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Posts Tagged ‘Wage Slavery’

Save The World, Work Less

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?…. This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically….But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea…It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets….Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes….What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs….Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.” -Steven T. Jones

“While the assertion is nice, the fact is at this point, working less will not save the world. The deed is done. We’re fucked. But, at some point we have to seriously consider where this ethos of “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, “More, More, More”, “GO GO GO”, “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” has gotten us. Mortally obese, neurosis-driven, overmedicated, hyperviolent, hyperaggressive, hypersexual, hyperconsumptive, fear filled, disconnected from our life-sustaining ecology…. This is not sustainable. Consider getting off the ever accelerating hamster wheel. There is nothing to be gained from working yourself to death but a dead planet and by extension, you. The trickle down economy of greed and growth can no longer animate our “civilization”.  “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” -Karl Marx. “Productivity” does not equal “Progress”. Your individual gains spell our collective annihilation. ” -OSJ

By Steven T. Jones @ SF Bay Guardian:

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs.

Save the world, work less. That dual proposition should have universal appeal in any sane society. And those two ideas are inextricably linked by the realities of global climate change because there is a direct connection between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Simply put, every hour of work we do cooks the planet and its sensitive ecosystems a little bit more, and going home to relax and enjoy some leisure time is like taking this boiling pot of water off the burner.

Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?

This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically.

But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea.

Last year, there was a brief burst of national media coverage around this “save the world, work less” idea, triggered by a report by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change.”

“As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours,” author David Rosnick wrote in the introduction.

He notes that per capita work hours were reduced by 50 percent in recent decades in Europe compared to US workers who spend as much time as ever on the job, despite being a world leader in developing technologies that make us more productive. Working more means consuming more, on and off the job.

“This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change,” the report said before going on to study various climate change and economic growth models.

It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets.

Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes. The Rosnick report contemplates only a slight reduction in working hours, gradually shaving a few hours off the week and offering a little more vacation time.

“The paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere),” the report concludes.

What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs.

Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.

Perhaps this forgotten goal is one worth remembering at this critical moment in our economic and environmental development.

HISTORY LESSON

Author and historian Chris Carlsson has been beating the “work less” drum in San Francisco since Jimmy Carter was president, when he and his fellow anti-capitalist activists decried the dawning of an age of aggressive business deregulation that continues to this day.

They responded with creative political theater and protests on the streets of the Financial District, and with the founding of a magazine called Processed World, highlighting how new information technologies were making corporations more powerful than ever without improving the lives of workers.

“What do we actually do all day and why? That’s the most basic question that you’d think we’d be talking about all the time,” Carlsson told us. “We live in an incredibly powerful and overarching propaganda society that tells you to get your joy from work.”

But Carlsson isn’t buying it, noting that huge swaths of the economy are based on exploiting people or the planet, or just creating unproductive economic churn that wastes energy for its own sake. After all, the Gross Domestic Product measures everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“The logic of growth that underlies this society is fundamentally flawed,” Carlsson said. “It’s the logic of the cancer cell — it makes no sense.”

What makes more sense is to be smart about how we’re using our energy, to create an economy that economizes instead of just consuming everything in its path. He said that we should ask, “What work do we need to do and to what end?”

We used to ask such questions in this country. There was a time when working less was the goal of our technological development.

“Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of worktime was one of the nation’s most pressing issues,” professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. “Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten.”

Work hours were steadily reduced as these debates raged, and it was widely assumed that even greater reductions in work hours was all but inevitable. “By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38,” Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

“People tend to think the way things are is the way it’s always been,” Carlsson said. “Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn’t happen.”

Writer David Spencer took on the topic in a widely shared essay published in The Guardian UK in February entitled “Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn’t make sense.”

He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.

Keynes called less work the “ultimate solution” to unemployment and he “also saw merit in using productivity gains to reduce work time and famously looked forward to a time (around 2030) when people would be required to work 15 hours a week. Working less was part of Keynes’s vision of a ‘good society,'” Spencer wrote.

“Marx importantly thought that under communism work in the ‘realm of necessity’ could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology,” Spencer wrote.

He also cited Bertrand Russell’s acclaimed 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” in which the famed mathematician reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached,” Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, “Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more.”

JOBS VS. WORK

Schor’s research has shown how long working hours — and the uneven distribution of those hours among workers — has hampered our economy, hurt our environment, and undermined human happiness.

“We have an increasingly poorly functioning economy and a catastrophic environmental situation,” Schor told us in a phone interview from her office at Boston College, explaining how the increasingly dire climate change scenarios add urgency to talking about how we’re working.

Schor has studied the problem with other researchers, with some of her work forming the basis for Rosnick’s work, including the 2012 paper Schor authored with University of Alabama Professor Kyle Knight entitled “Could working less reduce pressures on the environment?” The short answer is yes.

“As humanity’s overshoot of environmental limits become increasingly manifest and its consequences become clearer, more attention is being paid to the idea of supplanting the pervasive growth paradigm of contemporary societies,” the report says.

The United States seems to be a case study for what’s wrong.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that countries with high annual work hours have much higher carbon emissions and carbon footprints,” Schor told us, noting that the latter category also takes into account the impacts of the products and services we use. And it isn’t just the energy we expend at work, but how we live our stressed-out personal lives.

“If households have less time due to hours of work, they do things in a more carbon-intensive way,” Schor said, with her research finding those who work long hours often tend to drive cars by themselves more often (after all, carpooling or public transportation take time and planning) and eat more processed foods.

Other countries have found ways of breaking this vicious cycle. A generation ago, Schor said, the Netherlands began a policy of converting many government jobs to 80 percent hours, giving employees an extra day off each week, and encouraging many private sector employers to do the same. The result was happier employees and a stronger economy.

“The Netherlands had tremendous success with their program and they’ve ended up with the highest labor productivity in Europe, and one of the happiest populations,” Schor told us. “Working hours is a triple dividend policy change.”

By that she means that reducing per capita work hours simultaneously lowers the unemployment rate by making more jobs available, helps address global warming and other environmental challenges, and allows people to lead happier lives, with more time for family, leisure, and activities of their choosing.

Ironically, a big reason why it’s been so difficult for the climate change movement to gain traction is that we’re all spending too much time and energy on making a living to have the bandwidth needed to sustain a serious and sustained political uprising.

When I presented this article’s thesis to Bill McKibben, the author and activist whose 350.org movement is desperately trying to prevent carbon concentrations in the atmosphere from passing critical levels, he said, “If people figure out ways to work less at their jobs, I hope they’ll spend some of their time on our too-often neglected work as citizens. In particular, we need a hell of a lot of people willing to devote some time to breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry.”

world

That’s the vicious circle we now find ourselves in. There is so much work to do in addressing huge challenges such as global warming and transitioning to more sustainable economic and energy systems, but we’re working harder than ever just to meet our basic needs — usually in ways that exacerbate these challenges.

“I don’t have time for a job, I have too much work to do,” is the dilemma facing Carlsson and others who seek to devote themselves to making the world a better place for all living things.

