Thursday, March 17, 2016


After a river clean-up event, I was talking to a guy, probably in his 50s or 60s, about this and that.

He ends up sharing his theory of value and really doesn't like where I take the conversation...

Him: Value comes from labor. All things of value come from human labor.

Me: Really? All valuable things?

Him: Yeah, you've got to work hard, not take the easy way out.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: I'm a farmer, I till the soil for example. I raised kids, and that was really hard.

Me: How was that hard?

Him: Well, you know, there were a lot of things I didn't want to do. But, you know, value came from... changing the diaper, I didn't want to do that, but it was valuable. Today, we moved a lot of trash in our cleanup effort. That was hard, lots of lifting trash up hills. I could have sat in my chair at home, much easier.

Me: Interesting. I find sitting still hard. It was easy for me to do our clean-up today, much easier than sitting still would have been.

Him: Well yeah, sitting still is moving towards death. It's the easy way, but hard work brings value.

Me: Work brings value?

Him: Yes, all value comes from labor.

Me: I don't get it. Doesn't sunshine have value? Or fresh river water? Or clean air? Human labor didn't create those.

Him: Well, here... think of it this way. Joy is the presence of value, and think of misery as the absence of value. Just imagine that paradigm.

Me: Ok.

Him: So think of what brings joy in life. Joy comes from real accomplishments, from doing things. I just cleaned up that river, or I just bought this land.

Me: Can joy or value come from not-accomplishments? Or from not working? What about just sitting and watching a sunset? No labor there.

Him: No, all joyful things comes from labor, from inconvenience...

Me: What? Joy comes from inconvenience?

Him: Yes, yeah, joy comes from inconvenience...

Me: Do you find joy in making love to a woman?


Me: Or a man! Or anybody. There you have joy, and no inconvenience or labor.

... at that point, the work leader interrupted us volunteers to make a final announcement to end the day.

Afterwards this guy and I chatted a little more, and I shared my views that if everyone worked less we could be much happier. He called that 'lazy' and said that sort of laziness caused the 2008 Wall St crash and corrupt behavior generally. No short cuts, he said.

But I think I made my point ;)

[I recommend the whole essay I linked above, "In Praise of Idleness" by Bertrand Russell. One glorious snippet:

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: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing 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 demoralizing. 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 imagined?