Monday, 19 July 2010

Short Sighted

We talk and argue, sometimes we write, often we blog; but always we act as if our ideas were universal. That we can see the whole world from our living room, rather than just a mean little garden with its poor gate.

In the last post I talked about work. Following the usual pattern I made some assumptions about its nature, assuming them to apply to everyone. I then argued that we need to change the nature of this work, to make it more creative and stimulating.

Is this really the case? G.S. Fraser, in his short study on Ezra Pound, and paraphrasing the ideas of Hannah Arendt, has a different view:

Labour must always be the condition of the broad mass of men… in daily labour, the labouring man exhausts himself, and temporarily renews himself and us; he provides himself and us with, say, coal, bread, transport, milk, heat, light, water. Man as animal laborans produces no permanent memorial of himself; he produces what he, and we daily consume in order to keep ourselves alive; daily, he exhausts himself, renews himself, dies and is reborn, according toe natural rhythms of life…. he works… because he must eat, not for the work’s sake; often he likes monotonous work that lets him daydream.

Although Arendt believed that man was not “fully human” until he rose “above [this] condition.”

Fraser then goes on to give Arendt’s three other categories of activity: making (artist/craftsman); acting (politician/soldier); and contemplation (the priest).

Am I merely stating the artist or craftsman’s point of view? This seems possible, though Arendt’s dismissal of the Labourer (he must rise above it) suggests she believed more, if not all, of the population were capable of achieving work that gives satisfaction.

The dilemma of the idealist, or political reformer: how far can you change human behaviour, through a transformation of the culture, or how much do you give in to present facts, to today’s conditions. This will depend on each person’s personality, but maybe we should always err on the side of optimism – to give us the strength to strive to change our circumstances. After all, what would an English peasant in the 14th century have said, if you told him that in the future his kin would have hot running water, old age pensions, and holidays on the continent?

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