7th April 2010
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Western people do not work in order to live.
live to work!
The nigger is a lazy beast and must be compelled to work —
compelled by Government — with a stick.
(Sir Rudolph Slatin 1 (in Gilbert Murray 1900 p. 135))
Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain
number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins
as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day.
Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can
make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many
pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower
In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of
pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else
would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought
demoralising. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some
employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are
thrown out of work.
There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan,
but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way,
it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead
of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be
(Russell 1935 pp.16,17)
The 19th century was the century in which
unregulated capitalism lay at the heart of most Western European public and
private policy and practice. It was the century in which 'The Poor', long a
vexing problem for responsible people — and, of course, a source of cheap labour
and profit for capitalist enterprise — were taught to work.
By the end of the century, life was slowly improving for Western
Europe's poor. But, for the responsible middle classes of Western Europe, the
job was far from complete! A new 'Poor' had been found, indigent and slothful,
in need of discipline and direction, in the extensive colonies for which they
had accepted responsibility.
The next century would be the one in which Western working poor
slowly gained legal rights and entitlements, enshrined in labour awards 2. The
wealth flowing into Western countries from the rest of the world would bring
increasing material prosperity, improved living conditions, healthier diets, and
even, for a period, the chance to pursue 'leisure' activities. This would not be
true for the inhabitants of Europe's colonial empires.
The 19th was not only the century when The
Poor learned to work. It was also the century of Western European colonial
expansion. Populations around the world found themselves included, whether they
liked it or not, in Western European empires.
A 1990 editorial in The Ecologist provides a bleak
picture of a prime purpose of that expansion:
"History", wrote the French philosopher Voltaire, "is a fable
upon which we are all agreed". So far as the colonial period goes, the fable
would have us believe that the colonial powers were primarily motivated by a
desire to bring "progress" and "civilization" to their colonies. Whilst this may
indeed have been true of the missionaries who trail-blazed Europe's colonial
expansion, it was far from the minds of the main architects of colonial rule.
Contemporary writings… 3 make it clear that for the governments of the
day, the principle justification for colonialism was unashamedly economic.
Colonies provided the means by which the metropolitan powers could secure access
to cheap food, cheap raw materials and labour, new markets for manufactured
goods and new investment opportunities. It was as simple as that.
(Ecologist Vol 20 No 6 1990 p. 201)
Hirst, Murray and Hammond (1900) examined the formation of and
conduct in British colonies in a book entitled Liberalism and The
Our colonies, like most other colonies, owe their original
existence, in one sense or another, to mere adventure or the power of the sword.
They owe their vitality and strength, and most of the finer characteristics
which make them almost unique in the history of colonization, to very different
causes: to the policy of non-interference, to the studied avoidance of
aggression, to toleration and generous amity between conflicting creeds and
diverse races, to Liberal principles and Liberal ideas.
…Authority, force, firmness, the detection of offences, the
assertion of rightful claims and the punishment of enemies, are, no doubt,
principles of great power and value in the world as it now stands; but they are
not, and never have been, sufficient alone.
Self-criticism, persuasion, patience, a wise blindness to
offences, a reluctance to stand on the outermost edge of every right, the
appeasement of enmities, are principles also of great and, one used to hope, of
…A fabric of human lives so vast as that for which Her Majesty's
Government is now responsible surely demands for its good guidance both high
principles and profound prudence.
…There is no sentiment in a nation so dangerous, there is no
sentiment so easy to stimulate, as the false excess of patriotism 4.
Preface pp. v, vi, xi)
Gilbert Murray (1900) in an essay entitled The Exploitation
of Inferior Races… provided a summary of common colonial practice toward
'the natives' in British colonial territories,
The 'corvee' or forced labour system, which implied a kind of
formal, though very limited, 'slavery', is said to be still practised in some
parts of British India, and exists in a very severe form in Natal. In Egypt it
was abolished by us some years ago, but seems — though the statement has been
denied — to have been reintroduced during the Soudan campaign under irregular
and therefore exasperating conditions (Daily News, March 8, 1899).
In the Soudan itself we have, of course, recently proclaimed the
formal abolition of slavery. The system we propose to substitute for it has been
lucidly described by Sir Rudolph Slatin in an interview which appeared in
several newspapers. [For instance, Daily Mail, March 11, 1899. 135]
'The nigger is a lazy beast,' said Slatin, 'and must be compelled
to work — compelled by Government.' ' How?' asked his interlocutor. 'With a
stick,' was Slatin's reply. Those who have followed the course of Slatin's
singular career can perhaps form some notion of the probable weight of that
(1900 p. 135)
J. L. Hammond (1900) in an essay entitled Colonial and
Foreign Policy, summed up the British attitudes and responsibilities to its
It is the major premiss of the Imperialist argument that British
civilization is the best in the world…
The moral hegemony of the world which we have undertaken — we are
ready to share it with America when she behaves herself to our satisfaction or
when Europe is more than usually insolent — might be expected to imply that our
conduct and our influence should act as a beneficent example upon other States.
The phrase is that we are the schoolmasters of Europe…
As schoolmasters we are told that we stand outside the discipline
of the school. Mr. Bryce has shown that during the negotiations with the
Transvaal Government we contrived to provoke war before we had discovered a
casus belli 5.
It is not pretended that these negotiations would have been so
conducted if we had been dealing with a Great Power, or, indeed, if we had known
the strength of the Transvaal. In other words, we were taking advantage of our
And how is that course of action defended? By reminding ourselves
of our missionary character! By recalling all the blessings which the world will
reap from the extension of our Empire!
(in Hirst et al (1900)
Perspective is everything in understanding the real world.
From the Western European perspective, their colonies
demonstrated their civilised approach to their responsibilities in life. Francis
Hirst (1900, p. v) explained why:
They owe their vitality and strength, and most of the finer
characteristics which make them almost unique in the history of colonization… to
the policy of non-interference, to the studied avoidance of aggression, to
toleration and generous amity between conflicting creeds and diverse races…
It all looked very different from the colonial perspective
In a book entitled Path to Nigerian Freedom, Obafemi
Awolowo, later to be a prominent Yoruba politician in independent Nigeria,
spelled out his view of the nature of the colonial territory known as Nigeria
and of the relationship between Nigerians and their colonial masters:
The conquest of one nation by another in an unprovoked act of
aggression cannot be justified by any standard of morality. Britain came to
Nigeria of her own choosing, and with motives which are only too well known. She
sought to impose her rule on the various tribes that inhabited the country in
order to attain her own selfish ends.
There was then no question of trusteeship. This was the result of
a later compunction of conscience which usually dawns on any evil-doer who is
not hardened beyond redemption. Those tribes with whom she first came into
contact resisted the unwarranted attack on their political independence. They
were overpowered by force of arms. Thereafter, each tribe was faced with a
choice of one of two roads leading to subjection: defeat or surrender…
There are various national or ethnical groups in the country. Ten
main groups were recorded during the 1931 census as follows: (1) Hausa, (2) lbo,
(3) Yoruba, (4) Fulani, (5) Kanuri, (6) Ibibio, (7) Munshi or Tiv, (8) Edo, (9)
Nupe, and (10) Ijaw. According to Nigeria Handbook, eleventh edition, 'there are
also a great number of other small tribes too numerous to enumerate separately…'
It is a mistake to designate them 'tribes'. Each of them is a
nation by itself with many tribes and clans. There is as much difference between
them as there is between Germans, English, Russians and Turks for instance. The
fact that they have a common overlord does not destroy this fundamental
All these incompatibilities among the various peoples in the
country militate against unification…. It is evident from the experiences of
other nations that incompatibilities such as we have enumerated are barriers
which cannot be overcome by glossing over them.
(Awolowo 1947, pp.
A passage from a 1924 speech 7 by Prince Marc Kojo Tovalou Houènou, a
Dahomeyan (now Benin) who fought for France in the 1st
World War, provided a bleak African perspective on the 'colonial
Europe has inaugurated in the Colonies an area of veritable
savagery and real barbarism which is carried out with science and premeditation
— with all the art and all the refinement of civilization. The unfortunate
natives have mingled their destinies with yours…
We understand nothing of the egotistic and barbarous aims sought
by certain civilized people who believe that civilization can only reach its
zenith by ignoring original laws, and by debasing and enslaving men who have the
natural right to live, to evolve, and to attain the full expression of their
…The problem arose at the moment of the discovery of America when
Europeans intoxicated by glory, adventure, and above all by rapine, sought to
conquer new territories which did not belong to them.
They destroyed the aborigines — exterminated them! Then,
terrified at the void they had created around them and being themselves
incapable of labour, they turned to Africa for workmen. It was Africa that
furnished contingents for penal labour — this Africa with whose unhappy history
you are unacquainted but which some day, one of her sons will outline for you in
darts of fire, — a monument of shame for that civilization of which you boast.
Without humanity there is no civilization!
If the monsters, full of vice, sodden with alcohol, contaminated
by disease, whom you send to us, have nothing else to offer than what they have
already given us, then keep them yourselves, and let us revert to our misery and
our barbarity. The whole fatality that burdens Eschyllian tragedies cannot
compare with the blackness of the African tragedy.
Under cover of civilization, men are hunted like deers,
plundered, robbed, killed; and these horrors are presented afterwards in
eloquent orations as blessings. Hypocrisy and knavery are added to crimes!
(Houènou (1924) 1979, pp. 228,9)
By the end of the 19th century, Western
European nations had divided the world amongst themselves. As Awolowo (1947)
claimed of British practice:
Those tribes with whom she first came into contact resisted the
unwarranted attack on their political independence. They were overpowered by
force of arms. Thereafter, each tribe was faced with a choice of one of two
roads leading to subjection: defeat or surrender.
Hillaire Belloc put it well in a poem 8 which celebrated the
deployment of the first Vickers machine gun (the Maxim). The British South
Africa Company used several of them in what was
euphemistically called a 'war' against the Ndebele in Matabeleland
(southern Zimbabwe) in November 1893 (Blood was a Maxim gunner's
I shall never forget the way
That Blood stood on this awful
Preserved us all from death.
He stood upon a little mound
lethargic eye around,
And said beneath his breath;
'Whatever happens, we
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.'
As a popular British song of the period put it:
Some talk of Alexander,
And some of Hercules
Of Hector and
And such great names as these.
But of all the world's great
There's none that can compare
With a tow, row, row, row, row,
To the British Grenadier
Millions of people around the world found themselves included
within European empires, their lives reorganised to ensure that they, like The
Poor of Western Europe in previous centuries, learned to work. There was a
great deal to be done, and the responsible people of Western Europe, as
'schoolmasters' to the world, knew that they had a duty to ensure that 'the
natives' (the Western colonial term for 'The Poor' of the world) learned to
An introduction to the summary of the UNESCO (2002) International
Symposium on Post-Development has phrased it well,
By 1914, 84.4 % of the world's terrestrial area had been
colonized by the Europeans. With colonization there came a new paradigm of
…According to many voices the paradigm of development has not
changed. It emerges in new forms, in the current pursuit of neo-liberal
According to François Partant, the French banker-turned-critic of
the developed nations have discovered for themselves a new
mission — to help the Third World countries advance along the same road to
development which is nothing more than the road on which the West had guided the
rest of humanity for several centuries.
[Partant, F., La Fin du Developpement, Francois
Maspero, Paris, 1982]
As any well enculturated Western European would have told you
9, colonialism, no
matter what a few leftist trouble-makers and opportunists might say, was
not about 'exploiting' the natives. They were children in need of
parental direction, supervision and discipline. In their child-like simplicity
they simply did not realise the true potential of the lands within which they
lived and their true responsibilities before God. They had been living from
hand-to-mouth and had neither the intelligence nor skills needed to realise
their own potential.
It was the responsibility of Western Europeans to 'teach them
the practice of frugality and industry' which they themselves had learned over
four centuries — to 'develop' them 10. At the end of the 19th century, this was Western Europe's inescapable responsibility.
It was 'the White Man's burden'.
