Different Types of Activity

Many people define “work” very differently from each other, I’ve had conversations with people where they define “work” as being any sort of physical or mental activity. I find that definition to be patently false, but what’s important here isn’t whether a definition is “correct”. Language is subjective, as such it is more beneficial to define how I am using terms and then discuss them using those definitions, rather than getting in semantics arguments about what “work” is. If you have an issue with the way I define certain types of activities, that’s fine; but when deciding whether my ideas are correct or not, assume I’m using terms in the ways I will define here. Another reason for writing this is that many of my fellow slackers like to say that the dichotomy exists between work and play, as if all activity that isn’t work is play, which to me seems incorrect at best.

To me, there are two general types of activity people engage in (outside of simple bodily functions, I guess), labor and play, and two types of each of those (at least that I feel the need to highlight here). Labor can be either inclined labor, or it can be work. Play can either be productive play, or it can be frivolity. There of course is overlap and grey areas between these, as with everything in the world, but to avoid distinguishing between them is as mistaken as pretending the distinction is a fine line. Labor and play can be distinguished in that labor is outcome-oriented and play is process-oriented. This isn’t to say that labor can’t have an enjoyable process or that play can’t have desirable outcomes (they both most certainly can and should), but the reason for partaking in the activity is what matters here.

Work, and I am using a slightly modified version of Bob Black’s definition (see: The Abolition of Work), is forced labor, i.e. it is done by either threat of violence or the hope of future reward, the carrot or the stick. I should to note that to get a reward out of something and to be rewarded (or being told you will be rewarded) for something are completely different, at least when I talk about them. To deny one access to the means of life, either through withholding them or taking them away, if somebody doesn’t perform labor for you is extortion. Work, therefore is necessarily a form of extortion, of coercion, and a violation of our freedom, and it should not be tolerated. Therefore we should seek to constrain, limit, and abolish it.

The second type of labor, inclined labor, is outcome-oriented activity which one engages in voluntarily, freely, independent of threat of force or denial of the means of life. One builds a chair because they want a chair or to give the chair to someone else, they may enjoy the process of building it, but it is the outcome that is the real reason for engaging in such an activity. Such labor could be made into play, but it could also remain as labor as well and we can safely say it isn’t work. (For more discussion on inclined labor, see Grant Mincy’s Inclined Labor).

Moving on the process-oriented activity, play. Play is not simply a child’s game of hide-and-seek, but any activity performed freely for the sake of doing the activity. And play can in fact be productive play, things like fishing and gardening are often done for the joy of doing them rather than what they produce. With some alterations to the process (which technics may be of great assistance in), a lot of what is currently labor, such as building houses or cleaning, could easily be converted into productive play. The hope when I make a statement such as “abolish work”, is that what is currently work will be converted into productive play, can be automated, or can become inclined labor rather than coerced labor.

Finally, the last form of activity, frivolity, which is process-oriented and generally consequence-free, though social consequences of such may still exist (e.g., a game with winners and losers but no material change as a result). Frivolity has various benefits, it gives us time to de-stress, promotes social bonding, allows us to practice physical and mental processes which may be helpful in productive play and inclined labor, and is frankly one of the things that makes life enjoyable.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on what it is I’m talking about when I’m ranting against work, and also (unless I change my mind about how I refer to things) what each of these alternatives to work are when I use them in my writing. (For more on some of the ideas discussed here, see William Gillis’s Stress, Labor & Play).


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