No one looks for the source of economic problems in spiritual matters. Likewise, no one looks for solutions to economic problems through spiritual means. Unemployment is the self-claimed most important economic problem of the day, and yet, the fact that workers aren’t motivated to go to work isn’t seen as a systemic problem of our culture, but rather as a problem with those individual workers themselves. “Lazy”, some people call them. “Unmotivated” others say. And yet, what do we expect individual’s to feel motivated by in our current conception of the purpose and nature of employment? How does it draw on a human being’s capacity, talents, and aspirations? These are the sources of motivation after all.
Modern western society has reduced the individual’s perspective of work to what is termed “gainful employment.” The gainful employment conception sees work as solely aimed at acquiring the means for the consumption of produced goods. The main driving thrust of employment then is to put into society the labor that earns one the credit on which to purchase society’s commodities. There is no real purpose or passion or spiritual worth intrinsic to the labor itself in this conception. Society has crafted innumerable “jobs”, to be filled, and “products” to be consumed around this vapid conception of employment.
No serious doctor would look at the human form and reduce the purpose of eating to being healthy, and the value of health to hoarding food. But that is precisely what we have done when we expect society to work for a salary, and expend that salary on the consumption of goods. The system is circular: acquisition and consumption resulting in the maintenance and expansion of the system of good production and, in consequence, upholding the practice of gainful employment. Whereas, the reality is that human life should have a purpose that transcends the mere physical dimension.
In the gainful employment conception, there is no consideration for matching a human being’s natural talents to her or his tasks, for the maximization of society’s benefit from her or his labor. Neither is there a sense of credence given to the dreams or aspirations of the individual, in what he or she deems worthy of their life’s work. Finally, there is very little collective planning with regard to what division of labor would be most efficient and conducive to the prosperity of society as a whole. Corporations are empowered to employ countless thousands of mindless workers without questioning the merits of the menial tasks they assign them to perform, many of which are a waste of true human potential, and taken cumulatively usually detrimental to the interests of society. For example, the maintenance and running of enumerable fast food chains, which waste human talents and capacities on things like assembly line production for Big Macs or janitorial labor, meanwhile the whole time these establishments do a disservice to society, driving up the consumption of unhealthy foods and saturated fats, simple sugars, and processed goods.
Taken individually, things like labor of various complex levels, compensation of salaries and wages, and the purchasing of goods, groceries, and housing are all essential activities to the economic order, however the vapidness of the entire conception is demonstrable in its circular-ness. Bodies don’t live to eat, and expend energy to hunt food — we live to listen to music, love our families, serve our communities, and develop our potential for art, science, and civic engagement. Eating is just something we do to enable this whole process. Likewise with sleeping, and using the energy from our food to solely pursue another meal or shelter, clothing, and some other basic necessity. The purpose per se of our health in our bodies however is not the acquisition of the next meal, nor is it the purpose of food and rest and shelter simply to create those conditions in which we feel most comfortable and secure. They are part of a larger context in which meaning comes to be realized through a series of complex, interconnected social, personal, and spiritual pursuits that give a sense of transcendence and purpose to our lives.
The inadequacy of the concept of gainful employment, as it is practiced in our modern culture can be read from two sources: First, the wide-scale apathy of workers and upswing in mass shootings that social media sources are covering as the natural expression of people on their daily routine grind as post-office workers, school boys, or university students. The second sign of the inadequacy of the conception of gainful employment is the mounting tide of people who are totally unemployed all together. The growing armies of the unemployed, who develop day by day an increased sense of demoralization and despair, are considered by those who believe in social safety nets and those that consider them lazy or un-ingenuitive, a bad sign for health of the economy. One of the most important indices of economic strength and prosperity is the unemployment level, and in turn, one the major causes of unemployment is the conception of gainful employment as it is understood in modern culture. A reconceptualization of employment in popular culture is the spiritual solution to the economic problem of unemployment.