That cleavage began with our own entre into the labor force at the ripe ages of 14, paid under the minimum wage, with minimum to no supervision. In the eyes of the social reformers that we worked for, hard labor was supposed to instill in us a protestant work ethic, that there was a value in work, meritocracy, and individualism. All of these values became distorted because the work the reformers wanted us to do made others wealthy and did not lead to our own autobasto, we could never advance on our own merit beyond being left in charge of other equally frustrated youth, and the only way we survived the heat, exhaustion and repetitive nature of the work was by playing with each other when left un-attended.
If the first moment of alienation for me was when our mothers were called to work full time, a second moment of alienation began when we entered the workforce. Both moments caused a crisis in our community, the first, taking away our resolanas, those moments where we actually spent communal time together, every day, in exchange for year round work stability for our mothers. The second was the moment we, ourselves were removed from the community as youth, to work for a wage.
The problem with the protestant work ethic as deployed by the social reformers was twofold. The first was that there had been a transformation of the protestant work ethic since it’s early use by Adam Smith, in regards to the liberal application of the concept based upon entrepreneurship to the yeoman farmer. This was a move that was at once symbolic in regards to U.S. national identity and also deceiving. The yeoman farmer in the U.S. could never be, had it not been for the expropriation by force of Native American and Spanish land owners who had already been cultivating the farmland they took over. The Union side of the U.S. pushed the idea of the Yeoman Farmer and the protestant work ethic as a component of U.S. industrialization, which would not have taken off had it not been for the creation of a breadbasket that could be depended upon while the south was in the middle of reformation post-civil war. U.S. Yeoman Farmers depended from the beginning upon government subsidies, land grants to later crop subsidies, yet maintained the idea that they embraced the spirit of capitalism and lived the protestant work ethic, earning their way to subsistence. U.S. Yeoman Farming was capitalist from it’s beginnings in that primitive accumulation occurred even before any individual farmers set foot upon the land, the second, a capital investment by land speculators for choice land in large swaths, and third the U.S. Land Act that literally gave away land to U.S. male citizens who were willing to live as settlers in its far reaches. The myth of meritocracy and individualism was born in a great lie. U.S. Yeoman Farmers were about as independent as a suckling pig, and had about the same kind of table manners when it came to dealing with first nations populations on the periphery.
“Depression era mentality: defined dependence as self-reliance, passivity as patriotism, and not-knowing as wisdom.” (Harden 40)