Can Work be Enjoyable?

Fruit picking is one of the most interesting phenomenon in the modern world. Usually fruits on farms are picked by migrant labor who are paid extraordinarily low wages, work in very difficult conditions and are treated poorly by their employers. On the other hand, some people enjoy picking fruits for fun. Usually they are middle-class people who, for a day or two of the year, go to a farm with family and friends, and pay a farmer so they can do menial work that is usually done by desperate people who have no other options for employment. Why would people want to do a job that is usually terrible, and not only that pay for the “privilege” of doing so?

I thought about this for a few hours and came up with an obvious solution. People who go to farms and pick fruit for recreation don’t have a boss who are constantly breathing down their necks, or have to worry that if they don’t finish their daily 5 ton quota they will not have enough money to feed their children. When you don’t have to work under conditions of domination, work naturally becomes easy and not a burden.

Throughout most of human history, people lived off the land by foraging and hunting. They worked to earn a living, but they worked willingly because they always got everything they worked for. Importantly, they only produced as much as they could consume, which meant that in general they didn’t work very hard. Anthropologists have calculated that most pre-agricultural societies worked on average 4-hours a day. That left a lot of time for recreation.

Somewhere along the line people discovered agriculture. With agriculture, people can produce much more than what they need to survive, which is technically called a “surplus”. This should have been a good thing, but it also meant that people worked much harder than before. In addition, there developed a class of people whose sole job is to use violence or the threat of violence to take away this surplus. We usually call these people slave-masters and feudal lords, and they introduced the element of domination to the process of production. The slaves and serfs in this system suffered many indignities, such as being physically abused with impunity, not having basic freedoms and so forth. Eventually the injustices of these systems caused their collapse, giving away to the system of capitalism we have now.

While capitalism is much better, it still carried forward the practice of domination in feudalism and slavery. Anybody who is in a corporate hierarchy will have felt the heavy hand of a bad boss. The worst thing about capitalism aren’t all the domineering bosses, but the fact that most of us aren’t doing what we want to do most of the time. I myself am an example; I write software to support myself financially so I write novels. It is very difficult to do work that makes us feel fulfilled while at the same time earn us enough money to live a decent life.

I think there is something redeeming about the story I told earlier about people going to farms to pick fruit for fun. It shows that people are always willing to work in the absence of domination. The problem with our economic system is that people are forced to work doing things they don’t want to do by bosses they don’t like. Some people might say it would be utopian to expect the world to operate in a different way, but history has shown that at least one time in the past where people weren’t coerced to work and yet were able to get the necessities of life. This inherent flaw in our economy isn’t a part of nature, but something that can be changed to make a better world.

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