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Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)

" … we observe it from a safe distance in the shade."

Labor Day might be the only holiday we do not celebrate. Oh, we observe it, or we certainly try to observe it, but something in the American character steadfastly refuses to celebrate Laboring. Our native Yankee genius has always been attuned to figuring out ways to avoid Laboring instead, and specializes in producing labor saving devices. We secretly consider anyone laboring to either be a convict, sentenced to a term at "hard labor," or a fool, too simple to concoct a way to avoid the sweaty stuff.

We paradoxically, though, claim to revere the hard worker.
We even insist that we are a "hard working people." We are nothing of the kind! We are a culture dedicated to leisure, the more conspicuous the better, and leisure turns out to be precisely how we observe our holiday dedicated to the contribution of labor. We slack in humble recognition or denial, most probably the latter. We engage in careers which we intend to elevate us from the shop floor ever upwards toward the executive suite, where nobody, by long and strong tradition, ever really sweats anything. Success here does not appear by sweat of brow but by the progressive avoidance of effort. The highest paid people never lift a hammer.

Those who sweat for a living pay a higher marginal tax rate than do the slackers, those who clip coupons and attend lavish supper parties, own mega yachts and professional sports teams. The wheelers as well as the dealers never need engage, for their way's been paved for their protection. They need not ever know the fear of shortages. They need never want. The Prosperity Gospel applies to them. Those who labor must aspire. Those who don't, acquire. And man do those slackers consume a lot of stuff! Their garages overfloweth with whim-bought stuff. Their souls seem as barren as salt flats. Their spirits, deficient. Those rewarded in this life need hold no faith, nor any belief beyond their own omniscience. For, verily, they are lucky and do not know it, believing themselves smarter and therefore deserving. They avoid the only route to their own salvation by avoiding the only route to liberation, Laboring.

I, too, am largely a sneaky little shit, working hardest to get out of work. I start something then lose interest. I get discouraged when my back aches or the weather refuses to cooperate. I lose enabling purpose to sit in the shade. I might be most adept at making up lame excuses. I labor hardest to avoid Laboring hardest. I visited with a union member while tending the Democrat's Fair Booth last week. She reported that most of her fellow union members were angry that the union leaders contributed money to Democratic candidates rather than giving it up to someone who had successfully avoided Laboring and had maintained a long and antagonistic relationship with laborers, often refusing to pay agreed-upon wages. The ultimate irony, where working people actively conspire with their idle overseer to undermine their own meager empire. We do not so much celebrate Labor Day, we observe it from a safe distance in the shade.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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