The Work and Its Ethic

Kage Baker did not consider herself a fan of the Protestant work ethic.

That is a theory that subscribes to the idea that – in theology,  sociology, economics and history – hard work, discipline and frugality are a result of a person’s subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism. This was probably an idea with proponents long before Christianity arose – it’s a dour attitude that seems natural to a portion of humans – but it got its current name when Protestants became such noticeably un-fun members of the Christian spectrum. (unlike, say, the Anabaptists …) It’s closely associated with America, especially since America began its run toward nationhood by making bright colours, sex and Christmas illegal; stunts it followed up by occasionally criminalizing various pain-killers, antibiotics and ALL alcohol.

We all know how those campaigns turned out … and are, in fact, still turning out, in new and unexpectedly horrible ways. Nobody profits when law and custom lean more heavily on long lists of “Thou Shalt Nots” than on anything else.

Still, Kage believed in duty, and in discipline. Sometimes she espoused it in the cock-eyed Gilbert & Sullivan fashion: Duty, duty must be done; The rule applies to everyone! as Sir Despard and Richard carol. Of course, then you get lost in hair-splitting Moebius insanity, and end up arguing with your dead ancestors about how actually wicked you really are, if you deliberately flout a curse by being virtuous …

More often, though, Kage’s devotion to what MUST be done was so automatic that even she didn’t think about it. And she thought about everything. But the vital necessity of writing every day, all the time, no matter where she was: that was inviolable and did not require thought. Like breathing, it was a necessary component of life itself; and staying alive is a duty that cannot be shirked. It’s why she gave – first to Mendoza, and then to all her Operatives – the Prime Directive of her Universe:

Nothing matters. Except the work.

It’s what Kage herself believed. She believed it because she could see it demonstrated; because she had experimented, and that worked better at keeping her happy than anything else. She believed it with the intensity of a nun to whom God is not a Mystery, but the plainest bedrock Truth. It wasn’t a grim or joyless creed, either, but rather the basis of all  delight. Kage discovered, at an early age, that doing what you were meant to do was the ultimate satisfaction: that while you couldn’t escape the sorrows and pains of the world, you could fight them by doing what you should.

It took a little effort to find out what you ought to be doing in the first place, of course. And a lot of people argued with you. But once you found it, your course was set and nothing, nothing, would ever be as bad again. Nothing matters, except the work.

Kage wrote damn near every day. But even the worst days in her life (and those days happen to everyone, even someone as stubbornly cloistered as Kage Baker) could be assuaged by her Work. So when she was sad, frightened, angry or ill, she wrote. When she couldn’t write, she talked to me. When even tossing ideas was too hard, she dictated what she had already composed – no argument and no discussion, but it got the Work done nonetheless.

I meant to write an extremely whiny and self-pitying blog yestreday. I meant to do it today, too. Things are rotten in the State, Dear Readers; I am feeling pretty whinish and definitely self-pitying. Why, oh why, is MY old age being troubled by such insanity in the world around me? Why can’t I live out MY Golden Years in a Golden Age? Like anyone ever did, right? It’s semi-human nature, though; you just find yourself bitching when it finally happens to you …

But Kage’s great discovery came to my rescue. I got so intrigued by what I was saying yestreday that I got over being depressed. A lot of that has to do with the enchantment of one’s own voice, of course, but so what? It works, doesn’t it? And that is the big difference, and why Kage didn’t consider that she was driven by the Protestant work ethic. And why I don’t, either.

Because it does work. And it is joy. And it will heal all wounds, assuage all pains, cure all ills. Because really – reallio trulio, Dear Readers – nothing at all matters.

Except the work.


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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1 Response to The Work and Its Ethic

  1. Shannon says:

    I had Kage’s motto written above my study space while I was in school. She and the cyborgs and your blog were a big part of what got me through my degree and the whole early twenties shitstorm of burgeoning adulthood.


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