I recently have become increasingly aware of a practice I find somewhat disturbing: specifically the practice of parents routinely allowing babies to cry alone until they fall asleep.
While it strikes me as barbaric, it has been described to me as necessary for anyone in the given household to get any sleep. In many homes both parents are wage earners, who often work long hours starting early in the day. Being well rested is a necessity in many jobs, on which people depend to pay for their home, their child and the basic necessities of life.
While people throughout human history may have resorted to such techniques to keep babies from crying, it seems highly likely that the wage labor regimes of the post-industrial certainly encourage it. While I don’t wish to romanticize our pre-industrial ancestors, it seems likely that in such cultures mothers and babies were rarely apart and leaving babies to cry so that one could wake up early to commute to work would have been far less of an issue. Tragically not only do adults have to sacrifice their time and energy to work, but babies and children are often robbed of attention of their parents time and attention by the need to pay the bills.
Ironically it is in our post-industrial times of plenty that such issues arise. Typical employees not only spend most of their waking hours at work, but spend large portions of their ostensibly free time preparing for their next day of work. For many people depression and anxieties related to work is a severe problem. A quick Google search of “anxiety about work” reveals that countless Americans live in a state of constant fear of doing something wrong in the work place, upsetting bosses or influential coworkers, being ostracized on the job or fired.
While there are undoubtedly many rewarding careers, and many people who are able to successfully support themselves doing things they love, today’s service sector based economy leaves many of us “only in it for the money” or “liking our job, just well enough to keep it”. Even those of us who are getting paid to do things we love often get completely burned out on them after a short period, as nothing takes the enjoyment out of any tasks, the way making it one’s primary source of income does.
This is not to mentioned the opportunity cost of working a full time job or for that matter, being unemployed and having to spend time seeking a full time job (an often time consuming task). After a 40 plus hour week of work, one is often lacking in the intensity needed to fully pursue one’s other interest, and crashing in front of the TV is often the most attractive option. Freeing the worlds people from the need to spend time this way would undeniably allow more to pursue their interests to higher levels of perfect, not to mention engage more fully in their personal relationships. It has been suggested that abolishing the need to work would create an artistic and cultural revolution that would make the Italian Renaissance pale in comparison.
On a related note one has to wonder just how many potential Shakespeares, Newtons, and Michael Jordans will never reach their potential because they have had to waste time in the fields, factories and sweatshops of the developing world. Closer to home I have known several people who have had to work an assortment of night and weekend shifts, causing them to miss countless social gatherings, and exciting events because of their jobs.
This is not even to mention the financial costs people make for their jobs, in the forms of suits, new cars ect. Add this to the burnout, anxiety, pointless alienation, compromised family and social life and opportunity costs described above and one sees sacrifices made for among the biggest costs of modern life. A few generations back it was assumed technology would make reduce the work-week to negligibility by now. The technology is here, let’s make that happen.