To get our heads around the problem, we need to overcome the mistaken belief that all jobs and economic activity are good, a core tenet of Mayor Ed Lee’s economic development policies and his relentless “jobs agenda” boosterism and business tax cuts. Not only has the approach triggered the gentrification and displacement that have roiled the city’s political landscape in the last year, but it relies on a faulty and overly simplistic assumption: All jobs are good for society, regardless of their pay or impact on people and the planet.

Lee’s mantra is just the latest riff on the fabled Protestant work ethic, which US conservatives and neoliberals since the Reagan Era have used to dismantle the US welfare system, pushing the idea that it’s better for a single mother to flip our hamburgers or scrub our floors than to get the assistance she needs to stay home and take care of her own home and children.

“There is a belief that work is the best form of welfare and that those who are able to work ought to work. This particular focus on work has come at the expense of another, far more radical policy goal, that of creating ‘less work,'” Spencer wrote in his Guardian essay. “Yet…the pursuit of less work could provide a better standard of life, including a better quality of work life.”

And it may also help save us from environmental catastrophe.

GLOBAL TIPPING POINT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top research body on the issue recognized by the United Nations, recently released its fifth report summarizing and analyzing the science and policies around climate change, striking a more urgent tone than in previous reports.

On April 13 at a climate conference in Berlin, the panel released a new report noting that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever and urgent action is needed in the next decade to avert a serious crisis.

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, told The New York Times. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

After the panel released an earlier section of the report on March 31, it wrote in a public statement: “The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises.”

The known impacts will be displaced populations in poor countries inundated by rising seas, significant changes to life-supporting ecosystems (such as less precipitation in California and other regions, creating possible fresh water shortages), food shortages from loss of agricultural land, and more extreme weather events.

What we don’t yet know, these “surprises,” could be even scarier because this is such uncharted territory. Never before have human activities had such an impact on the natural world and its delicate balances, such as in how energy circulates through the world’s oceans and what it means to disrupt half of the planet’s surface area.

Researchers have warned that we could be approaching a “global tipping point,” in which the impact of climate change affects other systems in the natural world and threatens to spiral out of control toward another mass extinction. And a new report funded partially by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Goodard Space Center combines the environmental data with growing inequities in the distribution of wealth to warn that modern society as we know it could collapse.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” the report warned.

It cites two critical features that have triggered most major societal collapses in past, both of which are increasingly pervasive problems today: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’),” which makes it more difficult to deal with problems that arise.

Both of these problems would be addressed by doing less overall work, and distributing the work and the rewards for that work more evenly.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEM

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change — has some doubts about the strategy of addressing global warming by reducing economic output and working less.

“Economic activity which uses energy is not immediately correlated with work hours,” she told us, noting that some labor-saving industrial processes use more energy than human-powered alternatives. And she also said that, “some leisure activities could be consumptive activities that are just as bad or worse than work.”

She does concede that there is a direct connection between energy use and climate change, and that most economic activity uses energy. Zabin also said there was a clear and measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the Great Recession that began with the 2008 economic crash, when economic growth stalled and unemployment was high.

“When we’re in recessions and output and consumption slow, we see a reduction in impact on the climate,” Zabin said, although she added, “They’re correlated, but they’re not causal.”

Other studies have made direct connections between work and energy use, at least when averaged out across the population, studies that Rosnick cited in his study. “Recent work estimated that a 1 percent increase in annual hours per employee is associated with a 1.5 percent increase in carbon footprint,” it said, citing the 2012 Knight study.

Zabin’s main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. “Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable,” she told us, noting how that would hurt the working class.

But again, doesn’t that just assume that the pain of an economic slowdown couldn’t be more broadly shared, with the rich absorbing more of the impact than they have so far? Can’t we move to an economic system that is more sustainable and more equitable?

“It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use,” Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: “If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch.”

Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, “we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway.”

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? European leaders have already started opting for the latter option, slowing down their economic output, reducing work hours, and substantially lowering the continent’s carbon footprint.

That brings us back to the basic question set forth in the Rosnick study: As productivity increases, should those gains go to increase the wages of workers or to reduce their hours? From the perspective of global warming, the answer is clearly the latter. But that question is complicated in US these days by the bosses, investors, and corporations keeping the productivity gains for themselves.

“It is worth noting that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973-2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In that type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less. The analysis of this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past,” the study concludes.

So it appears we have some work to do, and that starts with making a connection between Earth Day and May Day.

EARTH DAY TO MAY DAY

The Global Climate Convergence (www.globalclimateconvergence.org [2]) grew out of a Jan. 18 conference in Chicago that brought together a variety of progressive, environmental, and social justice groups to work together on combating climate change. They’re planning “10 days to change course,” a burst of political organizing and activism between Earth Day and May Day, highlighting the connection between empowering workers and saving the planet.

“It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Earth Day to May Day 2014 (April 22 — May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions,” the group announced.

San Mateo resident Ragina Johnson, who is coordinating events in the Bay Area, told us May Day, the international workers’ rights holiday, grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the United States, so it’s appropriate to use the occasion to call for society to slow down and balance the demands of capital with the needs of the people and the planet.

“What we’re seeing now is an enormous opportunity to link up these movements,” she told us. “It has really put us on the forefront of building a new progressive left in this country that takes on these issues.”

In San Francisco, she said the tech industry is a ripe target for activism.

“Technology has many employees working 60 hours a week, and what is the technology going to? It’s going to bottom line profits instead of reducing people’s work hours,” she said.

That’s something the researchers have found as well.

“Right now, the problem is workers aren’t getting any of those productivity gains, it’s all going to capital,” Schor told us. “People don’t see the connection between the maldistribution of hours and high unemployment.”

She said the solution should involve “policies that make it easier to work shorter hours and still meet people’s basic needs, and health insurance reform is one of those.”

Yet even the suggestion that reducing work hours might be a worthy societal goal makes the head of conservatives explode. When the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about how “working a bit less” could help many people qualify for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (“Lower 2014 income can net huge health care subsidy,” 10/12/13), the right-wing blogosphere went nuts decrying what one site called the “toxic essence of the welfare state.”

Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders parroted the criticism in her Feb. 7 column. “The CBO had determined that ‘workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.’ To many Democrats, apparently, that’s all good,” she wrote of Congressional Budget Office predictions that Obamacare could help reduce hours worked.

Not too many Democratic politicians have embraced the idea of working less, but maybe they should if we’re really going to attack climate change and other environmental challenges. Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let’s talk about slowing things down.

“There’s a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do,” Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn’t dictate the work we do. “Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things.”

And what about those who would choose idleness and sloth? So what? At this point, Mother Earth would happily trade her legions of crazed workaholics for a healthy population of slackers, those content to work and consume less.

Maybe someday we’ll even look back and wonder why we ever considered greed and overwork to be virtues, rather than valuing a more healthy balance between our jobs and our personal lives, our bosses and our families, ourselves and the natural world that sustains us.

