Thursday, August 31, 2006

Working Less = Living More

A while back I was investigating a story in Maclean's Magazine about the World Naked Bide Ride, and came to the website of the Work Less Party, because they were both founded by Conrad Schmidt. I wrote to Conrad, basically saying "Good work!" and he was kind enough to send me a copy of the Work Less Party's book - Workers of the World Relax.

I think that it's helpful to describe Conrad before reviewing the book, because his story gives more background to the policies of the party. A Vancouverite, Conrad was working away as a software engineer and driving his car to work, as so many on this continent do. Getting increasingly concerned with the environment, Conrad did some math and figured that the earnings from one day of his workweek went towards affording his car - therefore, if he gave up his car, he could give up one day a week of work. He talked to his boss, and voila, he was a man of three day weekends who was no longer sending CO2 emissions up into the air.
He did this for a while, and then his worries about consumerism's effect on the earth caused him to do some deep thinking about his job - "Even though I was earning a great deal, I wrote software and the software made junk, the junk went to landfills and the landfills polluted the planet. I quit my job."

So that's the kind of guy who founded the Work Less Party, which did indeed run in several ridings in British Columbia in 2005.
And what are the policies of this party?
It helps to start with a couple of assumptions -

a) Modern (North American) society largely consists of a bunch of unhappy Dilberts driving their cars to work to spend their days in cubicles.
b) Modern society is driving the earth to destruction (which is fairly easy to believe, look at all the links I put at the bottom of this post).

According to the Work Less Party, there is a solution to these two problems which is never discussed by the mainstream parties: If we all worked less, making the North American workweek a 4 day one for example, we would a) be happier citizens, and b) we'd be producing less Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmo's, which just end up in landfills anyway.

That's the simple version of the theory. Conrad backs all this up in far greater detail in his book than I'm prepared to do here in this post. He talks about GDP, happiness trends, energy issues, and compares our civilization to that of Easter Island.

I'll let Conrad's own writing summarize the problem for us:

Today we are dedicating more and more of our lives to produce more and more consumer goods. We work harder toward the empty pursuit of producing goods than we do toward the fulfilling work of living. The harder we work to make and afford "stuff," the less time we have to enjoy our lives, spend time with friends and build healthy relationships and communities. We are neglecting aspects of our lives, essential to our well being, in favour of status and material wealth accumulation that makes us no happier.
Our perverse work ethic is not just a social problem. The work we do affects the environment around us. The environmental tragedy of global warming, pollution and the extinction of millions of species are linked to the behavior of our consumerist society. We are working longer and harder at decreasing the ability of our planet to sustain us, and less at doing the work of enjoying life.

And here are some good quotes from the book:

On renewable energy systems being a false solution because they won't slow down consumerism - We might very well have unlimited clean energy in the future. This will give us the capacity to completely destroy the planet.

Society - Western culture is in an unending struggle to make enough money to pay bills.

In general - Make less STUFF - do more LIVING!

Conrad also describes two other issues and solutions which are near and dear to my heart, vegetarianism and the removal of cars from the planet, but I'm hoping to cover these issues in posts in the future, so I'll leave them be for now.

It's the (long) Labour Day Weekend in Canada. I hope everyone has some time to sit on a patio and do some reading, whether with a beer in the sunshine or with a coffee under some cover in the rain. Live a little, and investigate the Work Less Party, and maybe in the future we'll all be able to live a little more.


Doug W said...

On a slightly related note, here is a good commentary on work life balance as it related to health:!145A18CCBC5B4C55!115.entry

Snakebite said...

I'd kill for perpetual three day weekends! I don't know if I can swing that, but I can definitely live without a car. I'm working on that and should be there by spring. Good post!

Curt said...

The Easter Island metaphor has been of particular interest to me...really fascinating. Also, in Hawken's Ecology of Commerce, he discusses a Bering island that was overstocked with reindeer in such a way that the population just imploded...there were no natural predators or controls, and the scientists involved in the study expected the population to trough and then recover...but they forgot to weigh the impact of the reindeer's innocent over-exploitation of the general ecology of the island. No recovery was possible. It's a microcosm of what we are facing as a planet.

One mind a time, I'm tellin' you. It's not fast enough, but it's the only way. History proves it.

cyclingdave said...

the perfect post for the long weekend. i totally agree and while i sometimes worry that may be a result of some slacker tendancies i try to make sure that i do not work and thus spend time away from family, friends and things i enjoy just so that i may consume more.

Melissa said...

it sounds like a good read

Eclecta said...

Hey Chris, Just checking some of your "more dramatic moments" and I was really pleased and intrigued to read this particular post. I had started thinking along the same lines, but not quite as far. Fascinating! I'll have to add this book to my wish list! :)

Eclecta said...

I finally am reading it!

Angel said...

I'm coming to this post rather late, but 36 hour weeks rock! As long as you're ok with a couple longer days, it's great. I work 3 days a week for 12 hours. The three days are kind of a loss for anything else, but the 4 days off every week are just wonderful.

God bless health care workers.