Hundreds of years ago people worked hard because they had no choice.
The seasons presented very harsh obstacles. The life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Working long or late was required, partly because nature demanded it, and partly because being lazy meant death. Waking up and slaving to add value, in spite of dangerous situations, was a living. The neighborhood support system was small, fragile, and susceptible to delicate local factors. This means that one problem (a flood or a disease) could lead to a lost community.
A shared societal goal began to form over time: mankind aimed to cooperatively rise above these external elements through sheer brute force. Our people crashed against the craggy shores of the wild, doing so often in vain, but knowing that their sacrifice was for a better future.
One generation later…
It is crazy to think that in the span of one generation the seasons were effectively defeated. Cold and hot were factors that man could control. Night was removed. Distance was tamed, both in transportation and for communication. Disease was understood shockingly well, and moreover the greatest proactive killers of man cured. Because of longer lifespans the luxury of higher education for the masses appeared.
Many a person that grew up riding a horse-drawn carriage saw a man land on the moon.
While everything changed around it, society still held that hard work was a noble standard. The desire for improvement went from saving lives, to saving time. Efficiency was the societal goal, and damn if we weren’t going to save the future some time.
It is hard to pinpoint the moment things changed, but I think it was the late 00′s.
Baby boomers, governed by those that had lived through America’s greatest great depression, were taught the values of hard work. But these kids had no immediate, actionable danger to fear*. The parables of the past didn’t ring true. Values started shifting because the dangers were no longer so universally immediate, and so became malleable, influenced by media, and cultural whimsy.
And time passed. It’s really good at that.
The crash of the financial system in 2008 reflected the beginning of a permanent change in societal values. True dangers presented themselves in disturbing succession: housing collapsed, lending collapsed, investments collapsed, and millions of jobs collapsed, all in a matter of months.
The last generation that believed in the value of hard work in and of itself (baby boomers) were impacted the hardest. So they did what they needed to do: they dusted off their coats and tried to work their way out of this. But it didn’t work.
The late 00′s saw 20-somethings become millionaires or billionaires, while those who had worked within the system for 40-years lost their life savings. The vision of an efficient society had made its way to computer software in a fully formed way. The crash provided the restructuring needed to cement this.
The society has become so efficient it no longer needs all of its participants.
The tyranny of the majority.
People no longer fear wolves on the fringes of the forest. They fear the college loans they incorrectly did the math on, the software that might replace them, and the competition of being sub-par in a sea of 8 billion. No amount of physical labor can stop these either, so it provides an impossible enemy to resist. Why would someone work 80 hour weeks to fight a great nothingness?
We’ve defeated efficiency through software. Sure, we’ll spend the next 50 years ironing out the details, but the broad strokes remain.
The point here being: what is our next unified cultural battle-cry?
* The Cold War was primarily fought in the minds of its citizens. If “true” war was underway no amount of muscle could stop the mushroom clouds. So, the societal goals of a generation shifted: freedom from the culture’s efficiency mandate and untouchable global dangers became their first priority. This is why when the very urgent, tangible dangers like the draft appeared they were met with such resistance.