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs

Genuine Leisure Is No More: Modern Day Leisure Is Too Much Like Work

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Leisure in the ancient world did not mean time off, but was an activity in it’s own right. Illustration: Happiness by Harriet Russell http://www.harrietrussell.co.uk

Oldspeak: “Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread! …. How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.” -Edward Skidelsky

“We’ve been so perfectly acclimated to the sick society we’ve created, we actually believe we’re NOT DOiNG ENOUGH. More, more, more, we’re driven to do more, more extremely, faster, harder, louder, bigger, swaggier. There is no connection of the infinite growth model & ever more consumption to the exhaustion of all vital resources and by extension life on earth a.k.a mass extinction. How much is enough ‘stuff’? Ask yourself, why are we being told that idleness is to be avoided at all costs; that if you’re not “productive” you’re not therefore valuable.  We must let go of our emotion-backed obsessions to be productive ALL THE TiME.  We must realize that we are not our “productivity”, or the “value” of it. We must stop trying to profit from our leisure. We must just let it be. We must reduce our slave-like connections to our devices; the new overseers, scheduling every second of our lives with some multitasked, partially comprehended, quickly forgotten activities that absorb and degrade our minds. it would do us well to reclaim our humanity, spontaneity, untethered to the matrix selves.  Don’t freely surrender your YOU time to forces dedicated to draining and profiting from your life energy. Don’t let you’re leisure time be privatized by the vulture capitalist forces that pay you to use your life energy for their gain.  Breath deeply. Meditate.  Do Yoga. Disconnect. Focus on powering down and really building and maintaining your vital life energy. Balance your consumptive activities with non consumptive ones. You will heal yourself.  it’s sooooo much better than pills, energy drinks & self-help books. Reject your subservience to the Cult of Productivity.  Resist the savage inhuman slavery that’s being passed off as “success”.  You’ll live a calmer, longer, less stressed, more balanced life.” -OSJ

By Edward Skidelsky @ The Ecologist:

To be without leisure and do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive, writes Edward Skidelsky.

Conventional wisdom holds that we must work more. The unemployed should be employed. People in part-time jobs should be in full-time jobs. And even those in full-time employment should work harder in order to keep pace with the industrious Indians and Chinese.

I think this is topsy-turvy. The great mystery of our time is not that we don’t work harder: it’s that we continue to work as hard as we do. When I say ‘we’, I refer, of course, to the working population. There are many people in our society – the unemployed and partially employed – who would dearly like to work more. But there are equally many people who would dearly like to work less. This is a deeply irrational state of affairs.

The obvious solution is for all adults to work, but to work shorter hours. It is only our devotion to the principle of the 40-hour week that condemns a large (and growing) sector of the population to the grim fate of unemployment.

Wealthy, but not joyful
We belong, let us recall, to one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed in human history. Yet we have failed to realise the chief benefit of wealth: leisure. This should surprise us more than it does. In the past it was generally assumed that as people became richer they would work less.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes shared this assumption. In his essay of 1929, entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he predicted that standards of living in the affluent world would rise between four and eight times over the following 100 years, leading to a decline of working time to 15 hours a week, or just 3 hours a day. Liberated from the burden of toil, ordinary people would be able to share in the spontaneous, joyful kind of existence once the privilege of the lucky few.

I see us free”, Keynes wrote, “to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

Still working 40 hours a week. Why?
Well, it hasn’t happened like that. Keynes got one thing right though: standards of living in the affluent world have indeed risen about fourfold. But hours of work have not fallen anything like as much. Today in Britain we work on average about 40 hours a week (down from 50 hours in 1930), but nowhere near the 15 hours Keynes foresaw. Why?

My father Robert and I wrote a book last year called How Much is Enough? in which we tried to solve this “Keynes problem”. We considered various explanations: the inequalities of power in the labour market, the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth and incomes, and the power of advertising to kindle dormant passions of envy and vanity.

But according to some of our reviewers, we overlooked the obvious explanation for the failure of Keynes’ prophesy. Human beings, they said, want to work long hours, because they are frightened or nauseated by the prospect of endless leisure.

Here is Alasdair Palmer, writing in The Telegraph: “The Skidelskys have nothing substantial to say about boredom – and it is why their analysis is doomed from the start. The reason why most people keep striving long after they have satisfied all elementary needs is not, as the Skidelskys claim, that they mistakenly think that money is the ultimate value. It is simply that striving for it keeps boredom at bay… Boredom is the serpent in the Skidelskys’ garden of idle delights – and you can be sure that, were we ever to achieve it, that serpent would soon eject us from it.

Modern day leisure is too much like work
Now I don’t deny that many of us would be bored by a life of leisure, and carry on working primarily in order to avoid that prospect. But that is only because we do not know what leisure really is, or might become. We talk, revealingly, of ‘taking a break’ over the weekend or over summer.

Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread!

How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.”

True leisure vs recreation
The Greeks were well aware that slaves and workmen had to rest, perhaps even ‘unwind’ occasionally, but for them that was something altogether distinct from leisure. ‘Recreation’, as we might now call it, was simply the flipside of work, a necessary respite from its pain and constraint. Leisure in the true sense had nothing restorative about it. It took place beyond the work/recreation cycle; it was human activity unleashed from any external purpose.

Leisure could thus be strenuous in the highest degree – far more strenuous than work – without losing its leisure character. The modern identification of leisure with recreation, as embodied in the ‘leisure centre’, simply shows how far the concept has strayed from its original and deeper meaning.

Leisure in the ancient world took many forms. For most Athenians, it was synonymous with athletics and oratory, the conventional occupations of the propertied elite. But for a dissident minority, leisure meant philosophia, love of wisdom – an activity quite unlike the academic discipline that now bears its name. Philosophia was free, open-ended speculation, unconstrained by dogma or money.

Plato contrasted it with litigation, in which the goal is to win one’s case, and win it quickly. (“Law is philosophy on a stopwatch,” said a friend of mine who had recently switched from one occupation to the other.) For Aristotle, philosophy was a celestial activity, the closest we come to the contemplative bliss of the gods.

Not just a Western ideal
Leisure is not just a Western ideal: it crops up wherever a minority is freed from the necessity of earning a living. The Chinese cultivated the arts of leisure with a whimsy absent from the more strenuous Greco-Roman version. Here is Shen Fu, a failed scholar of the early 19th century, reminiscing about happier times: “We would spend the whole day doing nothing but criticising poetry and talking about painting. My friends were like swallows on the rafters, coming and going as they pleased. Yün even sold her hairpins to buy wine without a second thought, because we did not want to give up lightly such a beautiful time and place. But now we are all parted like clouds blown by the wind. The jade is broken, the incense buried! I cannot bear to look back.”

These visions of leisure, Western and Eastern, are in many ways repugnant to us. Aristotle’s gentleman philosophers would have lived on the labour of slaves – “human tools”, as he charmingly calls them – while Shen Fu, a local government secretary, received an income that was almost certainly made up largely of bribes. How can an ideal of life erected upon such murky foundations hold any appeal for us today?

Freedom from drudgery
I share these worries. Yet when all is said and done, what else matters, ultimately, apart from leisure? To be without leisure, to do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive. Imagine a man who works long hours at a boring job to pay the school fees; eats brown rice not because he likes it but because it is good for him; reads books in order to increase his stock of knowledge and culture; and keeps fit for the sake of his ‘erotic capital’.

Such a man is perpetually looking forward to a consummation he can never, in the nature of the case, enjoy. As Keynes put it, “he does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.” He will die before he has ever really lived.

