An irrational — or perhaps rational — fear of work is rarely associated with the Greatest Generation. But, in 1933, that was the subject of an essay by William Hazlett Upson in this magazine. Upson’s “Ergophobia” documented his “morbid fear or hatred of work” that persisted throughout his life, except it wasn’t an earnest diagnosis. After all, Upson was a humorist. His famous fiction series about Alexander Botts, a tractor salesman with Earthworm Tractors, echoed his own experiences travelling around the country selling and repairing tractors. Upson also worked as a farmer and served in World War I. Despite his best efforts, the writer always found himself in the throes of some labor or another.
In “Ergophobia,” Upson examines the farcical nature of our ideas behind the integrity of work, and he dares to question whether or not any of us really want to be doing it in the first place. Wouldn’t we rather be yawning the day away languidly in a shaded chair? As Upson puts it, “I don’t mind working, if I know I am working toward a period of sloth.”
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