Rudyard Kipling (1899) 11 explained it:
Take up the White Man's burden —
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in
On fluttered folk and wild —
Your new-caught, sullen
Half-devil and half-child.
…To seek another's profit,
work another's gain.
…Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your
hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man's burden —
And reap his old
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard —
cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light: —
"Why brought he
us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"
…Take up the White Man's
Have done with childish days —
The lightly proferred
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought
The judgment of your peers!
(Rudyard Kipling McClure's
They would go where civilised people had never before ventured,
assume the heavy duties of parenthood, and shine the light of civilisation and
the Gospel into the 'spiritual darkness' of 'heathen lands'.
Lowell Mason had expressed it well in a missionary hymn written
From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their
land from error’s chain.
What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with
lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness
bows down to wood and stone.
Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has
learned Messiah’s Name.
Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters,
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in
bliss returns to reign.
Western Europeans were on a millennial mission 12. Good would
triumph over evil, order over chaos, frugality and industry over improvidence
and indolence. Responsible people, whose souls were 'lighted with wisdom from on
high', had a duty to those who 'call us to deliver their land from error’s
chain'. And, a duty to ensure that all was in readiness for the arrival of that
millennial golden age. If this entailed a little harshness, discipline and
social disruption, that was unfortunate but necessary!
All schoolmasters knew that true learning requires obedience. As
Sir John Eardley Wilmot had explained in the late 18th
to break the natural ferocity of human nature, to subdue the
passions and to impress the principles of religion and morality, and give habits
of obedience and subordination to paternal as well as political authority, is
the first object to be attended to by all schoolmasters who know their duty and
(The Gentleman's Magazine (1811) Volume 109 p. 449
(originally in Volume 73 p. 136))
Middle class Western Europeans had learned the lessons of their
own history well.
The resolute firmness of the person who acts in this manner, and
in order to obtain a great though remote advantage, not only gives up all
present pleasures, but endures the greatest labour both of mind and body,
necessarily commands our approbation.
(Adam Smith 1759 Part 4 Ch. 2)
'The natives' would never progress or become 'developed'
without Western European help. Richard Whateley, Archbishop of Dublin, in 1854,
had explained the problem,
Men, left in the lowest, or even anything approaching the lowest,
degree of barbarism, in which they can possibly subsist at all, never did, and
never can raise themselves, unaided, into a higher condition.
1871 Pt 1 P.1)
Unless those already enlightened took responsibility for
enlightening those who lived in darkness they would continue in ignorance and
sloth! Missionary attitudes in central Africa in the 19th
century, and on into the 20th, have been summed up neatly by
The proper attitude was indicated by Carson of the L. M. S.
[London Missionary Society] who, after noting that African men spent ‘much time
in indolence’, remarked that it was inconceivable ‘how the practice of that vice
in the African race can be supposed to conduce to happiness in them when it
makes us so miserable’.
(1965, p. 80)
Western European 'responsible' people of the middle ranks had
taught their own poor the evil of sloth and the virtue of work over more than
six centuries 13. They brought both the experiences and
practices they had acquired in doing so with them as they tackled the problem in
As they had determinedly set about teaching the poor to work,
they had also taught themselves that work was indispensable to a moral
life. The Western European middle classes which took responsibility for
reorganising vast areas of the world during the later 19th
and the 20th centuries, were committed to work, for its own
sake. It was moral to work and immoral not to do so.
In the words of Adam Smith, asserted by countless other writers
of the 17th to 20th centuries (and still
being asserted today), the lives of virtuous people would and should
a steady perseverance in the practice of frugality, industry, and
application, though directed to no other purpose than the acquisition of
(1759 Part 4 Ch. 2)
Western middle classes became and have remained convinced that
everyone should work for their living and that they have a
responsibility to ensure that the indolent do learn to work. To
appreciate the driving force of the invasion of the world by Western Europeans
over the past two centuries, we need to understand the Western belief in the
fundamental importance of work, for its own sake, for its character building
Of course the West invaded (and continues to invade) the world
for its resources. Of course the West has profited from its appropriation of the
environments of others. But they have done so for the best of all possible
They were and are in the 'Development' business! 14 In 'developing' the
territories of the world, they were enabling the 'development' of their
inhabitants. They were bringing order to the chaos of their lives, they were
providing them with the opportunity to work. They were in the 'job creation' and
'work training' business!
Russell's observations, with which we started this discussion,
highlight the inevitable consequences of human beings building particular
understandings into their primary ideologies 15. Work became a form of organisation and
activity which no longer needed to be 'explained'. To question its importance
was either absurd or subversive. To suggest that the working day should be
halved, was foolish. To suggest that work was not of equal importance everywhere
on earth was equally silly. The reason why the rest of the world was
impoverished and 'backward' was that they did not know how to 'put in a full
day's work' 16.
Over the past seven hundred years Western individuals and
communities have progressively been reorganised and reoriented to what we now
know as economic principles and practices 17. People
know that the economic presumptions contained within and expressed
through the forms of organization within which they are enmeshed are correct,
they make intuitive sense 18.
The need for constant expansion of self-interested consumption
and accumulation, as evidences of commitment to work, is built into the
primary ideologies of Western communities. Western people are not
ensnared in the forms of meaning and organization and processes of
interaction and activity within which they find themselves. If those forms were
not there, they would feel compelled to create them or something very similar to
them. Indeed, they have done precisely this through most of the world as they
have gained influence in other communities 19.
Although Western people think the principles which
underpin the forms of organization and interaction in terms of which they
organise their lives, they have not always thought in these ways or organized
their lives by the fundamental economic principles which now govern life. The
emergence of “modern” ways of thinking and organising life was slow and painful
for most Western Europeans 20.
The majority of people, during the 16th to
early 20th centuries, had to be taught to take these
principles seriously, and the disciplines imposed on them by those Western
Europeans who gained control of government and who were already thinking in
these ways were harsh 21.
Since the basic presumptions and principles of thought of a
community determine all the behaviours and interactions of its people, they
cannot easily be altered. Attempts at such radical social engineering inevitably
disrupt communities and confuse and confound the minds of their members 22. Western
Europe did not escape cultural confusion as its cognitive frame changed. As
Foucault (1971) described, in Western Europe it produced, over several
centuries, a pervasive awareness of uncontrolled madness in the minds of most
During the seven centuries it took Western communities to shift
from feudalism to modern ways of thinking, the constantly expanding “middle
classes” 23 recognised a deep responsibility for
re-educating the “lower classes” 24.
The final triumph of modern ways of thinking in Western
communities has been heralded over the past 50 years by the progressive
disappearance of the “lower classes” as more and more people who come from such
backgrounds have begun to think and act in middle class ways 25. With the advent of colonial
empires, Western middle classes found themselves with a similar
responsibility to 'the natives' of the world.
When human beings are convinced of the rightness of their causes
they usually feel a moral responsibility to compel those who don’t understand or
live by the principles which underpin their lives to conform to them.
We have seen the disastrous consequences of this many times in
the 20th and 21st centuries. From Stalin, to Hitler, to Pol
Pot, to the ethnic-cleansings of the 1990s, to numerous wars waged by both
Western and other communities, human beings have amply demonstrated their
insistence that those who are weaker than they should be made to think and live
as they do.
Western Europeans have been engaged in such a mission for the
past several centuries, and chief amongst their concerns has been the need to
convince people everywhere of the importance of work.
Western people are, of course, not the only ones enmeshed in
home-grown systems of meaning, organization and interaction. This is the
condition of humanity. People, everywhere, organise themselves and their worlds
in ways which are consonant with their forms of categorisation and
The problem, in trying to understand both ourselves and others,
is that, just as the languages of people are historically determined and unique
to the communities which speak them, so are the forms of organization and
interaction in communities. They are expressions of the underlying principles of
categorisation and classification which have been historically, and
subconsciously, shaped through history 26.
The Decay of Western Influence
Western people know that work is important, and organise
their individual lives and their communities in ways which stress and reinforce
the importance of the organisational forms and processes of interaction required
by work. But, let's not forget that other communities are just as consistent in
their thinking, just as certain of the importance of their own understandings of
the world, and just as committed to maintaining them through time. And, because
these structures and principles are historically, and uniquely determined within
communities, it is most unlikely that they will reinforce or give coherence to
the Western commitment to work.
People can, of course, be taught the Western understandings,
and, while the West is dominant and they need to behave in those ways in order
to succeed in that Western dominated world, they will appear to live by those
understandings. However, if the influence of the West wanes, so too does the
commitment of those people to ordering their lives by Western understandings.
Then, they begin, inevitably and less than consciously, to reshape their own
behaviours and interactions to fit the unconscious ordering principles of their
Britain, in the 5th century A.D., provides
an excellent historical illustration of this.
By 400 A.D. the Romans had occupied Britain for almost four
hundred years and had determinedly set about making it into a Roman Province. As
Gildas (c.494 or
516-c.570) says, Britain
was no longer thought to be Britain, but a Roman island; and all
their money, whether of copper, gold, or silver, was stamped with Caesar’s
Yet, on the withdrawal of the Roman legions between 400 and 410
A.D., life rapidly reverted to pre-Roman ways. As Catherine Hills (1990)
around 400 AD Romanists see the end of most of the kinds of
information which can be deployed to reconstruct life in Britain for the
previous three and a half centuries. Written sources disappeared, and coins,
wheel-thrown pottery and masonry building went out of use…
[E]ssentially, from a Romanist's point of view it is obvious that
the institutions and way of life of Roman Britain disappeared soon after 400 AD.
The absence of 'Roman' kinds of evidence means that we are dealing with a
different kind of society, possibly a different kind of people.
Any region which has been subjected to enforced reorganisation
and commitment to externally imposed understandings of the world will experience
a period of turmoil and chaos as those imposed forms become less dominant in the
lives of inhabitants.
Britain, in the 5th century, experienced
just such turmoil as rival 'kings' battled for ascendancy and neighbouring
groups, taking advantage of the chaos, invaded the region. Gildas, a century
after the exodus of the Roman legions, provided a graphic (if polemically
biased) description of the chaos which ensued with the waning of Roman influence
…neither to this day are the cities of our country inhabited as
before, but being forsaken and overthrown, still lie desolate; our foreign wars
having ceased, but our civil troubles still remaining.
As the empires of Western Europe have crumbled, the institutions
in their post-colonial territories, established by them to ensure continuity
with the colonial past, have become decreasingly effective. The 21st century has
produced its own examples of post-colonial territories suffering turmoil and
chaos in the increasing numbers of 'fragile' and 'failed' states which are a
growing concern for Western people 27.
Many post-colonial territories are in various stages of change.
They are slowly, but inevitably, metamorphosing into communities which exhibit
similarities with the pre-colonial communities from which they came. Any
reassertion of pre-colonial principles of categorisation and classification will
inevitably be slow and difficult. Over time, forms of organisation and
interaction will emerge which echo those of the past though they will, of
course, not simply replicate past forms.
First, any form which emerges is simply one of a range of
possible forms, any or all of which might be generated from the same fundamental
categorical principles. So, even if the same principles were in operation one
would find different surface forms over time.
Secondly, the principles themselves are not static, they change
through time and the forms of interaction and organisation which emerge will
reflect such changes.
This has been demonstrated time and again in Third World
communities as Western influence has become less dominant.
Of course, the longer the period during which a community has
been subjected to enforced reorganisation to Western understandings of reality,
the greater the disruption. It is inevitable that there will be chaos and
turmoil as opposing groups attempt to reorder their worlds to their own
As people no longer order their lives by those
forms of meaning and organization which the West has introduced
into their communities, Western people will inevitably feel threatened. They
will (and do) consider that they have a responsibility to intervene and
re-impose forms of organisation which they see as rational and necessary to
successful integration into the global economy.
