Labor’s Worth or Pura Vida?

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Where does it come from, this self-reaffirming need to do have done something “productive”?

You all feel it, that feeling when you look back at something you have done well, we call it satisfaction, we call it a sense of pride. There is something to be said about the adage, “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing well,” but so often it only applies to what we call work.  What of that mouthful of food you are chewing?  Do you feel the texture, let the flavors dance upon your palate, be fully in the moment of appreciating the act of eating it?  Living fully aware is close to impossible.  We are not conditioned to be that way.

Even Marx argued that labor is central to a human being’s self-conception and sense of well-being.  Even as revolutionary as his thinking was at the time, that humans are alienated from their own humanity by not being “owners” of their own units of labor, and the products of their labors; he still comes from a decidedly Western standpoint.

I get it.  I’m Polish.  The Germanic tradition of hard work was instilled into me with my Mother’s milk, a generation removed from that land and into the relative safety of the 60’s.  It is, after all, a fairly hostile climate; and utterly necessary to over-produce and store to survive the harsh Winters.  That self-preserving tribal urge cannot be reduced easily even with the layers of technology that eased the fear of immediate death by an ill-prepared village.  Sure, now we can “work” and procure from a better gatherer/storer and survive;  but that measure of worth being work is still just a primal reactionary response.

Is it truly our measure of worth?

Better question:  SHOULD it be?


I’m not arguing against Marx, here.  Rather, in arguing FOR Marx, I always butt up against the rationale of his opponents about the “slacker factor.”

It goes like this, their argument, “If you could quit working right now, and have everything taken care of anyway, would you?”  I inevitably look at my life and labor, and lack of quality of life because of the degrading labor I do and say, “Yes.”  If I owned a piece of the restaurant that employs me, if I was in charge of my own labor, would my mind be changed? No.  

Would I do nothing, sit endlessly, wallow in hedonistic pleasures, food and masturbation and sleep?  Well, sure.  Some of the time.  We all do that some of the time even when we are busy.  

What I would do is WRITE, create, play music, garden, feed friends; none of which qualifies as “work” under our system, yet all require the expenditure of energy.  

This leads to their second argument, “Who determines the value of a doctor over a sanitation worker? Their skill sets?  Their motivation and hard work to become such?”

It immediately reminds me that the system feeds the idea that aggressive super-driven people are “better” than those not so inclined.  “Look at that guy, he went to college and worked 2 jobs, and really earned his position.”  

There is no measure in that for what kind of man the Doctor is.  Is he kind?  Did he cut throats to get ahead?  We have lost the capacity to judge humankind at its most basic form, that being the spirit of a man, and only reward what physical labor he is able to produce.  “Physician” should be a calling, not just one route for a driven-to-succeed man to make a LOT of money. I’ll speak to the more menial of tasks later.

What if ideas had the same value as work?  What if, like the during the Classical Age, that being a student for life was seen as the highest calling to which one could aspire? It was the value of ideas and questioning that lead to our Math, Sciences and Philosophies. It is little wonder we are still studying those things almost as written by their original masters; for as soon as Society ceased embracing knowledge for knowledge’s sake; most original thought ceased.  What if, like Jonas Salk, a grand idea like the Polio Vaccine was given to all of humanity, rather than allow it to be an entity to be traded in?  Of course, Salk’s medicine is still sold at a price.

I ask of you, what is THE single most important commodity to you in this short life?

It isn’t your labor.  

It’s your TIME.


No one lays on his deathbed wishing she had cleaner floors, or he had worked more overtime.  Truly, having been the caregiver of many of the dying, I say to thee, they wish they had laughed more, loved more, forgiven more, enjoyed their short respite on this planet more fully.

It is this that Western Mindset kills…. moreso with Capitalism than Communism, to be sure.  But both are born of the same judeo-christian tradition, that man must struggle hard in this lifetime, and that there is glory in hard work, that it is the fruits of his labor by which a man be known.

There were other ways once.  Mores and ways that the Westerners destroyed wherever they set foot.  Let me take you on a short trip.

To Raiatea, Tahiti, and the South Pacific Islands once chronicled by Michener, found by the men in WWII to be a strange and wonderful land.

You see, food, laughter, love and sex were as freely shared as the very sea air when they got there.  There was no ownership.  There was no work-ethic.  There was the very communal sharing of, well, everything.  It was common for a woman to give away her first baby, and later in life take in another’s.  It didn’t matter much, you see, for the whole village did indeed raise the children.  Parent’s didn’t “own” children in the way we think of now. They were a gift everyone wanted. Work, per se, happened as needed.  Somebody needed a new roof, everyone picked a day, and made a new roof.  Until one leaked again?  Why worry?  This communal ideal is far easier in a lush and tropical paradise, where the trees hang ripe with fruit all year and the fish were plenty.  Far easier to learn and live than in the brutal colds of Eastern Europe.

The thing they valued most was quality of life. There was an aspect of true love of “other” to the point they really didn’t differentiate between other and self.

It was, in fact, paradise.

