It’s the Labour Day weekend in parts of the world: a time for a break, to advocate for Workers, even to consider “labour.”
The philosopher Hannah Arendt had interesting ideas about labour: she insisted on a distinction between “labour” and “work:” She wrote quite a lot about this in her opus The Human Condition but, in short, defined Labour as providing for basic needs, and Work as creating durable things.
Labour may be seen as enslavement to biological processes: to labour is to be seen as an “animal laboran,” wrote Arendt. After they’re consumed the products of labour vanish and so, since Antiquity, labourers have been held in contempt by most Western thinkers. (No “be here now,” or “life is a journey” for them.)
To Work, on the other hand, is to fabricate things: “objects for use (that) posssess the durability (John) Locke needed for the establishment of property,the “value” Adam Smith needed for the exchange market, and they bear testimony to productivity, which (Karl) Marx believed to be the test of human nature.”1
Arendt, who identified enormous value in both labour and work, seemed to find it bizarre that people do not distinguish between the labour of the body and the work of the hands — between “animal laborans” and “homo faber.” She pondered how some thinkers, notably Marx and Smith, turned instead to a (simplistic) distinction between productive and unproductive work. If Arendt were still with us, I wonder if she’d link many of our world’s problems to our failure to think about, let alone to understand, the essence of our labours.
Moving on, here, for your Labour Day weekend, is a stellar lineup of new Work on F&O:
In our Magazine section: The Drowning of the ‘Amazon of North America’: Southeast Louisiana hosts half of America’s oil refineries; pipelines that serve 90 percent of that nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply; a vital port; and 2 million people. And, at a rate of a football field every hour, Southeast Louisiana is drowning.
In Commentary: China accepts tribute from its vassal, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe: The air in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People was heavy with the pungent smell of irony this week …
Asks Chris Wood in Clam Rolls: Ever had a clam roll? … Enjoy one, if you get the chance, because the lowly clam is the latest canary to show signs of expiring in our climate mine. There is hope though …
In Arts: Brian Brennan’s new Brief Encounters column looks at Choreographer to the Stars: Norman Maen. You’ll find short reviews of the summer flick The Hundred-Foot Journey and the book Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey; a fun romp of a piece about
the Guardians of the Galaxy mixtapes, and a poignant little essay: Richard Attenborough touched my life.
Ignore the IQ Test, advises a piece in Expert Witness, and in Dispatches you might check out a science story about The microbiome you (and your pets) share.
You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, while much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support (a monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee), but if you’d like to give us a try before throwing pennies our way, drop me a note at Editor@factsandopinions.com, and I will email you a complimentary day pass.
Have a great weekend.
Notes and further reading:
1. The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt, especially the chapters Labor and Work.
The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College http://www.bard.edu/hannaharendtcenter/
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