We job-obsessed Americans like to say we work like dogs, but over in Russia they call it "working like Americans," notes Stephen Marche in Esquire, where he probes the "insane" American addiction to work. It's a habit we may finally break, but only thanks to soaring unemployment. Americans work absurdly hard, Marche writes—at meaningless jobs they despise. Work is "the ultimate cipher, simultaneously giving meaning to our daily lives and stripping it away, filling our time and emptying it, making us who we are and crushing our souls."
Mirroring our lives, character-driven workplace TV shows have given way to the absurdity-and-alienation workplace comedy. We're all John Henry, Marche writes, working ourselves to death with the hammer rather than be outdone by the machine. The love/hate we bring to work can be traced to the country's "double origins," he says: "pioneers who hacked paradise out of the wilderness" and "slaves who actually built the country."