Dec 26, 2023Liked by Peter Gray

Peter, your words make my heart sing.

When I started teacher training, in 1974, I was an extremely green, naive, unconfident person with no sense of self and an abiding conviction that I was 'not good at anything.'

Reading John Holt's 'Why Children Fail' in my first week at college had such a profound effect (my personal school career had been an almost total disaster) - and the other thing that really got to me was this word that was bandied around the whole time - 'work'.

'Work', to me, was something unpleasant and distasteful - and here I was, learning how to make 'work' for children. It made me deeply unhappy and I think this was where (unconsciously at the time) I started to feel that children should be allowed to do things they liked doing - the seeds of my current life tenet, which is to LET PEOPLE BE.

What you say here is just so, so good. I have felt more and more in recent years that society needs a complete shake-up - we need to stop accepting certain things as norms, and start to LIVE in a more happy and fulfilled way.

If I ever DO start my 'Happiness Revolution', your words will form a very large part of it.

Thank you so very much.

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I highly recommend the Ruth Cowan’s book More Work for Mother published in 1983. It clearly shows that technological innovation simply raises the bar on the amount of work mothers are expected to do. The advance of washing machines and dishwashers simply did not reduce the amount of housework for women. I personally think it is an underrated masterpiece.

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Dec 27, 2023Liked by Peter Gray

This is fascinating. I am working on a novel that is set in a post-work future. It is fun to think about.

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One thing I've noticed re: a few attempts to introduce AI into my current job (both by my own hand and at the request of others) is that they've all been 100% geared toward reducing the time it takes me to do certain aspects of my job so that I can apply that time saved to new tasks. I'm no soothsayer, but I suspect this will be a common (if not the most common) role of AI in the workplace. It will allow us to produce more output per human. The utopian visions of us all having more AI-generated free time seem, well, utopian to me.

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Thank you Peter.

Why do we work so much?

Part of the reason we work so much is to have nice (and expensive) things - especially a beautiful house, quality educations for our children, great tasting food, and comfortable, reliable cars.

Here are some rough annual expenses for an American household with a mortgage.

20K on mortgage

15K per child on education

10K on cars

7K on food

5K on medical care

Add this up for a family with two kids = 72K/year.

Note that education spending is very high.

American schools are spending over $15,000 a year per student. Verify for yourself. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d21/tables/dt21_236.55.asp

Where does the education money go? Peter gives us an important clue, and I don’t agree with everything Peter says, but we should pay special attention to where our money is going.

Here is Peter.

“But we also have an ever-growing number of jobs that seem completely useless or even harmful. As examples, we have administrators and assistant administrators in ever larger numbers shuffling papers (or digital documents) that don’t need to be shuffled, corporate lawyers and their staffs helping big companies and billionaires pay less than their fair share of taxes, countless people in the financial industries doing who knows what mischief, lobbyists using every means possible to further corrupt our politicians, and advertising executives and sales personnel pushing stuff that nobody needs or really wants.”

Other references for my numbers are below.

A monthly and yearly break of expenses.

Housing - $1,050/month, $12,600/ year

Transportation - $820/month, $9,830/year

Taxes - $780/month, $9,410/year

Utilities & house - $730/month, $8,810/year

Food - $610/month, $7,320/year

Social Security - $600/month, $7,250/year

Health care - $430/month, $5,360/year

Entertainment - $240/month, $2,920/year


About 90% of home buyers choose a 30-year fixed-rate loan, making it the most popular mortgage type in the country.


“The median monthly cost of homeownership in the US is $1,672 per month, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau's 2021 American Community Survey. That cost includes not only the monthly mortgage payment, but also other necessary costs like homeowners insurance, HOA fees, and property taxes.” https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/average-mortgage-payment?op=1

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The dominant role of work in identity might be said to also reflect the time when various communities determined that they needed surnames to better identify themselves and many took the name of their trade or occupation. I have known a number of Sawyers over the years but have never met anyone practicing that trade. Having spent 30 years in government service as a diplomat who when posted abroad was considered to always be available for duty I sympathize with the reality about make work jobs though I also found that different people given the same responsibilities could either make a real contribution or could simply fill the the role for a time.

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Jan 8·edited Jan 9Liked by Peter Gray

I've had two periods of prolonged unemployment or under employment in my adult life. Each time, I have been more than able to fill most of the time with purposeful work that brought me a lot more self esteem and sense of accomplishment than nearly any job I've had has provided.

During the first period, our child with Aspergers was struggling in school in ways that made conventional employment with limited time off and no scheduling flexibility untenable.

What did I do with all my free time? I ended up taking on three different volunteer roles of varying commitment. One was roughly equivalent to working about 15 hours a week, but was mostly flexible and bought me a lot of goodwill with teachers and staff at my son's school... which helped me garner tremendously more empathy AND resources for him to succeed at school. By investing my time in the school, I received critical social and practical investment back in turn for my son's benefit. It was worth every hour. My other roles served general community interests and advocacy and gave me a good outlet for my professional skills and interest in helping others, but without being a 40 hour a week expectation. This was the time in my life when I felt I was *actually* having the most positive impact on the world as a person. If someone had wanted to pay me to keep doing it even once my son no longer needed the support, I would have LOVED that.

This second time, having been pushed to the edge of my patience for intentional stupidity and being undervalued during the pandemic I've basically become the contractor responsible for making many long postponed, but necessary maintenance projects and upgrades to our aging house. I also redoubled my efforts at my sewing and wood working hobbies. Coupling these tasks with listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I feel like I'm still pretty well intellectually engaged most of the time.

