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From Puritan Diligence to Consumerist Desire: Navigating the Ethics of Work in Modern Society

  I have read in several books before that it was mentioned that the soil on which modern civilization was founded was Puritan thought. Confucianism has many similarities with it. Both cultures advocate diligence, thrift, overcoming laziness, and making a difference. It has been observed that only countries (or regions) under the influence of these two cultures have become developed countries (or regions).
  However, some people dispute this. It is something like this – my achievements are the result of my efforts and diligence, so your failure is your own responsibility and is caused by your laziness – the arrogance from the elite, this kind of hidden Things with low-level thinking deprive frustrated people of their self-esteem and make our society unhappy and unhappy.
  Zygmunt Bauman’s “Work, Consumerism and the New Poor” belongs to the latter category.
Work at the Beginning of Capitalism

  In order to activate various machines and produce qualified workers for the production line, capitalist ethics have created concepts such as “the meaning of work” and “work ethics.” The implicit content of work ethics is that it is unjust not to work; it is shameful to settle for the status quo.
  In order to adapt to the working conditions on the production line, people must adapt themselves to an extremely regular schedule and life, repeating mechanical movements and requirements. People who were originally free and casual in the pastoral state have been transformed into qualified workers on the production line. In the book “Technology and Civilization”, it is also mentioned that the strict rules and disciplines of the monks within the religious groups provided qualified workers for the early stage of capitalism, allowing the germination of capitalism to emerge.
  In “Work, Consumerism and the New Poor”, Bauman mentioned that in the early days of capitalism, in the 1820s and 1830s, the “real poor” could go to the workhouse to receive assistance. But the conditions in the workhouses were appalling, designed to drive as many people as possible into work. If you don’t work, you will die. In this sense, capitalism domesticates workers with its work ethic.
  With the development of modern times, the types of jobs have become more diverse, and work has become a symbol of people’s status. Work has become the most important benchmark and benchmark in life, and other life arrangements and pursuits must be planned based on it. The unemployment rate has become an indicator that governments around the world generally pay attention to, because when this rate rises, it means that the population that is uncontrolled, unsupervised, and unrestrained by rules is increasing, which is an impact on social stability. Work has risen to a very important position, both for individuals and for society.
  The existence of work ethics means that we have no choice. We must dedicate ourselves to factory labor and become a screw.
  Judging from the historical data provided by Bauman, at the beginning of capitalism, workers were more like screws on the production line, and work ethics did help domesticate workers. In other words, work ethics indeed helped capitalism mobilize productive forces at the beginning of its development. The fact that it can be mobilized actually shows that it meets people’s intrinsic needs to improve their living standards. The author’s writing is to emphasize the inhibition of free choice behind this ethics.
Changes in work ethics in the “American Dream”

  Work ethics has evolved in the “American Dream” to “employees who don’t want to be the boss are not good employees.” It is cloaked in a layer of entrepreneurial spirit and uses the transition of social classes as a driving force to stimulate people’s enthusiasm for work.
  In line with this, the previous stick policy of “work or die” has become outdated with the development of productivity, and the “carrot” policy is more appropriate at this time. It has become a common practice to give material rewards to employees who work hard, thus further strengthening the role of money in the social evaluation system. For a person’s value judgment, people’s scale is so simple that it only has “salary” and “money”.
Comprehensive transformation from producer society to consumer society

