thinking is dangerous

Arendt II

Continued from yesterday.

If we consider this loss of the faculty to distinguish clearly between means and ends in terms of human behavior, we can say that the free disposition and use of tools for a specific end product is replaced by rhythmic unification of the laboring body with its implement, the movement of laboring itself acting as the unifying force. Labor but not work requires for best results a rhythmically ordered performance and, in so far as many laborers gang together, needs a rhythmic co-ordination of all individual movements(1). In this motion, the tools lose their instrumental character, and the clear distinction between man and his implements, as well as his ends, becomes blurred. What dominates the labor process and all work processes which are performed in the mode of laboring is neither man's purposeful effort nor the product he may desire, but the motion of the labor process itself and the rhythm it imposes upon the laborers. Labor implements are drawn into this rhythm until body and tool swing in the same repetitive movement, that is, until, in the use of machines, which of all implements are best suited to the performance of the animal laborans, it is no longer the body's movement that determines the implement's movemement but the machine's movement which enforced the movements of the body. The point is that nothing can be mechanized more easily and less artificially than the rhythm of the labor process, which in its turn corresponds to the equally automatic repetitive rhythm of the life process and its metabolism with nature. Precisely because the animal laborans does not use tools and instruments in order to build a world but in order to ease the labors of its own life process, it has lived literally in a world of machines ever since the industrial revolution and the emancipation of labor replaced almost all hand tools with machines which in one way or another supplanted human labor power with the superior power of natural forces.

(1) Karl Buchner's well-known compilation of rhythmic labor songs in 1897 has been followed by a voluminous literature of a more scientific nature. One of the best of these studies (Joseph Schoop, Das deutsche Arbeitslied [1935]) stresses that there exist only labor songs, but no work songs. The songs of the craftsmen are social; they are sung after work. The fact is, of course, that there exists no "natural" rhythm for work. The striking resemblance between the "natural" rhythm inherent in every laboring operation and the rhythm of the machines is sometimes noticed, apart from the repeated complaints about the "artificial" rhythm which the machines impose upon the laborer. Such complaints, characteristically, are relatively rare among the laborers themselves, who, on the contrary, seem to find the same amount of pleasure in repetitive machine work as in other repetitive labor... This confirms observations which were already made in the Ford factories at the beginning of our century. Karl Bucher, who believed that "rhythmic labor is highly spiritual labor" (vergeistig) already stated: "Aufreibend werden nur solche einformigen Arbeiten, die sich nicht rhythmisch gestalten lassen"... For though the speed of machine work undoubtedly is much higher and more repetitive than that of "natural" spontaneous labor, the fact of a rhythmic performance as such makes that machine labor and pre-industrial labor have more in common with each other than either of them has with work...
All these theories appear highly questionable in view of the fact that the workers themselves give an altogether different reason for their preference for repetitive labor. They prefer it because it is mechanical and does not demand attention, so that while performing it they can think of something else. (they can "geistig wegtreten," as Berlin workers formulated it...). this explanation is all the more noteworthy, as it coincides with very early Christian recommendations of the merits of manual labor, which, because it demands less attention, is less likely to interfere with contemplation than other occupations and professions...

The best I could do with the translations:

"Aufreibend werden nur solche einformigen Arbeiten, die sich nicht rhythmisch gestalten lassen" = Exhausting labor will only form where no rhythmic structure is left.

"geistig wegtreten" = mentally step back

Note: Footnote slightly edited from original text to exclude some extraneous scholaraship and references
10:32 :: :: eripsa :: permalink