The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THE WORK ETHIC

Human beings are made for work. Working is in our bones and tissues. Homo sapiens emerged as a species in an environment in which working plays a prominent part. Work shaped human beings as the human eye, hand, and brain evolved in response to work performed. The human nervous system, human language, and the human imagination were also shaped by human activities in which work was prominent, if not predominant, in prehistoric times. Work, along with language, helped to distinguish humans from other animals.

Humans take the materials of nature and use tools to fashion useful objects. Objects created by work reflect human culture. The products of the mind and imagination also reflect human culture. Humans see, evaluate, and measure themselves by the things they create through work. They also know themselves by their work, since work enables humans to construct a world that stands between themselves and nature.

The work ethic is the human ethic; to talk about one is to talk about the other. Without work human beings cannot exist. Without work human society cannot exist. Work is not a choice. Work is a necessity; the work ethic is a human survival ethic. It is more than that, but it is at least a necessity for human life. Human beings have to work to survive by growing food, building homes, and making clothes to sustain their bodies and protect them from their natural environment. The human species creates a human-made world to make sense of the natural world and uses the materials of the natural world to make products.

Human beings also create language that enables them to order, describe, and explain both the natural world and their own human order. Humans need order, description, and explanation in order to live in the natural world and to use it for human purpose. Human beings also need culture to create a system of values and

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