I’ve been reading a lot lately and, as a result, have been mulling over some fascinating material. My path started with Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality and E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. Digesting these two books brought me right back to where I started many years ago with William Coperthwaite’s A Handmade Life. These three books (and a few others I’m reading) overlap in several important ways – they all lay out their vision for a society that is designed around the growth and health of people as opposed to industrial development (that leads to unhealthy consumerism) and state development (that leads to the suppression of individuals, families, and communities).
In their writings, these three men also labor to correct the popular definition of “work” as “drudgery.” They remind us that work is, at its core, one of the most human things we do and that when work is designed for people rather than production, the worker is able to exercise his or her mind and body alike, can tap into native creativity, and therefore feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. These are things that exploitative types of work (slavery, much of mass production, the sex industry, and many more) cannot provide. There is a kind of work that is bad for people and there is a kind that’s good for people.
Illich puts it, “A society of simple tools that allows men to achieve purposes with energy fully under their own control is now difﬁcult to imagine. Our imaginations have been industrially deformed to conceive only what can be molded into an engineered system of social habits that ﬁt the logic of large-scale production… We have all grown up as children of our time, and therefore it is extremely difficult to envisage a postindustrial yet human type of ‘work’.” Tools for Conviviality (p. 14-15, 32)
Mike and I have been talking about this theme intently the past few months. We’ve been exploring how this relates to woodworking, yes, but also business practices, social media usage, and our places as consumers in this world.
We’ve struggled to get our arms around the breadth of this topic and made several paltry attempts to distill it. Is this Coperthwaite’s “democratic” life, Illich’s “convivial” society, Schumacher’s vision that “small is beautiful”, or something else entirely?
How do we summarize a vision for empowering individuals to participate in improving the world by doing and promoting good, satisfying work? This morning, Mike put it in a way that struck me as very helpful because it cuts to the core of how we’d like to encourage those around us. Mike said he simply wants people to “enjoy their work.” So simple and yet so hard to achieve, is it not?
There are many obstacles to celebrating the goodness of work in the world, some of which we can control and some of which we can’t. As a society, we still have a long way to go in making our work more human. From the agricultural era’s disgraceful objectification of fellow men and women as slave labor to the industrial era’s factories that turned workers into slaves to machines to today’s “information” era, in which millions of people are told they are liberated from manual labor only to sit in front of a computer screen all day, these all fall short of the beautiful thing work ought to be. Our vision is to take the best of the past and the best of the future to work toward a world that celebrates humane work – work that can be enjoyed.
You can expect more on this as our thoughts develop. We encourage your participation and comments on this topic.