There is a kinship between productive human beings; one that spreads all across this planet. It may be invisible to power and hierarchy, but we productive people recognize it. When we drive into a new town, we know, almost by instinct, that we can trust the hard-working carpenter further than someone permanently on the dole. It’s possible that the guy on the dole is a saint, but the hardworking man shares our specific ethics, and we are tuned to them. Even if this carpenter is a negative exception, we’ll be able to tell.
I’ve felt this kinship on multiple continents and among people of many flavors; not just on construction sites, but in truck stops, offices, grocery stores and trains. Productive people bear a specific ethic, and it’s consistent not only over distance, but over time. If you were somehow dropped into ancient Rome, the people you’d want to join wouldn’t be the Senators or the people in bread lines, but the people who build and maintain the aqueducts.
Even the old man, recounting his days of building, repairing and creating… He’s not just saying, “I was once strong,” he’s saying, “I am a producer. And even if I’m too old to work, I remain what I was.”
Ethics Born of Work
The ethics I’m referring to are those which are spawned by work… by productive, dedicated, creative work. And yes, even sweeping a floor becomes creative if you take it seriously and do it well. A shop floor is complex, and complexity must be overcome with on-the-fly creativity.
Work requires things of us; things like continuous cooperation, holding in mind what others are doing, and working toward a shared, final goal. It requires us to make a long chain of decisions, by ourselves and without stopping our work flow (aka, on the fly). In this way it’s a lot like team sports.
From the practice of production – from the practice of doing such things day by day, over time – spring the virtues of persistence, dedication, reliability and endurance. We learn to do things that are hard, because they need to be done, and because there’s no one but us to make sure they get done.
We learn responsibility, because if we fail to do the hard things, dozens or hundreds or thousands of people will be in trouble. We also learn about earned self-pride. (Yes, there can be a negative version of “pride,” but that’s not what I’m talking about.) When we work hard, long and effectively, doing things that need to be done, we learn that we are beneficial and necessary beings in the world. Legitimately. And that’s a big thing.
Here, in brief, are the values of producers:
- We believe that everyone should be treated fairly, including a certain level of respect and politeness.
- We believe in voluntary interactions; that coercion is wrong.
- We believe that people should keep their agreements.
- We believe in cooperation and good faith.
- We believe that everyone should be able to do what they want, so long as they don’t intrude on others.
- We believe that honest failure is a temporary condition.
- We know that what we do matters.
- We accept that life can be hard, and we work through it as best we can.
- We respect people who are true to themselves.
- We help people who suffer unjustly.
- We believe that an adult should make their own decisions.
- We believe that good decisions must include concern for the long term.
Establishing this as a good list is easy, and the proof is this: These are things we complain about when others fail to uphold them. We wouldn’t complain if we didn’t hold them as values.
What I’d like all productive people to realize is this: We have as much right to express our will in the world as anyone else does. We have every right to live our way.
And so we shouldn’t sacrifice our ethics to any hierarchy: If that system can’t survive within our ethics – something that corner stores, nurses and contractors accomplish every day – its time has passed and it should be left behind.
I’ll conclude with a passage from Buckminster Fuller:
If you take all the machinery in the world and dump it in the ocean, within months more than half of all humanity will die and within another six months they’d almost all be gone; if you took all the politicians in the world, put them in a rocket, and sent them to the moon, everyone would get along fine.
Our ethics are good and we’re the people who make the world work. We need to treat that as a fact… because it is.