Hard Labor


Idle tugboat anchored  near the harbor channel is used to jockey various work barges into position.
  • Ten thousand years ago, the invention of agriculture created successful human societies (what we call civilization) based on masses of food-producing slaves supporting an elite aristocracy.  Several hundred years ago, this transformed into wage slavery as the industrial revolution made peasant farmers obsolete. 
  • Aristocracy for all those eons has come up with various justifications for its existence.  Communal protection, the will of the gods, human nature itself.   Almost everyone always admitted there needed to be an aristocracy, the question was only who should be in it and why.
  • But, like economics and other artifacts of a certain period of history, all was based on the idea of scarcity and the simple fact that only humans could make a modest surplus of goods from scarce resources.  As automation progresses, those paradigms may be as obsolete as old medical theories of bad air creating disease.  What happens in human society without scarcity?
  • The elite today desperately claim meritocracy for themselves, and the joy of purpose for everyone else.  These claims will probably ring more and more hollow as machines start doing everything.  This labor day is not a bad time to wonder what may replace massive work for stable and happy civilizations to come. 


Mowing outdoors seems a relatively pleasant chore as long as somebody else is doing it.
  • We are not sure exactly how long it took to domesticate wild grains and animals.  Basic biology seems to indicate it was less time than we might expect.  Corn, for example, hardly resembles its ancient predecessors, but was only bred in the last five thousand years.
  • During ten thousand years of agriculture, we should also recognize that humans have been domesticating themselves.  In spite of wars and other horrors, the simple fact is that civilized humans _ those that could cooperate to form extended societies _ conquered the planet.  If we could study ancient pre-agricultural cultures and people, we would no doubt find significant differences from ourselves. 
  • With good reason.  That is why stupidities like the paleo-diet and other cults trying to “get back to our roots” are useless.  We left our roots a long time ago, and we are as self-domesticated as any of our useful animals and plants.  Like good little corn stalks, we mostly happily fit into whatever laboring niches our societies provide.


No paddleboard rentals when dark skies threaten and a stiff sixty-odd degree wind sweeps the waves.
  • Load sixteen tons, and whaddaya get ….
  • Ah, but doesn’t the thought of accomplishing so much set a purposeful tingle in your brain?


Already end of summer tasks like cleaning boats for storage are in full swing.
  • Nobody can predict the future, but sometimes it is reasonable to project certain possibilities.  Right now, most philosophers seem to be throwing their hands up at the impossibility of understanding how people would live in a fully automated society.  A few science fiction writers have given that a try, now and again, but even they seem to find it hard to figure out what most people to do if nothing has to be done.
  • Regardless of ultimate outcome, we are already encountering issues which call for completely different perspectives.  Economics of scarcity are obsolete in an affluent society.  Hierarchical politics are dangerously irrelevant in an ecologically interconnected technological world.  Universally recognized individual accomplishment is vanishing as instant communications fragment social networks back to small tribes. 
  • Some problems solve themselves.  But we should be aware of how such massive shifts in how we regard the universe _ the largest change in human organization since agriculture _ play out locally and in our own outlook and daily life.  


This deli under various names has served a few generations of boaters and ball-players and, lately, cyclists.
  • A current fad is to claim humans are a social species, like bees or ants.  Society is our hive.  Evolution has worked through our intertwined culture, rather than individuals, for at least the last hundred thousand years.  A strange thought _ New York and Beijing filled with busy workers and drones.
  • For the last ten thousand years, especially in the northern hemisphere, agricultural societies have eventually crushed the competition.  In these cultures, eighty percent or more of the males, almost all of the females, were basically slaves, serfs, or peasants.  That is what used to be called “the march of civilization,” from the golden crescent through Egypt, Greece, Rome and Europe, not excepting China and India, with a side glance at Maya, Aztec, and Inca. 
  • For the last couple of hundred, almost all that muscle and brain and desire rushed off the farms and exchanged plows and butter churns for industrial jobs.  That is still true, although the jobs have mutated greatly and are themselves fading into meaninglessness as machines do the real work.
  • But how is society itself mutating, as this happens?  I sometimes wish I could hang around to see how it all turns out.  Being part of it, I suppose, is privilege enough.


September is bobber fishing time for snappers grown large and impossibly hungry on incoming high tide.
As I wander through crowded Union Square in late August, I notice a group of demonstrators who are apparently just wrapping up.  The speaker has climbed down from his improvised soapbox and is putting away his loudspeaker.  As the crowd thins, I am intrigued by the signs they carry and hasten over to speak to one.
“Workers of the World, Relax!?  Don’t you mean ‘Unite’?” I ask.
“Who wants to unite?” responds the middle-aged brunette.  “Unite with whom?  No, we don’t want to unite with anybody, just to change the old boss for the new boss.”
“But …”
“What we want is for work to become more fun, less of a hassle and not so important to just staying alive.  Give everyone a secure place in the world, and then pay them on top of that for whatever needs to be done.”
“But …”
“Life is too precious to waste working.  Well, it always has been.  But now we have machines to do all the big stuff and it’s time for us to take it easy.”
“But …”
“The rich lately have just been freeloading.  I want to get up when they do, take time off like they do, and have the chance to focus on what I think is important like they do.
“But …”

“Relax,” she smiles.  “It’s going to happen anyway.  We just want to put some thought into it.”


Boats, sand, seeding grass on a lazy morning while the rest of the world goes crazy.
I’ve been working on my purpose, all the live long day
I’ve been working on my purpose, doing what the rich folk say
I would be so sad and lonely, not rising early in the morn
Wouldn’t know how to be happy, if no factory horn
Boss Man won’t you blow
Boss Man won’t you blow
Boss Man won’t you blow that ho or orn.
Boss Man won’t you blow
Boss Man won’t you blow
Boss Man won’t you blow your horn
Someone’s in the office with Boss Man
Someone’s in that office I say ay ay ay
Someone’s in that office with Boss Man
Scheming how to steal our pay
And chanting

We’ve got more than you

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