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    Work After the Pandemic

    Heather Zeiger

    August 19, 2020

    When we all started using the phrase “essential workers” back in March, we felt the “transcendent value” of work that had not really been honored in our culture before, writes Heather Zeiger at Breaking Ground. She points to three insights about work and dignity that have come crashing through in the pandemic but can hopefully be retained beyond it.

    In an essay written in 1942, Dorothy L. Sayers called her readers to be suspicious of a phrase commonly used among her fellow Britons. “After the War,” she heard her countrymen and women assure each other, things will go back to normal. Work, in particular, will go back to normal. Sayers’s essay “Why Work?” asks the question: Do we want to go back to normal?

    “Normal” was the prewar consumerist culture that degraded work and exploited the worker. By contrast to this waste economy, Sayers paints a picture of the conservation economy adopted during the war. Men and women had learned “the bitter lesson that in all the world there are only two sources of real wealth: the fruit of the earth and the labor of men.”

    The pandemic is our war. And we crave normalcy; we crave, even, work as it was before the pandemic. But we would do well to listen to Sayers. She insists on our having a right attitude to work:

    because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. . . . The question that I will ask you to consider today is this: When the war is over, are we likely, and do we want to keep this attitude to work and the results of work? Or are we preparing and do we want to go back to our old habits of thought? Because I believe that on our answer to this question the whole economic future of society will depend.

    Sayers’s vision is of dignified work that glorifies God; this work depends on and promotes an economy that enables human flourishing. To Sayers, the economy of twentieth-century Great Britain was one that promoted greed and envy and was founded on trash and waste. The economy had to be “artificially stimulated,” as she put it, to induce people to buy things to keep production going.

    Continue reading at Breaking Ground.

    Contributed By

    Heather Zeiger is a freelance science writer in Dallas and has advanced degrees in chemistry and bioethics. She writes for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, Salvo Magazine, and Mind Matters News.