George Walford: The End of Work (10)

The series IC was running under this head has not been abandoned, only squeezed out by other things. The main point to be developed is the absence of any natural, inborn or inherent need of work. There are people, lots of them, who feel this need, but it has been acquired in the course of ideological development; those holding to the primal ideology, rich and poor alike, educated and uneducated, do not show themselves to experience it.

In the Observer of 19 April 87 Katharine Whitehorn writes that although no political party will admit it, useful work, as it has been known in the past, can no longer be provided for more or less everybody: “‘Jobs for all,’ whoever says it, is a lie.” The question now, she says, is how to provide jobless people with a reason for living. We can feed them, but how can they be given a sense that there is purpose and value in their lives? Going on to speak of Community Service Volunteers, and their activities in caring for the old and disabled, she suggests that voluntary work of this kind may provide a substitute for the jobs no longer available. There are two distinct themes here. The first, that there are plenty of things to be done that will benefit people, is undeniably valid; there always will be people needing help. The other, that more or less everybody needs useful work in order to have a reason for living, is highly questionable.

Her own article contains indications that useful activity is not a universal requirement; the suggestion that “everyone” has heard of Voluntary Service Overseas is doubtless a touch rhetorical, but there are many without work who have heard of these schemes and not chosen to take part. And why is an organised scheme necessary? If people generally experience a need for work comparable, say, with the need of affection, most of them have some useful activity ready to hand with which to satisfy it. The indications are that large numbers of people do not work unless they are offered substantial incentives. They do not need work to give purpose and value to their lives. They are inclined away from work, or at least not towards it.

If this be accepted then the present “lack” of work no longer looks like a catastrophe in itself and an indication of disaster to come. If society can be said to have a function it is to meet the wants of its members. The ability of present society to satisfy the desire, of a large part of its members, that they be maintained without the need to work, is an achievement to be proud of. It is incomplete, they do not yet have all the facilities needed for full enjoyment of life, but there is no reason to think that social development has ended.

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IN THE course of marital battle the husband had taken refuge under the bed. His wife yelling at him to come out and fight, he replied:’No, I won’t! I’ll show you who’s master here!”

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PLAY UP!, play up! And play to maim.

from Ideological Commentary 28, July 1987.