This is particularly true when non-Western people appear to lose
their commitment to forms of organization and activity which maximise the
possibility and quality of productive employment. Then, Western people know that
if they cannot organise themselves to work, it is perfectly acceptable,
indeed, necessary, that multi-national enterprises base their productive
activities in their communities. This is one of the reasons why Western
organisations have argued so strongly for economic globalisation over the past
For many people in Third World countries however, globalisation
seems like a new form of ruthless colonialism, a conspiracy of the
rich against the poor and defenceless. As Marjorie Mbilinyi, author of Big
Slavery: The Crisis of Women's Employment and Incomes in Tanzania (1991),
We could have a lot of despair in Africa right now. Many of us
see this as a moment of mass genocide. And it's a very conscious one, we think,
on the side of at least some big government actors as well as some of the actors
in agencies like the World Bank and the IMF.
The peoples of Africa are being steadily impoverished. They are
also being dispossessed of their lands. Governments like Tanzania, partly in
response to popular demand, had begun to nationalise assets and try to guide the
economy in the direction that would meet the basic needs of the people and
increase national control and make it more inward orientated. Now we have
complete reversal so that it is almost worse than in the colonial period.
Fantu Cheru claims of African experience:
The overwhelming consensus among the poor in Africa today is that
development, over the past 25 years, has been an instrument of social control.
For these people, development has always meant the progressive modernisation of
The absence of freedom, the sacrifice of culture, the loss of
solidarity and self reliance which I personally observed and experienced in many
African countries, including my own, explains why a growing number of poor
Africans beg: please do not develop us!
(Cheru 1989, p. 20)
Western people, however, know that multi-national
enterprises are not exploiting resources and cheap labour. They are opposing
socialist, dictatorial and anarchic tendencies. They are ensuring that
communities are once again guided into market-led economic development. They are
providing employment which might help to turn those countries once more back to
economic prosperity. Not only are they providing some cash inflow to
communities, they are, even more importantly, reintroducing them to “work
Over seven centuries of teaching themselves and their 'Poor' the
importance of work, Western people have built a wide range of presumptions into
the concept to buttress its importance. It has become important for its own
sake, a form of organisation and activity to which all truly moral people commit
Any suggestion that people should be freed from work to other
activity without losing income would be regarded by most Western people as
impractical, irresponsible, foolish or subversive. While many people might find
Bertrand Russell's vignette with which this discussion started, clever, few
would accept that his solution is 'practical'.
This has never been better demonstrated than in the Western
response to the computer revolution of the past thirty years. During the 1960s
Western people first became aware of the transforming possibilities of the
computer revolution which was looming on the horizon. A report from a specialist
committee to President Lyndon Johnson of the USA in 1964 examined the issue and
made a number of recommendations. They were summarised by Macbride in 1967:
Distribution of titles of consumption (i.e., money) has been via
jobs… this will have to end. The continuance of the income-through-jobs link as
the only major mechanism for distributing effective demand – for granting the
right to consume – now acts as the main brake on the almost unlimited capacity
of a cybernated productive system.
Further, up to this time resources have been distributed on the
basis of contributions to production, with machines and men competing for
employment on somewhat equal terms. In the developing cybernated system,
potentially unlimited output can be achieved by systems of machines which will
require little cooperation from human beings.
(Macbride (1967, p. 195); see
AD Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution (1964) 29)
Numerous articles were written in newspapers and magazines
speculating on how people would fill in their time when robots and other
computer based technologies made their lives easier and freed human beings to
leisure activity. And, equally, speculation was rife as to "how to distribute
the abundance that is the great potential of cybernation" when consumption was
no longer tied to work. How would we distribute income to people when machines
were doing the producing and money had become simply a means to obtain goods and
services produced by them, with the “income-through-jobs link” broken?
Of course, there seems no logical reason why, if we invent
machines to do our work for us, we should not reward ourselves by gaining
increased leisure time and by distributing the means for obtaining the goods and
services produced in some other way than as rewards for work. The reality,
however, has been very different from the speculated futures of those articles.
In the 21st century people either work for
longer hours, with more demanding pressures, or find themselves, involuntarily,
committed to casual and part-time work or to unemployment queues. And the
incomes of people are, if anything, more closely tied to work than they were
forty years ago. Business taxes, duties, tariffs and other forms of public
impost on economic activity have been reduced to ensure the continued
competitiveness of industry. And government services and welfare payments have
correspondingly been cut back 30 — often because it has been claimed
that they 'reward improvidence' 31.
Through the rest of the world over the past thirty years, the
globalisation of productive enterprise has resulted in the reorganisation of
entire populations to provide low paid labour for export goods.
From the mid 1970s, transnational companies increasingly began
to locate their low-wage production activities in selected Third World
countries, taking advantage of new transport developments, particularly the
development of container shipping which transformed Western waterfronts during
Those who were most directly involved in Third World development
planning and programs saw this new movement to produce low-wage goods in Third
World countries as providing a new base for national development in those
countries. With the failure of import substitution industrialisation, and the
faltering of value-added industrial development 32, this new move by
transnational companies to relocate in Third World countries was seen as a
'window of opportunity' for Third World people.
Where government-directed planning had not succeeded, private
investment from Western countries would. Development agencies, therefore,
strongly promoted various forms of deregulation to facilitate transnational
investment in the Third World.
The result, for Western populations, was a transient affluence
as goods made in non-Western sweat-shops flooded Western supermarkets and malls.
It also resulted in increasing unemployment among low-skilled workers. This last
effect was rapidly disguised, in Western nations, by altering the
definition of employment to include all people who 'did any work at all for pay
or profit'. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the current definition of
…people are considered employed if they did any work at all for
pay or profit during the survey week. This includes all part-time and temporary
work, as well as regular full-time, year-round employment.
Even one hour of paid work in a week now qualifies an individual
for definition as 'employed'. The definition has been completely divorced from
any consideration of a 'living income'. The relation between 'employment
statistics' and living standards has been broken, allowing for the
disguised growth of a low paid, marginalised workforce in Western
In third world countries, a variety of 'free trade zones' were
established as governments competed to attract transnational companies. As Wikipedia
A free trade zone (FTZ) or export processing zone (EPZ) is an
area of a country where some normal trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas
are eliminated and bureaucratic requirements are lowered in hopes of attracting
new business and foreign investments. It is a region where a group of countries
has agreed to reduce or eliminate trade barriers. Free trade zones can be
defined as labor intensive manufacturing centers that involve the import of raw
materials or components and the export of factory products.
Free trade zones are domestically criticized for encouraging
businesses to set up operations under the influence of other governments, and
for giving foreign corporations more economic liberty than is given indigenous
employers who face large and sometimes insurmountable "regulatory" hurdles in
developing nations. However, many countries are increasingly allowing local
entrepreneurs to locate inside FTZs in order to access export-based incentives.
Because the multinational corporation is able to choose between a
wide range of underdeveloped or depressed nations in setting up overseas
factories, and most of these countries do not have limited governments, bidding
wars (or 'races to the bottom') sometimes erupt between competing
Sometimes the domestic government pays part of the initial cost
of factory setup, loosens environmental protections and rules regarding
negligence and the treatment of workers, and promises not to ask payment of
taxes for the next few years.
When the taxation-free years are over, the corporation that set
up the factory without fully assuming its costs is often able to set up
operations elsewhere for less expense than the taxes to be paid, giving it
leverage to take the host government to the bargaining table with more demands,
but parent companies in the United States are rarely held accountable.
From the late 1970s, Western governments, seeking ways in which
to stimulate their own faltering trade 34, lowered tariff barriers to selected Third
World countries. However, the consequences have been rather different than
initially anticipated by the experts. As Jorge Nef recounts:
The transnationalisation of production and the displacement of
manufacturing to the semi-periphery, on account of the 'comparative advantages'
brought about by depressed economic circumstances and the 'low-wage economy',
results in import dependency in the North.
This deserves further explanation. The import dependency
mentioned here does not mean that developed countries become dependent on
less-developed countries for the satisfaction of their consumption needs. Since
most international trade takes place among transnationals, all that import
dependency means is First World conglomerates buying from their affiliates or
from other transnationals relocated in peripheral territories.
The bulk of the population at the centre, therefore, becomes
dependent on imports coming from core firms domiciled in 'investor friendly'
host countries. Via plant closures and loss of jobs, such globalism replicates
in the centre similarly depressed conditions to those in the periphery.
Manufacture evolves into a global maquiladora operating in
economies of scale and integrating its finances and distribution by means of
major transnational companies and franchises (for an analysis of maquiladoras,
see Kopinak 1993, pp.141-162). Abundant, and above all cheap, labour and
pro-business biases on the part of host governments are fundamental conditions
for the new type of productive system.
Since there are many peripheral areas with easy access to
inexpensive raw materials and with unrepresentative governments willing to go
out of their way to please foreign investors, a decline of employment and wages
at the centre will not necessarily create incentives to invest, or increase
productivity. Nor would it increase 'competitiveness'. Since production,
distribution, and accumulation are now global, it would rather evolve into a
situation of permanent unemployment, transforming the bulk of the blue collar
workers — the 'working' class — into a 'non-working' underclass.
(Nef 1995, ch. 3)
So, what has gone wrong? Why have not new technologies, which
have, unarguably, enabled more efficient and less labour intensive production,
enriched human beings everywhere and freed them to non-work activity? In order
to understand why, in a climate which should have led to shorter working hours
and increasing material prosperity, people have found themselves working harder
and for longer, amongst other things 35, we need to understand the peculiar nature of
work in Western communities.
Through the past seven centuries Western people have evolved a
very distinctive and peculiar understanding of the nature of work
36, which necessitates
making a clear distinction between the terms labour and work.
The term labour, for our purposes, will refer to any
activity which includes expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when
difficult or compulsory. It is normally defined as human activity that provides
goods or services.
Work, on the other hand, cannot be so simply defined
since it not only includes labour but a variety of moral prerogatives of labour.
The following discussion of work, for reasons which we have already spelt out,
relates only to understandings in Western communities. Nothing we are talking of
can simply be translated to “human beings” at large. They are culturally
specific understandings which reflect the peculiar history of Western
communities over the past several centuries.
The term work, as we will define it, includes the
services performed by workers for an income since one of the important
reasons given by people who are asked why they work is that without work they
would not be “able to afford to live”. As Macbride(1967 p.195) put it,
“Distribution of titles of consumption (i.e., money) has been via jobs” 37.
But it does not only refer to activity which generates an
income. It is also, and perhaps far more importantly, the term we use to imply
that an object is performing as it was meant to perform
38. So, we are able to
ask “is it working?”, and the person to whom we are speaking knows that in order
to answer the question he or she must check its performance and that
performance should be judged against the potential of the item.
There is a teleological dimension to the term. 'Work' is
understood, in a less than conscious way amongst most Western people, to be
directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose, primarily related to individuals
achieving their potential. People ought to work.
This understanding of the meaning of work implies that objects,
or people, have been designed to perform in certain ways. When they are
performing as they have been designed to, they are working, when they are
doing something other than what they have been designed to do, they are not
working or they are disabled.
During the 17th to 19th
centuries in Western Europe, there emerged a clear division between the
“deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. Those who were undeserving were those
who, while “able-bodied”, yet were not employed and/or relied on welfare support
to one extent or another for subsistence. The deserving poor were those who
could not help being unemployed. The largest category of these were people who
were classified as in some way “disabled” as a consequence of some physical
imperfection or other which interfered with their ability to be employed.
During the 17th and 18th
centuries, as Mackelprang and Salsgiver (1996) explain, it was assumed
that it was the responsibility of the community to repair these imperfections so
as to ensure that such people could engage in work.
In the United States, institutions dedicated to perfecting the
imperfect sprang up (Rothman, 1971) with the hope that professional intervention
could cure these inadequacies. When a cure was not possible, people with
disabilities could at least be trained to become functional enough to “perform
socially or vocationally in an acceptable manner” (Longmore, 1987b, p. 355).