Nor should we be overly troubled by accusations of elitism. True, some can enjoy leisure only if others dig the coal and wash the dishes, but in a technological age there is no need for those others to be human beings. Mechanical work can, and should, be done by machines. “Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his visionary essay The Soul of Man under Socialism. “On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” We now have machinery sufficient to free the affluent world from drudgery. It is only our failure of political organisation and ethical imagination that holds us back.


Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University, and author, together with his father, Robert, of How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life (Allen Lane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why The Cult Of Hard Work Is Counter-Productive: Loafing Around Can Be An Act Of Dissent Against The Ceaseless Demands Of Capitalism

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Oldspeak: “There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of business and by making the loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation and hurries him rapidly from place to place . . . To do nothing every man is ashamed and to do much almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought. ” -Samuel Johnson

“The crisis of complexity we’ve constructed is destroying life on earth. How different would the world be if the social agreement that is capitalism was no longer subscribed to by those currently being ruthlessly and ceaselessly dominated by it? if we refused to be driven mad by senseless and soulless busy work and wage slavery. Refused to accept the illusion that we need money to be happy and live richly. Rejected the propaganda of infinite growth, endless consumption, violence, domination, exclusion, competition, greed, cruelty and inhumanity of go go go go that are necessary for the agreement to be maintained? Gave our life energy to things that could benefit others and by extension ourselves… Gave the majority of our life energy to inner work and cultivating our higher selves? if we all agreed to give our life energy to good mindful work and not mindless unneccesary work. i imagine it would be a lot more pleasant for everyone than it is now. More meaningful. Fulfilling. Lovelit.” -OSJ

By Stephen Poole @ The New Statesman:

Recently, I saw a man on the Tube wearing a Nike T-shirt with a slogan that read, in its entirety, “I’m doing work”. The idea that playing sport or doing exercise needs to be justified by calling it a species of work illustrates the colonisation of everyday life by the devotion to toil: an ideology that argues cunningly in favour of itself in the phrase “work ethic”.

We are everywhere enjoined to work harder, faster and for longer – not only in our jobs but also in our leisure time. The rationale for this frantic grind is one of the great unquestioned virtues of our age: “productivity”. The cult of productivity seems all-pervasive. Football coaches and commentators praise a player’s “work rate”, which is thought to compensate for a lack of skill. Geeks try to streamline their lives in and out of the office to get more done. People boast of being busy and exhausted and eagerly consume advice from the business-entertainment complex on how to “de-fry your burnt brain”, or engineer a more productive day by assenting to the horror of breakfast meetings.

A corporate guru will even teach you how to become a “master of extreme productivity”. (In these extreme times, extremity is always good; unless, perhaps, you are an extremist.) No one boasts of being unproductive, still less counterproductive. Into the iron gate of modernity have been wrought the words: “Productivity will set you free.”

Strategies to enhance the “productivity” of workers have been formalised since at least Frederick Winslow Taylor’s early-20th-century dream of “scientific management” through methods such as “time studies”. The latest wheeze is the Big Data field of “workforce science”, in which everything – patterns of emails, the length of telephone calls – may be measured and consigned to a comparative database to create a perfect management panopticon. It is tempting to suspect that the ambition thus to increase “worker productivity” is aimed at getting more work out of each employee for the same (or less) money.

To the long-evolving demands of productivity at work we must now add the burden of productivity everywhere else. As the Nike T-shirt’s slogan implies, even when we’re not at work, we must be doing work. There is certainly a great deal of Taylorised labour available on the internet: “sharing”, “liking” and updating profiles constitutes click-farm piecework for which we eagerly volunteer, to the profit of the large “social” media corporations.

Even for those who are not constantly bombarded with work demands outside the office, the ubiquity of information processing presents a temptation to be on call at all times. Our world has become an ambient factory from which there is no visible exit and there exists an industry of self-help technologies devoted to teaching us how to be happy workers. “Is information overload killing your productivity?” asks a representative business story. The answer is to adopt yet more productivity strategies. The labour of work is thus extended to encompass the labour of learning how to keep up with your work (specialised techniques, such as “Inbox Zero”, to manage the email tsunami) as well as the labour of recovering from your work in approved ways.

“Exercise,” advises one business magazine feature. “It makes you more productive.” In a perfect world, you would be getting exercise while you work – standing desks and even treadmill desks are sold as magical productivity enhancers. In the future, we’ll enjoy the happy possibility of carrying on with our work while out running, thanks to “wearable computing” devices such as Google Glass, which has the potential to become the corporate equivalent of the electronic tags that record the movements of criminals.

In the vanguard of “productivity” literature and apps was David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system, according to which you can become “a wizard of productivity” by organising your life into folders and to-do lists. The GTD movement quickly spread outside the confines of formal work and became a way to navigate the whole of existence: hence the popularity of websites such as Lifehacker that offer nerdy tips on rendering the messy business of everyday life more amenable to algorithmic improvement. If you can discover how best to organise the cables of your electronic equipment or “clean stubborn stains off your hands with shaving cream”, that, too, adds to your “productivity” – assuming that you will spend the time that is notionally saved on a sanctioned “task”, rather than flopping down exhausted on the sofa and waking groggily seven hours later from what you were sternly advised should have been a power nap of exactly 20 minutes. If you need such “downtime”, it must be rigorously scheduled.

The paradox of the autodidactic productivity industry of GTD, Lifehacker and the endless reviews of obscure mind-mapping or task-management apps is that it is all too easy to spend one’s time researching how to acquire the perfect set of productivity tools and strategies without ever actually settling down to do something. In this way, the obsessive dream of productivity becomes a perfectly effective defence against its own realisation.

As Samuel Johnson once wrote: “Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought.”

Nor is there any downward cut-off point for “our current obsession with busyness”, as one researcher, Andrew Smart, describes it in his intriguing book Autopilot: the Art and Science of Doing Nothing. Smart observes, appalled, a genre of literary aids for inculcating the discipline of “time management” in children. (Time is not amenable to management: it just keeps passing, whatever you do.) Not allowing children to zone out and do nothing, Smart argues, is probably harming their development. But buckling children into the straitjacket of time management from an early age might seem a sensible way to ensure an agreeably docile new generation of workers.

If so, the idea has history. In 1770, an anonymous essay on trade and commerce was published in London. (It is now usually attributed to a “J Cunningham”.) In it, the author proposes that orphans, “bastards and other accidental poor children” ought to be made to labour in workhouses for 12 hours a day from the age of four. (He allows that two of these hours might be devoted to learning to read.) This will have the happy effect, the author argues, of creating a new generation “trained up to constant labour” and thus increasing the general industry of the population, so that future labourers will be happy to earn in six days a week what they currently make in four or five.

Cunningham’s proposed workhouses are also conceived to house (or, rather, imprison) adult vagrants and other so-far-incorrigible poor people. Existing workhouses are too luxurious, he complains: “Such house must be made an house of terror”. Only terror will make the inmates properly productive; the solution is “the placing of the poor in such a situation that loss of liberty, hunger, thirst . . . should be the immediate consequences of idleness and debauchery”.

