The Ecology of Work

Environmentalism is something that cannot be compartmentalized, at least that’s how I’ve always seen it. For example, I don’t see how someone working for an oil company can even hint at the idea that they are environmentalist, considering that their living comes from a very destructive industry. I’m glad that Curtis White agrees with me in his essay The Ecology of Work– and he says what I’ve been thinking in a much more logical way.

Here’s a choice section of the essay:

Aldous Huxley provided a very different and a very human account of work in The Perennial Philosophy. He called it “right livelihood” (a concept he borrowed from Buddhism). For Huxley, work should serve other people, provide learning experiences that deepen the worker, and do as little harm as possible. (You will note that there is nothing in this description about a competitive compensation and benefits package.) But what percentage of American jobs conforms to this description? Five percent? Even in the new “creative” information economy where the claim could be made that computer designers and software technicians are constantly learning, is it a learning that deepens? That serves others broadly? And what of the mindless, deadening work of data processors and telemarketers—our modern, miserable Bartlebys and Cratchits—locked in their cubicles from San Jose to Bangalore? Our culture’s assumption that there is virtue in work flatters us into thinking that we’re doing something noble (“supporting our families,” “putting food on the table,” “making sacrifices”) when we are really only allowing ourselves to be treated like automatons. We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place. We are diligent, disciplined, and responsible, but because of these virtues we are also thoughtless.

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