Conservatives espouse traditional (or more accurately: eternal) values including the importance of hard work and dedication. Few ask themselves however if this extends to jobs. It should not, mainly because (1) jobs are not actually work in most cases and (2) jobs are the antithesis of what the value of hard work is designed to foster.
In modern Europe and the Americas, everyone — male and female — over the age of majority must attend a job. This means showing up every day from eight to five and being in the office, doing office tasks. Every person gets a cubicle or an office and a computer, maybe a title. They do this until they are sixty-five, then wonder what it meant.
In the average job, very little of actual import is done. This occurs first because most of the assigned activities are pro forma or “make-work,” but more broadly because most business activities are ill-advised or irrelevant, often through the creation of regulatory law.
In this sense, jobs are not “work” per se, or the process of applying oneself to a task. They are the process of attendance, obedience and time-wasting.
This realization leads to the second point, which is that jobs are the antithesis of the “work” described by traditional values. In traditional work, the individual learns how the world works by applying himself or herself to tasks and achieving mastery. It is a method of understanding realism and gaining self-discipline.
Jobs do the opposite. Jobs reward appearance, not actuality, except in a few rare cases. Even in professional fields, the goal is to keep abreast of what others have done and do the same in a certain specific case, and accountability occurs only when one deviates from the commonly accepted practice, even if results are bad. Doctors lose patients, lawyers loses cases, and architects design junk all the time but so long as these are competitive with what others have established as “safe” minimums, no consequences attach.
The constant obsession with staying abreast of standards makes work into an obsession. One must appear to be as devoted as one’s comrades, or be suspected of disloyalty. Further, the worker must demonstrate diligent emulation of public appearance as defined by others, which creates a neurosis of fears about what has not be done as opposed to what needs doing.
In this way, jobs lead away from work, which is results-based. Instead, they present a flight from life itself: an escape from the world of actions and consequences into the purely human world of imitation and social reward. This adds a soul-killing dimension because the acts on which we spend most of our lives are entirely a waste of our time and potential.
Consider it this way: from the years of the early twenties through the mid-sixties, a person spends fifty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, preparing for or attending work. These are the best daylight hours and the most intense moments of their consciousnesses, devoted to something that is both unnecessary and demeaning. They never notice because everyone else is doing it, at least until retirement, where people tend to become aimless and bitter.
If Moses were around today, he would be saying “let my people go” while looking skeptically at a heap of TPS reports.
Michel Houellebecq unveiled the conservative case against jobs in Whatever: jobs ruin our expectation that life will be good, and force us into desperate compensatory measures to feel good, almost all of which lead to destruction of hope for life itself. Jobs make us bitter, alienated and destructive, which mirrors the ressentiment inherent to Leftism, which is why jobs are a creation of the Leftist regulatory state and not the free market, which rewards performance over pro forma activity.
Others have made this case before, such as Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who showed how jobs took over the minds of people and turned them into near-automatons. Indeed, among conservative writers of the early twentieth century, the mind-enslaving specter of “Progress” was seen through the voracious expansion of industry, the collapse of small communities into cities, and the reduction of families into financial units driven by jobs.
People ask, “What would our alternative be?”
The conservative answer is to remove all regulation of the job market and to allow reward to go only to those who can achieve results, which in turn limits labor to the necessary and also radically reduces costs so that people can live on less and be happier. This would lead to less time spent at jobs, because they would be task-driven and not appearance-driven.
In addition, the regulatory state creates a need to keep up with standards to avoid legal liability and government intervention. This directs the focus of management from making things happen to dealing with labor and legal issues. Most managers are not very good at what they do, in part because their real job is to find a way to work with the regulatory state, not get their workers to perform.
If a conservative took over with absolute power, the intermediates between worker and employer like unions, regulations, and legally-defined liabilities would vanish and be handled instead by civil courts. Workers would find themselves as more like contractors, hired to make a certain function happen and rewarded for it. They would have greater pride in their work and most of it would be necessary, as opposed to the current scheme where most of it is not necessary.
Existential concerns would come into play here. When work is not a mandatory time period, but a question of achieving results, people can see the time value of labor and conversely, the monetary value of time. This encourages them to go home, spend time with friends and families and on cultural activities instead of attending extra hours for the sake of appearance.
We need only look at the Dutch model to see how less job means more happiness.
One Dutch woman explicitly states that less time at the job means more liberation and ability to have a positive life. As Macleans reports:
“Every woman in Holland can do whatever she wants with her life,” says Van Haeren, 52, who lives just outside of Rotterdam and rides her bicycle or the train to work three days a week at a police academy, where she counsels students. She has worked part-time her entire career, as have almost all of her friends—married or unmarried, kids or no kids—save one or two who logged more hours out of financial necessity. Van Haeren, who wasn’t married until last year and has no children, says she’s worked part-time “to have time to do things that matter to me, live the way I want. To stay mentally and physically healthy and happy.”
Many women in the Netherlands seem to share similar views, valuing independence over success in the workplace. In 2001, nearly 60 per cent of working Dutch women were employed part-time, compared to just 20 per cent of Canadian women. Today, the number is even higher, hovering around 75 per cent. Some, like Van Haeren, view this as progress, evidence of personal freedom and a commitment to a balanced lifestyle.
The article goes on to show what a world without job mania might look like:
Ellen de Bruin, who patterned her book after Mireille Guiliano’s bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat, began by defining the stereotypical Dutch woman: naturally beautiful with a no-fuss sense of style, she rides her bike to fetch the groceries, has ample time with her kids and husband, takes art classes in the middle of the week, and spends leisurely afternoons drinking coffee with her friends. She loves to work part-time and does not earn as much as her husband, but she’s fine with that—he takes care of the bills. The book went on to note that Dutch women rank consistently low, compared to those in other Western countries, in terms of representation in top positions in business and government—and rank consistently near the top in terms of happiness and well-being.
As an article in The Economist amplifies, this is a prioritization of existential concerns and lifestyle over the demands of commerce:
When I talk to women who spend half the week doing what they want—playing sports, planting gardens, doing art projects, hanging out with their children, volunteering, and meeting their family friends—I think, yes, that sounds wonderful. I can look around at the busy midweek, midday markets and town squares and picture myself leisurely buying produce or having coffee with friends. In a book released several years ago called Dutch Women Don’t Get Depressed—a parody of French Women Don’t Get Fat—Dutch psychologist Ellen de Bruin explains that key to a Dutch woman’s happiness is her sense of personal freedom and a good work-life balance. But it’s hard to transplant that image to the United States, where our self-esteem is so closely tied to our work.
Conservatives owe it to ourselves to look at the root of tradition, which is reverence for life itself, including the natural environment and the existential need to find excellence and joy in existence. Jobs obliterate this and replace it with Soviet-style grim obedience and grueling time expenditure on the doomed. It is time conservatives got off this chain and began fighting for life itself over the pointless obligation of jobs.