Cyclopica

1 9 The concept of labor has distinguished Western culture ever since Ancient Rome where it was contrasted with slavery. Actually, just as it was for Virgil, it’s a basic instrument in the path toward man’s moral elevation and progress: “Relentless work conquered all difficulties, work and urgent need when times were hard,” he wrote in the Georgics . In this world of logarithms, of clicks, of machines that drive other machines, there is the risk of losing not only the social and economic meaning, but the ethical and historical one of work. As Luigi Einaudi wrote in the Corriere della Sera in 1919: “Take away the joy of work and work becomes insipid…Work cannot be divided among workers and assisted by the machine. But each one must know the reason for the work being done. He or she must have understood why the work must be done in that particular way, to achieve that goal.” And so let’s go back to Primo Levi, where we started off. The writer, employed for nearly all his life as a chemist in a large industrial company, recalls that “If we except those miraculous and isolated moments fate can bestow on a man, loving your work (unfortunately the privilege of a few) represents the best, most concrete approximation of happiness on earth: but this is a truth not many know.” Who knows for how long we’ll be able to say that, now that the trade becomes the trades, work turns into jobs, and relentless change casts doubts over every traditional paradigm. Will this twenty-first century make us mourn for the twentieth? The mythology of the past is a veil with which to cover the fear of the new and the pretence that things change while continuing to do the same things. In the end, the true crisis is the crisis of incompetence. Not even a bridge with large spans is assembled the way it once was. But it’s not just a question of technology; the organization itself has changed, the material conditions and the human relations within the company have changed.

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