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A short story about work by Greg Lundgren. Published by Vital 5 Productions, 1995
Once upon a time there lived a large white horse named Joe. Joe was a work horse and lived on a farm. He was the strongest horse around, and could do the work of five ordinary horses. He plowed the fields, hauled bails of hay, and rode the farmer's family into town. He was happy and very proud of the work he did. Joe was the most valuable animal on farm, and all of the townspeople and all of the other animals looked at Joe with admiration and respect.
Being such an important horse, he was given the largest and warmest stall in the barn, which he shared with his wife Beth and their young son Carl. Joe was a shining example of how a work horse should be. He was as strong in spirit as he was in body. When the spring rains poured down and turned the fields into mud, Joe would not complain. When the soil was filled with rocks and difficult to plow, Joe would work even harder. He was a proud worker and a proud father, determined to raise his son to be a great workhorse like himself.
It seemed as though a perfect harmony existed on farm. The farmer was also a hard worker and a smart businessman. Using Joe as his top horse, he made a lot of money growing vegetables. The farmer was always looking for ways to do things faster, bigger, and more efficiently. Joe didn't mind the challenges though, and each season he worked harder and longer than the last.
One day a strange man approached the farm and asked to speak to the farmer. Joe wasn't sure what they were speaking of , but the stranger kept pointing to Joe, and for the first time, the farmer looked at Joe with eyes of doubt. Joe could not help but feel he had done wrong. When the stranger left and the farmer returned to the field, Joe worked extra hard to please the farmer, but deep inside, Joe felt hurt and wanted to know what was wrong.
The following week, Joe found out what all the mystery was about. It was on a work day, when all of the animals should have been out working, but instead were still tied up in the barn. Joe knew something was wrong. The farmer had awoken like any other morning, but did not saddle up the horses, and did not wear his own work boots and suspenders. In the silence the animals stood and waited for something to happen. What began as a distant hum grew into a steady growl, slowly growing louder and louder. Most of the animals thought it was the sound of a storm approaching from the north, and became worried and frightened. Joe did not know exactly what the sound was, but knew it was not the sound of a storm; it was some type of machine. As the sound grew louder and louder, both the animals and the farmer’s family fixed their eyes in the direction of the noise and waited in anxious silence. A sparkle shimmered from the horizon as a shiny red tractor came into view. Never having seen a tractor before, all of the horses, including Joe, bucked and screamed in their stalls, terrified of the shiny red monster.
Ten children climbed upon the tractor, and with shouts of joy, they were driven around the farm. When the animals saw the excitement of the children, and heard their laughs as the shiny red monster rode them around, they settled down and regained their composure. But Joe’s fear had turned to sadness, for it used to be his job to give the children rides around the farm. Beth saw a tear form in his eye and tried to reassure him that the children would still want horseback rides.
At sunrise the next day, the farmers brother, Dale, walked into the barn, talking to himself and chewing tobacco. The animals all grumbled complains at Dale, but he just talked louder and patted them roughly on the head. The farmer soon joined him and the two brothers stopped in front of Joe’s stall. The farmer opened Joe’ gate and the three of them walked out into the field. It was the beginning of a crisp spring day and Joe sucked the cold air through his nostrils like a morning cup of coffee. Realizing he was the only farm animal in the field, Joe met a brief moment of nervousness, brushed it aside, and marched ahead with the strength and confidence of a great work horse.
Ahead in the field sat the shiny red monster. It stood motionless, with dew sparkling. Two plows and a harness rested in the dirt next to it. A race? Joe entertained. His body relaxed at the thought. Joe had raced before in the field, and never, ever, had he lost a race. As the farmer hooked up the harness, Joe looked over at the tractor and told it he had never lost, and today would be no exception. Dale climbed on top of the monster and it grumbled back some deep reply that Joe could not understand.
Side by side, a signal was given and the race began. The first two rows of dirt, Joe and the tractor plowed neck to neck. Joe glanced over at his competition and the shiny red monster looked sternly ahead. Joe couldn't understand how the tractor could keep up, for Joe was using every muscle in his body to pull ahead. He dug in, found some unharnessed energy and slowly moved past his competition. Over his shoulder, Joe told the monster who was boss, and as a reply, Dale pushed a metal lever forward, and a dark puff of smoke billowed into the air. The engine growled louder, and without effort, the tractor plowed past Joe with incredible speed. Joe sneezed at the kicked up dust in his face. He knew then that he had lost.
From that day forward, all of the work horses were placed out in a small green pasture and left to graze. From dawn until dust, Joe stood in the tall grass and listened to the shiny red monster storm through the fields. The tractor plowed and the horses stood around. The tractor took the farmers family to town and the horses stood around. And when the tractor gave the children rides, Joe galloped hard in the pasture to drown the sounds of laughter.
