BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: The Evolution of Work

BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: The Evolution of Work

Benjamin Cheever

By Richard Donkin. Texere. 374 pp. $27.95

Share:
Read Time:
6m 21sec



Current Books

a defective upbringing, and who therefore sought to have juvenile delinquents treated as ill rather than punished as wicked. In the 1930s, the psychological approach spread to the middle classes with the marriage counseling movement. During World War II, millions of soldiers were psychologically tested for combatworthiness and bombarded with professional advice about how to stay sane and happy while walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

After the war, the supposedly bored and dissatisfied American housewife was deemed to need psychological support to cope with the neuroses consequent upon suburban prosperity; then came the social unrest of the 1960s, which sought "liberation" not only from oppression but from all personal inhibition. With the Me Decade of the 1970s, it seemed as if some kind of nadir had been reached, but in the following decades millions of people discovered that they were "survivors" of trauma or addicted to something or other, from car theft to sex to shopping. Everyone is now a victim, for lack of selfcontrol is considered a bona fide illness, and thus the search for psychological self-fulfillment has come full circle: We are all, by virtue of drawing breath, in need of therapy. Whether this coherent story wholly corresponds to reality, it makes for a plausible and interesting read.

Moskowitz, who is generally hostile to these developments, does not dig very deeply into the reasons why American society should prove so susceptible to the therapeutic idea. Could it have something to do with the concept of inalienable human rights upon which the Republic was founded? The belief in such rights renders everyone equally important, and therefore raises expectations—which inevitably founder on the existential rock of human limitation. Many Americans are therefore beset by an unease at the contrast between life as they think it ought to be and life as it actually is, an unease that the therapeutic outlook falsely promises to assuage.

Likewise, the author does not explore very deeply the modern taste for victimhood, which is surely connected with the political cataclysms of the 20th century. Few people like to admit that they have led sheltered, privileged, or fortunate lives. They envy suffering, or rather the moral authority that suffering has given such figures as Primo Levi and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Consequently, they inflate the miseries of their own past.

This book is a suggestive rather than a definitive exploration of its theme, but it is a highly worthwhile contribution nevertheless.

—Theodore Dalrymple




BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: The Evolution of Work.

By Richard Donkin. Texere. 374 pp. $27.95

The state of nature may have been nasty, brutish, and short, but was it also leisurely? The bushmen of the Kalahari devote no more than three days a week to gathering food. The Hadza, also of Africa, limit hunting to two hours a day, Donkin reports, "preferring to spend more time in diversionary pursuits such as gambling." In the developed world, meanwhile, "work has come to dominate the lives of the salaried masses, so much so that they are losing the ability to play." Is this progress?

"All true work is religion," wrote Thomas Carlyle. Donkin, a columnist for the Financial Times, aims to expose the shaky foundations of our most essential faith. The narrative is lively and larded with savory facts. We hear of Ned Ludd, the apprentice in a hosiery factory in late-18th-century England who, when threatened with a whipping for working too slowly, took a hammer to the machinery. His 19th-century followers, the Luddites, tried to destroy the technology that would throw them out of jobs. The movement failed, but its name has endured.

Schemes to put workers in a hammerlock have been as constant as their attempts to wriggle free. George Pullman created a town of 12,000 just south of Chicago for the people who built his luxury railroad cars. While the initial expenses were his own, he instituted a system designed for profit at every turn. He marked up the water and gas. He even made money from the vegetables fertilized with worker sewage. One worker said, "We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman church, and when


148 Wilson Quarterly


we die, we shall go to Pullman Hell." When the depression of 1893 hit, Pullman cut wages but not rent. His proles began to go hungry. There was a strike, and they fled paradise in droves. The bitterness ran so deep that when Pullman died in 1897, his coffin was "encased in a thick slab of concrete, lest anyone should try to desecrate his grave."

Harsh feelings between CEOs and their charges were more recently excited by the corporate blood-lettings of the 1990s. "Neutron" Jack Welch cut 100,000 jobs during his first five years at General Electric. Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap laid off a third of the work force at Scott Paper within a year.

Why do we let work become such a dominant element of our lives? Just for the pay? As Donkin notes, the quest for money can’t explain Stonehenge, the pyramids, or the paintings at Lascaux and Chauvet. At its best, he believes, work enables us to "leave something better for those we leave behind, some signpost of our existence, our potential." To that end, he recommends a new work ethic, "an ethic that questions the content of work, that does not value prolonged hard work above everything." And he poses a revolutionary question: "If work is neither well done nor worthwhile, why work at all?" This book is both well done and worthwhile.

—Benjamin Cheever





AN AMERICAN INSURRECTION:
The Battle of Oxford,
Mississippi, 1962.

By William Doyle. Doubleday. 383 pp. $26

Nearly 40 years have passed since an epic constitutional confrontation between a daffy governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, and a dithering Kennedy administration almost escalated into a renewal of the Civil War. The 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi caused a night of carnage, including two deaths, and provoked the deployment of 30,000 troops to ensure James Meredith’s enrollment. The events inspired several books (and a ballad by Bob Dylan) before passing into Southern history. Now Doyle, author of Inside the Oval Office (1999), has returned to the conflict. After interviewing surviving figures and inspecting hitherto unavailable material, he has produced a balanced narrative filled with fresh and important details.


To keep Meredith out of the school known as Ole Miss, Barnett and his segregationist allies fell back on legal arguments invoking states’ rights. But their passions were really fired by an abhorrence of racial integration; Barnett called it "genocide." The author is unsparing in his account of the obstruction by Mississippi officials—and unflattering to the Kennedys, too. Though President John F. Kennedy privately thought such civil rights activity as the Freedom Rides a "pain in the ass," he and his brother, Robert, the attorney general, were compelled to uphold the court desegregation order. Their protracted negotiations with Barnett would be considered opéra bouffe had they not led to such deadly results. Barnett’s deceit in the bargaining became well known and eventually crippled him politically.

The extent of the Kennedys’ misjudgments is documented here for the first time. Their agent in command, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, decided, "without any prior planning, without much thought at all," to use federal marshals to seize the school’s administration building as a show of force. It triggered rioting. After reluctantly committing the army to quell the insurrection, the attorney general countermanded years of U.S. policy by forbidding the use of black troops—including many who



James Meredith escorted by U.S. marshals on the campus of the University of Mississippi



Autumn 2001 149



More From This Issue