The World Of Work

First published by, April 2014

I had my first taste of woofing recently (work on organic farms), which was a novel and interesting experience. The fellow who was woofing was a German lad, very nice and very capable, he stayed 2 weeks: with a room, food, loan of a bike and a bit of Druidry lessons in exchange for some help with the house and garden, both of which are rather neglected.

This got me thinking about the whole business of work and the exchange that takes place, usually for money but in this case not. I expected two hours a day minimum and he was very happy with that, obviously having to have done a lot more in previous places. In fact he often did more than the two hours, despite my assurance that I was satisfied with that and that I had no wish to exploit his good nature.

In Ireland this kind of thing is an age old tradition – meitheal, meaning ‘working party’ was a simple system by which neighbours, friends and family helped each other get jobs done without any money changing hands. It pretty much died out in the latter half of the twentieth century, but it is now making a comeback in a slightly modified form, woofing being one form of that.

There are, of course, a great many people who would have exploited my woofer and squeezed every last bit out of him, which brings me to the point of this piece – the unfairness of work. Who is to say how much a person’s labour is worth, or why one person should be paid more than another for equal efforts? Inequality has seemingly always existed – the intact tomb of Tut-ankh-amen, a relatively minor Pharoh, demonstrated the unimaginable wealth available to the Egyptian royalty and by extension the priestly and bureaucratic class of his time. Evidence also shows that most ancient Egyptians lived in subsistence, as many of them do today, with simple peasant farmers and fishermen living not dissimilar lives from those of thousands of years ago.

Despite various failed attempts to change things (e.g. Communism) we still live in a world of vast inequality and unfairness – cheap labour is exploited to fuel the endless march of consumerism and with that the continued rape of the planet to provide the resources that keep the system going. It’s just not necessary for people to live lives of such greed and extravagance, but we are constantly being urged to indulge ourselves more and aspire to more. In truth, a simple life is probably more fulfilling, and certainly more sustainable.

It seems that so many of us are caught on a treadmill of work, consuming and debt that it eats up decades of our lives. All this doesn’t seem to benefit ordinary people very much and certainly is doing the planet no good; so who does it benefit? Generally speaking it is big business – corporations and oligarchs that benefit from the hard work of the masses, with a few scraps tossed down just often enough to keep us going berserk. However, this system is falling apart, the promises cannot be fulfilled and meanwhile the earth is suffering and the poor are suffering as this obsolete system tries to creak onwards.

There has to be a better way and there is – simplicity. Simple societies may not have luxuries or even as long lifespans as modern societies, but where they are left to themselves, they generally do have something we lack – time, freedom and genuine contentment.