Anytime you see an animal do just about anything, you assume that it has to do with surviving and gaining food, if sex isn’t involved. You can sit in a forest and watch the trees stand and do nothing all day except make their food. All living things’ primary objective is Don’t Die and directly synapsed to that is Get Food. We are no exception to that rule and we used to spend the majority of our time looking for or gathering food like all the other animals. Along came the Agricultural Revolution and everything changed.
Farming meant that there was guaranteed food for more people than it required to maintain it. Humans not working on the farms found themselves a steady source of food with an abundance of time. Our curious and creative nature allowed us to take that time and turn it into invention. Goods and services could be created and offered to others to ease their lives and in turn come up with new goods and services that they could then offer. Given enough time, our species could come up with tons of uses for the things they found around them. They had the time, and the first explosion of work began.
As infrastructure and trade expanded, new materials and ideas could be exchanged between previously isolated settlements. Merchants coming from different geographical regions might have access to different materials, good for continuing to expand the amount of stuff a group could make.
Knowing that other settlements have different resources also meant that a single settlement could capitalize on its own resources and export the excess. Naturally, a few disputes about trading consistency would lead to the development of a single unit to keep track of the value of each good or service. You know that unit as money.
For the most part throughout human history, the work you did usually stayed in the family: the butcher’s boy will become a butcher, the baker’s son will become a baker. We fast forward to Industrialization which means both a change in working style and in the scope of trade. In a more interconnected world than ever before, the major economic powers of the time could set up factories to harvest and produce specific resources. Those resources could then be shipped all over the world and recombined with other resources to be shipped yet again. A lot more goes into making a T-shirt than you’d think!
That huge network of trading meant that a single factory did not have to create a final product out of raw materials. Rather, a single factory could be responsible for a small, yet crucial, part of the final product which will be assembled elsewhere with other materials sent to that final factory.
The Industrial Age also saw a trend of people leaving rural areas, where they worked directly with food or at least knew the person who did, to head into the cities to work at the factories. Life in the city was different, the biggest change was that everything costed money. Yes, the people were getting paid by the factories but that money would go to paying for rent and food. Instead of spending the day watching your food grow freely on the Earth, the people began to synapse the idea of food with money which meant that money became synapsed with our primary objective to live.
As technologies made their way into factory production lines, the efficiency of the operation increased greatly. The owners of the factories could have paid their workers more or given them time off since their labor was not needed to maintain the original efficiency; but higher efficiency meant more money for the owner.
Working conditions in the factories used to be brutal in the early Industrial Age: low wages, long hours, hazardous environment and even children workers! We’ve since gotten better but our attempts institutionalized the idea of a 40-hour work week. It was originally implemented as a maximum so we didn’t work as much and instead it has become the norm. We now have technologies that work at 1000x the efficiency of when that work week was decided and yet we still work the same hours, or more!
The drugs of choice even reflect the habituation of the 40-hour work week to the culture. Caffeine wakes you up in the morning to go to work and alcohol numbs you from complaining about work at night. Throw in a weekly holy day and primetime weeknight entertainment and you find a rigid system that keeps the people working as they are supposed to.
We have placed so much significance on our work. The second question people ask you after your name is “What do you do?” As though your job defines who you are as a person. We endure the years and even decades of work that we might not even like just for the chance to get away when we finally retire.
We have forgotten that the world exists outside of our work! We’ve become so productive and so habituated to this level of productivity that we are proud of the individuals who spend their entire life working. And the worst part is they think they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. We are alive, and that’s amazing. We can’t waste a moment of our precious time here doing something we hate just because “that’s the way it’s always been.”