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The Philosophical Case for a Four-Day Workweek

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the philosophical case for a four-day workweek, drawing insights from the works of philosophers Karl Marx and Baruch Spinoza. It explores the reasons behind people's attachment to work despite its declining material rewards, and how this "negative solidarity" arises from a sense of powerlessness. The article also examines how popular culture reflects and warps our attitudes towards work, and how the pandemic has affected people's perceptions of what is possible. Finally, it discusses how a shorter workweek could impact the political imaginary by freeing people from the confines of work and allowing them to explore other aspects of their identity and sociality.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Philosophical Case for a Four-Day Workweek

1. Who are Karl Marx and Baruch Spinoza, and how do their ideas complement each other in the context of the article?

  • Baruch Spinoza was a 17th-century Dutch philosopher whose ideas on ideology and the active role of the imagination in shaping our views complement Marx's more historical understanding of how economics shapes social relations.
  • Spinoza's ideas on the active component of ideology, where people actively strive for it even as its material benefits decline, help explain the phenomenon of people doubling down on work as its material rewards diminish.
  • Marx provides the historical perspective on how economics shapes social relations, while Spinoza offers a deeper understanding of how imagination and emotion form ideology.

2. What is "negative solidarity" and how does it arise from a sense of powerlessness?

  • Negative solidarity is a sense of indignation or injustice aimed not at capitalism or the conditions of work, but at those who seem to be not working or working in better conditions.
  • This arises from a feeling of powerlessness, where people try to make their ability to endure poor working conditions into a point of stoic pride, transforming powerlessness into a kind of power.
  • The effect is that having to work multiple jobs to survive is seen as a reflection of individual merit rather than a problem with the economic system.

3. How does popular culture reflect and warp our attitudes towards work?

  • Popular culture reflects our existing concerns and worries about work, such as the anxiety that work doesn't provide for one's existence or cover healthcare costs.
  • At the same time, popular culture also warps these concerns, presenting fantasies where one can become so good at their job that they can overcome all their fears and anxieties.
  • This shows the limitations of both popular culture and the theories used to analyze it, as the two interact in complex ways.

[02] The Impact of the Pandemic and the Potential of a Four-Day Workweek

1. How did the pandemic, particularly things like furlough and the pause on student debt repayments, affect what people thought was possible?

  • The pandemic temporarily severed the link between existence and work, as the state provided people with checks to live, not dependent on work.
  • This had a transformative effect, as it showed that things previously declared impossible by neoliberal logic could actually be done.
  • This, in turn, had a "contagious effect," inspiring waves of labor action and organizing in places like Starbucks and Amazon.

2. How could a four-day workweek help tackle the more universal conditions of wage labor, and what would be its effect on the political imaginary?

  • A reduced workweek would free people from the cycle of work, where their free time is dedicated to basic "animal functions" like sleeping and eating, allowing them to explore other aspects of their identity and sociality.
  • This would create new ways for people to think about their place in the world beyond just their work, potentially sparking more political engagement and demands for even less work.
  • The article suggests that one of the things limiting political possibilities is the constraint of work itself, so a shorter workweek could open up new avenues for political imagination and action.
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