Yeah, I think we’d be WAY better off — and more content — if we did more of a different kind of work. To that point, in my most recent post (which I think you read?) I say the following:

But my suspicion is that people will be a lot happier actively tending whatever land they steward because every indigenous elder who speaks on the matter (and lots of off-grid white farmers in Maine or wherever) wax philosophic about the deep contentedness of being daily connected to the earth.

This might be an important semantic distinction: I define labor as work with a market value. So doing more of our own subsistence work, and doing less subsistence labor (in other words, working less for owners) is probably our goal? But I also believe that machines will help smooth the transition. And I’m going to get into this more in my next essay.

18th Century farmers (and factory laborers) labored horrid hours. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors took it pretty easy. Which is why there’s a direct correlation between agriculture, the rise of large civilizations, class stratification, slavery, and war. When people are active, spiritual stewards of the land (see: all the tribes of “California” pre-Junípero Serra, for instance), people didn’t toil eight (or 14) hours a day in the sun. They knew the food rhythms of the season. They hunted and trapped year round. An Ohlone deer hunter might spend 5 days just sweating and fasting before he went out to kill one deer. Acorn harvesting season was a concentrated few weeks of work. But it was also a party. Everyone from all the tribelets that shared a grove would dance and sing their way through it. Work, but joyful.

Long story short, I think we need to be a lot more like our living-in-harmony-with-nature hunter-gatherer forbears. The land won’t support the eight (or 10 or 16) billion people who live on earth anymore without some really concentrated, dare-I-say artificial calorie production. That’s where I think things like vertical agriculture and even food printers and meat labs and cricket farms might play a role in semi-automating — de-laboring — subsistence work. Not because it’s better if machines do it. But because intensive subsistence work seems to always beget stratification in the anthropological record. If you need to tend a field all day for 2/3 of the year, someone will figure out a way to become an aristocrat and exploit some serfs to do his farming for him. But if you live in a culture where your spiritual life is about collecting acorns every fall, you don’t scheme to get someone else to gather them for you.

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