One of the key moments in the creation of modernity occurs when production moves outside the household. So long as productive work occurs within the structure of households, it is easy and right to understand that work as part of the sustaining of the community of the household and of those wider forms of community which the household in turn sustains. As, and to the extent that, work moves outside the household and is put to the service of impersonal capital, the realm of work tends to become separated from everything but the service of biological survival and the reproduction of the labor force, on the one hand, and that of institutionalized acquisitiveness, on the other. Pleonexia, a vice in the Aristotelian scheme, is now the driving force of modern productive work
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
The ancient Greeks had a word for avarice, insatiable greed and no matter how you much you have it just isn’t enough. The word was pleonexia.
The thought is also in scripture,
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Ecclesiastes 5:10
Jesus mentions it in the sermon on the mount,
“No man can serve two masters: for either he. will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other, You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
Jesus also says,
“life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15
We might feel that MacIntyre is being a bit strong, linking the world of work we now inhabit with what the ancient Greeks essentially thought of as a disease . . . and yet, we live in an incredibly unequal society. Work used to be an activity linked with the home, linked with community. For many today it is a totally separate space – we travel away from our homes and communities in order to “do it.” We struggle to reconcile the demands of home and work – we have to force the issue. If we don’t give more of ourselves and our time to work, we don’t “progress”.
During this time of Covid-19 something has changed – many more of us are working from home. We have discovered (as have many businesses) that a lot of work can still be carried out remotely. We have also found ourselves in a more fragile state – huge uncertainty among many about the future of work. Millions are on furlough, high street shops are closing, airlines are struggling and redundancy looms if the economy does not recover.
The wealthiest in our country increased their fortunes year on year since the 2008 banking crisis. At the end of 2019 the wealthiest six people in the UK made more money than the poorest 13.2 million. 13.2 MILLION.
Even now, in the midst of Covid-19, one person has seen their personal wealth increase by over 3 Billion in one year.
These individuals are celebrated. Their ability to make wealth, keep it and make more is applauded. The Times put together a list each year of the richest people in the UK – not the most deserving, not those who have blessed and served others, not because of their sense of public duty and care for their employees – it is simply a list of who has the most.
So, yes, for many of us our lives aren’t driven by Pleonexia – but do we, inadvertently, work for and serve those who are?
One of the silver linings of lockdown has been getting to know our neighbours better. We’ve done a bit of shopping for one of them, had the chance to sit out front in our small garden and chat to neighbours and, during the clap for the NHS, saw almost the whole street turn out. There has been a greater sense of togetherness, of doing small things for one another and noticing if there is a need.
It all feels like small stuff, but it’s making a difference to relationships and helping all of us take greater notice of one another. Saying “Hi” doesn’t just seem like the polite thing to do – we want to catch up and talk.
None of this would have happened without being at home and it has got me thinking about the value of the community we are in. The one we share physical space with. How, I’m wondering, is this kind of connection matched in the church community? We’ve seen people from our worshipping community much less – yes, we’ve watched the Sunday worship on Youtube; we’ve done a bit of zooming as part of the youth work.
Working from home has also become more interesting as we are ALL at home – I work from home anyway, but we all have been for getting on for three months now.
We are trying to capture and then retain a more holistic vision of work, home, life together what a rhythm of family life looks like when not just wedged in . . . made to fit around other priorities.
We want, and we will continue to try, to retain as much of what we have found that is good for us in this time. It has been good for our spirits to start the day together with scripture and prayer – without rushing out the door; It has been good for us – body and soul – to go for walks with each other. With everyone needing to be flexible with their time, it has been easier to be more creative with how we spend ours.
The drive to get our economy back and working is – in part – about protecting jobs; the desire to see schools open again is – in part – about enabling our children and young people to have a bit of normality back in their educational life. Yet, it is also about making profits, it is also about getting us out of our houses and spending money on stuff.
This season has been awful, but we have discovered a way of being a more holistic household – which we are still working out – and, whatever happens going forward – I really don’t want to lose that.
How do we continue to prioritise the home? How do we not get lost in trying to be a productive cog in an economic model that has thrived on inequality and – in all likelihood – is going to see that inequality increase as we move out of lockdown?
How do we challenge values that celebrate “rich lists”. How do we celebrate community – and in that, how de we notice those among us – on our doorsteps – who are struggling, in desperate need and have no voice or power because they aren’t seen as “contributing”?