We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
We have divided our world in two
The industrial revolution has taken almost all productive work and put it outside the home, in those giant workplaces we called factories, offices, schools and hospitals.
We think of those workplaces outside the home as “production”, where value is created. Work done in those places is counted in the GDP. Those spaces are still dominated by men, and are valued.
The home is left over as a place of consumption, where value is used up. Work there is not counted in the GDP, not reported in the newspapers, not worried over by politicians. It remains mainly women’s work, and is devalued.
The industrial revolution has brought us enormous comfort, long life and health. It has also distorted our lives by devaluing the home. We need to rethink this. Here are five reasons why.
1. Home is what we yearn for
Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert, writes: “If people liked work they’d do it for free. The reason we have to pay people to work is that work is inherently unpleasant compared to the alternatives.”
Let’s face it. Work involves long commutes, long hours, high stress, and often doing things we don’t agree with. So how did that get valued more than life at home, the place of sex, relaxation, good food, children, friends and doing what you love?
The answer is: in order to get us to commit to work, society conditions us to recognise value to things we wouldn’t otherwise value. Okay. But we need to shake off this condition, and remember where life starts: at home.
2. Work should serve home
The only reason that we have industries is to provide what we need for a good life at home, and in hour communities.
But the competitive financial and industrial engine we have created doesn’t know how to scale down. It continues to pump products and services at us, way beyond what we might otherwise want, ramping up consumer and household debt, and making home life crowded, stressful and busy.
If we continue to feed the runaway machine, it will consume not only us, but our environment as well.
3. The home produces the next generation of humanity
The New Zealand economist Marilyn Waring says that home is the place of the most important production on earth: the REproduction of the human race. Isn’t that more important than advertising, hamburgers or finance? Why do we not elevate the householder as the most important profession, over and above lawyers, bankers and CEOs?
4. The home produces care
Lost in the abstraction of words like “social capital” and “social safety net” is the fact that it’s only because people love and care for each other that our society runs at all. If we had to hire public servants or corporate contractors to care for every child, every sick person, every older person, we would go bankrupt within weeks.
We need to acknowledge that the continuity of our society depends on the work done in that home. That work is primary. What happens in childcare centres, hospitals and old age homes is secondary.
5. The home produces workers
We go out to work, and come home stressed and tired. Where do we get re-invigorated so that we have the strength and energy to go to work again the next day? At home. It’s at home that we are fed, rested, have a chance to reflect, and get emotionally recharged.
If you look at a city, you see business at the centre, and homes out towards the edge. This is a diagram of our way of thinking. We may not change our cities, but we need to change how we think: the home, the work of the home, and the work done at home are most important to the economy. Everything else needs to be organised to be subordinate.