Said the Lord God:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat Bread.
Cursed is the ground for thy sake.
In toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
For untold centuries this judgment which the priestly rulers of Israel put into the mouth of their tribal deity has been quoted as a justification of the hardness of human labor and the unpleasantness of the time man has to devote to self-support.
A bigger lie was never sent echoing down the ages.
For although much of man’s labor has been heavy and unpleasant, it was not necessary that it should be so either because Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or for any other reason. It is only because the time spent of labor has so often meant working without playing; because it has meant sowing but not reaping; because it has meant endlessly toiling without expressing anything, that mankind has come to associate labor with heavy and unpleasant effort.
What the barbarian biblical authors set down as the reasoned judgment of the Lord God upon human labor, the institution of slavery made a reality in the past, and the institution which I call the factory makes a reality in the present. The Hebrews were a slave-minded race. They had been slaves in Egypt in the beginning. They were just escaping the Babylonian captivity when their priests began to formulate their philosophy of life for them. It was natural that their vision of paradise should be a Garden of Eden—a garden notable above all other of its delights for the fact that there man did not have to devote time to supporting himself.
Today we still believe the cessation of work is a prerequisite to happiness. How perfectly natural! For we can no more extract happiness out of our work, as mere cogs in great industrial machines, than could the enslaved Hebrews out of their work toiling for the Pharaohs in the parching sunlight of ancient Egypt.
Today, as in ancient Judea, work is still considered the greatest of all evils. The traditional reaction to labor of the oft-enslaved Hebrews of yesterday continues unbroken down to the present moment. One of the greatest blessings which the factory is supposed to have brought to mankind is a reduction in the time which men have to devote to work and an increase in the time which they can spend without labor.
The real genius of our age is engaged in thinking about how to abolish labor instead of how to ennoble it. Our efforts to ennoble work are confined to fulsome eulogies of the dignity of labor. But our conduct gives the lie to our words. We are constantly seeking to escape labor, as we naturally seek to escape from any thing which we think unpleasant.
The habit of thinking of work as something one has to do but dislikes and play as something one likes to do but cannot, is poisonous. It is a habit, however, which we cannot help forming in a civilization in which work is made monotonously exhausting and play meretriciously delightful.
If we are to spend our time wisely, we must destroy the present dichotomy between work and play.
Expressive, productive, creative, interesting work is the only thing to which we can devote much time without boredom. Only very exceptional individuals can use large quantities of leisure.
Much leisure merely releases men whose work does not interest them for a restless search of amusement. Excessive leisure turns them into creatures perpetually seeking escape from a boredom which they carry about, much as snails carry about their shells, wherever they go and whatever they do.
What we need is not fewer hours of labor at the wrong kind of work, but the substitution of work of the right kind for work of the wrong kind. Labor must be self-justifying. It must be both a means and an end—the means to life and the end of life. It is only when it ceases to be an end—when it becomes only a means to life—that it becomes a curse, and men seek to escape from it as they seek to escape from a plague.
The factory, with its degradation of labor, perpetuates the hatred of labor which had its origin when time devoted to work meant time devoted to drudgery. For the factory relieves the laborer of the indignity of hard labor only to replace it with the greater indignity of repetitive work. Under our factory economy it seems more necessary than ever before to escape from labor to cut down the hours of labor per day in spite of what machines may do to lighten work itself. It is factory work which furnishes the real justification for labor’s struggle for the shorter day and the shorter week. Trade unionism is an effect of which factory work is the cause. The factory makes the trade union necessary to labor not merely because labor needs some such club to secure decent wages, but because it has to shorten hours of labor if life is to be made endurable at all.
Less and less labor—the eight-hour day, the five-day week, and as the socialists hope, the time when only two hours per day will have to be devoted to labor—is essential to the maintenance of a factory economy.
But less and less labor is not necessary to the conquest of comfort.
What is the logical part which labor should play in the really comfortable life? Why, in short, should we devote time to labor? To answer, “that we may support ourselves,” is to state only half the truth. The full truth is: we should labor that we may live and live more enjoyably. We should labor to secure what we need and desire, but it should be labor which enables us to enjoy both the produce of our labor and the time spent in producing it.
Does the factory make this possible? Is a method which requires us to devote the greatest part of each day to labor which we do not enjoy necessary in order to furnish us the things we wish? Is it possible to intensify the enjoyment of the time left over from work sufficiently to compensate us for consecrating most of our waking time to boredom? I do not think so.