Fear has not ceased to be a useful spur to productivity. A recent article in the London newspaper Metro reported that research had shown that “dedicated Britons” were “less likely to pull a sickie” than workers in Germany and France. The researcher claimed: “Strong employment protection and generous sick pay was empirically found to contribute to increased staff sickness in Germany and France.” It could indeed be that Europeans are slackers and Brits are peculiarly “dedicated”. Or it could be that Britain’s more “flexible” labour market terrifies citizens into struggling into work even when they are ill.

The reason sickness is undesirable is not that it causes distress or discomfort but that it results in what is often called “lost productivity”. This is a sinister and absurd notion, predicated on the greedy fallacy of counting chickens before they have hatched. “Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32bn a year,” the researcher claimed in Metro: a normal way of phrasing things today, but one with curious implications. The idea seems to be that business already has that money even though it hasn’t earned it yet and employees who fail to maintain “productivity” as a result of sickness or other reasons are, in effect, stealing this as yet entirely notional sum from their employers.

It took a long time before the adjective “productive” – which once simply meant “generative”, as applied to land or ideas – acquired its specific economic sense, in the late 18th century, of relating to the production of goods or commodities. (The noun form is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in an essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which he writes of the “produc­tivity” of a growing plant.) To call a person “productive” only in relation to a measured quantity of physical outputs is another way that business rhetoric has long sought to dehumanise workers.

One way to counter this has been to attempt to recuperate the supposed vice of idleness – to hymn napping, daydreaming and sheer zoning out. Samuel Johnson is sometimes counted among the champions of faffing, perhaps simply because of the name of his essay series The Idler. Yet he looked sternly on occupying oneself with “trifles”, as he describes his dilettante friend Sober doing in one of those columns. The guiding principle of The Idler, as Johnson described it in the farewell essay, was to encourage readers “to view every incident with seriousness, and improve it by meditation”. So meditating seriously is not idleness.

On the other hand, Johnson noted sagely in an earlier entry, one can be idle while appearing anything but: “There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of business and by making the loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation and hurries him rapidly from place to place . . . To do nothing every man is ashamed and to do much almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude.” Does this not perfectly describe our modern saturation in fatuous busywork?

David Graeber, the anthropologist and author of Debt: the First 5,000 Years, would also probably approve of it as a characterisation of what he calls “bullshit jobs”. In a recent essay for Strike! magazine, Graeber remarks on “the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations”, all of which he describes as “bullshit” and “pointless”. Their activity is to be contrasted with that of what Graeber calls “real, productive workers”.

It is telling that even in such a bracingly critical analysis, the signal virtue of “productivity” is left standing, though it is not completely clear what it means for the people in the “real” jobs that Graeber admires. It is true that service industries are not “productive” in the sense that their labour results in no great amount of physical objects, but then what exactly is it for the “Tube workers” Graeber rightly defends to be “productive”, unless that is shorthand for saying, weirdly, that they “produce” physical displacements of people? And to use “productive” as a positive epithet for another class of workers he admires, teachers, risks acquiescing rhetorically in the commercialisation of learning. Teaching as production is, etymologically and otherwise, the opposite of teaching as education.

Idleness in the sense of just not working at all, rather than working at a bullshit activity, was championed by the dissident Marxist Paul Lafargue, writer of the 1883 manifesto The Right to Be Lazy. This amusing denunciation of what Lafargue calls “the furious passion for work” in capitalist civilisation, which is “the cause of all intellectual degeneracy”, rages against its own era of “overproduction” and consequent recurring “industrial crises”. The proletariat, Lafargue cries, “must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.”

That sounds nice but why exactly should we do it? It is because: “To force the capitalists to improve their machines of wood and iron, it is necessary to raise wages and diminish the working hours of the machines of flesh and blood.” Workers should refuse to work so that new gadgets get invented that will do the work for them. Similarly, Bert­rand Russell, in his 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness”, argued that technology should make existing work patterns redundant: “Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all,” he wrote. Somewhere, he is still waiting for that possibility to be realised.

One modern anti-work crusader who cleanly abandons any notion of productivity is Federico Campagna, whose recent book The Last Night is an exercise in poetic dissidence. In seeking their existential justification in work, Campagna writes, “Humans elected their very submission to the throne as their new God.” Those who resist the siren promises of labour are therefore the true “radical atheists” and should be glad also to call themselves “squanderers”, “egoists”, “disrespectful opportunists”, “parasites” and most of all “adventurers”. Campagna explains: “Adventurers, like all humans, live within a dream, in which they try to be the lucid dreamers.” Something like dreaming or idling, it turns out, is also now sanctioned by another arena whose popular rhetoric often lays claim to a kind of religious authority: that of neuroscience.

According to Andrew Smart’s book Autopilot, recent (but still controversial) brain research recommends that we stare vacantly into space more often. “Neuroscientific evidence argues that your brain needs to rest, right now,” Smart declares on the first page. (It took me a long time to finish the book, because I kept putting it down to have a break.)

Smart’s evidence suggests the existence of a “default network”, in which the brain gets busy talking to itself in the absence of an external task to focus on. To allow this “default network” to do its thing by regularly loafing around rather than switching focus all day between futile bits of work, Smart argues, is essential for the brain’s health. “For certain things the brain likes to do (for example, coming up with creative ‘outside of the box’ solutions),” he writes, “you may need to be doing very little.”

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Smart observes, was not very “productive” in terms of the quantity of poems he produced in an average year. However, while pootling away his time, he occasionally experienced a torrent of inspiration and what he did produce were works of greatness.

This reminds us that it is not necessary to abandon the notion of “productivity” altogether. We all like to feel that we have done something useful, interesting or fun with our day, even (or especially) if it has not been part of our official work, and we might harmlessly express such satisfaction by saying that our day has been productive.

This ordinary usage encodes an ordinary wisdom: that mere quantity of activity – as implied by the get-more-done mania of the productivity cult – has nothing to do with its value. Economics does not know how to value Rainer Maria Rilke over a prolific poetaster in receipt of an official laureateship. (One can be confident that, while mooching around European castles and writing nothing for years on end, Rilke would never have worn a T-shirt that announced: “I’m doing work”.) And his life sounds like more fun than one recent Lifehacker article, which eagerly explained how to organise your baseball cap collection by hanging the headwear on shower-curtain hooks arrayed along a rail.

Perhaps I shouldn’t mock. All that time saved every morning by knowing the exact location of the baseball cap you want to wear will surely add up, earning you hours more freedom to hunt and hoard ever more productivity tips, until you are a purely theoretical master at doing nothing of value in the most efficient way imaginable.

Steven Poole’s “Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower? A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon” is published by Sceptre (£9.99)

In A System Of Coercion & Predetermined Choices, “Freedom” Is Just A Word

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Oldspeak: “For the overwhelming majority of us, our whole lives revolve around meeting our basic needs and keeping our families from starvation and homelessness. Most individuals are at the mercy of the economic system and have little time for anything else – survival is their main concern. What kind of a life is that? Is this a life lived in absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action? People spend most of their lives working for a ruthless system and benefit very little from the incredible work and labor they put into it. And despite their best efforts, they are barely making it.

