Is work ever meaningful simply because it is work?
This week in the Philosophy of Technology course, we are reading Matthew Crawford’s book Shopclass as Soulcraft. Among other things, Crawford is making an argument, through personal experience as a mechanic, for reviving the value of manual work and the trades. In our “knowledge economy,” we have too often forget the dignity of manual labor. He makes a point in the opening chapter that he does not want to romanticize or make mystical the work of mechanics, tradespersons, or repairpersons. While these jobs can be noble, intellectually rigorous, and energizing to the human spirit, they are also frequently physically hard, messy, and demand a lot of, just plain work.
So again, can work, in itself, be of value to a person? Or must it be transformed into something else, like “love.”?
In a recent post in Slate, Miya Tokumitsu challenges the mantra so often quoted today–“Do what you love” (DWYL)–because it devalues work, the kinds of work that millions of us do everyday, that kinds of work the world simply requires of us collectively and daily. Promoting DWYL is a criteria for a meaningful career sends the wrong message to the vast majority of the population who are not, and could not, be in a job that somehow keeps them perpetually them in a rapt emotional high. What do you think?
A brief excerpt:
“There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.
Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? And who is the audience for this dictum?
DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”
To conclude, I offer the poem by Billy Collins “Shoveling Snow with Buddha”
Shoveling Snow With Buddha
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.