The Dignity of Work

America:  The Farewell Tour, by Chris Hedges, provides a trenchant and extremely discomforting analysis of our current dilemma.  “Corporate capitalism” (in which I, and I’m guessing many of you, have been a participant) is brutally critiqued and blamed for hyper-individualism, the dehumanization of work, the opioid crisis, war and the decline of culture.  No one, Obama, Clinton, Bernie Sanders, let alone Bush or Trump (or any of us), is left unscathed.

Hedge’s critique seems at first glance to be mainly from the left, but for you right-of-center friends, note that he cites with approval Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem exercens, or Through Work.  “John Paul II attacked the idea, fundamental to capitalism, that work was merely an exchange of money for labor.  Work could not be reduced to the commodification of human beings.  ‘[Work] is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it.’”  pp. 90-91. 

The book indeed has a spiritual dimension and it ends on a note of hope.  Perhaps the labels left and right, liberal and conservative, are no longer appropriate in the glare of Hedge’s analysis.  Here are the final two paragraphs: 

“The theologian Paul Tillich did not use the word ‘sin’ to mean an act of immorality.  He, like Kierkegaard, defined sin as estrangement.  For Tillich, it was our deepest existential dilemma.  Sin was our separation from the forces that give us meaning and purpose in life.  This separation fosters the alienation, anxiety, meaninglessness, and despair that are preyed upon by mass culture.  As long as we fold inward and embrace a hyper-individualism that is defined by selfishness and narcissism, we will never overcome this estrangement.  We will be separated from ourselves, from others and from the sacred. 

Resistance is not only about battling the forces of darkness.  It is about becoming a complete human being.  It is about overcoming estrangement.  It is about our neighbor. It is about dignity.  It is about sacrifice.  It is about courage.  It is about freedom.  It is about the capacity to love.  Resistance must become our vocation.” 

Here is a podcast interview with Mr. Hedges, well worth an hour of your time.