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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hodges

Haven't We Always Been Free?


Since the rise of our capitalist society humans have been sold the work ethic (Sharon Beder: "Selling The Work Ethic"). It seems almost sacrilegious to challenge the notion that if we're not busy we are basically lazy, that indolence is a sin. Before the Reformation most people had things they needed to do and for the most part they did them. When they were finished they stopped. The work was there and once it was done it was done. The concept of being paid for our time was completely foreign to us. The remaining time was our own. We used it as we saw fit which included being able to act inconsequentially. If we wanted to chat with our friends we did so. If the villagers gathered and played music, that's what they did. The precedent of showing that we were 'busy' wasn't something we necessarily had to prove or demonstrate. Having enough money was clearly important but deliberately acquiring it was frowned upon to say the least. It was disapproved of by the church and in society generally it wasn't considered the 'right thing to do'. Plato argued that work interfered with leisure and cited Socrates that not having to work is necessary in order to lead a virtuous life.

But with the rise of capitalism any activity which appeared to be of unskilled value was considered also to have far less moral value. Beggars who in medieval society had been tolerated were criminalised. Having riches indicated not just monetary value but moral value as well. People providing menial services were equally frowned upon and were placed on the very lowest rungs of society. One can see how far this has travelled in the position of care workers and others in the 21st century. Musicians fare little better. As teachers they have a value but as performers there is little opportunity. Most do other 'more productive' work instead and don't exercise their art.

So playing music is perceived largely as a frivolous leisure activity and as such would, from the wider perspective of importance to capitalism, be seen as having a much lesser purpose or value. It certainly doesn't carry the value in the general population as 'doing proper hard work'.

And yet, and yet, it’s the source of how we as humans have learned to work and be together over the millennia. It is the source of our connectedness. All the way along the chain of musical interactions lies our human ability to behave so productively in groups. It starts from the open and free emergent space from which ideas and inspiration emerges. Our sense of true freedom appears too. These ideas, musical or not, begin to be crafted to form distinct possibilities. Structure is put in place and decisions taken. We develop a means of grounding the ideas into a fully formed piece of music (or other object).

This is also what we do with non-musical ideas. Problems are identified. Creative minds are put to work to begin to offer solutions. Choices are made to test these out and the solutions put into production.

Think about a new recipe for MacDonalds. Imagine designing a new car which doesn’t run on oil-based products. They start from an idea and finish up as a completed product. The leadership style changes depending on where you are in the process. So all styles are valid if appropriately employed, and remember, “there’s no best place to be”.

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