Thursday, August 09, 2007


Working against the clampdown

A propos of which (and via) is another piece in the theme of work: Bob Black's Abolition of Work (1985).

This is a solid point:

Let's pretend for a moment that work doesn't turn people into stultified submissives. Let's pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And let's pretend that work isn't as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time.... Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at our watches. The only thing "free" about so-called free time is that it doesn't cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work.
I also like this passing comment:

Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.

This one, referring to the serious question of work-related death but, for me, cringe-makingly insensitive, I like less:

People think the Cambodians were crazy for exterminating themselves, but are we any different? The Pol Pot regime at least had a vision, however blurred, of any egalitarian society. We kill people in the six-figure range (at least) in order to sell Big Macs and Cadillacs to the survivors.*
But the next quote touches on a thought I've had before - to what extent is there a systemic need or tendency to create purposeless work - work that only functions as a Sisyphean burden to keep us busy and cut subversion of power hierarchies off at the pass? Black:

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the "tertiary sector," the service sector, is growing while the "secondary sector" (industry) stagnates and the "primary sector" (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order.
And finally, one has to admire this (half-serious?) proposition:

Small children who notoriously relish wallowing in filth could be organized in "Little Hordes" to clean toilets and empty the garbage, with medals awarded to the outstanding.

*Likewise a further reference by Black to schools as "concentration camps" is, at the risk of bourgois conformism, less than satisfactory...

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