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People, like capitalism, can adapt.
am 2. Juli 1999
Richard Sennett's little book includes many worthy insights. His analysis of risk-taking and community is particularly good. It appears true that in the private sector a short term focus is widespread. For many individuals, life narratives are perhaps getting lost amidst fragmentary episodes of work. Personal character no doubt suffers.
But whose fault is this? Sennett seems to imply that workers are passive victims of institutional structure. Such structures, however, are always changing. Workers may be more resilient than he gives them credit for. Personal narratives are probably intact even though many of them are so different from those of, say, their parents as to be unrecognizable. Then, too, in changing times one may simply have to exert more effort to understand and develop a life narrative. On the basis of Sennett's small sample, assuming too much about the workforce as a whole may be unwise. Do foreign service officers, Oklahoma bankers, Iowa farmers, physicians in Oregon, and school teachers in New Mexico suffer from a diminished sense of identity because of the new capitalism?
I felt swayed by Sennett's argument until I read on p. 116 that, "The classic work ethic of delayed gratification and proving oneself through hard labor can hardly claim our affection." In fact, it does. Even under new circumstances, working hard and delaying gratification in order to achieve a larger goal produces a sense of accomplishment, of self-worth. Similiarly, human beings have a way of seeking out or creating the communities they need. If the office doesn't provide it, or the neighborhood, churches and voluntary associations of all kinds do. Some people simply opt out of work situations which do not provide or allow them the kinds of communities they need.
Capitalism is infinitely changeable and dynamic, but most people are quick to see their options. Quicker perhaps than Mr. Sennett.