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The Looming Menace of the Protestant Ethic

By       Message Robert S. Becker     Permalink
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hard work, but not too much
 

 

When Work is Not Salvation

 

What if the most enduring October scoop got waylaid, buried by campaign Rom-foolery and Obametrics, the tenacious Great Recession, bluster over Libya, or baseball playoffs? Two weeks ago Pew Research pinpointed an historic threshold: for the first time only 48% of Americans deemed themselves Protestant. Yes, the dominant majority since Puritan days has shrunk to minority status, alongside (one trusts) its perennial double: the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling class.  

 

With the Protestant hegemony fading, let us project a similar demise for the simplistic, planet-threatening credo known as the "Protestant Ethic." That triumphant code consecrates hard work, prosperity and control over nature, complacently measuring progress by net profit and GNP numbers. Here's a conviction that unifies our two parties in love with the status quo, along with reactionaries and fundamentalists everywhere. For all proclaim the Divinity of Hard Work, that Hard Work Conquers All, even that Work is Salvation, as both sign and vehicle of "exceptionalism" and personal deliverance. 

 

For the hard right, does not the magic of hard work resolve crime, poverty, racial inequality, family shortcomings, economic stagnation and phantom enemies far and wide? The solution to all hard knocks, these hard people say, is hard work, the anvil for human destiny -- and beyond.  Gee, what happened to one-time, theoretical promises of greater leisure time?

 

Certainly Yanks celebrate that savvy American, Benjamin Franklin, who elevated thrift, industry, and tenacity; or as he put it, "Energy and persistence alter all things." But today's ideological folly distorts the context of birthright, namely background, gender, education, and family assets. Thus schoolchildren still endure injunctions to "keep your nose to the grindstone" (ouch), "there is no substitute for hard work" (Thomas Edison), and my favorite, "hard work never killed anyone" ("but why take the chance," quipped witty Edgar Bergen). 

Or check out Bishop Mitt's website: "Help Romney Get America Back to Work," while refusing to affirm public education, retraining, or support for needy families. So much for the famed "bootstraps" by which the poor will pull themselves up.    

 

No doubt, America's affluence mirrors perseverance, especially by underpaid laborers, but consider more critical advantages: freedom from central authority, relative tolerance, thus ethnic diversity, matchless resources (farmland, forests, water, minerals), and truly fortuitous geography, poised between Europe and Asia. Military might, material goods, isolation, and good fortune, not simply workloads, clarify how 5% of the world's population commandeers 20% of most goodies.

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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)
 

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