Man, as Alfred Korzybski points out in the Manhood of Humanity, is a “time-binding” animal. He is different from other animals. The dog, for instance, while freely able to move in space, is unable to live in time. The dog is only a “space-binding” animal. It has no notion of time in a degree comparable to that possessed by man.
The unique fact of memory gives us a past, and the even more astounding fact of imagination, gives us a future. We find happiness a much more difficult achievement than do the beasts of the field and forest because we are burdened by our past and worried about our future.
We cannot live in the moment only, except by descending to the level of the beasts.
We cannot confine enjoyment to an isolated present moment without sacrificing our birthrights as humans.
We cannot, therefore, enjoy the creature comfort and the leisure which the factory bestows upon us, with utter disregard of what we have had to do in the past and what we shall have to do on the morrow.
When we spend the best hours of our days doing repetitive work which we do not enjoy in order to get the money with which to do what we think will make us happy in the remaining hours of the day, we destroy the very capacity for enjoyment itself.
The apologists for the factory reply to this in two ways.
First, they say, most men do not dislike repetitive work. The doing of one thing over and over again and always in the same way holds no terrors for them. On the contrary, it is actually the most pleasant kind of work to great numbers of men.
Secondly, they say, men generally are well justified in doing this alleged “unpleasant” work during their working time because it is only by devoting a certain amount of their time—eight hours per day at present—to factory work that they can produce enough to satisfy their wants during the remaining sixteen hours of each day.
The first argument can be dismissed on the ground that it is “immaterial, irrelevant, and incompetent.” It is immaterial because the fact that the majority of men do not dislike repetitive labor has bearing on the matter only if repetitive work is unavoidable in the production of the goods necessary to their comfort, or be cause repetitive work itself is essential to their happiness.
Men do not do repetitive work as a matter of choice. They do it out of dire necessity. They can be driven to this sort of work only if they are deprived of access to the land. Our system of private property in land forces landless men to work for others; to work in factories, stores, and offices, whether they like it or not. wherever access to land is free, men work only to provide what they actually need or desire. Wherever the white man has come in contact with savage cultures this fact becomes apparent. There is for savages in their native state no such sharp distinction between “work” and “not working” as docks and factory whistles have accustomed the white man to accept. They cannot be made to work regularly at repetitive tasks in which they have no direct interest except by some sort of duress. Disestablishment from land, like slavery, is a form of duress. The white man, where slavery cannot be practiced, has found that he must first disestablish the savages from their land before he can force them to work steadily for him. Once they are disestablished, they are in effect starved into working for him and into working as he directs. Only after he has made it impossible for them to support themselves as they desire, does he find it possible to drive them to work for him according to approved factory techniques, with sharp distinctions between the time devoted to productive labor and the time devoted to rest or play.
The savages may, in time, become just as inured to repetitive labor as the so-called civilized factory worker. They may in time come to enjoy it, just as Henry Ford says that his workers enjoy it. But the fact that they have accommodated themselves to their predicament does not make them any less the victims of an economy in which they have to choose between the alternative of starvation or of submission to factory labor.
The second apology for repetitive labor needs more careful examination. Is it true that man can produce enough to satisfy his needs and desires only by working the best part of his waking day in a factory and under a factory regime? Henry Ford voices his convictions on this point in rhetorical fashion:
If a man cannot earn his keep without the aid of machinery is it benefiting him to withhold that machinery because attendance upon it may be monotonous? And let him starve? Or, is it better to put him in the way of a good living? 46
Mr. Ford is evidently not aware of the fact that his defense of factory work is based upon a very vague conception as to what constitutes “his keep” or what constitutes a “good living.” And he shows no appreciation at all of the fact that what constitutes a good living is not measurable merely in economic terras.
A good living is not a mere matter of earning plenty of money. It is not merely the securing of enough money to buy all the components of what economists call the standard of living. When we talk about a “good living” we are dealing with our social ideals. A particular scale of living becomes “good” only after society accepts it and we have come to aspire to it. Mankind’s aspirations change from age to age, and as they change the amount of money or the kind of things that have to be secured, change with them. What was a high standard of living two hundred years ago would mean a rather barren, Spartan poverty today. Yet those who lived then may have enjoyed a higher degree of satisfaction than we are able to extract from our life today. The realization of comfort is supposed to be higher today, thanks to the factory, but the expectations of comfort have changed just as much. It is, if anything, easier to fall short of expectations today than it was a hundred years ago.
