Sunday, September 4, 2011

Coda 1: Work

As a coda, I want to mention work - the role it plays and the attraction it has for us as an extension of, complement to, and/or substitute for the family. Directly or indirectly, work is life's other great thread, the successor to school, first of all - that other great inculcator  of discipline. And work is also the enabler of family, creating the wherewithal to achieve a measure of independence, to marry, and to support the household.
    A topic in itself, work needs to be mentioned here, not least to note the social costs of economic stagnation and exploitation. One achievement of the postwar era was to quell for a time in selected countries the terror of unemployment and put family life on sounder footing for the working and middle classes. That achievement has been undermined here and elsewhere, and family life has suffered in consequence.
    The employers of my father's young adulthood were altruistic, reflecting the sacrifices the younger generation made on their behalf. The first 15 years of the postwar era, 1945 to 1960, were a period of rebuilding, which drove economic growth and made work inherently and self-evidently valuable. In the 1960s, this fell apart. At the same time, the shadow side of the postwar era - its apparent emptiness - triggered a reaction from the next generation, which was committed foolishly to pointless "tactical" wars by its elders. Unburdened by their elders' gratefulness for having survived and prospered, and taking prosperity for granted, the 1960s generation (and its older camp-followers) turned society inside out. Billed as a revolution, it was more of an interregnum that paralleled the real one - for civil rights - that started earlier and persisted longer. That struggle played out across life: love, work, and family.
    Work lost its altruism in the 1960s, too. The social paradise narrowed and was criticized. Pundits looked to the market. Friedrich Hayek, actually an admirer of tradition, was cited along with Ayn Rand to justify dog eat dog. The era of high finance supplanted the era of manufacture in the west, Japan excepted. (Japan kept it going until 1990.) Western families began their long accommodation. Governments bought it and enabled it.
    Yet, oddly, the altruism of work rises as often as it falls. New enterprises regularly take it up, even now. That the market sometimes crushes them doesn't negate the impulse. As with the family, some organizations understand that altruism is part of a social compact that creates a bond stronger than money alone. These organizations stand out today as the exceptions. Along with the economy, a lot of its would-be prime movers are broken. Their destruction is attributed to strategic errors, market failures, and bad luck, but often it looks more like the people at the top took leave of their senses, walling off the play of opinion - the intimate tension - that is intrinsic to marriages and families.

No comments:

Post a Comment