Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Myth of Work vs The Reality of Abuse

How surprised would you be if Cthulu awoke tomorrow?
I'm not sure I'd be very surprised, at this point.


In the wake of yet another collosal political and social disappointment, I'd like to touch on an issue which, frankly, could be the topic of a book. And it's a book that, if it hasn't been written already, should be written. It needs to be written, and more importantly, it needs to be talked about.




Every culture has myths about work. What is acceptable for an employee or employer, what the nature of that relationship should be. It is in the benefit of the employer to have myths throughout the workforce that tie their very identity and sense of self worth into how well they meet that employers demands, and if there aren't forces in place, either enforced through government oversight or the unionization of the workers in some configuration, these myths can run rampant. There is, after all, a word in Japanese for working one's self to death. (They also apparently have a word for eating one's self to ruin. But that's another story.) 

Elements of our religions provide the infrastructure for these myths. They are further re-enforced by our social institutions, our education in many cases being little more than a tool for shaping people into effective workers as defined by the mandates of society.

This process is not inherently good or bad. As I said in the chapter on initiation in The Immanence of Myth, the prescriptive nature of indoctrination may sound ominous, but many of us know what humans become when left to be feral creatures. They can hardly be called human, at all. 

However, this process can still break down in any number of ways. And I believe many of you will agree, it has broken down in a fundamental way in the United States, and it is getting worse.

There was an article in Mother Jones entitled "All Work And No Pay" that I suggest you read immediately, before continuing with this piece. 
... now we no longer even acknowledge it—not in blue-collar work, not in white-collar or pink-collar work, not in economics texts, and certainly not in the media (except when journalists gripe about the staff-compacted-job-expanded newsroom). Now the word we use is "productivity," a term insidious in both its usage and creep. The not-so-subtle implication is always: Don't you want to be a productive member of society? Pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that US productivity (a.k.a. economic output per hour worked) consistently leads the world [4]. Yes, year after year, Americans wring even more value [5] out of each minute on the job than we did the year before. U-S-A! U-S-A!
Except what's good for American business isn't necessarily good for Americans. We're not just working smarter, but harder. And harder. And harder, to the point where the driver is no longer American industriousness, but something much more predatory.
The analogy made in this article to an abusive relationship is spot on. When one partner has no income, and the other does, and the rich one is punching the other in the face over and again, do we tell them to stick around because, "how will you afford to live"?

If so, we've just bought into a culture of abuse.

And many of us are so used to this state of affairs that not only does it seem normal, but we actually find ourselves sticking up for the bully. In fact, I would say that the majority of the Tea Party is founded on the psychology of Stockholm Syndrome. 

It is not insane to demand that employers provide livable wages and treat their workers - all of them - as human beings. With respect and dignity. I will not hear any whining about how it's too expensive. If it is too expensive within the present system to maintain a workforce that is treated humanely, who are entrusted to embody the values that the company pretends to espouse, then the system itself needs to be dismantled. By the hands of the workers, if need be. 

Each of us has a breaking point, and it is different for each of us. I don't know what yours is, and it isn't my place to say. But if you feel you are being pushed up to it and beyond over and again, and you're stomaching it out of fear, out of the belief that it's normal to feel this way: open your eyes. It isn't normal, it's an abusive relationship. And it should be treated like any other abusive relationship. Stop making excuses for your abuser, and get the fuck out.

If that doesn't seem like an option to you because you can't figure out how you'll afford to live without it, that is exactly the thinking they're counting on. I was once given a piece of advice that has always stuck with me: never take a meeting that you can't walk away from.

What sidelines the samurai-like dedication that living like that calls for are pesky things like love and responsibility to the people that we love. If you have a child to care for, an out-of-work spouse, etc, then you may well feel up against the wall if you're working a job that treats you like a subhuman and pays you table scraps. Like many Americans in the past, if you walk this path, you may discover a subconscious resentment building over the decades as the awful jobs thanklessly break you down, and you find yourself coming to hate all that you'd loved. Drink enough, let the hate fly, and soon you've joined in on the circle of abuse.

So, don't be a part of that statistic if you can help it. Like I said, we all know our breaking point, and we all know how to soldier well past it. Don't. If, on other hand, you're nowhere near it, then consider yourself lucky and be on your merry way.

I don't have an easy solution to any of this. No one does. If we did, I would sure as hell hope that we wouldn't be such a self-abusive race. I do know that I'm willing to die for my convictions if need be. (Though like anyone else, I'd rather not.) What about you?

And please, don't try to read through this that I'm advocating the dissolution of work, that I'm advocating laziness. I'm simply advocating a return to sanity.

This shit is fucking gloomy. Here are some sweater kittens:


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