Over the past two centuries, Western communities have identified
a variety of “disabled” people. Into this residual category are placed any who
are, in any way, “deficient”. The range of people placed into this category is
remarkably wide, including those who are mentally retarded or otherwise mentally
‘impaired’, blind, deaf, lame, exhibiting some other form of physical
abnormality or ‘deformity’, or suffering from any of a variety of long-term
Even today, the term “disabled” is applied to any who are in any
way “impaired” and are therefore “dependent”. This is exemplified in the acts
passed in most Western countries over the past fifty years, such as the
Americans with Disabilities Act (1992) which guarantees to the physically
or mentally impaired protection against discrimination (see Anderson 1992). This
category includes not only those with physical or mental problems, but also many
whose “impairment” is social in nature.
But for the need to be able to perform at “work” and so ensure
their “independence” 39, there could be little reason for the existence of
such a widely inclusive category of people. These are the “dependent” ones,
those who must be “cared for”.
During the 19th century Western communities
developed quite specific programs for dealing with these “unrepairable” people.
Such people were concluded to be permanent “dependents” who should be cared for
by the community but were, nonetheless, a drain on its resources. It was
believed that they should, to a large extent, be separated from the rest of the
community lest others become in some way contaminated.
Professionals lost confidence in their ability to perfect people
with disabilities, concluding that they were innately unproductive and thus
endemically without worth. No intervention could bring about change because the
laws of nature deemed people with disabilities unfit (Longmore, 1987a).
People with disabilities were to be prevented from marrying or
having children for fear of propagating their imperfections. As the 19th century progressed, institutions to deal with the threat and
nuisance of people with disabilities increased dramatically, and they were
increasingly isolated and institutionalized, sometimes in sub-human
(Mackelprang and Salsgiver (1996))
For those who are not “handicapped” or “disabled”, there are two
contrasting states to work in Western communities. The first is usually
termed unemployment, this is, as most dictionaries define the term, “a
period of involuntary idleness”. It is during periods of
unemployment that people are paid “the dole”. Synonyms of the
term include: alms, charity, gratuity, handout, mite, pittance, trifle. Being
unemployed is assumed to be related to misfortune and heartache, to living from
The unemployed person is being denied the opportunity to
work, and there is something morally wrong with a person who accepts this
situation with equanimity. People who are not given the chance to work
should feel a sense of adversity, of affliction, of being judged as
good-for-nothing and worthless. Those who lose their jobs are said to have been
While Western people assume the right to 'leisure time', this is
not a right which even in the 21st century is universally recognised or
honoured. The 'forty hour week' was something which Western working people
gained only after prolonged, organised protest. It was only in the 1930s that
legal acceptance of the principle of a forty hour week was finally won in
Western nations. It never has been in most Third World nations. Paid annual
leave was also first included in Western industrial awards during the 1930s
(though usually only one week).
It was during the boom years following the Second World War that
both the forty hour week and annual leave became accepted as basic entitlements
in Western industrial labour awards. The effective period during which 'leisure'
has been available to the bulk of Western working people has been less than
sixty years. During the discussion on 'leisure' which follows we need to realise
how long it took to have such time recognised as legitimate and for how short a
time it has been a 'basic entitlement' for Western workers.
While most Western people over the past fifty years have assumed
the right to limited working hours and paid annual leave, the entitlements have
always been questioned by employers and are by no means ensured into the future.
Since the 1970s low paid workers have found their entitlements slowly whittled
away. Many need to juggle more than one job in order to 'make ends meet'.
In Third World countries, with labour organisation weak or
non-existent, it is not uncommon for workers to be employed six days a week and
ten hours a day. This, of course, leaves very little time for 'leisure
There is, however, where leisure is accepted as a legitimate
entitlement of workers, a state in which the person is not working both
legitimately and necessarily. This is a state of voluntary idleness. The
overarching, positive antonym for work is leisure, which can be divided
into active and passive categories of behaviour.
The active forms of leisure include pastimes, sports, games,
recreation and other amusements. These are times when the person “charges
the batteries”, engaging in refreshing diversions so that they will be mentally
and physically re-tuned to better perform in the realm of work. The passive
forms of leisure include: relaxation, repose, rest, requiescence. These periods
should provide the person with stillness, with a tranquillity not possible in
the busy round of work activities.
These times also have a purpose. They are times when the
individual is able to distance himself or herself from the busy round and take
stock, getting work into perspective so that they will perform more effectively
and efficiently than before 40.
When people are found to be run-down, worn-out or exhausted by
the pressing urgencies of work they can be prescribed times of leisure, when
they can, for a period, escape the duties of life and become mentally and
physically renovated. Even these times are considered to be intimately
intertwined with work. They are not separate, alternative bases for life, they
are the activities and times when human beings, who are naturally and
morally fashioned for work, re-create themselves, and, in doing so, function
more effectively within the world of work.
This conceptualisation of work as “appropriate
performance” is not closely tied to particular vocations or aptitudes 41. It is, rather,
in human beings, considered to be diligent application to productive
It is very often dissociated from an individual’s own aptitudes and abilities
unless these have clearly been honed so as to improve the person’s potential for
There is almost a sense of illegitimacy about “working” at
something which one enjoys for itself — enjoyment, after all, is one of the
definitional properties of leisure. If one was to respond to the
question, “what would you do if you didn’t have to work?” with the reply “what I
am now doing” most Western people would find it difficult to accept. There seems
to be a contradiction inherent in doing what one calls work in a time
when one no longer is required to work.
So, for instance, an artist who paints because he or she greatly
enjoys the activity, or a tennis player who makes a living from the game, seem
in some way to be “cheating”. Such people have blurred the boundaries between
work and leisure. In order to ensure that this does not provide people with
escape from the normal necessity to work they must be categorised as in some way
“special”. And, in order to remain legitimate they need to be seen as in some
way “driven” to apply themselves to their activity by some inner compulsion.
Work is about discipline, about applying oneself to activity which is in some
way an imposition of ordered endeavour upon the individual.
Those who are not inwardly driven soon find that people around
them supply much of the needed resolve to engage in work through their expressed
attitudes toward these deviant people. It is the lucky few who are able to
combine personal interest with work but they, driven to constant involvement in
a form of activity which is normally defined as leisure, need to
demonstrate that they have an extraordinary commitment to the attainment of
perfection. They are professionals not “amateurs”.
The realm of leisure is constantly being redefined as more and
more leisure activities are professionalised, transforming them from
leisure to work, from a form of activity presumed to be “relaxing” to one which
the individual is diligently focused upon and from which the individual “derives
an income”. We speak of this phenomenon as the professionalization of sport,
Although one would hardly perform work if there were no income
attached to it, there is more to work than the income obtained. Work should be
performed over extensive periods of time, and the time set aside for it should
be spent in activities which are clearly defined as “work related”. Talking with
someone involved in a large corporation, I was told the following story:
Several people in an office had found that, by hurrying through
their tasks, they were able to perform most of the day’s required activities in
the first three to four hours of the day. They therefore decided to do this and
spent much of the afternoon in playing cards.
The manager of their section of the corporation decided that this
was entirely unacceptable (for reasons which you, if you are a Western person,
will already understand, even if you can’t articulate them). He called the
offending workers into his office to remonstrate with them.
They asked him whether there was any expressed dissatisfaction
with the quality or consistency of their efforts. He answered that there wasn’t
but that there was a perception that they were lazy because they spent so much
time in playing cards. He explained that they were not employed to play cards,
but to carry out the duties of their positions.
They were asked, in future, to “space” their work and spread it
over the entire day. They were not to indulge in card playing or in excessive
periods of “morning tea” or “afternoon tea” but were to use their time in “work
This is, of course, reminiscent of Parkinson’s (1957) Law:
Work expands to fill the time available for its completion and
subordinates multiply at a fixed rate, regardless of the amount of work
…A lack of real activity does not, of necessity, result in
leisure. A lack of occupation is not necessarily revealed by a manifest
idleness. The thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in a direct
ratio with the time to be spent.
A Western person, hearing this story, immediately recognises a
whole constellation of reasons why the workers could not be allowed to continue
to “play” during “work hours”. Work, in almost all forms of employment, covers a
period, and tasks are performed through that period. There are, in all jobs not
directly driven by assembly line practices or by “piece” work, times of
disguised “inactivity” through the period. Most workers, if they concentrated
their efforts, could perform the required tasks of their positions in much less
than the time span of work.
It was this recognition which led to “Taylorism” (see Taylor 1911), the scientific management
programs of the early 20th century, which aimed to eliminate
“inefficiencies” and ensure that workers performed in the most productive manner
possible. It has, similarly, resulted in recent management strategies to
“streamline” companies, through concentrating work activity within a smaller
As we observed earlier, these practices are aimed, at a time
when new technologies are simplifying work tasks and increasing productivity in
many areas, at increasing the work commitment of individuals, requiring them
both to work harder and for longer hours. For reasons with which most Western
people find it hard to disagree, new management strategies are aimed at
increasing commitment to work, not at lessening it. And, we know that
this is as it ought to be. As soon as we find that a term has a
teleological dimension of this kind, we immediately also know that the term is a
prescriptive one. The term work is such a term in the English
It is undeniable that labour is something in which all
people everywhere engage because some of the tasks which need to be performed in
any community require an expenditure of physical or mental effort which is at
times irksome to those required to perform the tasks. However, the need to allot
a specific period of each day to the performance of such tasks, and then to
ensure that people are managed in such a way as to maximise their activity, is a
distinctively Western need.
It is this allotment of set times to maximised labour-related
activity which uniquely defines work in Western communities. This
complements the equally unique relationship perceived between production,
possessions and status in Western communities 44 and ensures that people are focused
on the status maintenance and attainment prerequisites of their communities.
Because our drive to consumption and accumulation is open-ended,
Western people argue that so too must our commitment be to producing the goods
and services we “need” 45. This is, in fact, a consequence of the
Western belief that individuals should diligently apply themselves to productive
endeavour, to work, rather than a cause of it. It is not that we work
because our needs are constantly expanding. Rather, the ability to acquire a
constantly expanding range and quality of goods and services is evidence of
our strong commitment to work 46.
Of course, in the minds of most Western people the two are
intimately connected. Since our prime means of obtaining the income necessary to
obtaining the goods and services we need is work, we are quite sure that unless
we work we will not be able to obtain those goods and services. This, of course,
is true, but simply demonstrates how strongly Western people, over the past four
centuries, have reinforced the need to work through closely tying both material
wellbeing and status attainment and maintenance to its performance.
The most important forms of behaviour, organization and meaning
in any community are strongly reinforced through the ways in which they are made
“necessary” through tying individual and communal wellbeing to them. So people
sense that unless they are maintained, life will become increasingly difficult.
Over a period of more than four centuries Western European communities
increasingly buttressed “work” in this way. Now, in the early 21st century, Western people are, indeed, very certain that unless
they commit themselves to work, both their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of
the communities in which they live will be at risk.
In a very real sense, Western people do not work in order to
live, they live to work!
So, how did it happen that Western Europeans became so convinced
of the central importance of work? To understand this, we need to look back into
Western Europe’s historical experiences 47. Here we will focus on a few of the presumptions
and practices which led to the present Western commitment to work.
In the past, during the 16th to 19th centuries, as Foucault says,
If it is true that labor is not inscribed among the laws of
nature, it is enveloped in the order of the fallen world. This is why idleness
is rebellion — the worst form of all … the sin of idleness is the supreme pride
of man once he has fallen, the absurd pride of poverty… In the Middle Ages, the
great sin… was pride… All the 17th century texts, on the
contrary, announced the infernal triumph of Sloth: it was sloth that led the
round of vices and swept them on. (Foucault 1971: 56-7)
As Foucault says, by the 17th century,
responsible Western people had come to believe that commitment to work
was either based on natural law requirements, or that it was necessary to
sanctification. The emphasis, among the “responsible people” of 17th to 19th century Western Europe, was on the
necessity to engage in work, that is, in productive enterprise:
in realising the potential of one’s
own capacity to labour; of one’s own innate “talents”; and of the
environment available for exploitation. John Locke, in the late 17th century, put it like this,
God gave the world to men in common; but… it cannot be supposed
he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use
of the industrious and rational (and labour was to be his title to
It was the necessity to “make the most of oneself through
industrious endeavour” that lay at the root of the 18th and
19th century insistence that everyone become involved in
As Locke (1982, Ch. 5) argued in 1692, God commanded human
beings to labour, and the property they accumulated as a consequence of their
labour demonstrated their commitment to that industriousness which God
required. To do otherwise than industriously accumulate personal property was to
rebel against the natural order established by God for the wellbeing of both
individuals and communities. Not only was one rebelling against God, by breaking
the natural laws for human “progress” the person was also refusing to take his
or her communal responsibilities seriously.