When the tractor needed a space inside to keep out of the rain, Joe and his family were moved from their large, warm stall, to one that was small and cold. Joe surrendered without a word, gracefully bowing down to the indifferent machine. Things had changed on the farm, and he knew that he was no longer the prized possession. Some of the other work horses spoke cheerfully of their new disposition. They thought they had the easy life, not having to drag around uncomfortable harnesses, or work long, tiring hours. Standing around eating grass seemed like a vacation. But Joe was sure to point out their misfortune. He would speak of the great traditions, the lines of their ancestors. “What do we teach our children?” Joe would say. “We are work horses, and to take away the work is to take away the horse.” Joe couldn't stand being penned up in the pasture. He wanted to plow and pull, even if he was second to the tractor. To be alive was to work, and Joe felt worthless, felt empty inside. Joe was certain that somewhere, at some other farm, there was work to be done and no shiny red monsters around. He knew that there was a farmer out in the world who would be proud to have a horse like him. Kissing his wife and child good-bye, Joe set out upon the world, alone, to find the field that called his name.
The nearest farm grew potatoes. Joe picked up the scent and walked until late in the afternoon. There he discovered a group of horses, feeding in a stable. He was met by shameful, defeated eyes and knew without asking that a shiny monster laid not far away. Without stopping Joe marched on, each step pronouncing strength, confidence and pride. Joe was not easily discouraged. He was a work horse, and he would find a field that welcomed him. For five weeks Joe walked. From field to field, he found the presence of a tractor and the crushed spirits of his fellow work horses. He tried to maintain his dignity, and his strength, but gradually his discoveries and his disappointments weighted on him like giant slabs of marble. His head hung lower, and his steps were slower, but Joe marched on, unwilling to accept his fate and return to his family defeated.
On the fifth week Joe was far from home, walking up a hillside he had never seen before. His hooves were tired and his neck was sore. He walked through a narrow valley, his eyes to the ground, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. And then suddenly he stopped in his tracks. Not by his own will, but by some invisible force. He tried to step forward but his front leg would not advance. He tried again, with the same result. And from high above him, he heard a sound. A high pitched, shrieking voice. “Stop! Stop! Stop, you stupid horse!” And Joe stopped. He was too tired and much too confused to argue. He looked up to see a tiny black spider. He looked to his side and saw the remains of a hundred dead bugs. Joe was caught in a giant spider web. “Back up, back up, before you ruin it!” the spider barked. Slowly, and cautiously, Joe backed up, and removed himself from the web.
With great effort, Joe focused his eyes and examined the giant web. It was twenty feet long and forty feet tall, built with the most exact, and beautiful design he had ever seen. It covered the floor of the valley from cliff to cliff. "It is a most beautiful web you have built there,” Joe stated to the spider. “I should say so,” responded the spider, dropping from a fresh string, “it is my masterpiece,” “Where did you learn such a skill Mr. Spider?” Joe inquired. “The name is Frank, and if you were to kindly move your fly infested body a bit closer to my web — not to close —I will gladly answer.” Joe carefully stepped closer to the web, glad to leave his flies with the spider. “You do not learn how to build a web anywhere, silly horse,” the spider coyly stated, “it must come from within. You close your eyes and spin. Such is the way with life.” Joe looked to the web for a second opinion. “But the geometry, the craftsmanship, it is superb.” Frank spun around, finding a comfortable spot on the web. “Why certainly you must understand, I am a spider, and this is what spiders do, they spin webs. It is my natural talent.” Joe circled his head, viewing again the whole web. “You are lucky to be a spider, I am a work horse and it took much training and hard work to learn my trade.” The spider laughed, “your trade? Now what does a horse need to learn?” Joe explained at great length, the duties and responsibilities of a work horse. When he was finished, he stood proud of his accomplishments. The spider looked at Joe with confusion and wonder. Frank scratched his head with four legs. “You mean to tell me that you are hurt that a machine took your job? And that you have been traveling around the countryside for the last five weeks looking for a farmer that will employ you?” “Yes, that’s true,” Joe replied somberly. “WHY!” screamed the spider, “Why on earth would you want to work on a farm and pull heavy things around all day?” Joe looked at the spider with a stern look on his face. “I’m a work horse I told you, that’s what I do.” Frank the spider dropped closer to Joe’s ear. “A work horse isn’t a real animal Joe. You’re a horse. A horse. Farmers call you work horses because the word SLAVE doesn't sound very nice. Now I know you’re a smart guy, and I don’t mean to criticize you and call you stupid, but golly gee, a horse looking for work is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! A horse escaping from a farm in the name of freedom, now that I could understand, but you, you’'re knocking on their door, begging to be a slave. Joe, you’re