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10/19/2004 Archived Entry: "Digging a ditch -- Second dispatch from the desert"

SPEAKING OF WORK, as I was in that last BHM column, we were actually doing some work the other day out here at the Desert Hermitage. We were digging a small trench -- just 30 feet long, and a foot wide and deep -- to bury a water line. It took four of us. Not because the ground was too hard or the technical challenges unusual. It took four of us ... just because.

One of the guys would wield a pick and break up a few feet of the surface. One of the women would shovel out the loose dirt. Another guy would step in with the pick. Another woman with a shovel. In the meantime, the idlers had to chat and advise, and occasionally throw a ball to keep the dogs out of the way. Everybody had a role to fill.

There's something very unamerican, or at least un-Protestant-work-ethic, about this method of getting a job done. Tsk, tsk. How inefficient. How lazy. Nobody even worked up a sweat. We actually had fun and didn't drive ourselves too hard.

This reminded me of the way folks handle such routine work in tribal villages. I hardly count myself an anthropological expert, but I actually do have a little experience hanging around one primitive tribe. I fondly remember how it took at least five men to cook a meal (the men did all the cooking because the women were "unclean" -- which sounds insulting, but also sounds like a cagey way for us broads to get you guys to do some of the hard work for us). It took more like 10 or 20 women to do the laundry, gathering at a stream bank, laughing and gossiping their heads off and making bawdy comments about the cute, nearly naked tushes on the passing guys.

It was a nice way to get routine tasks done. Have we European/American types ever had a tradition of such lazy work? Seems even our old-time barn raisings and husking bees involved pretty intense, sometimes competitive, work, along with the socializing.

You can argue that four-person trench digging is or five-man cooking is inefficient and unproductive, but it still strikes me we might get trenches dug and hay hauled more effortlessly if we considered it a form of fun and/or social activity.

Ah, but don't worry. Soon it'll be a moot point, anyhow. Katherine Albrecht writes to note that scientists have now figured out how to genetically engineer monkeys to make them happy to work endlessly at dull, repetitive tasks for no reward. The same engineering is expected to work in humans. "I am happy to be an Epsilon-minus ..."

(You see why I've been enjoying Internet avoidance?)

Posted by Claire @ 02:03 PM CST

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