In feedback from my last post about anthropomorphism I was struck that two commenters pointed out a connection to the kinds of jobs and livelihoods that the current system makes available, and more specifically how these modern jobs are miserable, monotonous, and demeaning
This connection is new to me, so I was intrigued. How are the more anthropomorphic forms of God related to the jobs and livelihoods that we find ourselves pursuing? On the one hand, itʻs not too hard to see how a monotheistic, hierarchical spiritual structure is mirrored in our top-down, centralized power structure.
But how do anthropomorphic gods lead to miserable jobs? Is it because we make ourselves deeply and insidiously unhappy when the result of our labors is to isolate humanity from the rest of life? Is it because we cannot be happy serving a mechanical, extractive system which is so clearly life-destroying? Is it because we know in our bones that we are not working for the good of a beloved community or even for ourselves but instead for a demented social order?
Reading Nate Hagen and D.J. Whiteʻs essay “GDP, Jobs, and Fossil Largesse” helped to make the connection become a little clearer to me. In their readable and lively essay Hagan and White make a distinction between work and jobs. Work is something that started with life itself – chasing down food, finding a comfortable nook to sleep in, etc. Jobs are specific to humans.
Work is something we share with ants and amoeba. Work is what you do, either as an individual or as a society, to stay alive and thrive. Jobs, on the other hand, are a much more recent phenomenon. Jobs are a way of distributing wealth and power. Jobs reflect and uphold a social order. “These days in this culture, a “good job” is defined by how much it pays, not by what it accomplishes,” Hagen and White point out.
And when we come to define everything by the mono-crop of money; when we have reduced the meaning of everything to a single measure, to a reductive economic monotheism, then how surprising is it that the jobs that serve that system are monotonous and make us miserable?
Is there a solution? Nothing easy of course. But being aware of the distinction between work and “jobs” is important. Too often we confuse one for the other, both at the small scale of thinking about the work we do, and at the larger scale of thinking about the systems we live within.