It will not do to say that we are more comfortable today because our houses, our clothing, our foods are supposed to be superior. If the standard of living has risen, the standard of comfort has risen with it. It is in the degree to which we are able to live up to the standard that we recognize as desirable that we are really comfortable.
A good living, however, depends less upon the material produce of labor than upon the psychological life of the laborer. A social ideal such as “a good living” represents aspirations both as to what we should consume and how we should work and play. It is not how much we produce in the time devoted by us to labor so much as the nature of the work which we do that makes for the really comfortable life. A method of laboring such as that which prevails in the modern factory may enable us to produce things which the masses think more conducive to happiness than another method of laboring such as that which prevailed in the days of the handicrafts, and yet handicraft labor might have provided more comfort when it prevailed because it enabled the worker to extract happiness both out of the time spent in consumption and the time spent in production.
But if we are not to spend our time at the kind of labor demanded of us today, how should we spend it? We have to produce the material essentials of comfort. How should we produce them so as not to sacrifice the comfort which is our object while engaged in producing them?
Plainly we should not spend our time at work which disregards our deepest needs as workers. The system of production which we adopt should not neglect our needs as workers in order to favor our supposed likes as consumers. The factory system, with its atrophying of some of our qualities of mind and muscle in pursuit of an ideal of unlimited production, should as far as possible be abandoned.
There is a law: Man must use all the faculties of mind and muscle with which he is endowed. This is the law of comfort.
We receive premiums in well-being to the degree in which we observe the law, and we pay penalties of discomfort to the degree in which we dare to disregard it.
We are rewarded with mental and physical health when we obey the law. We are penalized by psychic frustration and physical atrophy when we fail to observe it.
Our factory-dominated civilization, with its minute specialization of tasks and vocations, has use for only a strictly limited number of our faculties. It has to ignore our need of using all the faculties we possess to the uttermost of our capacities. It furnishes us an abundance of creature comforts and of leisure for vicarious play, but these cannot compensate us for the frustration and degeneration caused by denial of our needs as workers.
The factory cannot, in any of its myriad of manifestations, furnish us with work which meets the deepest needs of our being. But the home can.
For in the factory-dominated world we must spend our time doing what machines require, while in a home-dominated economy we can devote our time to making machines do what we desire.
The more time we work at home and the less time we work in the factory, the more comfortable we shall be.
But can we secure from an organic homestead the essentials of a good living without drudgery?
I believe we can.
I believe that the drudgery we associate with home work and country life is avoidable.
We think of drudgery when we think of the farm and the home partly because industrialism has made farm work and home work profitless, adventureless, spiritless, and futureless, partly because it still is in very large part arduous, monotonous, repetitious, dirty, lonesome, endless, and partly because we have been told for so many years that it is unpleasant in the advertising of manufacturers who would have us abandon home production in order to buy what they have to sell.
Because we feel that the farm and home are futureless, we have failed to give real thought to the problem of home and country drudgery. But let us once recognize the infinite possibilities of the organic homestead, and we shall find that machines and methods have already been developed which prove that the drudgery is not ineradicable and certainly not inherent. We shall find, if we give serious thought to the matter, that it is already possible to (1) socialize, (2) mechanize, or (3) abolish most of the endless, hard, dirty tasks of housekeeping and homemaking.
Practically all the homework we consider unpleasant can be socialized. It can be performed by the family as a group, or it can be divided among the various members of the family, or rotated among them. This method of disposing of drudgery not only distributes the work but tends to destroy its unpleasantness by socializing it. Dishwashing, when one person has to do it meal after meal, day after day, year in and year out, is certainly not pleasant. Yet even such an essentially unpleasant task as dishwashing assumes a different character if it is performed by two or three people, one gathering up the dishes; one washing them, and one drying them and putting them away. The task is then disposed of in a few minutes in an atmosphere of pleasant activity and cheerful talk.
Nearly all the home work we consider unpleasant can be mechanized. The time which has to be devoted to unpleasant work can be reduced or changed into less unpleasant work or entirely transformed into pleasant work. Modern machines and efficient methods can be used to reduce the laboriousness, the dirtiness, and the time now devoted to such tasks. Such a laborious task as that of procuring water can be completely mechanized and the whole hygienic life of a country home transformed by the installation of an automatic air-pressure water pumping system. Water can then be secured by turning on a faucet instead of taking a bucket to a well and then carrying it full of water into the house. Country life can be made more pleasant not only by mechanizing the work of securing water but by making possible the luxury of using all the water one desires.