nuts.” Frank sped back up his string to a safe distance. Joe talked back in defense. “But what about you Mr. Frank, you say that work is bad, but you yourself work like no spider I have ever seen in my life. This web is enormous. Why didn’t you build a little web like most spiders. How can you condemn work when you work so hard?” A smile came to the spider. Frank welcomed the question, and almost sang out the reply. “I, am a spider. I was given the ability to spin, and spin I will. I will construct a web one hundred times the size of this, work day and night, but I will not be a slave. Because this is what I am. You are a horse. You can run and jump and play. This is what you should do. Run and jump and play. Of course you can plow and haul and carry people around, but that is not natural, that is other people using you as a tool, to their advantage. Before horses were whipped and beaten and broken, before there were saddles and harnesses and whips, horses were free. Now you could say that I work, but I am my own master, and that makes me free. When you work, you are working for the farmer; he is the master, you are the slave.” Joe got an uneasy feeling in his stomach. He did not like thinking of his life as enslavement. He wanted Frank the Spider to take it back. “What if a machine was made that could spin webs better than you?” Joe pleaded. Frank twirled around in a circle. “A machine will never stop me from doing what I do. Though a dare say that no one would ever build a machine to spin webs to catch flies to feed spiders. And if someone did, I dare say that it wouldn't compare to a spiders web. There are something’s that machines will never do as well as nature my dear friend. I hardly think man will build a machine that runs better than a horse, and if it did, it surely shouldn’t affect you.” Joe began to understand. “You mean that a machine beat me in the fields because it was a machines job, not a horses job?” “Exactly.” “And that a machine could never take away my true purpose, that of being a horse, not a work horse?” “Precisely.” “So, if a machine can do a job better than an animal, the animal probably shouldn't be doing it to begin with?” “Oh, Mr. Horse you are not as dumb a creature as I have heard!” Joe smiled, but things were happening much too fast, he was realizing what he shouldn’t be, but still did not understand his future, how a horse should live. Joe asked the spider. "Have you seen horses? Horses that live as horses should live?" Frank hesitated, “Uh, well, uh, why yes I have...” Joe stood excitedly, “Why Frank, you must tell me at once where I may find them, I must see this for myself!” Frank fumbled clumsily in his web. "Well, they are close by. Kind of. Oh my! The horses you are looking for are just over this hill. Oh my! But if you go through this way you will just destroy my web. Could you please walk back down the mountain, around the river, through a great prairie, to the other side? Why I know it is the long way, but...” Joe stopped the spider’s trembling voice. “Do not panic Mr. Spider, I would never break down your great web. I will gladly walk around. I think you now have all of my flies, so I must thank you and be on my way.” Frank spun a sign for Joe in his web. So large that Joe couldn't even read it until he was fifty feet away. In large sweeping letters, “Good Luck Joe!” spanned the length of the valley.
It took Joe three days to reach the backside of the mountain. He ran with new found energy, through a wild country with no gates or fences or buildings. The grass was tall and the land was rugged. Streams with crystal clear waters rushed by his side. Wild flowers painted the landscape with brilliant blues and purples and yellows. It was a beautiful prairie Joe had entered, beautiful and untouched by man. It was here that he found the horses Frank had spoken of. Fifteen or sixteen adult horses with their young stood along a brook, drinking water and resting from a hard run. Politely, Joe approached. “I have come from far away to see a horse that is not a work horse. Now that I know that there is another way, I would like you to teach me to be like you are.” The wild horses laughed. They danced in the air on their hind legs. They kicked up dirt and chuckled with their chests heaving. When the horses finally quieted, one stepped forward to answer Joe. “Many of us were once work horses like you. What you must understand is that there is nothing to learn. Do you know how to run? To jump? Eat grass and take care of your young? To be free is to live in the way in which you wish to live.” Another horse stepped forward, “Have you any family?” Joe glanced towards the setting sun and back at the young horses resting on the bank. With that he took off like a bolt of lightening, without a thankyou or good-bye. Within minutes, he was out of sight and across the horizon, but all of the wild horses understood perfectly well what his answer was.
For ten days Joe ran. Without stopping to sleep or rest his tired muscles, he ran as fast and as hard as he could, eager to free his wife and son. Farmers screamed at him as he raced through their fields, chickens screamed as he thundered past their pens. He was a horse racing with a mission, and in the daylight he fought to outrun his shadow, in the night he raced against his breath. At midnight on the tenth day, Joe recognized the familiar outline of the farm, and slowed his step to a gallop. Joe waited until dark before approaching the red barn. The night air was crisp and silent, fresh cut grass glistened under the moonlight, the frogs and crickets sang songs and hoped about wildly.
