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Without work, who am I?

April 9, 2017

We cannot ignore the fact that work defined a significant portion of our lives and often we ourselves associates our work, our career as who we are. However, as technology advances and new methods of production emerge to replace human labor, where would we stand without work to define who we are and what we are?


Livingston’s arguments are not thought experiments or made up truths. Computerization and artificial intelligence are no longer fictional movie plots, but inevitable progress of technology and creative destruction. Some might object or protest to prevent like the luddites of the industrial revolutions, while some might use this opportunity to reap the benefits of the technological advancement. Work by labour might disappear as machines are simply more productive than humans. This would free up time for leisure and creation, something that man only dream of in the past. Yet, do we dread such changes?


As capitalism become dominant ideology in today’s context, it is hard to dissociate work with identity. This is reinforced by pragmatic ideology that Singapore uphold, where we should become effective workers, contributing to the economy. These ideas also resonates across the different societies. Our obsession with economic growth and profit have made work our identity and make us believing that what we choose to work helps to define who we are and what we believe in. This evident as we defined ourselves, we often consider our ambitions and type of work we wish to be involved in. Furthermore, it is difficult to grasp who we are without linking to something tangible like occupations. It might come to the point where we might not be able to understand ourselves beyond the realm of work, implying that work become a powerful symbolic representations of ourselves. 


This identification have strong implications of how we behave and social forces that are at play. These includes in-group bias, creation of specific rules in behavior and dictation of social norms, which exist inherently in our everyday lives. This makes the future all the more uncertain, as the rapid changes in jobs and the definition of work would have the ability to change the social dynamics and challenges identities that exist today. However, society have never failed to adapt and change to better suit the situations to create and renew social relations to help the society function. Perhaps there are similarities and lessons that we could changes that each revolutions brought about and better prepare us to deal with these issues.


Beyond the implications, I personally found it interesting to imagine and consider a world without work as of today. It forces me to define myself with less constraints and to really think about life from a different perspective. It helps to explore the social forces around me that helps to define who I am and my actions overtime, and reveal a little more to the meaning of life.


This article is written in response to Livingston's article, "Fuck Work" on Aeon. For the original article, please refer to: https://aeon.co/essays/what-if-jobs-are-not-the-solution-but-the-problem

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