Finally, a surprising amount of the home work we consider unpleasant can be entirely eliminated. We fail to realize that the elimination of wasteful methods in the country and the home can be made to pay bigger dividends of comfort than their elimination in industry. Cultivating the garden with the old-fashioned hoe used to be one of the most tedious and unattractive of tasks in the country. But the battle with weeds and hard soil can not only be socialized by having a group cultivate the garden together, or greatly reduced by using a wheel-hoe or garden tractor—it can be entirely abolished by using mulching paper. With mulching paper, the ground is covered at the beginning of the season and once seeds and plants are set nothing needs to be done to the soil until harvest time. Cultivation is completely abolished.
If the home is located upon a proper homestead, if it is properly equipped with domestic machines, and if the time of those who live in it is properly organized, domestic production will not involve a return to what seems to us the drudgery of the pre-factory home. Scientific methods, domestic machinery, and the products of essential and desirable factories make it possible for us to turn to domestic production of most of the things we need and desire without at the same time returning to the simple life and the hard work of the past. We can use scientific methods to increase and improve what we produce in our homes; domestic machines to reduce the labor and time which we have to devote to the various processes necessary, and products made in essential factories to furnish us the things we cannot make so well for ourselves.
It is perhaps one of the gravest defects of the earn-and-buy economy which the factory has brought into being that it has made money the measure of all things economic.
We measure the things we consume by what they cost.
We measure men we know by what they earn.
We measure the life we have to spend in terms of money; we say that “time is money.”
Time is not money at all.
Time is life itself.
To make life itself secondary to so trifling a thing as money is to make the ghastly mistake of confusing the means to life with the precious thing to which it should be a mere servant. Money should be a mere means to comfort. We should stop seeking it the moment it interferes with comfort—the moment we can better attain comfort through other instrumentalities.
The true economy is not of money but of time, just as the true waste is not of money but of the irreplaceable materials of nature.
Man has a habitable globe on which to spend his time—a veritable treasure trove and alchemist’s laboratory full of useful raw materials with which to produce whatever his genius may lead him to design. Yet he burns the coal and the oil, cuts down and devastates the forest, pollutes and poisons the streams and lakes, and levels hills and mountains, not because this is the wisest use he can make of his time but merely in order that he may keep his factories busy and make the money with which to buy what they produce.
With our present earn-and-buy economy, the ratio of money income to the size of the family fixes economic status. The large family is an economically handicapped family. Every additional child is merely an additional handicap. In the family of today the children, the aged, and the home-staying women are on the liability side of the family balance sheet; only the actual money makers are on the asset side. Hence the family of today tends to restrict the number of its children; to shift the responsibility for caring for its aged relatives and servants to public institutions; to drive even the wife and mother out of the home into money making, and to place its infirm and crippled members in hospitals of various kinds. Child nurseries, boarding schools, sanatoriums, hospitals and asylums of all kinds multiply in industrialized nations because the homes cannot afford to indulge in the luxury of caring for non-money-makers. The care of the young and the old, the sick and the crippled, is left to public institutions which at their worst are cruel, and at their best, indifferent.
But under such an economy as is here advocated, young and old, strong and weak, can all contribute time to the creation and production of what the home needs and desires—time which would be not merely a contribution to material well-being but which would furnish them the great joy of cultivating growing things, of making things with their own hands, of devising their own sport, play, and recreation. Homemakers would join the ranks of recognized producers. No member of a family would be a luxury. The available labor time would be increased with every addition to the number in the home. For children take a natural and inherent joy in doing creative and productive work, while the aged and crippled are rarely so old and infirm that they cannot enrich their own lives by sewing, knitting, preserving, gardening or otherwise satisfying the productive instinct by contributing to the hundreds of creative tasks in such a home.
Under such an economy the aggregate labor-time needed to provide food, clothing and shelter would be distributed among the various members of the family, each of whom would be assigned work for which their strength, ability and inclination fitted them.
Under such an economy time could be devoted to work and to play, to production and creation with none of the insecurity which haunts the myriads who can buy the necessaries of life only as long as they hold their “jobs.” Fear would be banished. Except for fire, war and other “acts of God,” everybody would be certain of the essentials of comfort.
