafening silence. At the moment, there is no inclination to deal with the problem of the slow disappearance of work.
Political theorist, Judith Shklar, used to maintain that work is more crucial to the core values of democracy than anything else, including family or even government. Shklar died some 20 years ago, just at the onset of burgeoning unemployment. What would she think of her theory today, now that work has been demeaned, or worse, done away with altogether? Even if she were partially correct, then the loss of work would result in the threat of civic status, of community virtue, and ultimately the legitimacy of democracy itself. Surely that is serious enough for us to consider how we might avert such a crisis and strike a new path forward.
Given how deeply the financial and political systems have failed, there is no shame in no longer possessing meaningful employment. But consider the sheer waste of it – humanity arriving at the point of emancipation, sustainability, and citizen possibilities only to discover that it had constructed models of moral and financial diminishment. The list grows longer everyday: unemployed, underemployed, homemakers, seniors, welfare recipients, disability, mental health, dislocated veterans, listless youth. Surely there must be someplace of worth for such individuals in our supposedly wealthy societies, positions of work and worth. Why can’t civil society have its own work force? Is there not the possibility of an army of employed caregivers at every level of society?
Have we arrived at this point in our human journey only to discover that history has played some coy trick on us, that the “survival of the fittest” is alive and well in our cities, communities and neighbourhoods? Can we rehabilitate ourselves, bring ourselves back from the brink of inanity and lack of purpose in a fashion that will put work – meaningful work – in it proper place in society? Whatever the solutions to our predicament will be, they will surely involve a more refined capitalism and a more engaged citizenry.