Celebrating labor is a peculiar thing to do. The notion that work for the sake of work is valuable is one we hear all too often. Frankly, most labor is absolutely pointless and useless and always has been. And it gets more and more pointless every day. Much of what we do every day, in our work life and in our private life, is mere maintenance. Whether it be cooking or cleaning or repairing something, there is no inherent value in the time spent doing it. If you believe there is, feel free to go live in a third world country where you can spend most every waking moment on the mere business of survival. Wash your clothes with a rock. Cook over a fire you just built. Sweep your dirt floor.
No, what we should celebrate today (and every day) is the continued development of labor saving technology. In other words, we should really call it No Labor Day. That’s what is valuable. Thank God that almost no one still has to grow their own food or generate their own heat or build their own home. Of course, those groups most closely associated with this holiday are often those most opposed to technological advances, fearing that they will throw people out of work. It is true. Almost all the blacksmiths are gone. Almost no one still goes door to door collecting people’s excrement any more. And what of all the out of work scribes who that damned printing press put out of a job?
One day we will (I hope) hardly be able to imagine that people once scrubbed floors or picked fruit or made French fries for a living. We will look back on these times, amazed at how difficult life was and how much drudgery people put up with on a daily basis. Hard work may somehow be good for the soul but, by itself, it contributes nothing to society. I could wake up every morning and dig a hole in the ground and, after lunch, fill it all back in. It would be hard work and, as I hope you can see, it would be a complete waste of time.
Of course, like most other federal holidays, almost no one pays any attention to what this one is supposed to be about. It is just another day off with pay for those privileged enough to take advantage of it and a bit of an inconvenience for those who are not. For a lot of us, Labor day is just another day on which we labor. I guess I’d rather do that than have a parade or some sort of political rally celebrating “labor.” But, hey, if that’s what you enjoy, more power to you.
For those of you starting your “work week” tomorrow, I hope you will give thanks for the labor you no longer have to do. In honor of this holiday, let’s all try to figure out an easier way to accomplish some task in our daily life. Now there’s the kind of work that will genuinely make the world a better place. Until next time, be well. I will be back again Friday with more ideas from outside the box.