I'm going to go on a bit of a political rant here, maybe I'll be able to tie it into gaming by the end.
I have been listening to the Revolutions Podcast produced by Mike Duncan of The History of Rome Podcast fame; something that keeps coming up is the right to work. I also recently saw a political ad for the midterm campaigns here in Nevada that had the right to work in big bold red letters; this idea still holds sway today and influences policies and votes. Anyway the podcast describes the many revolutions that rocked the industrializing world of the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries. Mike Duncan often talks about the political question, constitutional government and political representation, and the social question, worker rights and welfare systems. The idea of the righ to work emerges just as the western world is industrializing and embracing the ideas of free trade and capitalism. This central idea sparked numerous riots and helped fuel various revolutions, especially in poor urban areas.
In pondering this idea of a "right to work", I have come to the conclusion this is based on faulty pretenses. John Locke espoused three main rights, "the right to life, liberty, and property." These were incorporated into the US Declaration of independence as "the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It may appear that the right to work has nothing to do with these, but let's examine it a little more closely.
Why does the modern man feel entitled to a right to work? Is it because he wants to perfrom backbreaking labor everyday of his life until he drops dead? I hope not. Ok, what about the opportunity to work hard enough to become a millionaire and enter the upper crusts of society, the quintessential American Dream? Some men sure, but most simply want to be able to provide for their family. Most men aren't particularly greedy. He may do what he can to make some extra money here and there, but he has no illusions about his position in life. Alright, so if not greed and not a ridiculous work ethic just for the heck of it, then why do so many working class people feel they have a right to work? Well, what does work guarantee you? Work provides you with a steady income, or money. What does money provide? Food, clothes, shelter, education, everything necessary for a comfortable life. People would usually rather not work, or at least work less; they want to have the ability to do what they want with their time and not be subject to whims of others. People don't generally care about the money itself, simply the things money provides. Money is the safety net, the ability to feel secure and know that if there is no work they will be ok. But we all know that without work that money is going to eventually run out. Therefore the right to work, because we need money to survive in the modern world. The right to work is simply another way of saying that man has an inalienable right to life.
Our society has so entrenched capitalistic ideas in the minds of men that we can no longer distinguish between work, money and life. There can't be one without the other. Let's try to separate it for a moment. If a man has the right to life, what does that mean? If tomorrow you met a starving man on the street, and you had the means to help what would you do? Would you give him some food? what about money? or bring him to a place where he can work to earn money to buy food? In the moment that he is about to perish from hunger, which do you think he would prefer? Undoubtedly the food. Ok, let's look at a really divisive topic, healthcare. Say you meet a man, not starving, but about to die because he broke his leg and it got infected, etc. If he has a right to live, then doesn't he have a right to be given medical treatment so he won't die of his injuries? Would granting him a right to work, and so providing him with a job, in either of these cases be the best solution? I think not. His broken and infected leg prevents him from doing physical labor and from concentrating long enough to do any mental tasks; medical insurance from work can take months to kick in anyway; he would die of his injuries before his right to work would prove effective. In the case of starvation, he won't receive his first paycheck for at least 2 weeks and he'll have starved to death by then. The confusion of the right to work with the right to life has caused a number of problems in modern western society. Fight for the right to live a full, happy, and healthy life, not to be enslaved by corporations, your boss, or the market.
To relate to gaming, I guess just realize that most fantasy games are placed in a pre-capitalist setting where the right to work hasn't even been invented, or for that matter the concept of inalienable rights. In a pre-modern world everything about how people thought was different, life was much more practical and no one had the time/inclination to pretend they cared about people they didn't know.