But being a human is about more than just earning a living, working 40 plus hours a week for someone else’s benefit, and wasting countless more hours commuting to and from work. We get a few hours to ourselves for lunch or at home after work, and (if we are lucky) two weeks of vacation per year. This is not freedom – it’s more like temporary release. Living means more than merely existing; living is about experiencing life by expressing one’s passions, connecting with one another, and contributing creatively to our communities. For the most part of our existence, our bodies and our time belong to our employers, the “owners.” The only reason the current system “works” is because it threatens us with starvation and homelessness – this is coercion. It is not freedom by any definition.” –Kali Ma

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. “Many of them are normal because they are so well-adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does.” They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”-Aldous Huxley

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Freedom is Slavery””Ignorance is Strength” –George Orwell

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” –Nesta Robert Marley

Don’t believe the hype. All the consumables, you’re being encouraged to spend your life force acquiring in the name of “personalization”, “independence”, “freedom”, “convenience” are being used to control and enslave you. Let go of your attachments to stuff. Don’t live your life in insatiable and relentless pursuit of “more”. Our Mother Earth cannot support us if we don’t drastically re prioritize our civilizations to value conservation over consumption. Sustainable, clean, regenerative energy development over toxic, extractive and destructive development. Creation, abundance, and balance over destruction, scarcity and imbalance. The revolution begins in you.” –OSJ

By Kali Ma @ The Hampton Institute:

Freedom is a word and idea that has become synonymous with America. President George Bush told Americans in the wake of 911 that the reason terrorists attacked the country was because “they hate our freedoms.” The national anthem proudly proclaims that America is “the land of the free.” Every July 4, Americans celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms that America represents. But what does freedom actually mean? What do politicians, those in power, and everyday individuals mean when they use freedom to describe the essence of America? In the sense that we have been conditioned to think of freedom and America as synonymous, there is actually no true meaning or definition of freedom. It is what George Orwell termed a “meaningless word” because it conveys nothing specific.[1] In reality, freedom means different things to different people: the right to free speech; the right to vote and participate in the political process; the right to privacy; the ability to accumulate great wealth and consume various products; or the right to live unmolested and to move about freely without constraints. [2] Essentially, the meaning of freedom is a personal one that has no official consensus.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, freedom means: a)the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. Freedom, then, is about autonomy and independence – to be in control of oneself and to choose one’s destiny. If we apply this definition as the standard, do we truly have freedom?
“Work Until We Keel Over and Die”

The reality for most people in the world today is one in which we serve the needs of the economic system, and in turn, those at the top who benefit from the status quo. For a human being to do anything in the world, his or her most basic needs – such as food, shelter, and clothing – must first be met. Since all individuals need money to survive, the economic system within a country is one of the primary – if not the primary – determinant of an individual’s course and quality of life. Since money is directly tied to survival, it serves as a major factor that guides our decisions.

Frontline’s recently released documentary Two American Families vividly depicts the extent to which money and the economic system affect our everyday reality. The film follows the lives of two working-class families (the Neumanns and the Stanleys) over the course of twenty years as they struggle to live the “American Dream.” Their troubles begin when both Tony Neumann and Claude Stanley lose their well-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs to overseas outsourcing. What follows in the next two decades for both families is a painful struggle to keep up with their bills, feed their children, and cope with the constant stress of being unemployed, underemployed, and on the brink of poverty and homelessness. Throughout the years, the Neumanns and Stanleys work various demanding jobs (sometimes two at a time) and eventually hope to live a life of “purpose and a lot more self-respect.” The Neumann kids worry about the family’s finances and, at one point, even offer to sell their baseball cards. The Stanley boys start their own lawn care business and have no time for fun during the summer because, as the oldest son Keith says, “You have to go out there and help your mom and dad.” Only one Stanley child makes it through college while the rest are unable to attend due to medical bills that put the family $30,000 in debt. Even with all their hard work, resilience, and refusal to give up, both families express their disappointments and blame themselves for the struggles they have endured over the years.

One of the most disturbing examples of the injustice and ruthlessness of our system is the foreclosure of Terry Neumann’s home. After 24 years, Terry loses her house in 2011 because her part-time job wages are not enough to cover the mortgage. If we assume that the monthly mortgage payments stayed the same for 24 years, the Neumann family paid JP Morgan close to $236,160 for a house the bank sold for $38,000 in foreclosure and for which they demanded an additional $120,000 from Terry as a buy-out.[3] After years of barely “making it,” Terry has little faith in the future and believes that most of us will simply “work until we collapse, keel over and die.”
Poverty – As American as Apple Pie

Unfortunately, the Stanleys and the Neumanns are not unique. Their stories are typical and happen to millions of Americans every day. According to recent surveys, 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and 80% of Americans struggle with unemployment and near-poverty at some point in their lives. Since the 2008 economic crash, millions of Americans have slipped into poverty, lost their homes, gone bankrupt, become unemployed, and are now working part-time jobs in an economy where not even full-time wages are enough to make a decent living. But these conditions have always been present, as evidenced by families like the Stanleys and Neumanns; it’s just that now an increasing number of Americans are living this reality that had previously gone mostly unacknowledged. Currently, there are more than47 million Americans on food stamps (most of thememployed), and almost a third of working class families earn wages below the official poverty threshold. In the more updated poverty measures, which include additional living costs such as medical expenses, almost 50% of Americans – 146. 4 million people – are considered poor or low-income.[4] On top of all this, 69% of Americans today hold some form of debt with the median household owing $70,000. Unfortunately, the odds of overcoming these dire economic circumstances are slim: theU.S. ranks consistently at the bottom when it comes toincome equality and offers much less economic mobility than other developed countries. So, who is benefitting from this system?

The top 1% richest households in America received 121% of all income gains from 2009 to 2011, and median CEO pay increased to $15.1 million last year. Today, the richest 1% of Americans take in 24% of all new income, while in 1976 they took home 9%. The 400 wealthiest individuals – the real owners of America – have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. Corporations have also raked in record profits, yet somehow none of this prosperity has “trickled down” to the rest of us.
Freedom to Live, Not Merely Exist

When we look at the Stanleys, Neumanns, and millions of other families struggling to (literally) survive, one has to ask: are they free human beings? What freedoms do they enjoy? For the overwhelming majority of us, our whole lives revolve around meeting our basic needs and keeping our families from starvation and homelessness. Most individuals are at the mercy of the economic system and have little time for anything else – survival is their main concern. What kind of a life is that? Is this a life lived in absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action? People spend most of their lives working for a ruthless system and benefit very little from the incredible work and labor they put into it. And despite their best efforts, they are barely making it.

But being a human is about more than just earning a living, working 40 plus hours a week for someone else’s benefit, and wasting countless more hours commuting to and from work. We get a few hours to ourselves for lunch or at home after work, and (if we are lucky) two weeks of vacation per year. This is not freedom – it’s more like temporary release. Living means more than merely existing; living is about experiencing life by expressing one’s passions, connecting with one another, and contributing creatively to our communities. For the most part of our existence, our bodies and our time belong to our employers, the “owners.” The only reason the current system “works” is because it threatens us with starvation and homelessness – this is coercion. It is not freedom by any definition.