Under such an economy there would be no need for excessive and exhaustive labor, for domestic machinery would not only eliminate undesirable heavy labor, but reduce drudgery of all kinds to a minimum. The great variety of tasks would furnish a first guarantee against boredom; the changing nature of work as the seasons progress would furnish a second guarantee, while the social atmosphere of a group working together to achieve common ends would furnish a third. But above all, the fact that the tasks are comprehensible and that they could be charged through and through with those creative and expressive touches which develop personality would prevent work from becoming flat and stade, uninteresting and abhorrent.
Finally, under such an economy no single task would be so large as to constitute a full-time task. No one would be compelled to take full-time jobs, to give to his craft or profession his full time except during the seasons when home-work permitted. Home-work would make it possible to make outside work a service instead of a servitude. Above all, the total time devoted to both home-work and outside work combined would be smaller. We would have more time for the leisure which creative and productive work had disciplined us to enjoy.
The method of saving over one-third of the time now needed to earn the money for food, clothing, shelter, fuel and light described in Chapter XIV would mean a release of the earnings of about four calendar months of the year for other purposes. Or it would mean the freeing of that much time for the pursuit of interests entirely different from those we call economic. A family which began its quest of comfort with nothing, would find it necessary to devote all the earnings of these four months to meeting the payments on the purchase of the home and its equipment. But each year would find it able to release more and more of its time for other than bread-and-butter activities.
Strangely enough, if mankind generally were to adopt this procedure it would result in what can be truly described as a recapture of a leisure lost to it since the coming of the factory. We may find that the greatest of all the advantages which would flow from a renaissance of domestic production, both to the individual and to society as a whole, would come from the release of our time for the cultivation of a more spacious life.
Deliberate failure to work and deliberate refusal to earn money are considered disgraceful today.
Before the coming of the factory there was no disgrace in failing to do so.
Our moral code has accommodated itself to the needs of a factory-dominated civilization and has made servitude to industry take on the character of a virtue.
For if we compare the aggregate time which was devoted to work before the coming of the factory with the time which we devote to work in the factory-dominated world of today, it is extremely doubtful whether we have actually reduced the total time we devote to labor. On the contrary, we may be actually devoting more hours per year to work than had to be devoted to it before the industrial revolution.
During the Middle Ages fully one-third of the year was devoted to holidays and festivals of various sorts. What we have gained in the reduction of the hours we work each day, we have lost by increasing the number of days we work during the year. Today, in spite of power, machines, division of labor, serial production, it is doubtful if we have effected any real saving of time at labor. We have failed to reduce the time we have to work partly, no doubt, because our standards of consumption have increased, but mainly because the savings made possible in manufacturing by the factory system have been so largely absorbed by the distribution costs which are its inescapable concomitants.
The progress toward leisure or which we boast may be entirely illusory.
It is only when we compare the time devoted to labor over comparatively recent intervals, the time men devote to labor today compared with the time devoted to labor fifty years ago, that we can credit the factory with shortening the time needed to earn the living to which we are by present standards entitled.
Eventually the factory may enable us to get back to the leisure of the Middle Ages.
Ultimately it may furnish us an even greater leisure.
But the leisure with which we may be ultimately endowed is almost certain to find us without the disciplines necessary to its enjoyment.
It will be a leisure rendered sterile for us by the conditioning to which youth, maturity, and old age are being subjected by this civilization.
Consider the conditioning of youth with regard to leisure in this factory-dominated civilization.
Year by year the number of states in which child labor is prohibited increases. Year by year the age at which we may begin working for a living is made later and later. It used to be 12, then 14, now 16 and ultimately it will be 18. By a sort of self-denying ordinance, the factory-dominated world is enforcing what might be called compulsory leisure upon childhood and youth. By fiat of law, working absorbs less and less of our time during youth and schooling absorbs more and more.
Naturally the school has had to take on the burden of educating youth in all directions—academically, vocationally, civically and domestically. And so we begin life conditioned by the canons of efficiency that prevail in the modern school. For the school not only trains our intellects; it trains our emotions and it trains our bodies. It equips us for our vocations; it equips us for citizenship; it equips us for home-life, it equips us for culture. And in each case it adjusts us to the patterns of living which a factory-dominated civilization has evolved. If it succeeds, it prepares us for our work as automatons and for our life as consumers.
