By CatsAkimbo 55 Comments
We've all heard it in some form. "Why are you wasting your time playing games?" "Shouldn't you be working?" "You're not hardworking and you'll never be successful" (ouch, that last one was rough). How do people jump to these conclusions based solely on seeing us playing a game? It has to do with modern day "workaholism" and goes back to the mid 1550's with a man named John Calvin. (Note: This is history. I'm not preaching :)
Calvin believed in "original sin," that each human is born morally corrupt. Unlike some versions of Christianity, which say that one can be redeemed by good acts, Calvin believed that there was nothing a human could do to redeem his or herself. According to him, God chose who was chosen to be saved, and who was to be damned, and that there was nothing one could do to sway God's judgment. This belief in predestination is kind of depressing, so Calvinist ministers told their followers that one can find out if God has chosen them through their work. One who is chosen is someone who devotes their life to unemotional good works and self-control, so if someone emulates a chosen one, and is chosen, they'll be rewarded for their good faith with economic wealth. In contrast, if one works hard, but loses their farm to a drought, they must have been damned by God all along. This created followers who are very devoted to their work.
(This is a very short description of Calvinism and focuses only on the part related to work ethic. I left many things out because I'm not trying to recount an entire religious belief system.)
Fast forward to the late 1700's with Benjamin Franklin, whose father was a Calvinist. Franklin himself was a "Deist," like many of the U.S.'s founding fathers*. Despite this, the Calvinist influence did appear in his writing, the epitome of which is his famous quote, "time is money" **. This refers to the economic view that time spent not working is actually lost money that you could've earned in that time. This quote has been enormously influential on the people of the United States. According to Max Weber, an influential sociologist, Franklin had a secularized Calvinist work ethic (secularized meaning removed from religion).
This leads to today's "Protestant work ethic" ideology. An ideology is a belief that distorts the universe, and is often invisible to those who hold the belief to be true***. If you've been to Mexico, South America, or Italy, you've probably noticed the huge difference in work ethic between them and those of us in the United States or the United Kingdom. People in the U.S. seem to be compelled to work too hard, and often feel guilty for not working. This work ethic is regarded as perfectly normal, and even part of human nature, when in fact it's very recent in terms of the history of humanity, only dating back to Calvinism. This is the "Protestant work ethic" or "workaholic" ideology.
This "workaholic" ideology can be a good thing. People working long hours, sometimes working overtime without pay, provide huge profits to businesses and create a booming economy. Those who devote their lives to working for charitable organizations help the less fortunate with their strong work ethic. There are many technological advances we can thank to people who were compelled to work late into the night. However, there can also be a very destructive downside to this ideology.
"Workaholics" can be driven to work long hours in a job they don't enjoy, leading to a miserable existence where they deprive themselves of enjoyment. They can believe that economic success is equal to moral superiority and create a judgmental attitude toward those who don't devote their life to their work. They can believe that a hardworking, successful businessman is a better person than someone who doesn't work hard to get rich.
This leads to them calling people out who aren't working. Their belief that time=money and accumulation of money is the goal in life causes them to believe that time spent playing video games is a worthless endeavor. This is why they call you a lazy, worthless gamer.
Of course, believing gamers are lazy, worthless human beings is only small part of it. It also leads to harmful racist beliefs. In the past, an example is the "drunken, lazy Irishman". Some believed that because they weren't hard working, self-disciplined people like them, the Irish didn't really matter and could be mistreated. A more recent example is the "lazy Mexican" who is a lesser person for working less hours than Americans. This is a particularly dumb belief because many of the same people also hold the wider belief that these lesser, "lazy Mexicans" are coming to America to steal their jobs.
So how does one reconcile the good parts of workaholism with the bad, judgmental parts? Through self-consciousness. You can realize you're a workaholic and "own" it without passing judgment on others for not holding the same belief in a strong work ethic. Someone who enjoys their leisure time gaming is not a lesser person than the businessman working late into the night.
* This controversial statement is contrary to many who claim the U.S. was based on Christianity, which is historically incorrect. Deism differs from Christianity in that Deists did not believe that Jesus was a savior, nor did they believe in divinely inspired scriptures, the trinity, or the Catholic Church. Instead they focused on a belief in God without the need for organized religion, emphasizing rationality.
**Note that this quote was written under one of Franklin's pseudonyms: Poor Richard. It's not clear if Franklin was writing his actual beliefs or a satire.***This is using the normative (value-laden) definition of Ideology instead of the broader, descriptive definition in which an ideology is simply a "belief".
Thanks to Professor Barbara Goodrich. A much deeper recounting of the "Protestant/Calvinist Work Ethic" can be found at her website here.