  The scale of value evaluation in modern society is so single-“money”. In order to get money, people have to work hard. So how do people vent their thirst and desire for freedom? ——The answer is consumption.
  Consumption means possession. I take possession of it. This is my private property. You can’t touch it without permission. Consumption means destruction. I used it, its mission was accomplished, and it disappeared into the world.
  In pre-modern society, people participated as producers, but in modern society, everyone’s consumer label has been significantly upgraded and emphasized.
  In a consumer society, businesses know your needs better than you do, and there are constantly new products and new temptations to induce your consumption behavior. It makes you feel that you are free and happy in the endless consumption choices, but the fact is that you have lost the choice not to enter this reincarnation. Things must go to extremes, and I think this is why the concept of minimalist living has arisen.
  When economic growth becomes the primary criterion for measuring the orderly operation of modern society, consumption ability and enthusiasm for consumption have become the key. Why do some people like to show off their shopping and famous brands online to show off their spending power? Because it means “having money”, “surpassing others” and “a higher quality of life”. Just from the appearance, this kind of consumerism is already a global phenomenon.
  In the era of producers, stable and continuous work is people’s first choice, and people use this to determine their identity and social order. However, the original compulsory work ethic has become outdated in modern consumer society. Regulation and coercion mean restricting freedom, and restricting freedom will stifle people’s consumption ability. As a result, identity has become a consumer product, and people can be “designed”. Maintaining or recreating a persona becomes an operation. Work has also become more flexible and short-term.
  If you are a producer, then he needs to know what he wants to produce, he needs to have a goal, a direction, it can be said that he needs to have an ideal. But if you are a consumer, what you need to do is to do your best to be in the most noisy and lively places to get more opportunities for consumption. The background is a kind of opportunism and utilitarianism.
  The most popular contemporary ideological core is actually that consumers should fulfill their consumption responsibilities as much as possible. Consumption becomes an aesthetic and an opportunity to bring people a pleasant experience. The value of work is no longer determined by the work itself, but by its ability to produce pleasurable experiences.
  Under the traditional work ethic, the meaning of work itself is self-evident; but in the consumer society, work is divided into three, six or nine levels, and there is a distinction between high and low. Those jobs with a “sense of mission” have become the privilege of a few and a symbol of the elite. These people work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These people are slaves to the new style of work.
  Due to the short-term work (contract period), talking about dedication and hard work in this case seems very hypocritical and empty, and these moral preachings have lost their soul and appeal. Athletes work hard for their sports career and bear fruit. Once they win, they are honored, but after that they may become inactive or even impoverished. This further destroys people’s belief in perseverance.

There is no room for boredom in the consumer world

  Freud said that once desires are satisfied, they will become tired and that kind of personal happiness is difficult to maintain. But the consumer society has given this possibility, it constantly creates new desires, and people experience the sense of happiness in the process of continuous pursuit of satisfaction. Therefore, the life rule of consumers in the consumer society is – don’t get bored, and quickly look for the next excitement.
  It’s easy to create desires, but money is needed to realize them. Only money can cure boredom. When a poor person is short of money, he may not be able to relieve boredom in the way of a wealthy person, so challenging law and order becomes his adventure to fight against boredom.
Tensions between welfare state ideals and traditional work ethics

  Some people believe that the concept of the welfare state separates citizen life from “contribution to society” and believes that it is necessary to ensure that all citizens have the “right” to live a decent and dignified life at all times. Therefore, under the concept of the welfare state, a dignified life is a political issue of civil rights, not an issue of economic performance.
  Obviously, this is inconsistent with traditional work ethics. But as capitalism develops, it will inevitably need to face these internal tensions and contradictions, and modern welfare states have also carried out a lot of practice.
  Bowman mentioned the views of Beveridge, the main promoter of the British welfare state in the mid-20th century, and his subsequent contribution to the passage of the British national insurance bill (National Insurance Bill). Beveridge advocated a kind of universal social security dedicated to eliminating people’s fear itself. But in practice, social security is mostly selective, and a certain economic review does exist. The consequences of selective social security are that those who receive security are considered losers, lazy, idle people, and people with nothing to do, which further strengthens the moral sense of the successful (the elite) and intensifies the fragmentation of society. .
  Why has the welfare state been decadent, attacked and questioned since the 1980s? The author attributes this to the results of globalization. For the expansion and security of capital, old-fashioned state aid becomes irrelevant. They expected greater returns in new lands (land with cheaper labor). For the government, it will face a double-click situation. On the one hand, the local population is unemployed, and on the other hand, capital flows out. The democratic system played a role at this time, and social security still had an outlet for demands.
  However, judging from the practice in recent years, it seems that the vast majority of people support “tax cuts”, that is, reducing benefits. Why do middle-level voters who would have voted for “enhancement increases” no longer support tax increases? It turns out that the main reason why the main force who voted for tax increases voted was probably due to a fear that one day they would become poor and need to receive relief. Why are these people no longer voting for a tax increase today? This may also be related to the fact that in the consumer society, people pay more attention to “freedom of choice.” Considering various aspects such as cost-effectiveness, they may think that this is not cost-effective, and it is better to arrange some private insurance on their own.
  There is a connection between the decline of the welfare state concept and the rise of the consumer society concept.
Further alienation of work ethics

