by Kit Caless
Like a lot of people, I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a deckhand on P&O Ferries, a dustman, a barman, an administration robot, a security guard, tea-boy at L’Oreal, a copywriter, an editor, a social media wonk. I’ve had zero hour contracts, I’ve been freelance, and I’ve had a salary. None of these things have satisfied me. In a country where the average worker spends 36 days a year writing emails (Londoners receive around 9,000 emails each year), you begin to wonder what the hell work really is.
And as we trudge back to work, it seems like a worthwhile time to ask: What is the point?
Peter Fleming, professor of Business and Society at City University, has tried to answer this question in his book The Mythology of Work. When I met him in an overpriced café in east London, he told me, “The refusal of work movement isn’t about laziness.” In fact, he said, “it’s nothing to do with doing nothing. In fact, if you want to see people doing nothing, go into a large corporation. Some of us are very lucky that our work really is a labor of love, but that’s not the case most of the time.”
General antipathy for work makes it all the more weird that, if you live in a metropolis like London, the one question everyone will ask when they meet you for the first time is, “What do you do?” Fleming says this is natural. “The ideology of work has demolished all of the other traditional status structures related to religion, artistic endeavor, raising family, and other status symbols within communities. After demolishing these structures we have been presented with a situation that tells us the only thing that matters is the work you do—and therefore you should revolve and center your whole life around that. It’s followed the increased individualization of society, which has broken traditional communities apart.”