The responses of Jerry Fresia and Magpie to yesterday's post raise so many important issues that I scarcely know where to begin. Let me start with the term banausic, an adjective translated [or virtually transliterated] from an ancient Greek term for the labor of common workmen, and by extension, for the workmen themselves. It is a term of contempt, sometimes translated "mechanic," or "mechanical." Plato and Aristotle believed that the labor of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants corrupted their souls and made them unfit for full participation in the deliberations of the public sphere. One finds a very similar attitude in the writings of Hannah Arendt [suitably cleaned up, as it were.] There is an interesting echo of this attitude in John Stuart Mill's distinction between higher and lower pleasures, one of his revisions of the simple utilitarianism on which he was raised by his father and his godfather [Jeremy Bentham.] Mill assumes without argument that the common folk are capable of enjoying only the lower pleasures, whereas the elite, such as himself, can appreciate both the lower and the higher pleasures, and hence are in a position to judge that the higher are better.[[One is reminded of the old definition of Jewish foreplay -- half an hour of nagging.] By describing the labor of common workers in language customarily reserved for the analysis of the act of artistic creation, Marx accomplishes a brilliant transvaluation of values [to steal a phrase from that virtuoso of dismissive contempt, Friedrich Nietzsche.]
The celebration of manual labor appears in many places, such as the early Israeli Kibbutzim, various nineteenth century American transcendentalist utopian experimental communities, and the writings of such twentieth century authors as Carl Sandburg and Paul Goodman. It also famously crops up in the late writings of Leo Tolstoy.
Although it is only tangentially relevant, I cannot resist the temptation to quote the glorious last paragraph of Leon Trotsky's Literature and Revolution:
"It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the height to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts -- literature, drama, painting, music and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise."
A very large portion of Volume One of Capital is devoted to spelling out in rich circumstantial detail the ways in which first the substitution of manufacturing [literally "making by hand"] for traditional handicrafts and then the substitution of machine production for manufacturing robs labor of its natural rhythms and its fusion of hand and head and transforms it into a rote activity that is deadening and life-destroying.
The division of labor into handwork and headwork, with its implications for class stratification, is one of the most distinctive "achievements" of capitalism, and the overcoming of the division has been a goal of revolutionaries in many countries. In the South Africa that I first discovered in 1986, and with which I fell in love, this took the form of a call among radical academics for the granting of formal educational credentials to those township residents who, despite being denied access to higher education, had demonstrated in their work lives a mastery of the skills and concepts that school learning was intended to instill. It was argued, for example, that those who managed the informal township councils of Soweto, Alexandra, or Mamelodi had acquired as much understanding of government as those who had studied Public Administration at university, and should therefore be awarded the appropriate university degree. Needless to say, this, like so many other inspiring revolutionary goals, became a dead letter once the apartheid regime was overthrown.
Here in the United States, the popular slang for this division used to be "suits and shirts," until in the '60s dress ceased to be a reliable marker for social class.