24 February 2011

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The sociology of work today

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The sociology of work today.
In the meantime, Peter is still looking for a flatmate:
Peter has asked me once again to remind you that he is looking for
someone to share his flat with in Mostoles close to public transport;
very good conditions. Central heating and central hot water. English
spoken at home if you wish. Single room still available. : tel 609257259
+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.30pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147
Tertulia in English with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30
to 21h, at Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).

The sociology of work today

Before we can talk about work today we have to find the essence, so to
speak, of work structure itself. What we usually mean by work is course
earning a living.
We might be tempted to think that work is an activity we engage in to
earn money to support ourselves in our daily life to obtain and use
resources. Money to buy food, money to pay the rent or mortgage, money
for clothes and if there is any left, after taxes, to pay for our holidays.
We might also be tempted to think that work today is something we have a
right to and something that we engage in to further our selves and our
The problem, however, is that the model of work we have today, the
essence so to speak, is that it does not allow for all these things.
Yes, of course, we get up in the morning and go to work, and even get
paid, sometimes we are even promoted.
We even have a whole body of ethics, theology, politics and maybe even
philosophy to justify the existence of this work model today. Indeed,
any revolutionary, and not so revolutionary, changes we have had of the
work model is to share in the wealth created by the enterprise. Indeed,
a share that reflects the wider economic structure of the country: in
other words, we need to get paid enough to be able to afford the basics
things for life. Many people do it and many people succeed. So where is
the problem?
The problem is that the model of work we have today is something that we
have inherited from the feudal system. My purpose was to get at the
essence of the work model today. And today, as in feudal times, that
essence is this: a balance between fear and peace of mind.
In the feudal times the fear was the violence of the feudal lord, maybe
in the form of heavy taxes, aggression towards individuals and so on.
Peace of mind was of course, being left alone as much as possible, from
the whims of the feudal lord. One thing was sure though, the scope of
the individual to better themselves and enjoy their wealth was limited
to the fancy of the feudal lord.
Of course, today we don't have feudal lords, and even the worst of
bosses do not use naked violence against employees, unless we happen to
live in a third world country and working in a sweat shop. Nor do we
need to be left alone in peace today, we have strong privacy laws to
protect us from prying people; at least when those who care about these
things pretend to be interested in the private citizen. Unless, of
course, you happen to work in a sweat shop or a factory city where one's
freedom on movement is limited to the four walls that surround us.
Today's modern worker is afraid from losing one's job, and the peace of
mind we need today is to consume worldly goods when we want and how much
we want in peace and tranquillity. I mean whenever there is a political
hiccup in a oil producing country the price of petroleum does not go up
to save some money for the wretched victims of violent dictators. But
rather because we are worried that we won't have enough petrol to drive
our gas guzzling four by fours to the shopping mall, and in these
situations cash is king!
Today someone who is in a job is kept in fear of losing that job maybe
by moving operations to a third world country; forget being replace by a
robot. Robots are today replacing slave labour in third world countries.
So this is real fear we are talking about!
And, therefore, anyone who is not earning an income today, is
theoretically, excluded from the social group that identifies itself as
being successful. Of course, the romantic nature that lives in all of us
would have us believe that everyone can turn from rags to riches in a
life time; maybe. However, if we want to keep our two feet on the ground
we mustn't mix up starting small to starting with nothing. And the test
is this: who pays the rent?
The feudal model basically was a one way channel of wealth creation to
wealth distribution. The serfs created the wealth, and got a small
portion of that wealth, and the rest being passed on to the feudal lord;
some of this wealth was of course passed on to the king or even more
powerful lords. Of course, we are more civilized today, we don't have
serfs anymore, at least not in our small corner of the world, we have
career seekers.
And all those revolutionaries and political observers who pointed out
that those who create the wealth do not get to enjoy it were absolutely
right. However, they were and still are fatally wrong in thinking that
all we have to do is redistribute this wealth that's been created a bit
more evenly. Indeed, most labour disputes, apart from safety at work,
that demand pay rises are victims of the flaws of the feudal model.
The issue ought not to be wealth distribution, but rather wealth
creation. Wealth distribution makes sense if we have wealth to begin
with, and we're not going to get that if our mind set is still six
hundred years in the past. And if there is anything in common between
the feudal work model and the modern work model is wealth distribution
since none of these models are about wealth creation.
Once again, we mustn't mix up wealth creation with profit making. But
today's work model has inherited even more anomalies from the feudal
system which today make very little sense.
One of these anomalies is the eight day week, from nine to five. This is
a schedule based on an agricultural work structure, but of course today
we have electric power that can light up the world 24/7 and it does. Of
course, with the eight hour day we have inherited the twelve month
financial year; another one of those things we inherited from the days
of agriculture. Consider how ridiculous this set up is today. It takes a
pharmaceutical company, at the very least, twelve to fifteen years to
developed an effective and safe drug. And yet each year a pharma company
has to do a marathon of gymnastics to square scientific investigation
with paying taxes and end of year bonuses every twelve months; never
mind the dividends to shareholders and taxes to the inland revenue.
But in a way the feudal system was as much a product of life at the time
as our system is a product of our enlightened times. First of all,
nature does turn on a twelve month cycle in northern Europe. So planning
for twelve month periods made sense. And probably more relevant, life
expectancy was not that long anyway, so planning for the short term had
a different meaning from what it means today. Taking quarterly stocks of
one's wealth made sense because wealth changed with the change of the
The sociology of work today cannot even therefore begin to get off the
ground until we identify these anomalous parts in our work model that we
inherited from the feudal model. The work model today is like running a
V8 luxury sports car but using the wheels from a Ford T4 model.
But the bottom line –pardon the expression- real problem with the feudal
and, hence, the modern work model is that the feudal lord was only
concerned with how much money he and his people had. Life was short at
the time, literally, and the king was whimsical to make things worse.
Today, we ought to be concerned on how people make their money; or not
as the case may be. What our sociology of work should be is in how we
create work methods that create wealth for our life style and life span.
And how much money people have is nobody's business. That's as private
as the fluff between one's, well you know what I mean!!
Take care

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The sociology of
work today

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