Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jacques Ellul on Work

"Is there really any job that is more independent than others? To become a workman is to bind oneself hand and foot. To be an executive in a big corporation is certainly to make a lot of money but it involves a personal bondage that can be worse than that of the ordinary employee. Finding a job which will give the maximum of free time and personal initiative and the minimum of external control is by no means easy. Such jobs still exist, but their number diminishes from year to year. ----- The Ethics of Freedom, page 456

"Our age is characterized by non-meaning. All psycho-sociologists agree ultimately that the work we do is marked by this fault. It makes no sense. It has no obvious value of its own. We have on the one side the dividing up of tasks, monotony, and the production of articles of no evident utility, while on the other side we find a break with matter, then with the machine, then a break between the function of thought and that of execution, the growth of an enormous labor organization and bureaucracy, a mass of paper work, often with no recognizable content, for every conceivable function, and finally the wastage of giving complex and highly advanced training to men who are the entrusted with jobs far below their competence. These things, and many others, contribute to the fact that work has no meaning in modern society.

It is simply a way of making a living. Now we may allow that this is not bad in itself. Nevertheless, man needs some additional justification for something on which he spends most of his time and his creative powers. Hence he suffers from this lack of meaning. He feels that he has become a machine which performs meaningless acts whose relation to other acts and to the rest of his life is not perceived.

One of the tragic questions which parents with children in their upper teens confront today is the question: "Why do we have to work? What is the point of it?" Unless one is prepared to exalt work as such, it is hard to give any reasonable answer to this question in the actual situation of work today. No explanation is adequate. None can satisfy a critical mind." --- The Ethics of Freedom, page 461

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