The last stage of the laboring society, the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning as though individual life had actually been submerged in the overall life-process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality, the still individually sensed pain and trouble of living, and acquiesce in a dazed, "tranquilized", functional type of behavior.
Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago press, 1998), p. 322.
What she says here goes against the grain of most elevations of modern society - she sees in it decreasing individuality, functionalism and a clinging to Necessity. According to Arendt, modern society has turned everything into necessities, everything is consumed. The modern society is a transient world, in which nothing lasts. It's a world with no traces of meaning. It's a society beyond utilitarianism. As she sees it, the modern world is not even focused on "maximization of utility" - everything revolves around a primitive, reduced concept of "happiness". A de-individualized concept of happiness.
I guess her analysis of modern society is to the point in many ways (what she says about alienation from the world in relation to a society of consumers is, for example, very illuminating - to some extent). But which are the philosophical implications? Which philosophical questions are actualized by her text? It appears to me that her distinctions (between 'labor', 'work', 'action' etc.) do capture something that otherwise tends to be riddled by confusion - but that she might not be that clear about what kind of distinctions she takes herself to make (she talks as if she is making remarks about a historical development). I think, for example, that some sociologists (philosophers?) have caused some confusion by talking about work as a specific form of human activity that might appear meaningful, dreadful, meaningless, etc. and, within the same analysis, as something that can be accounted for as a process that has particular societal and historical developments - specific characteristics, as it were. Of course, these two aspects also go together - a specific activity may change due to changes in the surrounding world.
Are there specific reasons that makes it tempting to treat 'work' as something that yields accounts that are 'impersonal' or 'external'? Are there some pictures of 'work', which imply a mystification of the relation between 'personal accounts' and 'external' views?
My friend M wrote an article about the changing world of dock workers. He interviewed guys who'd been in the business a long time, and they talked about their experiences of work in the docks. They talk about increasing requirements of efficiency: ships are staying in the docks for a very short period at a time. The work performed in the harbor is also increasingly specialized, these tasks require a specific education. But one guy also talks about the concrete results he is able to see when performing his job. The activities in the harbor are divided between different actors. There is a company that covers every stage of the work process. My friend reflects on the way the harbor is a different place than it used to be. It's not accessible anymore, it's not a part of city life the way it once was. The architecture of the place he is writing about is described as well suited for its purposes; it's inhuman.
The background of my suspicion is this: there are a great many discussion about the way the modern world (???) has undergone some changes that forever has changed earlier conditions for the way work is performed and, also, the way work is experienced. Not only are these historical simplifications inappropriate but they also seem to be an expression of something else. Maybe we're talking about the same kind of confusion that discussions about "secularization" has given rise to. The idea is, of course, that christianity has lost a foothold in the modern world and that the reason for why this is so can be traced to a specific set of circumstances, be it 'science' or 'a culture of doubt' or something else. There's something fishy going on here, too, a mix-up of external and internal (internal = political, personal etc. aspects of change). My immediate impression is that these two discussions of historical & existential developments of labor & faith may shed light on each other.
Jacques Ellul has quite a few illuminating things to say about determinism and historical development. He describes a society dominated by 'technique'. But it is not an automatical process, of industrialization, or 'the take-over of the machines', that has led to this. His analysis seems to boil down to the conclusion that 'technique', meaningless efficiency and means-end rationality, is an expression of the state we are in - it's an expression of us, of our corruption.
God, I'm confused right now! Sigh. I don't even know if what I am concerned with here is a pseudo-problem, a mere play with words, or if I am inclined to dig into all problems at once and that's why I mix things up.