"That work has become increasingly subdivided into
petty operations that fail to sustain the interest or engage the capabilities of
humans with current levels of education ..."
And the end result is increasingly alienation. The fabric of social order is maintained by people. Each link contributes. If contributions are limited the result is frustration. In times past labor has been limited. Guilds controlled who could specialize in what craft. Gross poverty insured the lower masses would slum ignorant of better life. Primitive survival rules were in effect. But man attempts to rise out of poverty and in the United States a large majority has insured Maslow's lower hierarchy.
Some say Maslow developed self-actualization specifically as a spoiled labors goal, not as a goal common to all men. This is, of course, an incorrect, and perhaps deliberate, misinterpretation of Maslow's need structure. Men - humans - have unique levels of potential development. Unique in relation to observable life because the human's individual potential is so open-ended. This in particular is what Maslow was calling attention to. People, once satisfying more basic needs, tend to develop higher needs which drive them to attain more of their own potential.
As it is apparent that man is a social creature, his needs must find satisfaction through intercourse with others. The shameful dilemma which Braverman in his way highlights is the withdrawal of suitable outlets for expression and fulfillment of higher needs. Withdrawal being the key word. For Braverman contends a deliberate policy of social perversion is being carried out. Before examining the deliberateness of social management the task of identifying social outlets needs to be done.
What is work? Let's adopt a social definition and arbitrarily assign work as that level of human effort required to produce or fulfill a social need or desire. It seems true that men can expend effort which is so entirely restrained as to never extend past themselves. What this paper is doing is bypassing discussion of this non-social labor. It would not be correct to construe the work ethic as entirely a social premise, although a strong case could be made to the effect that even seemingly individual effort develops that individual to some extent on a socially measurable scale.
Braverman carried work up the social stratum by partially adopting Aristotle's definition of intelligent action. This presents difficulties because of the tremendous routinization of processes inherent in man. For instance, production of tortillas is extremely valuable to Mexico's social order. It would qualify then as a fulfillment of need. It is not, however, an intelligent action. Cultivation of fields even through weeding and harvesting is a necessary labor, but an intelligent action it is not.
What is being denoted here is the significant gap between socially accrued task and the individual's growth potential in that task. Cities depend on a limited number supporting their vast numbers. It could be said that when a man grew his own food the work he put into the production brought personal rewards of higher significance than survival or money. Those days are gone. Many tasks have been taken away from us which provided a sense of accomplishment. Not only field workers, but factory workers as well have suffered a meaning separation. A separation which has taken labor to limited production at a cost of personal worth (disenfranchisement?)
Society is the living interaction of individuals. As individuals increase their societal contribution satisfaction should occur. This does not happen because of a lack of direct feedback as to the worth of their labor. Rather, modern society has increasingly utilized the indirect mode of monetary returns to motivate labor, completely ignoring what might be considered 'satisfying' levels. Again this refers to needs of the individual. As lower levels are saturated quantum leaps occur, which cause otherwise inactive needs to seek fulfillment. Yet in production scales these higher needs are ignored. Why? Perhaps because of an intrinsic limitation of the current mode of production. Capitalist production is geared largely in terms of profit 0 monetary profit. In a more socially cognizant system profit might be determined more in terms of contributions towards fulfillment of social needs and desires. As society is composed of individuals this could be looked upon as suggesting a summation of individual worth.
Individual worth must remain a relative value with subjective understanding. Yet it would seem apparent that society must accept human growth as its goal. The individualistic realization of potential. Rather than enslavement to materialism, restructuring the social order to better open outlets of human contribution. In this fashion can workers satisfy the spectrum of needs which motivate them.
But work ethic has not carried capitalism to an enlightened view of man. Rather, capitalism has perverted labor to the level of machinery. Perhaps this was done consciously to keep any group of individuals from recreating the existing structure. In any case, the habituation program has successfully frustrated workers. The result has been ingrained apathy recognizing either temporality or pessimism rather than the optimistic joy of living. The loss is enormous as uncountable incidents find sliding easier than building.
Braverman relates similar findings in similar terms. But his story is pathetic rather than energetic. The depth of degradation seems insurmountable as presented. The motivation of workers to change the social structure significantly is drowned in drugs and less well recognized but equally sapping escape routes.
What this essay is doing is pinpointing Braverman's message: social needs are not being fulfilled and the reason is our mode of production. Alienation is common and apathy is the result. Perhaps Kin's passive resistance will be strong enough to destroy the already disintegrating institutions by which a country perpetuates itself. Perhaps. But what then? In Labor and Monopoly Capital Braverman does not suggest solutions, but rather contents himself with denoting problems. Solutions evolve but not always in agreeable fashion. Obviously it is this writer's belief that the only meaningful solution will be the opening of outlets for individual expression and development of human potential. Society is benefited when her individual constituents' self actualization is encourages. The process could become one capable of gathering momentum - yet surely many men have realized this truth. This realization coupled with today's lack of suitable outlets - indeed suppression of outlets - is cause for supreme pessimism. Braverman does little to abate this pessimism although his second work is undoubtedly informative to nonworking classes of the condition workers have been formed into. For to anyone who has worked blue collar or mediocre paperpushing white collar, the knowledge Braverman presents is not news but everyday experience.
Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital, The
Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. Monthly Review Press, 1974.
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