The term work summarised and expressed, in human
organization and behaviour, the central presumptions of the emerging primary
ideology of Western Europe 48. Commitment to work demonstrated that the
person, as an individual, was dedicated to obtaining the returns which the
industrious gained for their dedicated effort. Those returns were important both
to the individual and to the community in which he lived. Richard Baxter
affirmed this when he proclaimed in 1678,
If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in
another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this and
choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your Calling, and you
refuse to be God’s steward. (quoted in Gilbert 1980:33).
As Foucault (1971:46) claims, during the 17th to 19th centuries there was far greater
concern about the consequences of idleness than of illness. It was
considered the responsibility of both Governments and responsible citizens to
teach the “idle poor” the virtues of consistent work. As Sir William
Coventry, in the 1670s, claimed, poor laws 49, which protected the idle from the
consequences of their sloth, should be repealed and the Government should
establish “workhouses 50 … where such as will not work for themselves may be
compelled to work for others” (in Appleby 1978, p. 151).
Sayings emphasising the sinfulness of sloth proliferated through
Western Europe, summed up in a number of very similar English proverbs:
“Idleness is the beginning of all sin”; “The devil makes work for idle hands”;
“Idleness breeds vice”; “Idleness is the devil’s workshop”. If sloth was sin,
indigence and pauperism were its consequences.
By the 18th century it was well understood
that indigence was closely tied to immorality. The harshness of the workhouses
between the 17th and 20th centuries was
necessary to discourage the moral depravity of sloth. And, just as the evils of
idleness were denounced, so the virtues of industry were heralded. There
was virtue in steady or habitual effort, in diligence in an
employment, in applying oneself in a disciplined way to productive
endeavour, in “adopting those habits of industry, which always tend to
steadiness and sobriety of conduct, and to consequent material wealth and
prosperity” (Codere 1951, p. 24).
There was a morality in the consistent, daily commitment
of the individual to work, to industriousness 51. The individual
gained respect and status through clearly demonstrating a consistent, continual
commitment to harnessing his or her environment in the interests of accumulation
and production. A conspicuous commitment to industry became the
primary evidence of the individual’s commitment to upholding the central moral
values of Western Europe.
In any community, the morality of individuals is measured in
terms of consistent commitment to the central tenets and understandings which
drive and give force to systems of status and respect in the community. In
Western Europe it became an accepted fact that “responsible people” work hard,
and that, as Locke (1982, p. 27) said, “labour makes the far greatest part of
the value of things” 52. So, it was entirely necessary that individuals who
worked hard should retain possession of the things whose value they had thus
increased and this “necessarily introduces private possessions” (Locke
1982, p. 22). Hard work gives value to objects, and the evidence of hard work
is, therefore, an accumulation of private property. In order to demonstrate the
virtues of individuals it was necessary that those who created value should
possess the objects within which that value was expressed.
The accumulation of private property by individuals was
both just and appropriate since, through their own industry, they had created
the property they accumulated. It was neither appropriate nor just that those
who created the wealth should be required to share it with others who did not
create wealth. Rather, those who did not create wealth for themselves should be
compelled to do so. Otherwise they would be a drain on those who through their
own productive endeavour had accumulated wealth and had, in this way,
demonstrated their commitment to the central moral values of their
Responsible governments ensured that the conditions encouraging
and facilitating such activity were maintained, and that those who were “not
responsible” were “made responsible” by making the condition of their lives as
difficult as possible until they committed themselves to work. This has
remained, throughout the 20th and on into the 21st century, a prime responsibility of Government. Governments
should educate and train the “workforce”, and should provide every inducement
and encouragement to people to “work”. They should, conversely, strongly
discourage idleness and vagrancy 53.
For the past several centuries Western European communities have
had (and most still have) strongly enforced laws calculated to ensure that
people were “gainfully employed” and had “visible means of support”. Anything
which might discourage people from strong and continuous commitment to work
should be removed in the interests of ensuring that people “worked for their
living”. Over the past four centuries concerted efforts have been made by
responsible Western Europeans to strip people of any other means of subsistence
than work aimed at increasing the cash worth and extent of their private
As a legacy of the feudal period in Western Europe, many poor
peasants between the 16th and 19th
centuries owned small parcels of land which provided all or part of their
subsistence. They also had rights of use in areas of common land attached to
manorial estates but available to all associated with the estate, whether small
farmers or rural labourers, where they could forage and graze animals. The land
was used for subsistence, not for increasing cash income or private property.
This focus in life was one which emphasised communally
determined limitations on the accumulation of property, not an open ended
accumulation of private property 54. As such, in the minds of the responsible people of
Western Europe, the land these people held was being used “inappropriately”.
Therefore, as Locke (1982 Ch. 5) reasoned, it should be forfeited to those who
would use it “productively”, that is, to increase cash income and private
Not only were these peasants using the lands they controlled
inappropriately, because they obtained a part of their subsistence from it, wage
labour, for many of them, was an additional source of income used to augment the
subsistence obtained from their own or common land. The Poor were not strongly
oriented to the emerging status systems based on accumulation and conspicuous
consumption which were driving activity among those who had come to be called
the “middle class”. In consequence, the “labouring poor” were unreliable
workers. They seemed ready to work for only so long as was necessary to obtain
the additional income required for a subsistence lifestyle. If they did not need
the money, they saw little reason to work 55.
By the end of the 17th century it was
already recognised by those who were gaining control in Western Europe that so
long as the poor had access to land and could supply part of their own
subsistence requirements independently of the emerging work oriented economy,
they would continue to treat work in this way. The answer, of course, was to
strip away the small parcels of land from the poor, and to take away their
access to common land, making them entirely dependent on work in the cash
economy for their subsistence. The reasons given for the expropriation of these
lands were varied, including, of course, Locke’s argument that land-holding
should be rationalised to increase its economic productivity.
The upshot was that in England, between 1700 and 1845, more than
seven million acres of common land was expropriated and consolidated in the
hands of larger landowners who put the greater part of it into pasturage.
Considerably more land was transferred from small to large landowners through
the termination of leaseholds and through challenging ownership rights where
small-holders lacked documentation supporting their ownership, though no records
are available to determine the amount of land transferred in this way.
Those who lost their lands in this consolidation became wholly
dependent on cash work and increasingly reliant on the social welfare provided
by parishes under the Poor Laws. They became a 'labour-pool', dependent for
their livelihoods on employment within the mines, factories and
sweat-shops of Western Europe; in competition with each other for scarce
In the 19th and 20th
centuries the responsible people of Western Europe found themselves with a new
responsibility. They had long accepted their responsibility for re-organising
and re-educating the poor of Western Europe. Now they had to accept the same
responsibility for 'the natives' of their colonies.
Responsible Western people were well aware of the
problems they had encountered in educating the poor in Western Europe over more
than four centuries. They realised that one of the major mistakes made had been
to engage in land reform without taking into account the movement of people from
the countryside. Having nowhere to go, they had 'clogged the highways and
byways' during the 16th and 17th
centuries and become a major problem in the cities of the 18th and 19th centuries.
They determined not to make the same mistake in their colonies.
The colonial authorities would divide the land into regions, setting aside
some of the less agriculturally productive areas as 'native reserves' onto which
the surplus native population could be moved. They would become a labour-pool of
workers, managed by the colonial administration, and employed by various
economic enterprises in the colony.
Western Europeans had learned over more than four centuries that
human beings were independent individuals not communal beings 57. As the British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women's Own magazine,
October 31 1987, explained,
…there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and
So, no account needed to be taken of existing indigenous forms
of social organisation or understandings of their environments. In colony after
colony, they employed the same strategy:
- Assess the economic potential of the territory;
- determine where lower or higher concentrations of
population were needed;
- pass the necessary laws and regulations to legitimise
- and move the native populations
This freed up agriculturally valuable land for large scale
farming and created labour pools for mining, plantation, large-scale
agricultural enterprise and other economic activity. Colonial administrations
also closely controlled movement of native populations out of their reserves.
They would be allowed to move to administrative centres only by invitation and
would return to their reserves afterwards. They would be selected for employment
on the reserve and returned there when the employment was terminated.
The breakdown in law and order and in living standards among
indigenous populations resulting from the complete disruption of their
communities and individual lives were evidence, if any were needed, of the
childlike inability of the natives to care for themselves 58.
Gilbert Murray (1900), a late 19th
century student of British colonial labour practices, provided a clear
summary of the systems of labour exploitation found in British colonies.
It has been included in the following footnote 59.
He goes on to provide graphic examples of
the ways in which 'useful' and 'useless' 'natives' were treated in
various Western European colonies (see footnote 60).
In the 19th century, during Western Europe’s
expansion into the rest of the world, the emphasis on the importance of work was
as strong, if not stronger than in the 17th and 18th centuries. Western Europeans took their commitment to work with
them as they invaded the rest of the world.
A common theme of those who wrote on the problems in the
countries and communities for which they felt they had to take responsibility
was that “traditional” people seemed so unwilling to put in a “full day’s work”.
As Cairns explains,
The intrinsic value of work was revealed by Bishop Smythies (U.
M. C. A.) when he noted Africans east of Lake Nyasa clearing ground and
cultivating 'on the steepest, most stoney slopes' of a mountain side.
This seems to point to one good thing which may come from the
evil of African wars. If all was quiet and there was no fear of… marauding
tribes and yet no civilisation to quicken thought, in a climate where everything
comes easily to hand so readily if there are only rivers as there are here, the
people would have nothing to keep them from becoming more and more
(1965, p. 79).
Henry Drummond, commenting on the people of the same area,
claimed that “apart from eating, their sole occupation is to talk, and this they
do unceasingly” (Cairns 1965: 79). As Cairns claims of European attitudes,
the general attitude was that work, more for the sake of the
virtues which it fosters than for the wealth it created, was necessary to a
well-ordered purposeful life
(1965, p. 79).
Western Europeans, intent on colonial expansion, believed that
they were on a “civilising” mission and that one of their most important
responsibilities was to teach people in other countries and communities to
work. Sir Rudolph Slatin's remedy for the people of The Sudan, described
by Gilbert Murray, was an example of a common theme,
'The nigger is a lazy beast,' said Slatin, 'and must be compelled
to work — compelled by Government.' ' How?' asked his interlocutor. 'With a
stick,' was Slatin's reply.
(Gilbert Murray 1900 p. 135)
Bernard Magubane provided a succinct description of Western
attitudes toward non-Western communities in his description of relations between
Europeans and Africans in South Africa,
Before they were physically subdued, African traditional
societies with plenty of land confronted the requirements of capitalism with
difficult problems. The wants of an African living within his subsistence
agriculture, cultivating his own mealies (corn), were confined to a
karosss (skin cloak) and some pieces of home-made cotton cloth. The
prospects of leaving his family to work in a mine, in order to earn wages with
which he could buy things he had no use for, did not at once appeal to him.
James Bryce observed that,
The white men, anxious to get to work on the goldreefs, are
annoyed at what they call the stupidity and laziness of the native, and usually
clamour for legislation to compel the native to come to work, adding, of course,
that regular labour would be the best thing in the world for natives.
(Magubane 1975, p. 233)
This belief in the virtue of work was, by the 19th century, so ingrained in Western Europeans that they
knew that it was both logical and rational that people be compelled to
work, no matter what their objections. Western Europeans had a moral duty to
teach the world to work, and they have gone about it in non-Western communities
with a missionary zeal.