How entirely logical are the pedagogues who are studying how to make it possible for the school to take over the full responsibility of equipping us for our places in the world! The factory having made the modern home incapable of playing a constructive part in our educations, isn’t it natural that we should spend more and more of our childhood and youth in school, beginning with the nursery school and ending with the college, and less and less of that time at home? In the schools, at least, the disposition of our time is not left to rank amateurs at child training, such as parents, but to trained—though not necessarily skilled specialists.
Carping critics may complain about the intelligence, the initiative, and the versatility of the product, but certainly the product is more uniform, more interchangeable, more adaptable to the range of demands which will be made upon it in after life, than if it were left to spend too much of its time subject to the infinite variety of influences in the home.
If we turn from a factory economy and adopt domestic production, the present tendency to make us spend most of our childhood and youth in the school and less and less of our time at home would be reversed. Home, and not school, would have to be made the central factor in our educations. Parents would themselves have to devote time to the education of their children and incidentally to educating themselves. The school would be used only for academic instruction which could not be furnished us at home, and we would spend most of our time in childhood and youth in homes which abounded in opportunities for learning both from observation and from practice.
For youth, the school. For maturity, the factory. For old age, nothing.
The factory-dominated world is built around young men and young women. It demands vigor. It is a mechanism geared to operate at the optimum speed of the vigorous adult. Youth it can use even though youth is burned up. But old age it cannot use because it cannot afford to have its machines slowed down. Above the age of 35 women workers find it more and more difficult to spend their time at factory and office work. Above the age of 45 the same fate overtakes the men.
Leisure is made compulsory for the aged by the efficiency which is an inescapable necessity in our factory-dominated civilization.
Modern industry has no use for the aged. But neither has the modern home. In an industrialized civilization they are useless because they are functionless. They have to end their days in an enforced leisure for which neither their youth nor their maturity has equipped them. For the aged, the leisure with which the factory endows them means in reality the boredom of sheer idleness, the tragedy of compulsory uselessness, the frustration of life’s only justification.
Enforced leisure no man wants.
Leisure for which we are unprepared is more evil than no leisure. To contribute to our true comfort, the leisure we all need should find us equipped intellectually, emotionally and physically for educating ourselves and our fellows and for creative work in the arts and sciences. In short, it should find us equipped to use our leisure for play in the all-embracing sense in which Havelock Ellis uses the word in his very beautiful essay on “The Play-Function of Sex.”
Ellis describes in detail three kinds of play to which we may give the names of courtship, education and esthetic effort. Thought provoking as are his distinctions it is probably that they represent only different aspects of the same essential thing.
All sex-play should be courtship. It should be courtship, how ever, not necessarily pursuit. This aspect of play is important because courtship exerts a direct internal influence upon the whole organism. It stimulates all the faculties. It acts upon our whole being through our glands.
But play should also have the aspect of education. That we can make play out of reading we know, but that we can make play out of history, mathematics, and philosophy is not so generally recognized. We do not associate education with play because modern education is so largely cursed by compulsion and burdened by preparation for money-making. To be play, education must be pursued for its own sake.
Finally, play should have an esthetic content. Play should be made out of both “useless” activities such as singing and dancing and out of “useful” activities such as sewing, gardening, painting, cabinet-making by pursuing them not only for their utility but also with the intention of achieving esthetic forms. It is in creative work in the fine arts and in pure science, however, that play can be made to manifest itself in the production of the highest of human achievements.
Today we do not play—we only distract ourselves. We have neither the time nor the inclination for play in these threefold aspects. Yet real comfort is impossible without play in all these aspects.
Our activities need re-integration if we are to play in this high sense. We cannot put play in one tight compartment of our lives, and work in another. We play best when we work best. The two are really inseparable. For play is no passive thing. We must participate in play if we are to extract from it all that it is possible for us to secure from it. To the extent to which we indulge in vicarious play, we sacrifice the courtly, the educational, and the esthetic potentialities of play.
Today there is hardly a single aspect of play which has not been prostituted by a combination of exhibitionism and commercialism. Professional singing, for instance, is a manifest abnormality. Do not the over-developed bellows and the artificial facial action of a professional singer largely destroy the beauty of her performance? In order to really enjoy a professional singer one must either close the eyes or get far enough away so that it is impossible to see the contortions involved in the production of the beautiful tones of the song. No such feeling is invoked when one hears someone quite spontaneously break into song at work, or when there is singing within the circle of a friendly group.
