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The Fake Utopia of a Workless World
Escaping state dependency through labour
“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
When God put Adam in the garden, he did a remarkable thing. He set him to work. This fact is even more remarkable when we remember that Eden was already a paradise. There was lots of food (Gen. 2:18), water (Gen. 2:10), and gold (Moses is even careful to mention that the gold was good — no dragon curses here). There were no weeds to pull, no graves to dig, and no swords to sharpen. In one sense, everything was already done.
And yet Adam was told to “cultivate and keep” the garden. He was to work towards its further beautification. He was to be an active agent of dominion; organizing the raw material around him by means of his own creative labour. This tells us something else important: work wasn’t an intrusion. Futility was the intrusion (Gen. 3:19). Work has been God’s idea from the beginning. This fact is reiterated in passages like 2 Thessalonians 6:10–12:
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
Paul’s command to the Thesseloninans is a call back to the Genesis mandate. He reminds them that work is the proper sphere in which we occupy the majority of our lives: pouring foundations, changing diapers, hoeing beets, teaching math, and generating spreadsheets. For those who consider work above, beneath, or beyond them, the verdict is clear: let them not eat. If you don’t sow beets in the spring, you shouldn’t expect to eat them with cheese and beer in the fall. In the words of a famous ex-nun, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”
Not only is it reasonable to expect a labouring people to follow in the wake of a labouring God, it is also necessary. It is through investing one’s own labour that each person is able to earn their own living. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” Sweat equity is the original and best kind of equity. Lincoln had it right here:
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
The gift of labour also preserves us from the dehumanizing effects of idleness. Idleness — the state of NOT being at work — is fertile ground for sin. Which means we shouldn’t be surprised when diehard welfare states are also riddled with crime. The less people busy at work, the more time they have “to lie on their beds and make evil plans” (Micah 2:1). Through work, the effects of decay and are also kept at bay; roads can be repaired, lawns mowed, homes heated, and taxes kept low.
When only a small core of society is actually engaged in labour, the pool of capital (available wealth) dries up, and new taxes are introduced to replenish it. Which are then immediately sent back out to fund the magical endeavours of the unemployed.
A Post-Work World is a Post-Human World
Because there are no higher standards in a secular nation like Canada, we’re increasingly left to navigate “progress” with only utility as our guide. The main criteria fueling today’s technological innovation isn’t so much a passion to improve human wellbeing as a passion to advance human comfort — which isn’t the same thing. Again we find the godless assumption that work is something to escape.
At the end, we’re left with a “paradise” bereft of work and therefore an environment unfit for man. But — suprise, surprise — a world tailor-made for would-be nanny states. At first it might seem difficult to imagine how a workless world could benefit government. But remember that it isn’t labour in itself the state hates. Rather, it hates anything that allows citizens a greater measure of independence from itself. At the end of the day, it resents independent labour for the same reason it resents private religion, health, or education. It hates having one less tentacle to meddle with.
If we’ve bought into the premise that paradise is a world without work, however, then our responsibility is to use all available means to achieve such a world. The state, it claims, can help us get there. Again, without understanding sphere authority, such an offer may seem reasonable. With all the means at its disposal, why shouldn’t the state function as a giant benefactor? What could possibly go wrong?
What could, and does, go wrong is the codependancy which always develops in an imbalanced relationship. This happens when a stronger party joins with a weaker party who is happy for the immediate advantages such a relationship seems to offer (money, emotional support, protection, etc.). The more needs the powerful party moves in to meet, the more dependent the weaker party becomes. Eventually the powerful party actively opposes its dependant from any attempt at gaining independence, in turn re-enforcing to them how helpless they are apart from support.
It isn’t about love. It isn’t about health. It isn’t about empowerment.
It’s about control.
In this way, Covid provided a unique opportunity for such a relationship to develop between the state and its citizens. In Canada, those who weren’t officially let go from their jobs were offered a sizeable monthly payment to just stay home. Not only did they not have to work (many employees were making more money staying home), they were hailed as heroes for “stopping the spread.” Many small business owners were forced to accept paltry state bailouts or face closure. Tens of thousands did.
Now we are faced with widespread labour shortage in Canada, presumably because citizens have adjusted to the lie of not having to work for a living. Immigration caps have exploded (bringing its own problems) due to the sheer need to keep the country from falling into the abyss. Universal Basic Income — never successful in any country it has been tried — is seriously being considered.
In all this, we’ve forgotten that with no garden to cultivate, not only is there no work for man, there is no life for him either. But no fear! Not only can the state supply free money, it can also supply the mind-numbing pharmaceuticals to stand in the place of actual purpose.
Can you smell it? We’re closing in on paradise.
The End of the Matter
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–25)
Solomon presents us with the sum total of human existence — to eat, drink, work hard, and enjoy God. Pretty basic stuff. And don’t miss the last part: “For apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ultimately the good life won’t be realized without an encounter with our Creator. The best part of Adam’s life in the garden wasn’t inventing new espalier techniques for the pomegranates. It was walking with God (Gen. 3:18) in the cool of the day. That was the difference between just a beautiful garden and a true paradise.
Less dependence on the state means more independence from the state, which leads to more liberty to obey to the Lord in every area of our lives. The more we are dependent on state systems, the more we'll be tempted to compromise in areas that we shouldn’t.
The way forward is to work as hard as we can, to be as independent as we can, so we can be as obedient as we can.
One final word of caution.
We are not advocating for the kind of self-sufficiency which amasses enough resources to keep its head down while the world burns. This isn’t Christian love and it isn’t healthy. In Ephesians 4:28, the recovering thief is instructed to start working hard, not so he can furnish himself with luxuries, but rather “that he may have something to share with those in need.”
In a world increasingly estranged from labour, may Christians shine out as wonderful anomalies.
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