I came across a website called “New Hope Journal“, subtitled “The Poetry, Essays and Personal Journals of Larry L. Dill”. I don’t know who this Larry Dill is, except that he is an American born in 1944. (He graduated from high school in 1962, according to an entry in which he reflected on his 50th class reunion in 2012.)
I was impressed by the following essay by Larry L Dill (originally from 1980) which describes “the two kinds of work”:
Plenty of Work, Just No Money
By Larry L. Dill
(The following essay by Larry L. Dill originally appeared in the Nacogdoches, Texas newspaper, The Sunday Sentinel, in April, 1980. )
Will Rogers probably had more to say about the Great Depression than he did about anything else. For instance, he said, “People keep saying there’s no work. Well, let me tell you, there’s plenty of work. It just don’t pay anything.”
Will had a way of putting things that made them not as bad as they seemed, or at least made them seem not as bad as they were. Like all good humor, his jokes often hinged on the definition of a word. Take the word “work,” for example.
To most people work means money. It’s a simple equation. I give you so much of my labor and you give me so much of your money. By that definition the way to get ahead in the world is to make more and more per hour so that less and less work will buy the same things. The ultimate objective is to get more money than you need so you can turn around and start paying somebody else to do the work you’re supposed to be doing for less than you’ve agreed to do it and with you keeping the difference. An entrepreneur is somebody who works to perfect this system until he builds a pyramid of workers and managers, positioning himself at the top with very little actual work to do. Or to put it more fairly, his hourly wage now consisting only of critical management decisions, works out to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per hour. That’s been his objective all along.
The name of the system of course is capitalism and it is often confused with the American dream which really involves something altogether different and which leads us to another definition of work which exists more often only in our minds, hence its association with the ephemeral American dream. This second concept of work is the one Will Rogers alluded to when he said there’s plenty of work but it doesn’t pay anything. He was talking about cleaning up our act, getting our minds right, finding our place in the universe, deciding what we want to be when we grow up and providing ourselves with our most basic needs like food and fuel. When the economic machinery of a capitalist system (or a communist system for that matter) is running smoothly, everybody is busy either building their little pyramid or trudging along as a party to somebody else’s. Either way we’re all working and we all have money.
Money has for so long now become the only medium of exchange that working directly to solve human needs without the mediation of money has almost disappeared, and with it, unfortunately, much of our humanity, our spirituality, and our compatibility with the earth we all live on. Thus when there is a money shortage as happened during the 1930’s, there is a “depression” and the psychological implications of that word are as applicable to our mental conditions as the economic implications are to our financial plight.
But it ought not to be that way. It only is that way because of our alienation from our own real work which is to be able to provide the basic necessities for ourselves, whether we have any money or not.
That’s what the back-to-the-land movement is all about, whether it manifests itself in a rural or in an urban setting. It is a spiritual movement (and a practical one) based on rediscovering those abilities we all have to work directly to solve our own physical needs.
Gardening is the first step. Admittedly, it is for most of us largely symbolic. But it redirects our attention to the earth from which all our sustenance comes and helps us gain perspective on the real meaning of work. Gathering firewood is a similar antidote for depression both spiritual and economic. So is foraging for wild berries or used lumber.
I hope we never have another economic adjustment period that is as badly bungled as the Great Depression was. But all my life the Depression was held up to me as a reminder that there is always something vaguely not quite right about a surging economic prosperity. Too much easy money too fast.
If we take time now while there is still time to go back to the old definition of work, back to basics, back to enjoying things that don’t require money, that will indeed help eliminate the need for quite so much money, we’ll be a little better prepared for whatever comes, because no matter what comes, there’ll always be plenty of work.