Over the past forty years, with the resurgence of deregulated
capitalism, the reorganisation of non-Western regions and communities to serve
the demands of capitalism has continued apace. In free trade zones, maquiladoras
and export processing zones, wherever labour is cheap and regulation relaxed or
non-existent, people will work in substandard conditions, receive low wages, and
live in slums. And, all the while, Western peoples and those who emulate their
lifestyles in non-Western countries and communities will continue to expand
their consumption and accumulation of the products of that exploitation.
So long as commitment to work, and it's inevitable companions —
ever-expanding consumption and accumulation — are among the central primary
ideological presumptions of Western communities, unregulated capitalism will
continue to produce conditions like these around the world.
The emphasis upon the importance of work in Western communities
has not diminished in the 20th and 21st
centuries. Writers as diverse as Thorstein Veblen, John Dewey, Hannah Arendt and
Daniel Bell have argued that work is a moral imperative and has, as Bell put it,
“always stood at the center of moral consciousness” (in Wolfe 1997 p. 559) 61.
The most important duties and responsibilities of community
members, those which, as Kant ((1785) 1909) suggested, secure our own “freedom”,
are strongly reinforced through the ways in which they are made “necessary” to
both individual and communal wellbeing. In Western communities, a wide range of
common-sense reasons is given as to why people must be involved in work:
- The economic wellbeing of the country requires
that everyone commit themselves to consistent hard-work – only in this way
will the gross national product continue to grow and the economy “expand”.
Bureaus of Statistics publish tables showing “days lost” due to a lack of
commitment to work, to absenteeism 62.
- People who don’t put work first fail to establish
themselves financially and so become a drain on the community through becoming,
at one time or another in their lives, dependent on “welfare”. Consequently,
their children become “disadvantaged” and in later life are unable to “achieve
their potential” in the world of work.
- Those who diligently apply themselves to work become
“successful” and grow in self-confidence. They earn respect from others and
become recognised as dependable and reliable (or, alternatively, as ruthless and
dominant). In consequence they become leaders, those who will be able to take up
responsibilities and see them through 63.
These understandings permeate Western consciousness. They are
presented and reinforced in many different ways. Perhaps the most pervasive and
effective ways in which they are reinforced are through the varieties of forms
of product and service promotion and in the various forms of “entertainment” to
which the vast majority of Western people subject themselves for three or four
hours a day.
Whether in salacious soap operas, or in advertisements for motor
cars, those most admired are usually those who seem to have been able to succeed
in the workplace, in the economic arena. They are wealthy, suave, sophisticated,
with the easy grace of those who know their own worth. They provide
models against which we can measure ourselves or that we can attempt to live by.
To the successful go the spoils! To them belong the fast cars,
the yachts, the lavish entertainments and the lifestyles of the “rich and
famous”. Far from challenging the central moral tenets of Western communities,
the magazines and television entertainments of the West strongly reinforce them.
The West is no longer centrally concerned with sexual morality —
that belongs to a past age, when people were prudish and no-one seemed prepared
even to talk about the possibility of sexual adventure. It is no longer
centrally concerned with violence since most of its entertainments glorify it,
though it is roundly condemned in the abstract.
It is, of course, centrally concerned with social justice: in a
“user pays” environment people get what they deserve! And it is centrally
concerned with economic success, which is assumed to be related to
There is little evidence that people living in Western
communities are evolving beyond their deep-seated moral commitment to work.
After a brief flirtation with the 'evils' of 'regulation', 'protectionism' and
'social welfare' 64 in the 1930s-1970s, Western communities
have reasserted their subordination to deregulated capitalism and commitment to:
- Individual self-promotion through expanding
- A 'user-pays' world,
- And unconstrained 'development' of the world's economic
Others have explained that the amazing efflorescence of
knowledge and invention of the past three hundred years could not possibly have
occurred without the capitalist work ethic. It has been the drive to 'profit',
William Booth's '10%', which has brought about this explosion
in intellectual exploration. I agree. Without an external goad and without a
drive to harness human intelligence in this way, the achievements of the modern
era would largely not have occurred.
The epitaph of the era might well be, that human beings have
been driven to, and beyond, the limits of their individual intellects by
those myopically committed to self-promotion and the accumulation of
The focuses of intellectual endeavour in the West have
far-too-often not emerged from the intellectual curiosity of the
researchers, but from a short-sighted drive to satisfy and shape the demands of
the employment and investment marketplaces.
The forces which have channelled and circumscribed Western
intellectual endeavour have seldom come from intelligent exploration and
understanding of long-run consequences. They have been determined by the needs
and wants of the capitalist and the consumer.
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1 Pasha of Egypt and Inspector General of the British
Army in The Sudan.
2 It would take another fifty years for many of
the entitlements which, over the past half century, most Western workers have
seen as basic, to be securely written into law in most Western nations —
such as the forty hour week and two weeks paid annual leave.
Memory is short. In the past thirty
years increasing numbers of Western people have accepted the deregulated
capitalist argument that such 'luxuries' are not sustainable. They seem to have
forgotten (or don't know about) the bitter experiences of the West's Poor in
previous centuries (with whom, of course, they don't identify — see What shall we do with The Poor for more on this). Unthinking
believers in the 'power of the marketplace' are allowing hard-won employment
conditions to be eroded.
3 A few quotations from influential Western
Europeans set the scene:
We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw
materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available
from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping
ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.
Founder of Rhodesia. [Now Zambia and Zimbabwe])
The colonial question is, for countries like ours which are, by
the very character of their industry, tied to large exports, vital to the
question of markets … From this point of view … the foundation of a colony is
the creation of a market.
(Jules Ferry, Speech to the French House of
Deputies, July 1885)
We have spoken already of the vital necessity of new markets for
the old world. It is, therefore, to our very obvious advantage to teach the
millions of Africa the wants of civilization, so that whilst supplying them, we
may receive in return the products of their country and the labour of their
(Lord Lugard, British Governor of Nigeria.)
The most useful function which colonies perform .. . is to supply
the mother country's trade with a ready-made market to get its industry going
and maintain it, and to supply the inhabitants of the mother country — whether
as industrialists, workers or consumers — with increased profits, wages or
(Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, De la Colonisation chez les Peuples
(From Ecologist Vol 20 No 6 — November / December 1990 pp.
4 Experiences in the first decade of the 21st Century have once again demonstrated the validity of this
assertion (see Revitalisation Movements and Fundamentalism for more on this).
5 This was the start of the Boer War in South Africa,
reminiscent of the Iraq adventure of the 1st decade of this
century — what is it about the start of centuries and the West?
6 See Achebe (1969); Césaire (1972) Fanon
(1967); Kenyatta (1965); Memmi (1967) for descriptions of European
colonisation from the perspective of the colonised and Mphahlele (1959) for
a description of life for non-Europeans in South Africa before
7 to the Inter-Allied School of Higher Social
Studies, University of Paris
As Alphonse Karr (1849) put it "plus ça
change, plus c'est la même chose" (The more it changes, the more it is the
8 included in The Modern Traveler
9 And as any well trained Third World
Development person of the past 50 years would tell you…
10 Edward Goldsmith (1997) suggests that this
mission is still strong in Western understanding of their responsibility for
those who are, even now, 'undeveloped' (see Development as
The massive effort to develop the Third World in the years since
the Second World War was not motivated by purely philanthropic considerations,
but by the need to bring the Third World into the orbit of the Western trading
system in order to create an ever-expanding market for the West's goods and
services and to gain a source of cheap labour and raw materials for its
This was also the goal of colonialism, especially during its
last phase which started in the 1870s.
For that reason, there is a striking continuity between the
colonial era and the era of development, both in the methods used to achieve
their common goal and in the social and ecological consequences of applying
them. With the development of the global economy, we are entering a new era of
corporate colonialism that could be more ruthless than the colonialism that
(1997 p. 69)
11 The full poem is below:
Take up the White Man's burden —
Send forth the best ye
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild —
Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man's
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.
the White Man's burden —
The savage wars of peace —
Fill full the mouth
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes
Take up the White Man's burden —
No tawdry rule of
But toil of serf and sweeper —
The tale of common things.
ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with
And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man's
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
hate of those ye guard —
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward
the light: —
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian
Take up the White Man's burden —
Ye dare not stoop to less —
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
your gods and you.
Take up the White Man's burden —
Have done with
childish days —
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your
(Rudyard Kipling McClure's Magazine
12 See Responsibility for securing the future for more on this.
13 See From personalised, cooperative hierarchical relationships to
object-oriented, competitive oppositional relationships and What shall we do with The Poor for more on this.
14 Having been involved with and observing those
involved in this business (both religious and secular) through most of my life,
I know that almost all of them deeply believe in what they're doing. They find
it incomprehensible that someone like myself should question the importance of
15 See Primary and Secondary Ideologies for more on this.
16 This belief is as strong now as it has been
over the past hundred years. Western nations and communities send personnel and
provide financial support to dozens of 'aid' organisations which are committed
to providing education, 'life skills' and 'work skills' to the impoverished
of the world.
17 See People and Recognised Environments for more on this.
It was this intuitive recognition of the truth of
the basic principles underpinning his ideas which was used by Stanley Jevons
(who was one of the pioneers in spelling out the basic principles of
neo-classical economics) in 1871, as evidence in his argument for the universal
validity of economic propositions. As he says,
The science of economics, however, is in some degree peculiar,
owing to the fact, pointed out by J. S. Mill and Cairnes, that its ultimate laws
are known to us immediately by intuition…
(1970, p. 88).
What is known “intuitively” is that
which is fundamental to processes of thought, action, interaction and
organisation in any community, those forms and understandings which constitute
the principles and presumptions of the primary ideologies of communities (see Primary and Secondary Ideology). These are, of course,
specific to particular communities, so, what makes “intuitive sense” in one
community may well seem less than rational in another.
19 The number of conferences and learned papers
(particularly by economists) on 'sustainable development' and 'degrowth' has
proliferated over recent years (another 'growth industry'?). They are replete
with optimistic assessments of the future (for one of the latest sets of
conference papers see Giorgos Kallis et al 2010). This, despite the
continued emphasis on economic growth and explosion in advertising expertise
over the past fifty years.
However, Western middle classes (now the
vast majority of Western community members (see The emergence of 'class')) are highly unlikely to develop
'sustainable' lifestyles. This would require them to drastically reduce their
wants and needs. That could only happen, in the long-run, if they changed the
basic drivers of their systems of status and prestige attainment and
These are expressions of particular
primary ideological presumptions of Western thought, action and organisation
(see Primary and Secondary Ideology). So, they are highly unlikely
(in the short to medium-term) to be changed by the conscious decisions of
individuals. We might, as individuals, determinedly reduce our needs and wants
(I would recommend this only if you are able to truly dissociate yourself from
the need for the approval and respect of others who remain within the system)
but we should not delude ourselves that our lifestyles will change the course of
Of course, if more and more individuals
adopt similar lifestyles, in the long-run it is likely that the basic drivers of
Western systems of status and prestige attainment and maintenance will alter.
However, the consequences of such change are all but impossible to predict.
See From Feudalism to Capitalism for a summary of the processes
through which Western Europeans moved from feudal to modern forms of meaning,
interaction, organisation and activity.
See What shall we do with The Poor? for more on this. Also
Thompson 1980, 1967; Polanyi 1957; Wilson 1969 for descriptions of the
experiences of those on the receiving end of this four-century-long re-education
22 See The Breakdown and Revitalisation of Communities for more on
the experiences of colonial territories.
23 comprising those who had begun to reorder their
lives by the emerging economic principles
Comprising those who were not ordering their lives by the
new economic presumptions. Were Third World governments to implement some
of the measures used by Western Europeans during this re-education period,
Western nations would be the first to loudly protest the inhumane treatment and
insist that those governments be pressured to change their policies.