According to studies, most workers today have completely checked out from their jobs and are practically sleepwalking through their workdays. This even includes high-income workers, which suggests that money has little effect on whether we actually enjoy our jobs. These statistics fly in the face of those who argue that our current system is necessary because it creates an incentive for people to be productive. Studies have repeatedly shown thatmoney is actually a bad motivator, and what people really care about is to have autonomy at their jobs and the opportunity to apply their talents and be recognized for their work. Turns out, self-expression and the ability to make one’s own decisions are more important than money. This may be surprising to many of us because we have been indoctrinated into an economic ideology that sees profit as the ultimate value without any consideration for human beings and the natural world. Today, our global economy is mostly geared toward consuming and producing products we don’t need at the expense of exploited workers and the degradation of our environment. In other words, we are lending our labor to forces of death and destruction while ignoring the consequences of our work. No wonder most people cannot relate to their jobs.

Unfortunately, many individuals cannot afford to quit their jobs even if they find their work morally repugnant because they have to worry about paying their bills and taking care of their families. Moreover, in an economy based on consumption and exploitation, there are few meaningful jobs that provide us with a deep sense of purpose and that create a positive impact on society. If they do exist, these jobs are mostly reserved for privileged individuals who get to choose between careers of profit or lives of purpose. It is these kinds of choices that working class people do not have in our system today.

No one is suggesting that people should not be “productive” or contribute to society; on the contrary, people want to have a purpose in life and we should be able to utilize our talents and passions for the benefit of society while still working in harmony with each other and the environment. A coercive economy only creates widespread discontent and fails to meet even the basic physical and psychological needs of the majority of people.

Unfortunately, there are still those who blame others for being poor, unemployed, or struggling in this economy. While those in power often blame people for their misfortunate in order to evade responsibility for creating and perpetuating a system of oppression, there are also those within the working class who echo their sentiments. Clearly these individuals have internalized the authoritarian and coercive mindset that keeps them obedient to the needs of those in power. Their anger, criticism and disgust are misplaced and should be directed at the ruling class who benefits from this system of oppression and degradation. They have sharp words of “personal responsibility” for working people, yet no calls for accountability of Wall Street criminality and general belligerence of the ruling class. The victim-blamers never stop to ask themselves why there is no space in our economy for people to express their passions and talents; or why every person must adapt to the needs of the system – isn’t the system supposed to work for us, the people? But, of course, it is much easier to blame the victims than to confront our own powerlessness.
Limited, Predetermined Choices

Our every decision depends on the system’s approval, and we forego many of our wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams because we have to labor to survive. This is simply a sophisticated and updated version of slavery that has most people serving the interests of the powerful with minimal benefits to themselves. And make no mistake about it – the ruling class – if they could get away with it – would make all of us work for free. They are certainly not above slavery, as the history of African Americans and today’s corporate exploitation of farmworkers,temp workers, prisoners, and millions of sweatshop laborers around the world clearly shows. We are only putting up with this system because we have no other choice; we are blackmailed and rendered passive because our survival depends on our servitude to the interests of a ruthless authoritarian structure. No one in their right mind would willingly choose this type of existence because it goes against every natural human instinct that pushes against oppression and yearns for self-expression and creativity.

We cannot even choose our own education because we have to look to the system to determine which majors will land us a job or make us a lot of money. Knowledge and education have been commodified, stripped of their inherent value, and turned into assembly-line products to be bought and sold on the market. We have lost the most basic and personal freedoms to determine how we wish to cultivate our lives – it is all about the system and how we can be used to serve its needs. This type of thinking is so deeply ingrained into our psyche that most people do not even realize that this is how they approach life. Living our passions and having autonomy should not be a privilege – we all deserve the opportunity to express our talents, not just the lucky (mostly privileged) few. Anything less than that is psychological and spiritual suicide.

The issue of freedom boils down to autonomy – the dignity of self-determination which recognizes that we as human beings are more than just commodities to be used and exploited for the benefit of the few; to exercise our inherent rights as living beings to make decisions about our own lives without facing catastrophic consequences from a system created by those in power who benefit from our oppression. So the next time you hear the word “freedom,” ask yourself: do I have the autonomy to direct my life as I wish, to pursue my passions, interests, and desires without facing the consequences of starvation, homelessness or alienation? Am I free to do as I wish (without harming anyone) or am I dependent and beholden to a greater force and power than myself – one that makes those fundamental decisions for me? Do I have real choices in my life or only the superficial “choice” of Pepsi or Coke, Democrat or Republican, CNN or Fox News? In other words, do our choices have substance or is it just the same shit in a different package?

Notes

[1] Because the word “freedom” conveys nothing, individuals (and governments) can conceal the true nature of their ideas and actions behind such ambiguous words, while allowing their audience to fill in the missing definition. For instance, when politicians speak of a free economy (or economic freedom), what they really mean is an economy free to exploit workers and the environment without any regulation, rules, or oversight of corporations; however, many individuals interpret economic freedom to mean the right to work, decent wages, or better opportunities to start small businesses. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the politician’s meaning of the word and its interpretation by the audience.

[2] Even the rights we think we have are vanishing before our eyes: as a result of mass surveillance, the right to privacy no longer exists; our votes have become meaningless because regardless of who we vote for, Wall Street and the military industrial complex always win; many of us cannot even walk around freely without being harassed in the age of codified racial profiling under “Stop and Frisk”; and of course the “chilling” effect on free speech resulting from unprecedented persecutions of journalists and whistleblowers by an establishment so afraid of the truth that it jails those who expose corruption and war crimes.

[3] $820 (monthly mortgage) x 12 months x 24 years = $236,160. This sum does not include fees and penalties the Neumanns paid over the years when they fell behind on their mortgage.

[4] Some critics argue that even these figures are too low because the standards for calculating the poverty line have not been updated since the 1960s. If the measures had kept pace with living standards over the years, today the poverty threshold would be $34,000 for a family of four instead of the $25,222 in the more “updated” version under the Poverty Supplemental Measure. http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/raising-minimum-wage-to-9-not-enough-to-ensure-that-families-with-fulltime-workers-live-above-poverty-line

Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

Oldspeak: Ginsberg would be proud. 🙂 This brilliant riff mirrors sooo many of my thoughts. Enjoy. Hope it speaks to you as deeply as it did to me. :-)” –OSJ

Related Content:

