Work no longer works. "You need to acquire more skills," we tell young job seekers whose résumés at 22 are already longer than their parents' were at 32. "Work will give you meaning," we encourage people to tell themselves, so that they put in 60 hours or more per week on the job, removing them from other sources of meaning, such as daydreaming or social life. "Work will give you satisfaction," we insist, even though it requires abiding by employers' rules, and the unwritten rules of the market, for most of our waking hours. At the very least, work is supposed to be a means to earning an income. But if it's possible to work full time and still live in poverty, what's the point?
Against this bleak landscape, a growing body of scholarship aims to overturn our culture's deepest assumptions about how work confers wealth, meaning, and care throughout society. In Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It), Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, explores how the discipline of work has itself become a form of tyranny, documenting the expansive power that firms now wield over their employees in everything from how they dress to what they tweet. James Livingston, a historian at Rutgers, goes one step further in No More Work: Why Full Employment Is a Bad Idea. Instead of insisting on jobs for all or proposing that we hold employers to higher standards, Livingston argues, we should just scrap work altogether.
We can try to convince ourselves that we are free, but as long as we must submit to the increasing authority of our employers and the labor market, we are not. We therefore fancy that we want to work, that work grounds our character, that markets encompass the possible. We are unable to imagine what a full life could be, much less to live one. Even more radically, both books highlight the dramatic and alarming changes that work has undergone over the past century--insisting that, in often unseen ways, the changing nature of work threatens the fundamental ideals of democracy: equality and freedom.
The idea that your life only has meaning because of your job is repugnant to me. My life has meaning because i say it does, not because of what i'm employed to do. Sure, some people derive enjoyment from their work, but that should be extra. It shouldn't be the end all, be all of your self-worth.
I know someone who has two full time jobs and another with one full time job and two part time jobs - all just to make ends meet. If their lives had any more "satisfaction" or "meaning", i think they'd die from exhaustion.
And for those who think you must work because without work, "what would you do with your time?" - If you can't imagine having a full life without work to eat up the hours of the day, i'm sad for you. Start picking up some hobbies.