A Life of Total Work? / by Chris Foley

What if our entire lives were taken up with work? Andrew Taggart looks at what such a scenario might look like in his recent article for Aeon:

Imagine that work had taken over the world. It would be the centre around which the rest of life turned. Then all else would come to be subservient to work. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, anything else – the games once played, the songs hitherto sung, the loves fulfilled, the festivals celebrated – would come to resemble, and ultimately become, work. And then there would come a time, itself largely unobserved, when the many worlds that had once existed before work took over the world would vanish completely from the cultural record, having fallen into oblivion.

More about how Total Work plays out:

Following this taskification of the world, she sees time as a scarce resource to be used prudently, is always concerned with what is to be done, and is often anxious both about whether this is the right thing to do now and about there always being more to do. Crucially, the attitude of the total worker is not grasped best in cases of overwork, but rather in the everyday way in which he is single-mindedly focused on tasks to be completed, with productivity, effectiveness and efficiency to be enhanced. How? Through the modes of effective planning, skilful prioritising and timely delegation. The total worker, in brief, is a figure of ceaseless, tensed, busied activity: a figure, whose main affliction is a deep existential restlessness fixated on producing the useful.

Hey, that sounds really professional, and not unlike the lives of many people I know, including myself at various times over the last 30 years.

Taggart’s article is highly disquieting and raises more questions than it answers. But perhaps what these questions teach us is that even if (to quote Nicholas Bate) the purpose of work is purpose itself, we need to find contemplation, friendships, and cool things to do quite apart from that purpose.

(Image courtesy of Bethany Legg on Unsplash)