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On "Workism"

I came across a very interesting article in the Atlantic by Derek Thomson titled: Workism Is Making Americans Miserable. The author main premise is that for the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising identity, transcendence, and community, but failing to deliver. He refers to the context prevailing in the United States but I would say his basic premise holds in most advanced economies. Identity, meaning and self actualisation seem to be more defined by work rather than through what we do in our leisure.

There is something slyly dystopian about an economic system that has convinced the most indebted generation in American history to put “purpose over paycheck.” Indeed, if you were designing a Black Mirror labor force that encouraged overwork without higher wages, what might you do? Perhaps you’d persuade educated young people that income comes second; that no job is just a job; and that the only real reward from work is the ineffable glow of purpose. It is a diabolical game that creates a prize so tantalizing yet rare that almost nobody wins, but everybody feels obligated to play forever.

So, "workism", defined by Thompson as "the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose" was not always the norm for those who found success in life either through their toil or, mostly, through inheritance. Indeed, the rich had always worked less than the poor, because they could afford to - think of the landed aristocracy of the feudal age or ancient Greece of Socrates and Aristotle.

As we face a future where robots will deal with most repeatable tasks, and even augment tasks which now require experience and intuition, it will be interesting to see how we use our time: to do more work or pursue self fulfilment through more leisure?

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