That work has become so central to our self-definition merely demonstrates how depraved our way of life is. It is no longer possible to refer back to traditional societies as the origin of homo faber; current research shows that life in hunter-gatherer societies was not “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” as Hobbes maintained. And while the peasants in the Middle Ages toiled more than Gauguin’s Tahitian neighbors, they still celebrated feasts and holidays galore, putting to utter shame the American two-week vacation, itself disappearing, like the weekend, with contracted labor.
If we want to supersede the notion of productivism – and this seems essential to free our imagination from the deadbolt culture of scarcity and sacrifice – then maybe we need to explore the notion of homo ludens as a pivotal concept. If we are in search of a legacy that extends back to the wisdom of traditional societies (but doesn’t take up residence there) then we can do no better than refer to play. Johan Huizinga who authored Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element in culture states on the first page:
Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.
Play, and playing, conceived as central to our lives evokes what’s missing in our society – to provide a short list: joy, abundance, conviviality and cooperation. Of course, one could argue that play too has been absorbed into the commercial nexus and deformed into its opposite – grim competiveness and spectatorial profiteering. However, commercial sport and spectacular events generate their own calcified references and play, still, retains a connotation of childlike innocence. It’s not serious. And that’s precisely why it can be subversive, provocative and meaningful.
We need the elixir of joy to counteract the toxic diet of economic nonsense that starves those impulses we need to build a better way to live. If our intent is to overcome the acquisitive neurosis that plagues us, we need to find pleasure in useful endeavors without price tags. Likewise, righteous agitation exclusively on fixes and reforms – public banking, complimentary currencies, participatory budgeting, and so forth, even the mechanics of the commons – deflects us from fostering a selfhood based on the refinement of conviviality. Is there a better way to revolution than by imagining how we can all play better together?
Homo Faber or Homo Ludens, Bernard Marszalek, 2018.