Hardly Working – What Sort of Life to Live?
by Nick Ford
As originally posted: Center for a Stateless Society
May 3, 2014
My name is Nick Ford and I would like to welcome you to this blog of mine, Hardly Working.
The goal of this blog is to promote a future where none of us will have to work. And by “work” I don’t mean just giving effort, but labor that we give to others under systematic duress. A good example is the workers who work in retail or low-paying jobs because they have no other good options.
These lack of options come from state-granted monopoly privileges like intellectual property to big corporations and licensing restrictions (the taxi medallions being a good example) that make independent work harder to obtain. Through these privileges, corporations have been able to take up far more space in the marketplace than they would be able to normally. Without these privileges we’d see much wider array of economic experimentation: from worker cooperatives, to self-employment and independently contracting individuals. All sorts of possibilities could open up once we abolish the state and actually-existing capitalism and bring our labor more under our individual control and out of the hands of big business or government.
The goal of anarchism and the anti-work position I support is to give tools to all of us that will free us from such systems and relations. I don’t mean that they would be evenly distributed or exist in some perfect equilibrium, but the means of production would certainly be more socialized than it is now – as well as much more accessible by your average individual. This in turn makes work a lot less necessary.
Any labor that exists through either artificial economic or political conditions (i.e. a situation wherein your agency or power is overridden by another involuntarily) must be abolished. That means revoking the monopoly privileges granted by the state and putting businesses on a much more equal footing. Abolishing the state and making tools and wealth more accessible by getting it out of capitalist hands and giving it to the individual are some of the key components of abolishing work.
Getting tools or wealth doesn’t necessitate a workers revolution, some sort of vanguard or any violence on our part. The exception being, if the state decides to attack us on either their own behest or the behest of the capitalist class. No, what it requires is the old Wobbly slogan of “building the new society within the shell of the old” and, then, these institutions would work to, as Proudhon said, “…dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State.”
Of course, abolishing work is not just concerned with the economic sphere, but also the personal sphere (especially because these two things are intimately connected). I don’t want people free from the abuse of a system of work that is in place, but also from the cultural norms that reinforce the work environment. Cultural norms and attitudes, the Puritan Work Ethic for example, that reduce slackers and people who prefer leisure as “losers” or “deserving” their poverty.
The anti-work perspective, then, tries to criticize economics, culture and both the extra-personal parts of our lives (i.e. our relations to work, our bosses, our co-workers, our wages, the government, etc.) and our deeper personal levels (i.e. our own views about labor, how we view other people, our ethical and meta-ethical beliefs about work or the lack thereof, etc.).
To give an example of the deeper personal realm, a friend of mine recently sent me this link that explains the lives of a few different people. They are extreme cases and there is a ton of possible wiggle room, but let’s have a look at two:
He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe. At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning. They converged “at one of these babbling brooks,” he wrote. He outlined the rest of his schedule. “Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three. Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log until the sun comes up again to redden the eastern sky. This is living…. Could it be more perfect?”
Wallace Stevens in his forties, living in Hartford, Connecticut, hewed to a productive routine. He rose at six, read for two hours, and walked another hour—three miles—to work. He dictated poems to his secretary. He ate no lunch; at noon he walked for another hour, often to an art gallery. He walked home from work—another hour. After dinner he retired to his study; he went to bed at nine. On Sundays, he walked in the park. I don’t know what he did on Saturdays. Perhaps he exchanged a few words with his wife, who posed for the Liberty dime.
I cannot say that either of these lives strike me as “perfect” because of my own individual capacities and skills, but, even so, I’d prefer the first example of a Dutch aristocrat – where naps are available, sleep is as long as I need, I can relax and write when I want to and so on. Sure, the aristocrat has this all in a routine too, but it’s clear that he probably wouldn’t hold to it too tightly. Notice that the aristocrat says he would “outline” and not just simply write his given routine. He naps or rests as he pleases and sees friends as a pastime.
Stevens, on the other hand, has a grueling routine. There’s certainly nothing unethical about what’s going on here, but would it be desirable? Perhaps for some. I know I am not one of those people and I think most people would prefer the first scenario over the second. Discipline is something many of us strive for within many contexts, yet we, often, give ourselves breaks, cut ourselves deals or give ourselves rewards. The second example of living doesn’t seem to ever stop, or reward the toil or give ourselves a few seconds to take in the outside breeze and just breathe.
So while I am, by no means, calling for the universality of the former or the total rejection of the latter (I don’t think having discipline or a routine is de facto bad), I do hope for a time when more of us can claim that we live like the first example.
Except it won’t be the aristocratic class that can claim such a pleasure, but any and all who want it.
No class, but the leisure class!