This morning when I got up I procrastinated doing something boring by reading some blog posts written by disgruntled academics.

In Animal Farm, one of the promises broken by the farm’s slide into capitalism is that the work day might be reduced to only a few hours. Marx envisioned a culture in which people do their necessary work in a few hours, and then get on with all sorts of different occupations, not feeling the drive to specialise that we feel: one might try out painting one day, growing plants the next, not feeling that one has to construct some identity to cling to that hopefully makes money too.

Instead two powerful things, the great bureaucracies of our world and the requirements of sustaining consumerism, mean that there’s an awful lot of work to do that’s often not obviously to anyone’s real—dare I say spiritual—benefit; indeed, to our spiritual detriment. Success generally requires remaining very busy. Lots of people are totally resigned to this. On the other extreme we get politicians who make grand promises to cut red tape and free things up. A complex world requires complex laws and documentation, but it’s probably also true that a lot of them are only necessary in a world fuelled by greed.

I often think to myself that I don’t mind getting a really crazy-busy job if it’s in the service of some positive social end. For example I don’t mind being overworked if I’m working at Amnesty International or something. However I think this might be wrong. For one, the blog post I linked to above gives examples of how a belief in serving a positive end is used to abuse and exploit people. In a socialist utopia where we are threatened only by the constants of the human condition rather than the misery we have created for ourselves, will some people still have to be really really busy in order to get everything that needs to be done done—for example, academics?

We certainly shouldn’t assume this. Individuals are not that important when it comes to serious progress in, for example, academic subjects. There are geniuses but they’re the product of the systems they’re in: standing on the shoulders not of particular giants, but of the overall academic effort for several hundred years. That great paper someone just wrote is a product of the whole system and the important chunks of content—say, the arguments—would probably have come out—admittedly probably spread across a bunch of different papers from different individuals—if that particular person hadn’t continued in the Academy.