Monday, August 17, 2009

Hours of Labour 12

by Sydney J. Chapman (translated and condensed by the Sandwichman)

Let me now summarize my main conclusions, and humanize them by restoring the moral and social elements from which our premises were to some extent abstracted. I have hitherto spoken of progress in such terms that the critic would have some excuse for charging me with narrowness of vision. Progress is not summed up in improvements in productive methods that reduce the cost of things, nor in these improvements combined with the application to production of ideas that render work pleasanter and more educative. Nor is it wholly, or in bulk, summed up even if we add improvements in distribution (resulting in a more satisfying sharing of wealth) and a greater responsiveness of production to the needs of the community. The essentials of what most of us really understand by progress are to be found only in the world of consciousness – in the spiritual constituents of the universe. I mean something we cannot exactly define if we are not philosophers – and hardly then – but something implying a full living, with understanding of life and its surroundings, including its ethics, and a living with volitional powers strong enough to enable us to follow our lights. As all this is actually, though vaguely, desired in some degree by humanity generally, it is no doubt covered by the satisfactions measured in demand, but the admission of its reflection on one plane cannot be regarded as its adequate inclusion in our social philosophy.

The most important aspect of the question of the length of the working day consists in its relation to the most intimate constituents of progress. Let us call progress in this sense "culture" – a term, perhaps the best of the single terms available, to convey my meaning. Now the world appears to be so designed that culture has on the whole a proportionately important place in the most primitive economic conditions. The hours of labor in such conditions may be long, but work is not so continuously absorbing that social intercourse during work is impossible, while variety of experience, contact with nature, and the calls made on initiative afford that intimacy with life as a whole, and that evocation of moral forces, which must be obtained in later stages of civilization largely through systematic education and books. I have argued above that each step in civilization brings intensified specialism. Work is by no means rendered non-cultural ultimately, but its cultural aspects are specialized, as are its objective aspects. Interest may be deepened on the whole, but it is no longer diffused; the need for thought and purpose may be no less than before, but the thought and purpose are of a confined character. The intensification of economic life that is implied is in itself all to the good, but the community must lose something of culture unless corresponding with this intensification there is an expansion of leisure and a specialized use of leisure for the purposes of culture. Certain expressions that have come into common use would seem to be significant of the needs and dangers of an industrial society highly advanced on the technical side. Thus we speak of the "cultured" classes and the "leisured" classes. For the attainment of culture, leisure is essential today as it was not in the past in quite the same sense, "culture" being broadly defined. I need not say that a "progress" that meant the "specializing out" of leisure for the sole enjoyment of one class would not commend itself to any reasonable person; and I do not discern any danger of "progress" of this sort; but there is some danger lest the growing importance of leisure generally, and of a proper use of leisure, should not be fully realized. Tangible things force themselves upon our attention as the more intangible do not, and some of us who have an economic bent of mind get into the way, in consequence, of thinking too much of the quantity of external wealth produced and too little of the balance between internal and external wealth. In ultimate terms, to those who care to put it that way, all wealth is life, as Ruskin insisted. There hardly appears to be any risk of a general underrating of external goods, but there is some risk of an underrating of the new needs of the life lived outside the hours devoted to production – which should themselves be, not a sacrifice to real living, but a part of it – and of an underrating of the dependence even of productive advance upon the widespread enjoyment and proper use of adequate leisure and an adequate income.


MA said...

Dang! He writes long sentences! It takes a bit of slowing down the reading not to pass over his main ideas. It is a bit of an intellectual chore.

Sandwichman said...

They're even longer in the original! Maybe someday I'll have time to go through it again and edit it some more.