  There are four types of occupations in the labor market. The first category includes leaders, inventors, advertisers, promoters and businessmen; the second category includes educators; the third category includes those engaged in “consumer market services”; the fourth category includes regular workers.
  The fourth category is the labor force that is most easily replaced. With the increasingly large-scale application of machine production, this part of the profession will disappear in the future.
  The first type of people are called “nomads” by Bauman. For them, space is not a problem and distance is not a problem. They are at home everywhere. They are light, flexible and changeable. They are active members and promoters of globalization. By.
  Overpopulation does not seem to be alarmist. It is probably impossible to imagine people’s careers and working conditions in the future based on current human imagination.
  The lower class has emerged, and people even think that if this group of people disappears, the entire society will be better. The alienated work ethic believes that being at the bottom is the result of personal choice and your own inability to achieve a decent life in a society with equal opportunities. In this way, poverty is defined as a personal choice.
  Because we are now a consumer society, and the core of the consumer society is the freedom of choice to satisfy one’s endless desires. You once had this kind of freedom, and it was your own problem – your incompetence, your lack of effort, your irresponsibility, and your “anti-social” behavior, which led to your current situation. Therefore, you need to bear the consequences yourself. The degradation of the welfare state concept is closely related to this ideological trend.
  Bowman’s examples of the increase in death row inmates in the United States and the trials of related cases of people with mental disorders are quite thought-provoking. The author pointedly points out that it is precisely based on these ideological trends and concepts that people’s moral obligations to the poor disappear, and they are either deported or imprisoned. The author criticizes people for losing the ability to reflect on themselves.
  Bowman also mentioned that affirmative action in the United States has helped many African Americans to advance in life, but these people are not grateful for this act. They claim that their achievements come from their own efforts. The inventor of affirmative action promoted the bill upholding the noble moral character of collective care and supporting the weak. However, as a result, the benefited people not only lost the motivation to give back, but became the strongest detractors of the bill.
  After reading this book, two words lingered in my mind: “compassionate heart” and “grateful heart”.
  A compassionate heart allows us to become givers and engines of love, allowing love to be passed on; a grateful heart allows us to become recipients, receiving love and passing on love.
  I personally advocate a progressive view of the world. Is Pastoral so good? In fact, the dinner table of the last emperor may not be as rich and beautiful as we ordinary people today, let alone social freedom and personal development issues. As society has developed to this day, the current system is reasonable and supported by its human core. But problems will always exist, and contradictions will never disappear. I believe that when doing things, we need to discuss the matter as it is, and everyone should actively strive for it from the perspective they can think of, advance in diversity, and adhere to long-termism and a future-oriented approach.
  If we want human society to be better, education must be a top priority. We must educate our children to become inner-rich people who can be self-consistent, balanced, and find the joy of life no matter what the circumstances. If they happen to be able to do something beneficial to the development of more human beings, that would be even better. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have one. Maintaining the happiness of yourself and those around you is a thing that is beneficial to society.
Is it an asset or a liability?

  Finally, Bauman’s reference to the balance sheet in “Work, Consumerism, and the New Poor” caused an occupational illness in me.
  The author writes on page 93: So-called “surplus” people are marked on the debit side of the balance sheet, not the credit side, because they do not add to society’s wealth, either now or in the foreseeable future – they only add Burden on society (public expenditure). They are “resource black holes”, problems for which there is no clear solution; the economic growth and social prosperity brought by the people engaged in “economic activities” seem to be unable to create job demand for “surplus” people and cannot make them work. They are re-employed.
  But the author writes on page 154: In the balance sheet of consumer society, the poor are obviously liabilities, and they cannot be included in current or future assets in any case.
  So, is this an asset or a liability? I don’t know if it’s the translation or the original text. The author’s expression here is somewhat casual and vague. What’s more, for the balance sheet, there is actually no distinction between debits and credits. Only accounts have debits and credits.
  It may not be accurate to express such a complex social issue in a financial report, but the author’s expression aroused the interest of a financial person. Let me just imagine, what impact does a person’s birth have on the social balance sheet? I think assets, liabilities and equity should increase at the same time and remain balanced initially. Individual rights correspond to liabilities in the social balance sheet; personal obligations correspond to equity in the social balance sheet; individuals also exist as an asset in the social balance sheet.
  It’s just that people who are beneficial to society play a role similar to long-term equity investments, which can continuously bring value increments to the social income statement and social cash flow statement; while people who are not beneficial to society are similar to long-term deferred expenses. , the effect of existence is to make the social income statement worse. Of course, the “beneficial” and “unhelpful” mentioned here can go beyond the scope of monetary measurement and be measured from a richer or more grand dimension. The richer the dimensions of measurement, the fewer people will be purely useless, and the richer and more harmonious the social financial report will be.

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