7-29-12 Hang the Work Ethic












Go to an island.

Don’t work.

Life will be grand.

That’s the conclusion of a British government happiness poll. It is not the British Isles they are referring to. Smaller, friendlier islands will do, somewhere in the Mediterranean off Greece, or perhaps, Spain, and not to worry about the Euro. You can live on cheap wine and whatever the sea provides.

The photo above taken around 1900 is of Dorothy Stanley Emmons as she contemplates her future from a rock off the coast of Maine, a comfortable, genteel life whose only concern with the work ethic is the difficulty in instilling it in others. It is a problem that still confronts us. Before Congressional committees, at civic gatherings, on every possible news outlet you hear the voices of global titans complaining about the shiftlessness of poor people, a complaint which has recently reached up to include the middle class.

In Murder City, Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, Charles Bowden writes of the hopeless poverty of those men and women seduced by the promise of the work ethic, and of their children determined not to follow that path.  Drugs, murder, early death preferable to zombie numbness. The French manned the barricades in 1789. Alexander Herzen rang the bell signaling the end of Russian serfdom in the mid-1800′s, ironically agreeing to a toast proposed by the American Ambassador. Yes, Herzen, agreed, it is fitting to drink to these two countries who flog their slaves to death.

Working into our own century, English political philosopher Gerald Cohen examined the libertarian principle of self-ownership, which says that each person belongs to himself and therefore owes no service to another. He concludes his 2009 Why Not Socialism? with this poignant summation: “I agree with Albert Einstein that socialism is humanity’s attempt ‘to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.’ Every market, even a socialist market, is a system of predation. Our attempt to get beyond predation has thus far failed. I do not think the right conclusion is to give up.”

America’s Occupy Movement might subscribe to the Marxist Leon Trotsky who argued in favor of the revolutionary movement on the ground that it “leads humanity from out the dark night of the circumscribed I.”



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