There are practically no good grounds for believing that either the esthetic content or the educational value of play is being increased by the sort of leisure which the factory seems to be thrust ing upon us. Educational play today consists of extension courses, lecture courses and chautauquas. Esthetic play embraces art collecting, uplift work and that idiotic form of self-expression of which the tea-room and the antique shop are excellent symbols.
As to the play aspect of our sex-life there can be no doubt that the factory is taking the place of the church as the greatest prevention of courtliness in sex-life. Against the church, Havelock Ellis and his disciples, notably Judge Ben. B. Lindsey in the United States, may be winning; but against the factory they are almost certainly losing. The beauty which they are trying to infuse into sex-life by freeing us from the incubus of church dogmas is being withered by a factory-dominated civilization which turns us into irresponsible animals to whom sex means mere barbaric self-indulgence.
With the intensification of home life which would follow upon an adventure in domestic production, the home would become almost automatically the center of our social and play life. Youth, maturity, and old age would not only work at home but play at home as well.
In a factory-dominated civilization we spend our play time in watching baseball, tennis and football rather than in playing them.
The time we should devote to participating in sports we spend as spectators of professional players.
The time we should devote to singing and to playing on musical instruments we now spend listening to singers, orchestras and phonographs.
The time which we should spend, especially in youth, in court ing and dancing in our homes, we now devote to purchased entertainment in dance halls, movies and amusement resorts.
And the time which at one time was given to extending hospitality and to receiving it in homes has now been replaced by the more convenient and more fashionable custom of buying this hospitality from hotels and clubs which are in the business of manufacturing it for us.
Why shouldn’t chess, checkers, cards and the legion of games which can be played within the family circle enliven our homes? Why shouldn’t our homes contain libraries, tennis courts, billiard tables, swimming pools and rooms in which to dance? It costs much less to secure and maintain all these things in our homes than it costs us today to purchase their equivalent in minute installments from clubs, pool rooms, restaurants and theatres. In homes located, equipped and organized for play few would feel the present drive to spend time satisfying social instinct in theatres, hotels, roadhouses and country clubs. And in such homes hospitality could be dispensed with a lavish hand.
We must either provide play for ourselves or accept the ignominy of buying substitutes for it. And if we drift with the tide and spend our time upon the substitutes, we shall end by losing our ability to enjoy any kind of play. So far, in fact, have we already drifted that the schools find it necessary to provide instructors to teach our children how to play. Failure to play, to participate in play, evidently affects our habits precisely as failure to exercise affects our muscles. It is the law that faculties which are not used degenerate. Certainly this is the law with regard to the faculty for play. As we decrease the time devoted to real play and content ourselves more and more with vicarious play, we tend to lose not only the ability to participate in play, but even the capacity to enjoy play as a spectator.
The penalty exacted by nature for a lifetime of vicarious play is boredom.
For those of us who aspire to the cultivation of exceptional talents; who aspire to write, to paint, to sing, to teach, a saving of one-third of the time which we now have to devote to earning money for the basic essentials of life has revolutionary sociological implications. For it means much more than the release of four full months out of each year for work which we really love; it means also freedom from a servitude to the factory-dominated world which forces us to prostitute our talents in order to earn a living. We would no longer be compelled to routinize and commercialize work which should be a perennial joy to ourselves and our fellows.
A beautiful civilization needs more men and women to whom the work of their crafts and their professions is the expression of their own inner aspirations and fewer to whom it is merely a way of making a living. It is this deficiency in our civilization which would be corrected by a release of one-third of the time which quality-minded men and women now have to devote to earning a living. Such a release would free them for the practice of their professions in a genuinely amateur spirit.
The world needs amateur writers, painters, sculptors, dramatists, teachers and scientists. It needs men and women who can appreciate the great achievements of the arts and the sciences because they are themselves engaged in contributing to them. Many of the greatest achievements of the human race in the arts and sciences have been the work of amateurs—men and women who worked in many fields and brought to bear upon each of them that fresh point of view which the specialists and the technicians do not supply.
I do not mean incompetents when I speak of amateurs. The world does not need mere dilettantes who have neither the patience nor the stamina for the discipline which is necessary to the production of good work. The world needs able men who have such rounded personalities that they can express themselves in many fields with satisfaction to themselves and benefit to society generally. A Benjamin Franklin who is a printer, a writer, a scientist and a statesman; a Thomas Jefferson who is a farmer, a philosopher, a teacher, a statesman, a lawyer and a writer; a George Washington who is a military strategist, a statesman, a surveyor and a farmer: these are worth more to the world than dozens of one-track-minded specialists and technicians.