In the darkness Joe walked across the fields, viewing the farm not as his old home, but as a prison. He unlatched gates and doors until he stood on a floor of dirt and hay. Joe was standing in the barn for one last moment. Joe stopped in front of the stall that housed the red tractor — the same stall he was once so proud to inhabit with his wife and child. That night it looked small and cramped. He wondered if it had always been that small. The red tractor stood silently in the dark. It held no expression of any kind. It was not happy or sad, not tired or proud. It was a machine. A machine, made of metal and rubber. Nonetheless, Joe spoke to the tractor with a voice of respect and understanding. “Mr. Tractor, I must apologize for my behavior. When you first arrived on farm, I thought you were an angry monster. I did not know what you were, and my ignorance made me fear you. When you beat me in the fields, I feared you even more, because you did my job much faster, and better than I could ever hope to do. You see, I was raised to believe that work was my life. I believed that I was a work horse, that my worth in the world was plowing and hauling. When you beat me, you took that feeling of worth away, and I became depressed and resentful. But I have learned something important from all of this. I have learned that you replacing me in the field is not a threat, but a blessing. It was the best thing that could ever happen to a horse. You see, I should have never been on a farm to begin with. You, with your big tires and steel body, you were made to work. It is your whole purpose. But what I didn't know until you arrived here, is that I was never meant to plow fields, I was never meant to draw a wagon into town. Man has used me as a machine, tricked me into thinking that my worth in the world is working like a machine. But I have learned that a work horse is not something I was born as, but something man made me into. I am here to run free in the fields, to play, and raise my family. If you didn't come here, I would have never guessed this, I would have never questioned my life. So I want to thank you, for taking my job, for helping me see what the life of a horse should be. You can have my job. You can have every animals job. Because Harriet the chicken was not meant to make eggs for the farmer’s breakfast, and Tom the pig wasn't meant to sit around and get plump for the butcher, and the cows aren’t meant to make chocolate milk for the kids. You and all of your machine friends can have all of these jobs. That is alright. I just wanted you to know that I am not mad at you, I am not afraid of you, and I am glad you are here to work so I may be free.” A drop of oil hit the floor. Joe nodded his head to the tractor and walked on.
A voice called out across the barn. It was Beth’s. “Joe, is that you I hear?” Joe walked across the barn with his head held high and pronounced gracefulness in his step. “Yes, Beth it is me. I have found a new home for us, and we must go at once.” Joe tugged on the latch of the stall door with his teeth and pushed it open with his nose. Beth brought Karl to his feet and together they exited the barn.
In the darkness they raced, over hills and across streams, through fields and valleys and meadows. Some farmers claimed to have seen Joe, Beth and Karl traveling north, running with a group of wild horses, but no one knows for sure. One old man said he saw Joe and his family out east, in a meadow next to the mountains, playing wild and free.
Horsepower is a unit of measurement established to gauge the amount of energy displaced by a machine. The prefix ‘horse’ is used because that was the animal the mechanical engine replaced. To gauge the engine's performance it was measured against that of the power a single horse could exert. The very word ‘horsepower’ signifies a quantum leap for efficiency and humanity in the American industry, the dawn of the industrial revolution, where horses and other animals were replaced by the mechanical engine. The story of Horsepower tells a very modern struggle. Just as Joe battled to understand the role of the combustible engine in his life, so will the American workers battle to understand the role of computer and robotic technologies in their lives. What this story hopes to convey is that technology holds the power to liberate man from the workplace and teach us an important lesson on the value of human life, freedom, and happiness.
ARTISTS FOR A WORK FREE AMERICA is an organization established to challenge the institution of work and encourage a new future where technology liberates-instead of enslaves- the human spirit. We believe that man is ill-suited for work as defined by the twentieth century, and that we will find our salvation through the aggressive application of computer and robotic technologies. AFWFA believes that all people are artists. Through social conditioning we have been stripped of our natural desires to create and perform, and programmed to believe that working is the road to a happy, meaningful life. We believe that man will be displaced in the work force by machines, just as Joe the horse was displaced by a tractor. Furthermore, AFWFA believes that this is a natural evolution, and should be met with understanding and open arms. By understanding the role technology COULD play in our lives, we can direct technological evolution in a positive, pro-human way. AFWFA does not support technology unconditionally, nor does it encourage human to machine interface. We exist as a catalyst to help fuel a social revolution in our society, where people question the roles of technology and work in their lives, and regain a clarity that helps them choose a life based on freedom, health and happiness. Technological displacement will helps us understand what it means to be human, and of the human qualities we posses that a robot could never threaten. We must ask ourselves what we can do that technology cannot, for this is the key to our humanness and the future of mankind. What can you do that technology could not?
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