Friday, August 22, 2008

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho: How Can I Teach My Kids to Enjoy Work?

Commentary in today's Wall Street Journal:

Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2008; Page W13

"Recently our family moved from the suburbs to 20 wooded acres in the country. This is not because I have a deep love for nature, which is where God keeps the snakes and poison ivy. We moved because of an old-fashioned sense that our four boys will benefit from hard work. Perhaps it was too many passes by videogame display cases crowded by overweight mouth-breathers. Or seeing the glacial pace of slump-shouldered teenagers corralling carts at the grocery store. Whatever the impetus, my wife and I concluded that living where there are fields to mow, trees to cut, predators to kill, equipment to maintain and adventures to pursue would be good for our children...Ironically, it's that scruffy, godless rabble-rouser reviled by capitalists -- Karl Marx -- who offers a helpful work philosophy where traditional fonts of conservative wisdom fail. Marx saw humans as naturally creative: "free conscious activity constitutes the species-character of man." Furthermore, humans want to craft loveliness: "Man . . . produces in accordance with the laws of beauty."

What Marx opposed were working conditions that stultify the mind while divorcing the laborer from a final, satisfying product. Marx railed against work that goes against man's "essential being," such that he "does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind." Anyone who thinks that description applies only to 19th-century factories hasn't labored in a fluorescent-lit cubicle.

Sure, Marx advocated common ownership of property, which he might have been cured of had he observed children around a bag of cookies. And there is the fact that millions of humans have been enslaved or slaughtered by his intellectual progeny. But toxic governance prescriptions aside, Marx certainly had his finger on a truth, I think, about humans and labor. Left-leaning theologians like N.T. Wright and Miroslav Volf, meanwhile, agree that work should be seen not as a pietist's grim duty or as an avenue to wealth but as a way of participating in God's creative order. Liberal Tom Lutz's "Doing Nothing," a book that ostensibly sets out to justify Slackerism, likewise has a beef not with work but with purposeless work..."

Full Text here.

Analysis to follow.

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