This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
1st, It tends to enervate the laborer, because it does not, as a general fact, give full activity and development to all the functions of the body.
We shall proceed to show that this is true of those classes who perform what we have designated as material labor, while the very distinction of mental labor implies such a separation between the natural functions as seems not to consist with the best physical condition of those engaged. Common observation will affirm that this is strikingly true. It is not necessary, but the tendency exists.
In the material occupations, it is found that confinement to a single operation is often highly injurious. There are forms of labor which sufficiently exercise the several parts of the body. The mere fact of uniformity of motion brings no objection to such as these. But there are those which require the constant fatiguing use of some member, to the injury of the rest of the body; others require a cramping posture that oppresses and disorders the vital organs; others still require the workman to poison his blood with unwholesome gases. In the great centres of capital and labor, — whether we regard the mill, or that larger mill, the city itself, — it is notorious that distortion, paralysis, and organic feebleness, are more common than where labor is diffused, and the laborer changes his work and his place frequently.
That this will occur in the course of all manufacturing industry is probable. That it is inevitable does not so clearly appear. The sanitary arts keep even pace with the advance of machinery. The civil war in America developed astonishingly the resources, which are at the command of government, to suppress malaria, and reform the habitations of disease. The growth of manly sports, and the cultivation of gymnastics for health's sake, are likely to work a great change for the better in the sanitary conditions of our people. The intelligent precaution of operatives in every country, where their remuneration is any thing less than robbery, can guard against all excessive derangement of the bodily functions.
It is perhaps significant to the question whether the application of the bodily powers to a single continuous action is really in practice injurious, that we find in the statistics of Massachusetts, ranging over sixteen years, the average life of " laborers having no special trades " to be less by two years than that of " active mechanics in shops."
Mechanical operations were formerly considered as disqualifying for military service; and even our modern philosophy has found in them a reason for the employment of mercenaries, and the maintenance of standing armies. But the great civil war just referred to exhibited the novel fact, that, beyond all dispute, the troops raised in agricultural districts are not so hardy in the privations and exposures of camp and field as those coming from the towns. This does not, however, imply a better state of health at home. It may be, that the latter class find, in the constant exercise and the out-door employment, just that change of habit and condition which they needed. All that is different from their usual course of life is in the direction of more air and light and motion; while the agricultural laborers find no change except for the worse. They have been accustomed to active employment; but the harsh necessities of the service come to them fresh and strong. It is perhaps the direction of influences more than the degree of them which determines these matters of health; or it may be, that mechanical occupations, contrary to general opinion and in spite of some plain drawbacks, do tend to compact the frame and the sinew, and lend force and vitality to the organs. Whatever the explanation, we will rest with the fact, that, in the severe trial of strength and endurance made by the war, the mechanical occupations have not been discredited.
2d, This system, in some of its applications and in certain degrees of extension, does not give that full employment and expansion to all the powers of the mind which its normal development requires. This is obvious. The mind, if intensely devoted for a whole life to a single effort, and that perhaps of the most simple kind, cannot but be unfavorably affected. Unless counteracting influences are resorted to, it will undoubtedly be contracted and enervated.
To this liability are opposed three compensations: —
a. The great communicativeness observable in such circumstances, the eager discussions, the free inquiry, the school, and the lyceum.
b. The saving principle that the employment of one member is, to a certain extent, the employment of all. The human faculties, mental and physical, are a knot. They interpenetrate so completely that it is impossible to move one without affecting the rest. If we compare the mind to a reservoir, we may say that the individual powers and dispositions flow out of it as so many streams; but there is nothing to prevent them from flowing back, if the level is sufficiently disturbed. The special use of one may develop it greatly; make it more strong and active than the others. But such a predominance is not distortion. Few minds are capable of even and temperate growth. In this principle resides the variety of human character. It may be questioned whether any but the most gifted can be educated in any other way so thoroughly and efficiently as by interested application to some single matter. Generalization and broad philosophy rouse the full powers of but few intellects. In the majority of cases, it will remain true that intense, spirited, persistent labor directed to one point is better than the languid, nerveless, unspurred, rambling play of all the faculties. Mind, to be energetic, must not be republican. The powers must be centralized. Some must be despotic.
Indeed, the argument against division of labor on this score would be better expressed by saying, that the constant repetition of single acts so far dispenses with thought, and even with consciousness, in the operation, that it makes man, in some sense, a machine. This is, to a considerable extent, true; the compensation being that it affords a greater opportunity for discussion and reflection, if the workman chooses to avail himself of the kind of mental leisure which is afforded by the monotony of his occupation. It is, therefore, not the excessive use, but the disuse, of the intellectual faculties, that is to be feared in those arts to which labor has been carried to its fullest division.