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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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A brief history of LABOR (08/31/2003)
By Janet Lewis Burns
The cave man of prehistoric times probably never hung out at a Hard Rock Cafe or heard the likes of the Rolling Stones perform. He wasn't a buddy of Fred Flintstone, or a hero of any dinosaur rodeo. Timely carvings on dank stone walls of his retro pad were likely the first monolithic artwork.

Did these Stone Age creatures exist only in the halls of science fiction and the planet of the apes? I would rather believe that my distant ancestors spring from an attractive couple like Adam and Eve. A few rotten apples in the bunch isn't so bad...more appealing than grunting, flea picking, hairy creatures.

Skeletal remains of Neanderthal homo sapiens of the late 1600s were first found in a German valley. Crude and reactionary, they've been depicted squatting in dirt, fashioning arrow heads and lopsided vessels from clay, sweat and stone. Discovering that round wheels worked more smoothly than square wasn't all that brilliant!

Ask any mother about LABOR and you may get an earful. "Yikes!" "It was worth every painful, excruciating, and horrifying minute." "Holy cow!" Women in the work force today, apart from taking time to bear children, support a massive onslaught of daycare homes, depend on cleaning gals, beauticians, caterers, their psychiatrists, massage therapists, and cosmetic surgery...and let's not forget Mr. Mom!

The culture most attune with Mother Earth, ancestors of the Native Americans probably lived as humans were meant to, simply and unpretentiously, taking only what they needed from animal, land and stream, and knowing who to thank for their bounty. Their elders have the heart wrenching task, in this new century, of keeping the legends and the spirit of their people alive in the hearts of their youth.

There were the Thoreau years (Henry David), 1817-1862, when men were men and women were tired. A hermit, in a frugal hut he constructed on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, during his fruitful writing years, Thoreau didn't believe in a government's dominance nor individual's possession of land. We are sojourners, he believed, to use the earth for our needs alone.

My favorite Thoreau quote, of many, is this: "Every man looks at his woodpile with a kind of affection. I loved to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work...I played about the stumps which I got out of my bean field...they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire." Insightful.

In the 1880s the industrial society achieved dominance over the natural world. We've come a long way, baby, since the first Labor Day in 1882, endorsed by the labor unions of New York.

From the land of milk and honey, grim statistics have it that in 1870, agricultural laborers represented 71% of the total labor force, and industrial workers 27%. In 1963, agricultural producers constituted only 6% of the total labor force and industrial employees, 84%.

TODAY? Large computerized dairy facilities, corporation-owned crop operations and hog confinements, and city and suburb white collar, silk tie, and tight skirt positions, in stuffy office cubicles, are the norm.

"We have given up our dependence on hierarchical structures in favor of informal networks, especially important to the business community. More Americans are living in the South and West, leaving behind the old industrial cities of the North." This entry was taken from a 1982 bestseller "Megatrends," written by social forecaster John Naisbitt, a "must read" in the 80s...but where are the robots?

Naisbitt wrote, "Conservative estimates predict that by 1990, we will be producing 17,000 robots per year, and that the total workforce will reach 80,000." I heard recently that robots may soon be performing routine procedures, in place of live doctors, on hospital patients. A costly folly?!

Apart from "labors of love," LABOR is the very thing that most Americans shy away from over the long Labor Day weekend. Consider this aphorism by Colin Wilson: "The mind has exactly the same power as the hands, not merely to grasp the world, but to change it."

Labor, to be productive, accomplishes. The mind can earn calluses, too. Labor away! 


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