[James Boggs] always talked about this transformation in work as something more than the loss of paychecks. He saw it as the deskilling of the American worker, as talents once held by a person were incorporated into machines. He frequently talked about men he had worked with who took great pride in special skills, like the guy who drew the pinstripes on the custom paint jobs. Jimmy liked to show how the man held his brush steady as the car moved down the line, ending the slim stripe with a flourish. Jimmy could see that replacements of workers by machines had a profound impact on who we were as people. No longer able to define ourselves by our work, or to have the confidence born of the mastery of skills, he saw the challenge of defining what it means to be a human being as the most urgent question we were facing.
One of the things one is most struck by is the way the language we use changes. The way its meaning changes from century to century. The way particular words change their meaning. I often draw to students attention the one that I find sometimes not so amusing, but very apt is to ask “When you hear the word ‘revolution,’ what do you think?” Immediately everyone thinks of upheaval, dismantling, overthrowing. This is the very opposite of what the word originally meant. The earliest meaning of the word “revolution” was a harmonious movement around a fixed point (fifteenth or sixteenth century).
1789 decided that the movement would not be so harmonious because the French did not like revolving around a harmonious point.
The original meaning of the word “culture,” the very earliest that it comes into the language (somewhere about the beginning of the sixteenth century), had to do with the tending of plants and the care of animals.… In other words, this word and the process it describes has its roots in the practice of agriculture, and it has never lost this sense of nurturing, of feeding, of cultivating, whether it be a body or a mind that is under consideration. The first and essential meaning of “culture,” therefore, is the means whereby men and women feed themselves, clothe and shelter themselves. The means whereby they achieve and reproduce their material existence.
No food: no life. No food: no religion. No food: no philosophy. No food: no politics. No food: no performing arts. Because no one is exempt from the demands of the material life. We need to understand, therefore, why the farmer and the fisherman are cultural workers. And that all questions relating to the process of social transformation are cultural questions.