Until the birth of the modern world, work was the lowliest human concern. Seen as an extraordinary burden in the first agrarian states of Mesopotamia, as a curse by the Greek poet Hesiod, and as penance for original sin in Genesis, work was relegated, therefore, to farmers in the Neolithic period, to chattel slaves in Classical Athens, and to serfs in feudal Christian society. Yet somehow it became sacrosanct beginning in Europe approximately 500 years ago.
How did work go from being the worst fate imaginable to being at once the keystone of modern life and the moral center of almost every modern person’s earthly aspirations? How did work become, more than a mere tool for individual and collective survival, the very promise of ultimate fulfillment on par with religious doctrines of salvations? In what ways do we suffer our inherited ideas about work without even knowing it? And what if we didn’t actually know what genuine leisure was, let alone the Sabbath, because we’d only ever experienced free time, breaks, vacations, recreations, diversions, and retirement?
The story I want to tell in this talk is a history of how certain historical forces and intellectual movements got bound together in Total Work to make us who we are today. The aim of the talk is existential more than just theoretical: it is to blow your mind by ridding you of an illusion, the illusion that you are essentially a Worker.
Andrew Taggart is a practical philosopher. He asks and seeks to answer the most basic questions of human existence with others around the world. In 2009, he finished a Ph.D., left the academic life, and moved to New York City because he thought the most fundamental question of how to live needed to be brought back into our everyday lives. Each day he speaks via Skype or Zoom with business executives and tech entrepreneurs throughout the US, Canada, and Europe about the nature of a good life. He is also the founder of Askole whose aim is to help technologists examine what, at bottom, they’re taking for granted. His ideas have been discussed in Quartz, The Guardian, Big Think, Wisconsin Public Radio, TEDx, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. He and his wife Alexandra are currently exploring the American Southwest.
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