Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, April 19, 2005day link 

 The Abolition of Work
picture In 1985 Bob Black wrote a brilliant essay called "The Abolition of Work". A monumentally brilliant manifesto, in my opinion. Suggesting, as it says, that we abolish work all together, and instead live playful lives. He outlines in colorful ways the tyranny of work, and the insanities we're putting up with in the name of work. And he outlines the faulty foundation the whole scheme is based on. I will include the whole essay in the "More" link as it isn't copyrighted. So just one quote here:
Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.

And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately deStalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?

The demeaning system of domination I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it's not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or -- better still -- industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are "free" is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it.
He's right. However, what he is saying is ironically also so radical that few people will be able to understand it. Most people will come up with a lot of "but... but... but..."s, trying to justify why they're wasting their lives. Well, it mostly adds up to "because we have to", which is exactly what makes work be work. Because the cards are stacked in such a way that we apparently have to work in order to eat, unless we're very lucky, or very smart, so we can manage to arrange things so we don't.

As he points out, most work is useless, non-sensical, wasted. But the people who do it have a lot invested in claiming otherwise. All the stuff we need could be produced by probably less than 5% of the effort we expend at work. And that is not even getting to the cool, new, interesting, different things we could do if we actually had fun and acted playfully instead of as slaves. And how much more productive we could be, ironically.

It probably isn't going to change before somebody demonstrates that clearly enough and often enough. And it might ironically be quite likely that it will be businesses who figure out how to produce much more by being playful rather than work oriented, and who therefore will gain an advantage.
[ | 2005-04-19 16:06 | 26 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 How a pope is chosen
picture The inside scoop, in case you didn't know. From a... poem, I guess, by James Tate.
After a poodle dies
all the cardinals flock to the nearest 7-Eleven.
They drink Slurpies until one of them throws up
and then he's the new Pope.
He is then fully armed and rides through the wilderness alone,
day and night in all kinds of weather.
The new Pope chooses the name he will use as Pope,
like "Wild Bill" or "Buffalo Bill."
He wears red shoes with a cross embroidered on the front.

[ | 2005-04-19 17:31 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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