Why do we make such a big thing of work?

Imagine being told before you were born — assuming you had the requisite cognition — what you’d end up doing with your life:

working…until, well, the bitter end.

Would you take it?


From an anti-natalist perspective (see in particular the work of David Benatar), they’d say that coming into existence was bad but not being born was not a deprivation of something good (i.e. work in my example) because there’s no one there to notice.

Novel or extreme? Take your pick.

But the thing is, we seem to make a massive hue and cry about work. It’s no surprise because absent compliant cogs for the behemoth machines, the neo-capitalist system would stop functioning and the billionaire class, well, they’d be very displeased, as would the supposed governments and all the other quangos built atop the need to keep the system functioning.

It sounds so depressing.

And it is from my viewpoint.

But of course, there will be others who revel in it. Indeed, it’s their life. And for a long time, even though I had this awkward sense that something was wrong (mostly with me for not fitting in), I was all in and the kitchen sink.

And you?

Do you love your work?

Great, I’d say, but it’s not life or all of it, particularly if you find a way, much like the early retirement crowd, to escape the rat race and live life on your terms, subject to all the other vicissitudes and curveballs that life throws in your freedom-seeking path.

Of course, there’s nothing else or not much else on offer, is there? Even working for yourself, if you’re not careful, means you end up working for a tyrant (or is that a lunatic?), and you can’t escape the need to be on a constant sales drive, filling up the funnel of expectation.

Again, I know I’m making things sound dire — and it’s not for effect, honest — but I never found self-employment the nirvana that so many seemed to advocate.

In a way, though, this whole conversation is one crazed, circular argument absent a real alternative to work. We need to live, right, and absent a job — any job in most cases — we’d die. I’m not so sure. In fact, I think there’s a question waiting off in the wings that’s not quite as jarring as the anti-natalist trope but it goes something along the lines of: how many people can the earth support if we all lived in a village-minded, close-to-the-earth sort of way?

I know what you’re thinking. Great, another socialist experiment. I don’t think so but it does mean we’ve got to open up about what a more beautiful world looks like and certainly through my prism of betterment (if that’s even the right expression), it doesn’t mean playing with the extant system and making it more teal, more egalitarian and less controlling of our souls. It means to start again, and see what emerges.

But like so many things that I’m having to wrestle with right now, I’ve no expectation, none whatsoever, that any of my hopes and dreams to escape the worst and most egregious effects of the Anthropocene will come into being. In fact, when the faecal matter hits the proverbial fan, talking about work, in all its various guises, will be the last thing on our mind. Instead, survival and adaptation will be the order of day. By that I mean, life and death.

Then again, if you know of something that’s emerging from this primordial, anthropocentric soup, I’d love to know.

Onwards dear readers, onwards.


— Julian

ecological pessimist — influenced by Zapffe, Benatar, Thacker