It has become fashionable to use the term "class" in defining variant
socio-economic groupings in communities. This, however, too easily links the
features of 19th century classes to what is a very different
phenomenon. The "lower classes" were not simply the economically disadvantaged,
they were the groups within the community who were being re-educated to take
their place within a capitalist system. People who have already accepted that
their lives should be organised in terms of capitalism can still find themselves
economically disadvantaged, but they are not members of the "lower classes" as
26 Because these principles are even
more fundamental than linguistic principles (indeed they underpin linguistic
principles), while the superficial organisation of life might be changed as a
result of Western pressures, the underlying rationale for behaviour will remain
very consistent through time.
Communities might appear to change and
adapt when they are forced to accept new ways of organisation. However, over
time, those new ways inevitably become reshaped to make them consistent with the
underlying cognitive principles and structures through which community members
make sense of themselves and their worlds.
As anthropologists have come to realise
over the past thirty years, the term culture should not be seen as
referring to immutable forms of organisation, interaction and meaning. The
surface features of human community, which include what has over the past
century been referred to as culture, can change considerably, yet remain
consonant with the underlying principles expressed in those surface forms. So,
all “cultural” change within communities must be understood in terms of the
fundamental cognitive principles which order both thought and community (see Primary and Secondary Ideology)
27 See Stefan Mair, 2008, 'The Need to Focus on Failing States' in
States, Vol. 29 (4), for a balanced discussion of the nature of failed
states and reality of their threat to 'international security'
The rationality of a community is, of course, always relative to its
29 The relevant section of the report is as
The fundamental problem posed by the cybernation revolution in
the U.S. is that it invalidates the general mechanism so far employed to
undergird people’s rights as consumers. Up to this time economic resources have
been distributed on the basis of contributions to production, with machines and
men competing for employment on somewhat equal terms. In the developing
cybernated system, potentially unlimited output can be achieved by systems of
machines which will require little cooperation from human beings. As machines
take over production from men, they absorb an increasing proportion of resources
while the men who are displaced become dependent on minimal and unrelated
government measures — unemployment insurance, social security, welfare payments.
These measures are less and less able to disguise a historic paradox: That a
substantial proportion of the population is subsisting on minimal incomes, often
below the poverty line, at a time when sufficient productive potential is
available to supply the needs of everyone in the U.S.
…There is no question that cybernation does increase the
potential for the provision of funds to neglected public sectors. Nor is there
any question that cybernation would make possible the abolition of poverty at
home and abroad. But the industrial system does not possess any adequate
mechanisms to permit these potentials to become realities. The industrial system
was designed to produce an ever-increasing quantity of goods as efficiently as
possible, and it was assumed that the distribution of the power to purchase
these goods would occur almost automatically. The continuance of the
income-through jobs link as the only major mechanism for distributing effective
demand — for granting the right to consume — now acts as the main brake on the
almost unlimited capacity of a cybernated productive system.
…An adequate distribution of the potential abundance of goods
and services will be achieved only when it is understood that the major economic
problem is not how to increase production but how to distribute the abundance
that is the great potential of cybernation. There is an urgent need for a
fundamental change in the mechanisms employed to insure consumer rights.
(AD Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution (1964))
30 See The Triumph of Neoliberalism for more on this.
31 See No Charity!! for similar claims in the 18th and 19th centuries
32 See From Developmentalism to Privatisation for more on this.
33 See The Triumph of Neo-liberalism for more on this.
34 Western economies, contrary to popular economic
opinion, are not based on scarcity but on glut. It therefore becomes inevitable,
over time, that production will result in oversupply and suppliers will,
therefore experience difficulty in moving stock. See Glut not Scarcity for more on this.
35 see The Triumph of Neo-Liberalism for some of the other forces
36 For this reason, one needs to be very careful in
employing the term when discussing organisation and activity in non-Western
communities. The term carries all the baggage of Western presumptions of what is
important in life, including key presumptions of the primary ideologies of
Western communities (see Primary and Secondary Ideology).
37 We need to clearly differentiate between causes and
consequences when understanding the nature of work. As we will see later, cash
income has historically been used as a primary means of enforcing and
reinforcing the commitment of Western people to “habits of industry”.
Over the past two decades, as Western
people have recommitted themselves to their economic formulations of life, it
has, once again been used in this way, with “user pays” schemes being promoted
and reliance on Government welfare payments being challenged. It is, therefore,
understandable that Western people strongly link the two.
This does not mean, however, that work
and income must logically necessarily be tied to each other. What it does
demonstrate is that Western people have so closely tied both material and social
wellbeing to “habits of industry”, that is, to work, that they can scarcely
conceive of any other means for distributing income.
38 See Fulfilling One's Potential for an examination of the reasons
why Western Europeans became so concerned that individuals “perform” to their
39 See From Interdependence to Independence for discussion of this
deep felt need in Western communities for individuals to be "independent"
40 As we have already suggested, these times have not
always been available to Western workers. They have been negotiated between
those who believe they have a moral responsibility to ensure that work is taken
seriously and those who represent the workers and who, themselves, feel that
people have a moral responsibility to work.
The times negotiated have always been
justified in terms of the overall increased efficiency of workers when they are
allowed these times of relaxation and leisure. This is why, if a person uses
these times in ways which do not refresh and re-equip him or her for work,
employers have always believed they have the “right” to challenge the use being
made of leisure time. This is, of course, reminiscent of Karl Marx's claim,
The Roman slave was held by fetters: the wage-labourer is bound
to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is kept up by
means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of a
(Marx Capital 1887 Chapter XXIII)
41 Though we gear our education systems to
determining the aptitudes of children and to honing those aptitudes so that they
might be as successful as possible in work in later lives.
So important is work to most people in
Western communities that it seems not only desirable but necessary that other
forms of organisation and activity be geared to supporting it or to preparing
people to better perform in the world of work. Education in Western communities
is not geared to increasing knowledge or to the pursuit of wisdom or “truth”, it
is geared to equipping people to more effectively participate in the “workforce”
and few people in those communities would argue that it should be otherwise.
42 Decreasingly defined as the production of goods and
services, and more and more defined as the production of a cash income. That is,
whereas being “productive” was considered centrally important with the cash
return secondary, now “material success” is the focus and being “productive” is
increasingly assessed by the cash return for one’s endeavours.
This is one of the reasons why we now
sense that we live in a “consumer society”, rather than in a “producer society”.
The most direct evidence of the size of our "income" is our levels of
consumption, not our levels of production. This leads, inevitably, to extending
our consumption beyond our income so that we are also living in a “credit
The pressures to spend come not only
from advertising, they also come from our own self-image, from our need to show
ourselves and others that we really are “successful”. Disturbing as it might be
(certainly to me!), increasing numbers of people feel the need to 'go shopping'
when they are feeling depressed.
43 See Sewell & Wilkinson (1992); Jenkins (1994); The Reorganisation of Work
44 See Subsistence and Status for further discussion
45 See The relationship between community social templates, resource
utilisation and constantly escalating productive and consumptive demands for
a discussion of the nature of “needs” in Western communities.
46 See Locke 1982, ch. 5; Private Ownership, Consumption and Accumulation for further
47 These have been dealt with in What Shall we do with The Poor
48 See Primary and Secondary Ideology
49 In British history, a body of laws undertaking to
provide relief for the poor, developed in sixteenth-century England and
maintained, with various changes, until after World War II. The Elizabethan Poor
Laws, as codified in 1597-98, were administered through parish overseers, who
provided relief for the aged, sick, and infant poor, as well as work for the
able-bodied in workhouses. Late in the 18th century, this was supplemented by
the so-called Speenhamland system of providing allowances to workers who
received wages below what was considered a subsistence level. The resulting
increase in expenditures on public relief was so great that a new Poor Law was
enacted in 1834, based on a harsher philosophy that regarded pauperism among
able-bodied workers as a moral failing. The new law provided no relief for the
able-bodied poor except employment in the workhouse, with the object of
stimulating workers to seek regular employment rather than charity. ("Poor Law".
(2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 08, 2010, from
Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/469923/Poor-Law.)
50 Institutions to provide employment for paupers and
sustenance for the infirm, found in England from the 17th through the 19th
century and also in such countries as The Netherlands and in colonial America.
The Poor Law of 1601 in England assigned responsibility for the poor to
parishes, which later built workhouses to employ paupers and the indigent at
profitable work. It proved difficult to employ them on a profitable basis,
however, and during the 18th century workhouses tended to degenerate into mixed
receptacles where every type of pauper, whether needy or criminal, young or old,
infirm, healthy, or insane, was dumped. These workhouses were difficult to
distinguish from houses of correction. According to prevailing social
conditions, their inmates might be let out to contractors or kept idle to
prevent competition on the labour market. The Poor Law Amendment of 1834
standardized the system of poor relief throughout Britain, and groups of
parishes were combined into unions responsible for workhouses. Under the new
law, all relief to the able-bodied in their own homes was forbidden, and all who
wished to receive aid had to live in workhouses. Conditions in the workhouses
were deliberately harsh and degrading in order to discourage the poor from
relying on parish relief. Conditions in the workhouses improved later in the
19th century, and social-welfare services and the social-security system
supplanted workhouses altogether in the first half of the 20th century.
("workhouse". (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February
08, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/648132/workhouse).
51 See How Born Again Christians rescued Capitalism for a description
of the deep religious commitment of Western Europeans, since the 18th century, to the moral requirements of Capitalism.
52 So convinced were Western Europeans of the
value-creating nature of labour as spelt out by Locke (1982) that through the
18th and 19th centuries the “labour
theory of value” became the standard for both classical economics and for Marx.
Locke’s argument for the logical primacy of individualised property and its
necessary connection with individual industry has, in the early 21st century, remained central to neo-liberal arguments for the
importance of private accumulation as both a reward of and spur to
53 A vagrant was one who was able to work but preferred
instead to live idly, often as a beggar. The punishment for this, during the
18th and 19th centuries, ranged from branding and whipping to conscription into
the military services and transportation to penal colonies. During the 20th
century, this form of behaviour continued to be punished though the severity of
the punishments lessened as the century unfolded.
54 see Subsistence and Status for further discussion of these
alternative emphases in accumulation
55 See The Poor are lazy with no desire to better themselves for more
56 See What shall we do with The Poor for more on this.
57 See From Interdependence to Independence for discussion
58 This land redistribution has been perpetuated in
many post-colonial countries. (see Background to Land Reform in Zimbabwe; Mugabe Is
Right About Land Reform for a specific example of these practices —
replicated in most Western European colonies).
While colonial authorities closely
controlled movement from native reserves into administrative centres during the
colonial era, this was not considered acceptable practice for post-colonial
Following the Second World War, with the
ideological confrontation of capitalism and communism, Western nations became
increasingly concerned with 'human rights', particularly with the right of
individuals to freedom of movement and self-expression. No government should
have the right to control movement. The United Nations International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights spelt this out clearly.
Western nations, seeing this as a
crucial distinction between themselves and those aligned with the Eastern Bloc,
put pressure on Third World governments to comply with the United Nations
covenants, which, over the years, have consistently addressed current social,
political and economic concerns of First World countries. Article 12 of the
above Covenant reads:
1. Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall,
within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to
choose his [sic] residence.
2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his
3. The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any
restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect
national security, public order. .. public health or morals or the rights and
freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognised in the
Not only were Third World governments
pressured to implement such resolutions, a range of United Nations organisations
(formed to provide development assistance) provided means of leverage to donor
The consequence of this insistence on
free movement has been that people, previously confined within reserves, are
able to move to both employment and administrative centres and millions have
done so. This has resulted in the slum conditions one finds in many
Third World cities.
59 See Moore and Feldman (1960), Day (1966),
Kuper and Smith (1960), among many others, for discussion of colonial labour
The following is an excerpt from Gilbert
Murray's (1900) essay describing labour practices in British colonies:
There are two really extensive and organic systems of exploiting
the labour of inferior races.
The first is simply the old Graeco-Roman system improved and
modified — the system of importing destitute or semi-destitute aliens to
countries where they can serve us. The difference is that the ancients used
undisguised force throughout the whole process; we use economic pressure to get
our labourers, though we mostly use force to keep them.
