We’re Here to Work

G._K._Chesterton_at_work

Chesterton, who perceived that big government and big business both contribute to modern misery.

A friend of mine who teaches year six commented that many parents of primary age children see school merely as an interruption in the important business of childhood, which is to play. Effectively, school is stealing childhood from their children.

This attitude is well established in schools, but continues into adulthood, because in a consumer society our main purpose is to buy more and more toys to keep the wheels of mass production turning. Like a spoiled child on Christmas day, we play with a new toy for five minutes until the next exciting thing comes up. You’ve got to have the latest model!

As mass production is mechanised and requires little human capital, the skills required of most workers are managerial, intellectual, or mindless. You’re either managing a store, programming a computer, or stacking shelves / flipping burgers / pushing buttons. If by any chance you’re too lazy to push buttons, never fear, because there is another vital role for such as you: you will become a client of the state, and support the jobs of countless bureaucrats and busybodies.

This is the life for which our education system prepares our children. They should either be supervising shelf-stackers, or stacking shelves themselves. A few very clever ones will write computer programmes that direct the arrangement of products on the shelves to catch the consumers’ eyes. A few ‘creative’ ones will create advertisements to manipulate consumers into believing they need useless things.

In any case, we all need to be good little cogs in the machine, and infantile guzzlers of what the machine produces, to keep those wheels turning, and keep the profit margins healthy for the City shareholders.

It’s wrong, therefore, to say our education system is letting children down, if by that we mean that it is not preparing them for the society in which we live. In fact, it prepares them very well for the roles assigned to them as consumers, button pushers, managers, and clients of the state.

What’s missing for most people is satisfying, meaningful work done within a community. The industrial revolution, followed by globalisation, has rendered that largely irrelevant. But it is in this that deeper happiness is to be found. Entertainment is passive, and excludes the one being entertained. They do not participate; they merely consume. But work, especially work done within a well organised community of skilled labourers, brings a deeper, shared satisfaction.

Satisfying, meaningful work done within a community. That’s what’s going on in a well-ordered classroom, and it’s what goes on in a family working together on the household chores. That’s why such places are deeply subversive.

As long as we think we’re here to amuse ourselves, our education system will reflect that. This lie about what constitutes our happiness suits big business and big government very well. We have to fight against it at every level: in the education system, in our families, in politics, in economics. G K Chesterton saw this very clearly a century ago. He pointed out that nothing solid can be built upon

‘the unphilosophical philosophy of blind buying and selling; of bullying people into purchasing what they do not want; of making it badly so that they may break it and imagine they want it again; of keeping rubbish in rapid circulation like a duststorm in a desert; and pretending that you are teaching men to hope.’ (The Well and Shallows).

We’ve had our happiness stolen from us in a bid to boost the profits of banks and shareholders, and the power of central government.

We’re here to work, not to be entertained, and it is in work well done that we find real happiness.