I can't say we've made up my lost income in the savings of doing the labor of these things myself, but the sense of satisfaction of having learned to do these things myself is priceless, and it's an investment in learning I can continue to build upon now that I have a lot more confidence. I've also invested more effort into intentional meal planning, so we're eating a lot healthier, have minimal food waste, and the grocery budget is pretty consistent (and lower than it was) from month to month.

Investing in my home and my family has brought me a lot of purpose and sense of accomplishment. If I could find a suitable part time job, I might consider it, but for right now what many companies demand is too much for what they actually pay, and there really ends up being no reward for being more efficient and better at the job than just getting assigned EVEN MORE WORK in way too many settings.

Now, when I've finished my "to do" list for the day, I CAN BE DONE and spend the rest of my free time however it suits me, instead of being expected to stay at work for a set amount of time because the churn of the responsibilities never ends and always exceeds what can reasonably be done by the always inadequate staffing. :P

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Dec 27, 2023Liked by Peter Gray

I love reading everyone else's comments. For me in the past years work has been round the clock to the point that when there is a holiday I don't know what to do with myself. For me I feel if comes from my family, and my grandparents for that matter but my parent sa s well and my community overall. In Romania people used to be homesteaders before communism and during communism those that were too rooted to move to towns remained homesteaders. My grandparents for that reason remained homesteaders while mom and her siblings moved to town for what they though brought better perspectives. Yet every weekend they were back to the homestead helping parents(double to work I d say) . For me now across the glove I still fondly remember the lifestyle that was emersed in work. But work that is meaningful and community based and supporting the whole village . So much to say but yes for me work remains the essence of me and so far I don't see it as a burden. We run two schools and this is what we give back to the community where we are.

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Jan 2·edited Jan 2Liked by Peter Gray

My first serious job was back in 1985 working in an English Residential Therapeutic Community. I was 23 and after enjoying an extremely good time before work - I welcomed the challenge and chose to work a 70-80 hour week. I did this for about 10 years and then our hours were reduced to about 65 per week. If one possibility is that work can become play - I was very fortunate.

My work was not always play but it was a great learning opportunity when it was hard. In my view, it is not a good thing that people should be restricted by government bureaucracies which are anything but playful, in deciding how to spend one's time. Thankfully I was never deprived by the imposition of the 40-hour week and my life has benefited greatly by the abundant opportunity to work/play. For the last 15 years, I have become self-employed so I can work/play as much as I like :)

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How much of this phenomenon has been bolstered by the cold war? I'm thinking back to the space race, the fear-mongering, the sum of efforts to get all Americans/Westerners into the same mindset. We had to show - regardless of the soundness of the underpinnings, regardless of the cultural prices paid, that capitalism was THE right way.. lest the commies take over!

As if there isn't enough anxiety already inherent amongst Us! Yet we're taught to value the superficial BS. Who cares if we're clinically anxious or depressed, as long as we can maintain the facade of success, as long as we can "keep up with the Joneses"? ....Yes the war has shifted for lack of a remote enemy to having to appear to be better off than our next door neighbors.

Much of this is indeed fueled by capitalism. Companies are valued largely on their projected growth; in order to continually grow craftmanship takes the backseat to the almighty bottom line, consumerism becomes a necessity while job satisfaction suffers.

This does not feel like freedom - what we were told we've been working, if not "fighting" for during my entire life as an American.. This feels more like a bad hangover, where we've gotten artificially high and are now left wondering - with aching heads & hearts, where the F--- are we & how did we get here?

As long as we value having more stuff, especially for the sake of the appearance of status or of being a good Consumerican over genuine utility, we will find this trap inescapable - for we are fueling the phenomenon.

Perhaps you may ask yourself kindly: Do I have a need to feel or appear "better off" than other folks and have I decided to make this a core component of my life's happiness? If so, how has that worked out over time? Furthermore, how does allowing a society to determine my life values jibe with true freedom?

Ironically, the West is supposed to be about freedom and individualism - it is only We, through conscious choices, who can take that power back.

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So, I don't think it's too surprising that car-centric urban planning has atomized us and made it difficult to socialize outside of work. One thing that's been found to help with people having better life satisfaction is impromptu meetings with acquaintances and friends, which is one of the underlying reasons for Barcelona's build out of Superblocks to radically increase the amount of available public space in the city.

Vox ran a series of articles about it in 2019.


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Indeed, John Maynard Keynes, along with many other futurists, predicted that with the increases in productivity due to technology, the average workweek would eventually shrink to 15 hours by the end of the 20th century. Of course, that clearly didn't happen, since the oligarchs took nearly all the fruits of the productivity gains since the early 1970s, thanks to neoliberalism and the oligarchs' inane and insane addiction to growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell which eventually kills its host.

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I will say though that work was not necessarily more exhausting in previous decades. It may have appeared that way perhaps, but keep in mind that the overall PACE of work (and life in general) was much slower back then as well. Faster pace in general, and *a fortiori* if non-linear and often unpredictable, has to be at least somewhat more exhausting, if not physically, then at least mentally.

An exponentially faster pace AND the same (or greater) number of working hours as 1938 (!) is a recipe for burnout.

But yes, it is still true nonetheless that adults have literally forgotten how to play. That state of mind that people seek to experience at work? It's known as "flow". And "flow" is, at base, indistinguishable from what USED to be derived from play.

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Great article overall. I definitely think we need, at the very least, a UBI and a shortened workweek.

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