Why do we work? Why do we work so hard? Most humans, it seems, remain content with simply doing what is expected of them. They may complain, and many complain most days of their adult life, but few people take the time and energy (because this requires quite a bit) to figure out exactly Why this is expected of them.
In the olden days, until about 200 years ago, almost everyone was some sort of farmer. Depending on the area you were in, you were either very oppressed by your landlords, or not so oppressed. Whether you owned your own farm, or were a cottager who had very little land and had to work as a farm hand, you were part of the timeless, age-old agricultural cycle. Today, our instinct is to think that this is incredibly boring, de facto. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to this lifestlye that we have now too quickly forgotten.
For one, the work year until the 19th century was about 200 days per year. The rest were holidays (especially in Catholic regions – the protestants got rid of a lot of holidays). So about half of your days were days off. Then, much of your work was communal – when everyone sowed, you sowed, when everyone reaped and harvested, so did you. There was a long lunch of 2-3 hours built into everyone’s workday. And during certain periods, such as around christmas, it was so cold and frozen that no work could be done. So people partied. And they partied, and danced and caroused, and sang and played their own music until 4.a.m. Just read some Thomas Hardy for this. With no DJs, they had to make music themselves. There were many many more local artists, local singers and musicians, who were the life of the party. Much more social, don’t you think, than just turning up some digital tunes so loud that no one can hear? And they walked to neighbouring villages in the snow in the starlight and moonlight, at 2a.m. nicely sodden with plenty of ale and wine, having been flirting and whatever else with the locals. It was as good a way to party as anyone has come up with today. And when they rested, when it was a saint’s day, or when there was no work to be done, they could rest secure that there was nowhere, anyone who was expecting them to do anything. No email to answer, phones to attend, etc.
So yeah, that was until 200 years ago. Then the industrial revolution came, and suddenly, the machines run by coal could work 24/7. And the factory owners ideally would want their workforce to work 24/7, b/c that would give them maximum revenue. So, they insituted 16 hour workdays, giving just enough time for people to barely get enough sleep. (more…)