We will need a grasp on all three of Arendt’s categories of “labour,” “work” and “action” in this impending world. But more than this, we need to acknowledge that their relative proportions will change, and work won’t simply disappear. If a larger share of human activity is to be taken up by labour – by the maintenance of our physical, social and intimate worlds – then perhaps it should be shared around a bit more fairly. And perhaps it should be handled with a set of conceptual tools that are more apt. Words such as “efficiency” and “competition” and “choice” have been deployed far too widely – well beyond the bounds of the domain of work, where they rightly belong (and even then, in far more limited circumstances than is standard). They are alien to labour and corrode the foundations of trust, continuity and judgement that enable its proper performance. We need to develop a public vocabulary that gives value and space to labour and action on their own terms, as foundations for our common human flourishing.
This essay first appeared in Griffith Review 52: Millennials Strike Back, edited by Julianne Schultz and Jareth Head.