By David DeGraw @ Daviddegraw.org:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin’ for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
Assembly line souls who had no choice but to sacrifice themselves
to the false idols
of almighty mass consumerism as their only religion
Illuminated through the church of television
& every medium of ill communication
Force-fed into their head… mind raped, since birth
Overwhelmed, sound bite attention span
Over-prescribed, bi-polar ADD youth
Bred to be numb, a dumbed down mindless consumer drone
No depth of thought, untaught
As they slept walked through universities
Not realizing the cost of it will enslave them
in a never-ending vicious cycle of debt
Naive youth first time away from home, on their own
Targeted by credit cards & loans
& taxes… to pay for endless war… against themselves
Death by a thousand cuts
Nickel & dimed, every second of… all the time
A generation chained to a game not of their making
Rat racing, inner-self repressed, freedom denied
Thinking thoughts of suicide inside sanitized walls
Surrounded by electronic plasma radiating terror, cellular cancer
Diseased souls smoking & drinking & drowning in flashing light
Trying to escape their repetitive life
by popping ecstasy & snorting coke in a paradise of bass beats in the night
Filled with… emptiness
Having random meaningless sex, hoping not to get STDs
Searching… for any hint of love & life
as they go through the motions
Day after day more of the same meaningless game
Monotonous & mundane
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Routine, repetition
Less than human
Nothing left to believe in…
Praying…
Yearning… for a last minute escape, that never comes, from this madness
Flipping… through channels & tabloids
Vicariously living through the stars
Daydream delusions of fame
While eating… genetically modified, supersized fast food & drinking diet coke
Running on a treadmill in a plastic paradise of silicone & botox
Energy bars & supplements
Downloading / streaming porn & sterile music
Hoping to meet someone, anyone, online
Instant messages from distant “friends”
Like, LOL, OMG
Fractured family, holiday acquaintances, obligations
Travel expenses, gifts, time you don’t have to give
Got to keep hustlin’
Bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay
Pills to sleep, pills to take away the pain, pills to lose… weight, wait
Wrapped in a womb of insecurity
Giving off the illusion of prosperity
Fancy car lease, overpriced homes they cannot afford
Overpriced doctor bills, overpriced education, overpriced… everything
Runnin’ w/ the Joneses
White picket fences… & mouths to feed
The fake grass is always greener
There is no other side
Shopping malls & destruction
Chemical pesticide, pissing in the water supply
Gas pump pumping toxins into the sky
Ultra Violet rays shinning through ozone curtains
The shade recedes, the tides rise
Tanning under toxic skies
Human waste penetrates skin
Go take a swim in an ocean of pollution
Bathing in… raw sewage
Change in… the weather
A species with a disease
The pathology of greed
Race to the bottom
lowest common
denominator
Dominated…
Chewed up & spit out
Downsized & outsourced
Head hunting for temp work
Without benefits, no vacation, sickness unpaid, no health care
Home searching, showerless in underwear
Hiding behind a computer screen
Staring blankly, clicking madly
Burning bloodshot aging eyes…
Pounding veins & frying caffeinated brains
Who have ceased asking the big questions
Scampering for small lives
Bread crumbs from the table, circuses of distraction
A generation expelled from freedom, unknowingly
for being passive soldiers in the falling empire
Who know their vote doesn’t count
Disillusioned & marginalized, a systematic farce
Blanketed by lies & a four year dog & pony ritual
Watching plastic puppet politicians spew scripted words from tongues on a teleprompter leash
Watching shocking scandal after scandal
Watching unprecedented crimes go unpunished
Watching our future be sold & auctioned off to the highest bidder
A cancerously corrupted civilization
An entire generation born to conform & be blind to wider reality
& anything not repetitively projected on the TV
Who sit thoughtlessly & apathetically while surroundings burn
The silent & passive desperation of a defeated generation
The beaten masses & mass disaster
Denial & death
with little time left…

HOWL NOW

The Hideous Inequality Exposed By Hurricane Sandy In New York

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Oldspeak:”Divides between the rich and the poor are nothing new in New York, but the storm brought them vividly to the surface. There were residents…who could invest all of their time and energy into protecting their families. And there were New Yorkers who could not. Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” -David Rohde The vast inequality generated by rigidly hierarchical, competition based, profit driven, casino capitalist system is on full display in times like these. Employment and acquiring money trump safety and security – for the poor. The rich have the option to choose the opposite.  The poor continue to serve while the rich plan which hotels to stay in or what other means to use to avoid danger. Corporate owned-news outlets focus almost exclusively on the devastation visited on exclusive beachfront properties of those with means, largely ignoring poor communities… And America’s caste system continues on, unquestioned. While compassion and consideration are not extended to the most vulnerable members of our society.

Related Story:

Without Power and Aid, Low-Income Residents of NYC’s Lower East Side Struggle in Storm’s Aftermath

By David Rohde @ The Atlantic:

A hotel bellman said he was worried about his mother uptown. A maid said she had been calling her family in Queens. A garage attendant said he hadn’t been able to contact his only relative – a sister in New Jersey – since the storm hit. Asked where he weathered the hurricane, his answer was simple.

“I slept in my car,” he said.

Sandy humbled every one of the 19 million people in the New York City metropolitan area. But it humbled some more than others in an increasingly economically divided city.

Hours before the storm arrived on Monday night, restaurants, corner grocery stores and hotels were open in the Union Square area of Manhattan. (My wife and I moved to a hotel there after being ordered to evacuate our apartment in lower Manhattan.) Instead of heading home to their families as the winds picked up, the city’s army of cashiers, waiters and other service workers remained in place.

Divides between the rich and the poor are nothing new in New York, but the storm brought them vividly to the surface. There were residents like me who could invest all of their time and energy into protecting their families. And there were New Yorkers who could not.

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.

New census data shows that the city is the most economically divided it has been in a decade, according to the New York Times. As has occurred across the country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Twenty-one percent of the city is in poverty, and the median household income decreased by $821 annually. Per the Times:Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.”

Manhattan, the city’s wealthiest and most gentrified borough, is an extreme example. Inequality here rivals parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Last year the wealthiest 20 percent of Manhattan residents made $391,022 a year on average, according to census data. The poorest 20 percent made $9,681.

All told, Manhattan’s richest fifth made 40 times more money than its poorest fifth, up from 38 times in 2010. Only a handful of developing countries – such as Namibia and Sierra Leone – have higher inequality rates.

In the Union Square area, New York’s privileged – including myself – could have dinner, order a food delivery and pick up supplies an hour or two before Sandy made landfall. The cooks, cashiers and hotel workers who stayed at work instead of rushing home made that possible.

They were a diverse group. Some were young people in their twenties. Others were middle-aged Americans who had never landed white-collar jobs. Most were immigrants.

On the other end of the wealth spectrum, New York’s age-old excesses emerged. Some families brought their nannies to the hotel to help care for their children through the hurricane. Others panicked when the power went off. All the while, waiters, maids and doormen continued to help them.

The storm affected the affluent as well. Tourists and business people from Boston, California, Britain and Japan were stranded in our hotel. They found themselves without power, water or transportation, and completely at the mercy of strangers.

But the city’s heroes were the tens of thousands of policemen, firefighters, utility workers and paramedics who labored all night for $40,000 to $90,000 a year. And the local politicians who focused on performance, not partisanship, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Newark Mayor Corey Booker.

Twenty-four hours after the disaster, ugly political lines were already being drawn. Democrats pounced on a statement by Mitt Romney in a Republican primary debate last year that disaster response should be shifted to the states and, where possible, privatized. Michael Brown, the much criticized director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under George W. Bush, argued that the Obama administration had responded more quickly to Hurricane Sandy than it did to the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

“One thing he’s gonna be asked is, why did he jump on this so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in … Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas?” Brown was quoted as saying to a Denver alternative newspaper. “This is like the inverse of Benghazi.”

Over the next few days, Obama’s and Romney’s reactions to the storm will be parsed. The role of the federal government in covering the costs of the disaster will be praised and assailed. Politicians, as always, will jockey for advantage.

The storm showed many things about New York. It exposed the city’s vulnerabilities. It also displayed its strengths. And to me, it showed New York’s growing economic divide. I’m sure that many of the people who remained at work yesterday chose to do so voluntarily. But I fear that many of them did not.