Being active

The wish to be active in some form or other is something that probably all humans share. While a person’s desire can determine the activity one chooses, it is not identical with the chosen activity itself. My desire to do something good for children, for example, can lead me to work as a volunteer for an NGO providing medical care for poor children, but it can also lead me to found a children’s choir in my hometown.

Portioning the broad field of human activity into different parts and labelling these as work, hobby, voluntary, or charitable work and not as „being active” can lead to a great deal of confusion. The impression arises that the words refer to completely different activities which must be rated in completely different ways.

The classification and rating are a secondary process largely influenced by the market economy system. In this symbolic order, working for money is seen as superior while activities such as hobbies, voluntary work or house-work seem to be insignificant. However, these non-paid activities are often the most important to foster a good life for each and everyone.

Considering this background, the right to work has to be redefined and should be understood as two distinctive rights:

– the right to be active in a meaningful way (in which „meaningful” can be understood differently according to one’s own desire), and

– the right to an income, sufficient to live on (money in the system of market economy)

The idea that each meaningful activity would lead to an appropriate monetary equivalent has proven to be wrong. The separation of the spheres of being active and generating income can foster a good life. A universal basic income could guarantee compensation, while the person receiving it does meaningful work not just for themselves but also for their community without getting paid. 

Hannah Arendt: The human condition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1998 (orig. 1958)

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