In the essay titled “Work” by Bertrand Russell, there is an extremely Marxist view expressed in relation to work and work ethic in society. Russell banks on the idea that society is built around a group of citizens that only produces in order to consume more goods. Russell also has many good aplicable theories about work in relation to the level of happiness an individual feels and the amount of satisfaction that person receives. I feel that a prominent feature of this essay was that Russell was often contradicting himself, especially about his views on the roll of women in the workplace. He began his essay by stating that women were preoccupied with “innumerable trifles” (526) and then proceeded to switch his argument to highlight that women who are made as housewives are being deprived of the means of bettering themselves as people.
Russell states on page 527 that “Two chief elements make work interesting; first, the exercise of skill, and second, construction.” What he is saying in this statement is that fundamentally man requires work to obtain a level of happiness that can not be achieved with out fulfilling some of the basic human urges. Humans are compelled to create, whether it be a work of art, a song, or a building, man is constantly pushing forward to be innovative and cutting-edge. When men create they are becoming “god-like” in the aspect that they feel as if they have a power or control over the course of the world, that they are dominant over society. Another important feature of work to look at in relation to creation in the work environment is the economic push/pull factor of our current society. In our consumerist society one is not considered to be “successful” unless he or she has purchased objects and items that reflect their wealth and work. By giving this essay a Marxist reading one can decipher the true message behind some of the underlying tones.
In the second paragraph on page 527 Russell begins to speak about how in truly satisfaction work one is not lured or concerned with the aspect of money or income, but he then goes on to cite Shakespeare and speak about Michelangelo and the aspects that their circumstance and influence has on work. Russell quotes Shakespeare on page 527 stating “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this.” By using this quote in order to try to make the point that men who are truly happy with their work without large monetary wages is absurd. A man who makes no money, according to the theory I am applying, has no way of realizing the value of the Shakespearian quote that Russell has added to support his theory of economic selflessness. In order for one to understand, appreciate, and apply a quote from Shakespeare he or she much have received the amount of education necessary to do so. According to the theories of Marx and Berger they would not be able to “read” the work and be able to comprehend it in a manner as to receive its message and be able to apply it to poverty or the drive of man to construct. Russell proceeded to speak of Michelangelo and how his work is often viewed as a product of great pain and suffering on his part. He continues to say that “The power to produce great art is very often, though by no means always, associated with a temperamental unhappiness, so great that but for the joy which the artist derives from his work, he would be driven to suicide” (p. 530). I think that this is a misreading of art and the motivation behind artists. This is where I began to see prominent contradictions within the essay between the idea that Russell presented in the beginning of the essay and this statement. Russell begins by making the case that the type of work directly effects a person’s level of happiness, or rather directly effects how they are “less unhappy” when producing a rewarding work experience, but what he is saying here is that artists, whose gift is to create, is only derived from the lack of will to do anything else. He is making the case that art was probably not the first choice that the artists had in mind when picking a profession, and due to their emotional state they were defaulted in to a profession that they just “happened” to be excellent at. It is not coherent to say that someone who is profoundly excellent at creating, and who uses it as an outlet of expression, is not happy with the work that they have produced.
This is why I feel that it is not the “job” that defines whether a person is happy or not, but it is their emotional state. If a person is unhappy but is working in the field that they find the most satisfaction from the fact will remain that the person will continue to be unhappy whether or not they are in this profession or change in to another. Work is not used as a means to happiness, but in my opinion, as a means to fulfill human urges. This is where I agree with Russell and his statement on the two chief elements that make work interesting. Work is simply a means to have a constructional output, while earning money that can be used to luxuriously enhance one’s personal and social lifestyles. In our society it is a constant that the better your car is, or the bigger your house is, they happier you will be as a person. Although this may not ring true to the literal depth of the statement, it is true on a subconscious social level. Surveys of college students have been conducted that tried to find why they chose the major they were studying, and many said it was based on the salary they would receive after graduation. With this kind of motivation in the minds of future workers, it is nearly impossible to say that a person derives happiness only from the selection of work that best suits their interests or likes.
Russell begins to become quite sexist in the second full paragraph on page 530, where he begins to speak about how women who produce satisfactory children get to feel as if they have accomplished a feeling so to that of what a man feels when he is productive in the workplace. Even though it is not directly stated that he equates a mans accomplishments to the task of childbearing, but it is apparent that he is indirectly stating where the most effective roll of the woman is in American society. This is also a contradiction within his essay, he begins by stating that women are frivolous, then moves his argument to that women are deprived of the human need to better themselves, and then reverts back to pursuing the idea that the only truly effective roll of a woman is in the home raising the children while the man is out at a traditional job making money.
One of the final arguments that Russell makes is that many human beings tend to look at their life as a series of events that independent of one another, while another group of people can appreciate their lives as a whole. He comments on the fact they he feels that it is “natural” and “essential” for men to view their lives as a whole in order to be able to be truly and completely happy. By making such a comment on the members of society he is immediately eliminating a large portion of the working class men based solely on their outlook on life, not on their prospective work ethic or their potential as a member of the working class who can master many occupations and earn a living moving from trade to trade. Many of the members of today’s society due to the financial situation of our country have no choice other than to change professions or find employment in fields that are not related to their previous working environments. So I ask myself as I am reading Russell’s work, How can one rule out happiness for such a large portion of the society that he is claiming to represent in his work? I believe that if I had more of his work to draw from that I would possible find a plausible answer to this question. But within the work that we were assigned to read there was not enough evidence to support his theory. It seemed that he was just creating an assumption of what the elements of happiness are in conjunction with people who have the ability to hold a set standard of living throughout their whole life.
In conclusion, from this excerpt of work by Russell one can draw many deductions based on his theories of how work pertains to the overall happiness of a man.
He makes many contradictions within his work, and finds minimal support and evidence for each claim that he stakes in the topic. He makes interesting points about how the nature of work has directly to do with the overall happiness of a person, but I am not convinced by his argument. Based on Marxist theory, which I believe is a credible theory to use in criticism; it does not make sense to rely on Russell as a credible author. His arguments are not founded in a theory of depth, and he seems as if he is taking a sexist stance on the issues that he is trying to demystify for the reader.