Taken separately, the toga-clad philosophers of the past, and the barely-clad pure socialists of the Island, you may not see the correlation.  I do.  They valued goodness, kindness and actual humanity over the accretion of material goods.  Wealth was in how you spent your time, not how much you stockpiled.

Now we have no time.  Our time is spent chasing “stuff”; stuff that increases our happiness and quality of life not one iota.


Stop and think what you REALLY need. I mean really, really.  Your basic survival needs.  Shelter, food, health. Ok, pretend that is all covered. Now, what is it you would be doing if you could do anything with your time?  Is it books, music, art, building things, working on motors, lying on a beach, gardening, cooking, raising horses, what?  Consider you would have the time to pursue those interests, because your basic needs are met.  Now, consider what you would like to have on top of your basic needs, that you would be willing to trade or work toward having.  I need my guitar, I need music, I need books and a format on which to write. I need access to a body of water to make me truly happy.  I need good ingredients with which to cook.  

Look around and imagine a life a little more spare than you now have, eliminate the “stuff” that you have accrued.  I would have no need of my extensive library, were there a public one that contained all my tomes, in plenty enough where they were accessible to all.  I would have no need of a CD collection were I able to bring up any song ever written instantly and have it play through some technological wonder on my radio or pc.  Those are just two examples of a different mindset, a mindset that would greatly eliminate the amount of labor-hours we would need to do to surround ourselves with the things that bring us joy.

Lets talk about why the US ranks 114th and Costa Rica ranks number 1 in the happiness index.…

Costa Rica has no army. It was abolished in 1949.

Successive governments have poured money into books, not bullets. Not even the recent threat of the Mexican drugs war spilling over has led to calls for the army’s return.


Costa Ricans have a high life expectancy – 78.5 years – and a low ecological footprint, although the NEF says it still needs to do better.

In Costa Rica, a common greeting is “Pura Vida,” which means more than just “pure life” – it embodies the very idea we are only here for a short time, so spread some cheer; and then you’re gone.  It values time and happiness over anything else. Many of them live in what we would consider to be poverty.  Very modest cottages.  No cars. Yet they walk through life with joy!  Costa Ricans would rather take their excess income and spend a month in the South of France than to purchase a vehicle.  After all, in their minds, everything they need is within walking distance or accessible by bus. Why a big house, when the ocean is on one side, and the mountains on the other, and there are so many places to gather and enjoy life?  The walking makes you healthier, the being out in the world keeps you connected and your basic needs are met?

Education is free there, as is health care, and other things like telecommunications, energy companies, mass transport are all nationalized and unions are present. They subsidize housing for low income families. It is not purely Socialist in its Government, but within the mindset of it people, very few slip through the cracks.  People take care of one another.

It is an entirely non-western mindset.

We must begin to redefine our values, in ways that aren’t about production, as much as sustainability. So what if we produced vehicles that would last indefinitely and fuel sources that were renewable?  Think in terms of needs-met, not jobs-lost. What if we maximized food production and genetic diversity within such, so that everyone was fed?  What then could we possibly focus our quality of life on, our intrinsic WORTH?

What if the more menial of labor was shared?  The necessities done by consensus and rotation?

In a world not slated toward mass-production and market, a world in which we revered intellect and solutions over profits and labor, would we again find the value of our “labor” in labors of love?  Would craftsmanship and “callings” toward a particular field of study again free us into becoming individuals?

Right now, the Western World is realistically about 25% unemployed. There are legions of people who feel BAD about themselves because in a society that has only valued their ability to claw ahead financially; they can no longer provide money so have no worth.  Its horrific.

That is not who you are.  That is not your worth.  It is not my worth either.

I value your kindness, your humor, your humanity.  I value sharing and love and thinking outside the boxes into which we have been thrust.

Up is not down.  War is not Peace.

But less IS more.

Perhaps rather on focusing on the means of “production” we should be working towards eliminating the “production” concept all together. Ecological sustainability. Do unto others.  Mitakye Oyasin. We are all related.  And I’ll raise your kid and you can help raise mine.  




    • Diane G on January 23, 2012 at 12:56 am

    for an essay to take 7 hours to exit my brain, but this did indeed.  I still didn’t cover all the salient points I have floating around the edges.  

    Its a work in mental progress.


    In other news, its good to see that writing in the raw is back up as well.


    One by one, we try and stumble toward perfection.

    I just righted a very old wrong of mine a few hours or so ago. Along with another I had stumbled upon by mistake yesterday. The year of Mike dying was a really hard time… I suppose in many was I was insane of it. I burned some bridges then, enough to where they will ever be beyond repair. But I cleaned a reputation and returned something that ended up being given under false pretenses.

    Life’s too short to not do the right thing.


    So all in all, my intrinsic worth manifested today, and I didn’t make a dime off it.

    Pura Vida.

  1. what is my pAssword for such diverse web internet places ranging from fix my house to trimming horse hooves.  The veritable internet name of Lasthorseman shall die off because I don’t have the email account by which to retrieve those pASSwords to said sites in which I have been a veritable Google sanctioned pain in their globalist asses on an amateur level for about four or five years now.

    Like you I guess I have wasted countless hours in these venues but we do believe in those higher things.  It is all a matter of principles in this so not right world.

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