Monday, January 31, 2005

the sort of thing i think about as i drive to work on a monday

So, you are driving along and on the radio is Loverboy's "[Everybody's] Working for the Weekend." Then you see a car with one of those bumper stickers that says: "The Labor Movement: The Folks who Brought You the Weekend." Isn't the next question obvious: Why did anybody work before the labor movement? And isn't the question after that also obvious: Why hasn't Weird Al Yankovic done a pre-labor-movement parody of the Loverboy song titled, "[Everybody's] Working for Subsistence." The world of novelty music continues to not take advantage of ample opportunities to be both socially conscious and historically informative.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

isn't the more interesting question why humans started working more than what was required to meet subsistence needs? back the olden days, my intro to anthropology professor argued that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in what amounted to a leisure society (as well as something closer to a meritocracy than we know; a rigid sexual division of labor in those societies notwithstanding), as they could typically meet their survival needs in the modern equivalent of a few days per week (thus leaving the equivalent of quite a long weekend). obviously, things changed with the rise of the state (agrarian stage), and especially industrialization...

Goesh said...

I'm not so sure the hunters of old could meet their needs in a couple of days time each week. I don't know how that could or could not be verified - it's not like they could get on their 4-wheelers and go off after some other prey if for instance another predator scared off the game they were pursuing/stalking. I think the Wobblies would agree with me on this. Anyway, I wonder if there will be any kind of official eulogy for the donut man?

Anonymous said...

i think the estimate of "a few days per week" was based on archaeological evidence, and more importantly, evidence from contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. not sure how solid the data are, however...

Goesh said...

It would be difficult to compare different ecosystems of that many years ago to modern day hunters and their environments/cultures. Another dyanmic we can't compare is the need of turf protection and the time that would consume, way back then. In more populated areas, there would have been a threat of other tribal groups infringing on the hunting area. There is the dynamic of game depletion too, and drought, fires and storms, all of which would directly impact game availability. If there was that much food and leisure time, one might expect their life spans to have been longer than what is seen.

Anonymous said...

clearly, a tough question to answer... see the following link for economic anthropologists' case for "the original affluent society." looks like the conclusion is that hunter-gatherers worked 3-5 hours per day to meet the needs of their groups.
http://www.eco-action.org/dt/affluent.html

Goesh said...

My infernal machine will not bring up that site for some reason - I would argue with the devil about the temperature of the fire in hell as I sat roasting away. Conversely, I have seen stampede sites in the northern plains where an abundance of meat was obtained in a matter of minutes, and there is no logical reason to suspect that they would not have jerked lots of it to sustain themselves for any number of days. These sites were by creeks with sheltering valleys and a good supply of wood and water, which would be most conducive to lingering and loafing. However, I still maintain that the threat of Oog and his clansmen moving into my turf would necessitate a considerable amount of time away from the warm camp fire, which would be a significant time variable in providing for the tribe. Anyway.........

Tom Bozzo said...

Amazingly, I more-or-less addressed one part of the controversy raised by the anonymous commenters a couple months ago.

Anon #3's link compares 3-5 hours/day spent hunting and gathering to the standard workweek of the developed world. The modern workweek side of the comparison is faulty.

Based on data from the BLS Employment Situation Summary, you can work out a figure of around 3 hours per calendar day for the American per-adult labor effort in procuring all of the wonders of (post-)industrial society, not just food. Europeans apparently spend considerably less time at work -- almost a month per year, according to a Cato Institute book that tries to show how much it sucks to be European -- than that.

Granted, some of those "wonders" can be double-edged. A big part of the bottom line for me, though, is getting not to die (as a rule) of minor injuries and illnesses, or during complicated childbirth as mother or child.

So I substantially agree with Goesh.

Anonymous said...

Too bad Marshall Sahlins isn't a JFW reader. Alas, an economic anthropologist I am not. Having said that, I don't think modern-day H-G groups such as the Inuit, Bushmen, or Australian Aboriginies worry much about Oog and his clansmen (or others of their ilk). They're essentially peaceful people ("war" -- if that term even applies -- is largely the ritualistic reinforcement of boundaries; rarely are their deaths in such conflicts); but, that presumably has at least something to do with differences between modern-day H-G environments and those of our pre-historic ancestors.

Tom Bozzo said...

I'd guess that U. Chicago emeritus faculty are not very obsessive self-Googlers (or the Technorati equivalent), though it would be entertaining to be on the receiving end of an "Annie Hall"/Marshall McLuhan moment.

Anonymous said...

I think this business of maintaining the ol' hunting range warrants further commentary, and I would offer several modern references. A friend, Dr. Fred Ness, at the end of Medical School obtained a grant and went deep into the Amazon for 2 years to study tribal pharmacology. This was back in the late 1970s. He reports that borders were strictly maintained and violent confrontations did occur. Some years ago I spent a summer painting houses with a WW2 Veteran whose outfit had been at Borneo. His battalion had been charged patroling deep into the forests. He informed me that they could not get any of the locals to act as guides, despite of offers of signifcant monetary/material reward, so they went it alone. The locals feared the cannibals of the interior, so his battalion went without guides. In his words, " we were more afraid of the cannibals than the Japs". Lastly, in L.A. today the Crips and Bloods and Latino gangs enter each other's turf with the utmost trepidation, and heavily armed. It seems game animals have been replaced by the need to protect the drug money and reputations of ferocity. In the not too distant past, the plains Indians often went on horse raiding forays. The economics and prestige of this are evident, but so too is that fact that depriving their enemies of their horses also worked to keep them out of their buffalo ranges. The veneer of civilization is thin in my opinion and we instinctually honor our canine teeth. I'm a grandfather and I tell you on more than one occasion it was disquieting to see the little grandkids eating meat. They would grab it with both hands, sort of hunker down, gnaw and their eyes would dart a bit. It is not easy breaking a child of their instincts. Old Oog would have been proud of the little fellows.
One last dynamic in this debate is attrition of the hunters. Analysis of Cro Magnon bones shows that they got 'up close and personal' with their prey. They sustained injuries and fractures identical to modern rodeo cowboys. The latter by the way have taken to wearing kevlar and helmets. The point being that if a wild musk ox broke ol' Oog's leg, the others had to take up the slack. We see this today when a sick spouse necessitates the other to take a second job. I cannot concede that our ancestors had very much leisure time.
Goesh