Biscuit making

A Reading Note

de Botton spends time with a biscuit manufacturing company in England, and uncovers the main source of sorrow in the modern workplace:

The real issue is not whether baking biscuits is meaningful, but the extent to which the activity can seem so after it has been continuously stretched and subdivided across five thousand lives and half a dozen different manufacturing sites. An endeavor endowed with meaning may appear meaningful only when it proceeds briskly in the hands of a restricted number of actors and therefore where particular workers can make an imaginative connection between what they have done with their working days and their impact upon others.

de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, page 80

So, take an activity—say, cooking, which may be one of the most natural, human things we can do for one another—and break it up into a thousand pieces and you’ll find yourself with a dreary workforce and inferior biscuits. That we ever got to this point, when it is so clearly a source of despair, is astonishing. Further proof that we need an economy built not to maximize profits but to improve the quality of human life.

Related books

A lengthy and wonderful photo essay with stories of various kinds of work, from biscuit manufacturer to rocket scientist.

Small Is Beautiful

E. F. Schumacher

Schumacher brilliantly interrogates modern economics and proposes an alternative: a Buddhist economics that takes as its imperative the quality of human life, not the quantity of profit.