The versatility of these great men proves that it is possible for men to be masters of many trades, provided they are masters of their own time.
As long as we are forced to solve our basic economic problem solely by the practice of our professions, we cannot afford to experiment and adventure in any field that happens to interest us. And what is even more important, we are not free to refuse to do work which does violence to our inclinations and our ideals.
To this extent we can free ourselves if only we organize our economic life so that earning the money for the material essentials of comfort ceases to be the major problem of our lives.
Because of the pressure of our earn-and-buy regime, we have to measure our time by the money return we can secure for it. In the case of those of us who devote ourselves to the arts, the sciences and the professions, the consequence is tragic. Undue emphasis has to be placed upon the vocational aspect of our chosen work. The work therefore ceases to be a way of living. It becomes a way of earning a living. Willy nilly we tend to be warped in the direction of expressing ourselves in money-making rather than in the work we do. And we pay the inevitable penalty in self-frustration. Unable to use our work as the medium for the expression of our creative abilities, is it any wonder that artists, scientists, writers, lawyers, doctors, teachers—learned men of all kinds —lack self-respect?
The time which we devote to the practice of our chosen labors is infected by the same disease that infects the time which laborers spend at their work in the factory. It is lime devoted to a particular method of procuring money; not time devoted to self-expression in work.
And like the great, unlearned masses, we are condemned to find “happiness” in spending money, and not in the production of creative works.
The dedication of our time to the commercialization of our chosen work, something we can hardly avoid as long as we secure a living by contributing to the functioning of the factory, supplements our loss of self-respect by creating an actual contempt for us in the general public. The learned man is deprived both of self-respect and public respect.
Why should the businessman who is greedy for money respect doctors when he sees that the doctors all about him are just as completely absorbed in money-making as he is himself? If doctors make it plain that doctoring is to them no more than business is to the business man, a mere means to procuring wealth, why should the business man dignify the doctors?
Consider the significance of the present-day acceptance of this commercialization of the professions by our colleges and universities. At the same time that our institutions of higher learning place more and more emphasis upon the commercial aspects of the professions, the process of professionalizing even the most non professional of occupations goes on apace.
The doctors are losing prestige. The business men are gaining it.
Business in fact is being made into a so-called profession. Schools of business are graduating professional administrators, accountants, advertising men, and even salesmen. Degrees and doctorates are awarded for activities that answer to none of the requirements of professional life. The distinction between an occupation that is followed for its own sake and one which is followed for money’s sake is thus obliterated.
Finally to accommodate ourselves to the circumstances in which this factory-dominated civilization has placed us, we have had to transfer all the techniques which make the factory efficient from the factory to the professions. Specialization, institutionalism, and expediency have to take the place of the wisdom which ought to be the major interest of the learned man. For our civilization has opportunities for expert technicians rather than for learned men.
Those of us who expose ourselves to all these influences by trying to earn a living out of some professional activity are subjecting ourselves to the most prolific incubator of malformed personalities which mankind has in all its history devised. For in order to support ourselves and those dependent upon us we are driven to devote our time to the cultivation of so narrow a sphere of activities that we are largely helpless and utterly useless outside of the field in which we make our living.
Unless we repudiate this regime; unless we free ourselves from the servitude to the factory which such a method of self-support imposes, the time we work and which should contribute most to the conquest of comfort will burden us with the heaviest of all discomforts.
Unless we do repudiate it, we acquiesce in an almost complete misuse of our time; in a thriftless waste of the most precious of the attributes of life.
For time unnecessarily spent in labor which we do not enjoy is a crime against ourselves and against civilization.
While we live we have only one thing to spend: time.
The way we spend our time; the activities to which we dedicate the days, hours, and minutes of our lives, these constitute the only stuff out of which we can create real comfort.
No amount of wealth and power; none of the creature comforts of which our factory-dominated civilization offers us such an abundance; no purchased sport, amusement, art, literature, music no matter how perfectly executed, is a sufficient compensation for the waste of precious time in work which destroys our very capacity for enjoying life.
And now let us become really “practical.”
Let us consider the question of how we are to procure the capital with which to establish such homes as I have described and to equip them with the machines which will make it possible to devote our time to labor which we do enjoy.
Next Section | The Factors In the Quest Of Comfort: III. Machines