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The Abolition Of Work


BOB BLACK

TO GRASP THE FULL ENORMITY of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity, without government or property, when we wandered as hunter-gatherers. Thomas Hobbes surmised that life was then nasty, brutish and short.

Others assume that life was a desperate unremitting struggle for subsistence, a war waged against a harsh Nature with death and disaster awaiting the unlucky or anyone who was unequal to the challenge of the struggle for existence. Actually, that was all a projection of fears for the collapse of government authority over communities unaccustomed to doing without it, like the England of Hobbes during the Civil War.

Hobbes' compatriots had already encountered alternative forms of society which illustrated other ways of life -- in North America, particularly—but already these were too remote from their experience to be understandable. (The lower orders, closer to the condition of the Indians, understood it better and often found it attractive.

Throughout the seventeenth century, English settlers defected to Indian tribes or, captured in war, refused to return to the colonies. But the Indians no more defected to white settlements than West Germans climb the Berlin Wall from the west.)

The "survival of the fittest" version—the Thomas Huxley version—of Darwinism was a better account of economic conditions in Victorian England than it was of natural selection, as the anarchist Peter Kropotkin showed in his book Mutual Aid, a Factor in Evolution.

Kropotkin was a scientist who'd had ample involuntary opportunity for fieldwork whilst exiled in Siberia: he knew what he was talking about. Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.

The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled "The Original Affluent Society." They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play.


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Text ©Bob Black : PO Box 1342, Albany, NY 12203-0142 | Graphics by GSIS