“We are in such a productive moment of history and yet we continue to be obsessed with this kind of agricultural-era work ethic and that is what, in many ways, poses real environmental problems for us in the long term. But it is also something that is holding us back from doing things that are meaningful and satisfying.”
– James Suzman
For the past year I’ve been waking-up to a new reality:
Perhaps life does NOT necessitate toiling-away until one is physically or cognitively unable to toil anymore – then subsequently “enjoying” a few years of retirement before death. And, importantly, I’m the one with the freedom to explore alternate paths.
This epiphany was largely a solo one – an unpleasant feeling I had wrestled with for years until finally labeling and articulating it. Over time, I’ve discovered good company in various authors and philosophers, but none so absolutely clear and relevant as the work of Dr. James Suzman – and I’ve barely scratched the surface of his work.
Where my reflection on this topic is entirely personal, Suzman, a social anthropologist from Cambridge, has exhaustively considered the origins of “work” from early hunter gatherers to where we are now. One of his core observations is that, although humans have now arrived at this place of supreme abundance, we for some peculiar reason are working harder than ever, chasing an ever-expanding universe of desires and cravings. If the weight of this doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, just give it time.
After initially discovering Suzman on the Ezra Klein show, I plan to explore his book, Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. Although I am already convinced the juxtaposition of abundance and work-dominated lifestyles is insane, I am very curious about what Suzman sees a path forward… not just for the few enlightened and lucky ones, but for society as a whole.
I will be back to update this with a review – but this data point was dense enough to merit posting on it’s own.