Working Too HardI was doing research a few years back when I ran across a statement that I still find a little amazing. People in hunter-gatherer societies worked an average of 20 hours a week. The most primitive type of society that anthropologists know, scraping up an existence from the land, and they worked less than half the nominal modern work week. I didn't believe it at first, but I've cross referenced several sources and they all agree; both ancient and modern hunter-gatherers (the ones that still exist) work around 20 hours a week. What they do in the rest of the time is play, dance and sleep. Agriculture and industrialization, rather than being the liberator of modern mankind from all sorts of labor, actually make us work harder. It is true that a privileged class emerges; this class works less, but the majority of people work more and harder. It's even worse when you consider that the nominal modern work week is just that; many people work longer, either at a second job, or unrecorded overtime hours at their primary job, just to make an hours target. The reason that agriculture societies won out over hunter-gatherer ones, seems to be that agriculture allowed larger groups to form and these have an advantage in warfare. This is similar to the way industrialization gave nations an advantage in weapons and communicable disease against the indigenous populations of the Americas. I don't think we could necessarily go back to a twenty hour work week if only because people wouldn't use that time to play and sleep - they'd just get a second job to afford that plasma TV they've always wanted - but I think the next time you're losing sleep on one of those heavy overtime jobs, you might remember that not only have we not come as far as we think, we appear to have slid backwards.
29 Jan 2009
Copyright © 2009 Truck Smith