In Defence of the Value of People

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I never thought that I’d have to write an article with that title.

Chapotraphouse drew my attention to this extraordinary passage in an MIT Technology Review interview with Ezekiel Emmanuel:

Q: What’s wrong with simply enjoying an extended life?

A: These people who live a vigorous life to 70, 80, 90 years of age—when I look at what those people “do,” almost all of it is what I classify as play. It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value—don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.

Against this, I have no response but to insist that a life composed of nothing but play, friendship and rest is still valuable and meaningful. Indeed it is a lot more meaningful than many lives full of work. As Chapo noted, the logical continuation of this is to send children to work as early as possible, so their lives can be enriched with “meaning”.

But I do have a question. I’ve seen so many writers now arguing that work makes life meaningful, and we should all dread life without work. My question is why do these authors never address themselves to the idle rich? Why do they never address themselves to those who are bringing in a good income and working hard, but in an industry that is ultimately destructive rather than productive? Why do they not acknowledge the unpaid labour many elderly people do- from volunteering to raising the grandkids? Could it be that their real concern is not with the value of work per se, but with the certification of worthiness that comes with an income stream?

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