The simplest case is the system of indenture as applied to Indian
and Chinese coolies, and to Polynesians or Kanakas. The labourer voluntarily
signs an agreement for a term of years, and is shipped off to a foreign country,
where he is, for most purposes, not under the ordinary law, but under special
His freedom is curtailed in every direction; but, on the other
hand, his wages are secured and his general condition inspected by Government.
He is looked after when he is sick, protected against extremes of cruelty and
dishonesty on the part of his master, and taken home again at the end of his
The system works well in places like Fiji, where the area is
small, supervision easy, and the Government not dependent upon the employers
65. It works ill in large continental
regions, such as Queensland, where these conditions are reversed. About 15,000
indentured coolies leave India every year. About 10,000 Kanakas go from
Polynesia to Queensland every year….
In all the above cases the alien labourer is imported.
But — and this forms the second of what we have called the really
extensive and organic systems of exploiting inferior races — the great field for
the working of the alien in modern times is the alien's own country…. In modern
times, the increasing ease of communication has enabled white men to go abroad
to all parts of the earth without suffering much real exile, and without losing
the prospect of returning home at will.
Our Governments… are strong; our superior weapons make rebellions
almost impossible. Consequently, we do not attempt to import blacks, coolies,
and Polynesians into Great Britain…
The whole economic conditions are in favour of working the
coloured man in his own home. It may also be permitted to us to reflect that,
when the slave or subject is among his own people, there must remain to him a
large remnant of life which is not utterly poisoned by the advent of the white
The whole of tropical mining, and almost the whole of tropical
agriculture — the raising of rice, coffee, sugar, and the like — are carried out
by gangs of cheap labourers of inferior race under the rule of white men. And
not only in India, where it is a natural outcome of the system of Government,
but in most of the semi-civilized nations of the world, white men can be found
directing the ill-paid and often forced labour of the inhabitants.
As to South Africa, I should for many reasons prefer to be silent
region is so wrapped in concealment and misrepresentation at the present moment,
that it is hard to find any certain groundwork to build upon. Still, the South
African systems are altogether too important to be omitted, and their main lines
seem to be tolerably clear.
The capital feature of South African life, as every traveller
observes, is that all unskilled work is done by black people. That is the
rudimentary and essential condition of slavery, and is doubtless quite
unavoidable. As to direct cruelty, the laws are, as usual, a great deal more
humane than the facts, though some of the laws themselves sound a little odd to
A white master in Cape Colony is not allowed to flog his own
servants, a Bill which gave him that power having recently been defeated; but he
can send them to a magistrate to be imprisoned for negligence, insolence, or
misbehaviour. A coloured man in Natal cannot walk on the footpath or go in a
tramcar, and so on.
Yet a radical improvement in the laws would probably do more harm
than good. The essential cause of cruelty and oppression is not the law, but, to
quote Mr. Bryce's careful and temperate description,
'the strong feeling of dislike and contempt one might almost say
of hostility which the bulk of the whites show to their black neighbours.'
This curious feeling, a compound in which physical repulsion,
race hatred, and pride of birth seem to be accentuated by actual shame and
remorse, appears to be even stronger in South Africa than in most similar
Yet, on the whole, the cruelties to blacks in those regions seem
to be less atrocious than in Australia. The following case, which I select from
half a dozen as having been already published by Mr. Bryce, reminds one of
'A shocking case of the kind occurred a few years ago in the
Eastern Province. A white farmer — an Englishman, not a Boer — flogged his
Kaffir servant so severely that the latter died; and when the culprit was put on
his trial and acquitted by a white jury, his white neighbours escorted him home
with a band of music.'
Two African systems of exploiting black labour seem to promise
great developments — the compound and the location. At Kimberley the natives are
herded, some 3,000 together, in compounds or huge enclosures, covered with wire
netting, and having no egress except an underground passage to the mines.
These special precautions are taken in order to prevent the
blacks from stealing diamonds. They buy their food on the truck system from the
company, and cannot go outside for any purpose. They are imprisoned in this way
till the end of their contract time, which may in some cases be as short as
The location system, which is contemplated at Johannesburg,
consists in inducing large numbers of natives to settle with their families in
the neighbourhood where their work is required. Once there, they are prevented
by law from having enough land to live upon, prevented from leaving the locality
by a rigorous system of passes, deliberately reduced to destitution by a Hut Tax
and a Labour Tax, and thus forced into the mines to work at twopence a day, or
whatever wage the Chamber of Mines thinks fit.
As Lord Grey [Governor of the Cape Colony and British territories
in South Africa, and previously Governor in both New South Wales (Australia) and
New Zealand] puts it :
'Means must be sought to induce the natives to seek
spontaneously (sic!) employment at the mines, and to work willingly for
long periods of more or less continuous service.'
The means he proposes are those mentioned above — a Hut Tax in
money, which the native will be unable to pay except by resorting to the mines,
and a Labour Tax on all able-bodied natives who are unable to show a certificate
for four months' work in the year.
This is also the principle of the Glen Grey Act, passed in Cape
Colony in 1894. The penalty for non-payment of the tax is imprisonment with hard
labour — that is, we reduce the native to destitution by special laws in order
to force him to work for us, and if he will not work then we can kidnap him!
This system is so ingenious and elastic, offers such opportunities for the fraud
which is normal in contracts between whites and blacks, and does its work of
gradual demoralization so insidiously, and with so little shock to public
feeling, that we may expect it to spread and flourish in other continents,
almost in the manner of the Roman plantation system.
Like that system, the compound wishes to care for the welfare of
its beasts. The employers — some of them, no doubt, made rich by selling liquor
to blacks elsewhere — have set their faces against the supply of alcohol to
their own workers. But, like the Romans, they will probably be disappointed. As
a matter of fact, the mines have hitherto been the great centres of drinking, as
well as of even more degrading corruption.
Mr. Scully, for instance (Blue
Book G. 31, 1899, p. 76), notes the 'deplorable demoralization' of natives
returning from the mines, 'brutish in their knowledge', and the increase, or
introduction, among those to whom they return of phthisis, rheumatism, pulmonary
diseases, and syphilis.
In military operations, again, we of the British Empire depend to
a quite enormous extent upon soldiers of alien race, more, possibly, than any
State since Carthage. Nearly all our African fighting before the present war,
and most of our Indian fighting, has been done for us by natives. The great
victories of Clive over the French, which we are accustomed to regard as proofs
of British strength or valour, were almost entirely victories of Sepoys over
Sepoys. The economic situation is really the same as in the other cases. We
cannot spare more of the ruling race to fight. We take instead some naturally
warlike savages, train them, officer them, and make them do the fighting for
(Gilbert Murray 1900 pp. 135-144)
60 The following extract is part of a larger
description of European treatment of 'useful' and 'useless' indigenous
peoples in their colonies:
A slave is ultimately a man spared in war; a man whom you might
kill, but whom you prefer to keep, in order to make him work for you.
It is abundantly clear, if one considers the question, that this
has historically been the position of most of the subject races in the British
Empire. And it is in a sense their condition still. Those whom we cannot utilize
we exterminate; those whom we can utilize we protect, and often enable to
increase in numbers. Tasmanians were useless, and are all dead.
The Bhils are mostly dead. Australians were all but useless,
good only for horse-taming and man-tracking, and they are dwindling to nothing.
Red Indians, in spite of enormous care, and the large sums of money that a
penitent Government now spends upon them, are dying gradually. In Africa, those
blacks for whom we have some use tend, with certain exceptions, to increase and
multiply; those for whom we have no use die by drink, by war, by economic
pressure, and by the mere discouragement which works like poison in the veins of
a race that finds its occupation gone.
The cruelties perpetrated by white men upon coloured men are,
almost wherever and however they meet, stupendous. But the coloured men who are
worked under definite rules and indentures are far better off than those who
cannot be worked at all, or those who, under conditions of nominal equality, are
forced to work, unprotected, beneath the hand of any chance master.
The Kanakas in Queensland, under the old indenture system, were
no doubt treated both harshly and unfairly. They were kidnapped, they were
brutally used, they were cheated of their miserable earnings. And it may be
doubted whether the improvement of their condition under the present system is
as great as is alleged. Yet they were probably better off than the Matabele
forced labourers, strong men held down under a weak and irregular system, which
had necessarily to be backed up by fraud or violence. But go, if you dare, into
a searching comparison between the treatment of the Queensland Kanakas, who were
useful beasts of burden, and that of the Queensland aborigines, who were
regarded as vermin, and you will bless the lot of the half-enslaved Kanaka.
Let no one delude himself with the fancy that, though the German
Dr. Peters may flog his concubines to death, though Frenchmen in the New
Hebrides may twist the flesh off their servants' backs with pincers, though our
own newspapers may revel in reported horrors from the old Transvaal or the Congo
Free State, Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen are quite of another breed. Not
to speak of strange and unpleasant dealings with black women, I myself knew well
one man who told me he had shot blacks at sight. I have met a man who boasted of
having spilt poisoned meal along a road near a black-fellows camp, in order to
get rid of them like rats.
My brother was the guest of a man in Queensland who showed him a
particular bend of a river where he had once, as a jest, driven a black family,
man, woman, and children, into the water among a shoal of crocodiles. My father
has described to me his fruitless efforts to get men punished in New South Wales
in old days for offering hospitality to blacks and giving them poisoned meat.
I received, while first writing these notes, a newspaper from
Perth, giving an account of the trial of some Coolgardie miners for beating to
death with heavy bits of wood a black woman and boy who had been unable to show
them the way. The bodies were found with the shoulder-blades in shivers, and the
judge observed that such cases were getting too common!
These atrocities are not necessarily the work of isolated and
extraordinary villains. Two of the men mentioned above were rather good men than
bad. Nor have I mentioned the worst class of outrages….
61 This is of course an issue of debate in
philosophical circles (cf Wolfe (1997) for an exploration of the debate). 'Work'
is, of course, not a universal moral imperative. It is a moral issue only
for Western communities and for people who have learned not only to behave, but
also think in Western terms.
For the purposes of this discussion we
are defining morality as acceptance of and compliance with forms of
behaviour, attitude and interaction which individuals intuitively
recognise as being of central importance to ensuring “quality of life” in
Robert Greene (1997 p. 193), summarising
Bonaventure, suggests that moral understandings are “apprehensions for which no
reason could be given, apprehensions somehow rooted in affective human
experience.“ (Kant’s moral imperative below) (see footnote on the nature of such intuitions). Community
members instinctively “know” that such attitudes and behaviours are inescapable
requirements of life and are inevitably rewarded. The moral obligations imposed
on community members are justified through appeal to these intuitively
As Immanuel Kant ((1785) 1909) has
explained, the concepts of “the moral” and of “duty” go hand in hand. As he
We know our own freedom — from which all moral laws and
consequently all rights as well as all duties arise — only through the moral
imperative, which is an immediate injunction of duty; whereas the conception of
right as a ground of putting others under obligation has afterwards to be
developed out of it.
When a community becomes convinced that
its members have certain inescapable duties and responsibilities, it buttresses
and reinforces the associated forms of behaviour and organisation in a wide
variety of ways so as to channel people into conformity. So, it becomes “common
sense” that the person should conform to the moral order.
62 Definitions of Absenteeism and statistics of its
incidence abound in both government statistics and in private assessments of
'the problem'. See USLegal Definitions for a succinct explanation of the
63 Very similar reasons can be given for
commitment to the requirements of any social template. In any society, the
central processes of status attainment and maintenance, of self-image and
self-respect are supported by claims such as these. And people in those
societies are just as convinced of the validity of the claims as are
Western people of the validity of theirs.
64 See The emergence of Welfarism for more on this. For a nation
which is assumed to be amongst the best 'educated' on earth, it is sad to
hear people in the United States equating 'social welfare' with
'socialism' and denouncing any who argue for social safety net provisions
65 It was the practice of indentured labour
which created the large Indo-Fijian population of the present and has resulted
in ongoing tension between indigenous Fijian and Indian populations. See Lal
(1983) for a discussion.
66 The Boer War (1899-1902) had just started and a
great deal of British propaganda of the time was painting the Boers as barely
civilised abusers of native