Tuesday, 28 February 2012

More on Work (Or why humans absolutely suck)

Ok, this entry is essentially a continuation of the previous one, where I’d been speculating that fundamentally the vast majority of human beings do not seek freedom in the sense of freedom from constraints, or “negative freedom” as described by Isaiah Berlin, amongst others. Instead, they appear to desire more income in order to acquire more material goods, or to put it in a more bilious form, they desire to climb the rat ladder so as to attain self-satisfaction by comparing themselves with their fellow rats. So when people whine about work, it’s not really work they’re whining about, it’s what they perceive to be low income and status. Take the rat out of his rat cage and he’ll go nuts. He’d rather be in the cage fighting with his fellow rodents and occasionally scratching at the bars, rather than be placed outside his prison where he can discover that he’s alone, that there is nothing outside of his enclosure and that without interaction with his fellow rats his sense of self and purpose dissolves and he’s left stewing unbearably in a puddle of his own nothingness. A lovely situation, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’ve come across a couple of other indications that work is, for most human beings, the prison they love. I’m still reading Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and The Last Man, a thumpingly good read, and came across an interesting side discussion. Fukuyama quotes a passage from Volume 3 of Marx’s Capital where Marx speaks of ‘the realm of freedom’ where Man will finally be able to realise his true potential. This realm of freedom will only be reached, however, once the realm of necessity is reduced, or in other words the time necessarily spent in producing life’s necessities is shortened. Marx states that ‘The shortening of the working day is its [the realm of freedom’s] basic prerequisite’. This, to me, sounds reasonable. Now Fukuyama also quotes Marx saying that in an ideal society one could “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner”. Doesn’t sound so bad to me, but tellingly enough in the footnotes Fukuyama states that “It is hard to believe that this famous vision from The German Ideology was meant seriously. Apart from the economic consequences of abolishing the division of labour, it is not clear that a life of such dilettantism could ever be satisfying” (My italics). Now, note the patronising tone of that remark. Acquiring the necessities of life in the morning and satisfying your basic needs so as to have the remainder of the day free is regarded as dilettantism! Apparently we should all be slaving our balls off 24/7 for....well, what exactly? I also feel obliged to point out the hypocrisy of Fukuyama’s remark. Here is a well-remunerated academic, paid handsomely for writing, reading and talking about topics he finds fascinating, living in a world where 95% of wage-earners hate their jobs and he condemns Marx’s vision as dilettantish! What a deluded hypocrite!

Something similar can be levelled against Noam Chomsky. Now I think Chomsky is a secular saint on account of his political writings and the world will be an even darker place than it already is when he passes on. Interestingly, though, Chomsky generally eschews discussing his vision of an ideal society. There is, however, one long and detailed interview with him from 1976 where he goes into detail concerning the Anarcho-Syndicate type of society he would favour. (Available at http://libcom.org/library/relevance-anarcho-syndicalism-noam-chomsky-interviewed-peter-jay) Thing is, when questioned about work and the fact that most people find it a drain and a crushing obligation, Chomsky becomes somewhat evasive. He states that “if it's [work] a task taken on just out of interest, fine, that can be done.” Ummm, yeah, sure, but how much of what we call work is like that. The interviewer replies by saying that “I put it to you that there may be a danger that this view of things is a rather romantic delusion, entertained only by a small elite of people who happen, like professors, perhaps journalists, and so on, to be in the very privileged situation of being paid to do what anyway they like to do.” Spot on, sir. It is precisely that elite who are having a fine time, and seem to be unaware of the privileged position they occupy. (For an in-depth critique of this interview, see Michael Albert’s article athttp://www.zcommunications.org/querying-young-chomsky-by-michael-albert)

So it would seem that not only do the majority not seek to escape work, the privileged minority elite, who should really know better, seem to be under the impression that everyone else is engaged in the kind of enjoyable, rewarding occupations that they work in. What a mess.

In conclusion, apologies for the incoherence of and ranting and raving element in this entry. I’m pretty jaded these days, angry at all the bullshit I see around me 24/7, loathe being a human being and regret having been born. I’m sure you understand:-)


  1. I think I understand where you are coming from - have you ever read Andre Gorz? He was a French socialist who advocated and worked for the vision Marx expounded - a shorter and shorter working day. (He also committed suicide when his beloved wife died.)

    But I do wonder if Fukuyama is, at least partially, correct. Because, to me, the problem with humans is boredom - that even in what we might consider better circumstances - humans find life inherently unfulfilling. This is our perversity, our curse if you will. There may be peace, but only if we are still. But who wants to be still when it so clearly resembles death?

  2. Forgive me - I should have said that Gorz and his wife committed double suicide together - although the reason was his wife's untreatable disease.

    1. Now that is love.

      Not the only expression of love under the circumstances, don't get me wrong. I don't think everyone dying of an illness should wish their spouse to go with them (I'm thinking it was more his idea than hers anyway) and not everyone whose beloved dies should immediately die.

      But by 'god' it's an option!

  3. Karl, have you ever read John Zerzan? What do you think of his work, if so?

  4. Bruce, thanks for the heads up re.Andre Gorz! Hadn't heard of him. From what I've read after your tip-off he sounds very impressive. I read an interview re."Farewell to the Proletariat" (available through his wikipedia entry) and it chimed in a lot with my own impressions. The idea of a working class revolution and dictatorship has always struck me as somehow absurd, merely the swapping of one tyranny for another. And from what I've seen of the so-called "working class" I just can't see it happening. As per the post, most people just want a greater stake in the system, not another system altogether. And besides, what does "working-class" mean anymore? Anyone who labours is working class. As per Gortz and others, opting out seems the only way to cope.

    Anonymous: I've actually been planning on writing a post on John Zerzan for quite a while. I do admire him greatly and definitely think he's on to something. The idea of civilisation as a pathology has a lot to be said for it. For anyone looking for some of Zerzan's writings, one his books can be downloaded free at the following links:


    Ultimately, if things keep going the way they are, the philosophy that underpins our society, namely that of Hobbes and Locke, will be replaced by that of Rousseau. Yup, Rousseau is going to be the philosopher of the future, another topic I must write about if I can find the energy.

    1. "The idea of a working class revolution and dictatorship has always struck me as somehow absurd, merely the swapping of one tyranny for another."

      Exactly. I felt sick reading the following comment on halfsigma.com:

      "If I didn't believe in God, I believe my purpose in life would either be reading Half Sigma and learning more about NAMs [Non-asian minority] and proles, or facilitating a proletarian revolution (assuming that it is a realistic goal in the medium and long-term)."

      God, how deluded can one be?

    2. Endlessly, as people have proven!

  5. Bruce, I forgot to address your point re.Fukuyama and boredom. I agree with you generally, but from my own experience, I'd rather be my own torturer and inflict my own chosen form of boredom on myself than have it inflicted by some arbitrary despot. Re.the shorter working day, the best job I ever had was a four-hour daily shift stacking books in a library. Dull, certainly, but left me free to think and allowed me half the day after to pursue my own ends.

  6. "[...] this view of things is a rather romantic delusion, entertained only by a small elite of people who happen, like professors, perhaps journalists, and so on, to be in the very privileged situation of being paid to do what anyway they like to do."

    Well, what can I say? Right on. Fuck work, I just need money -- and a graceful exit, which I might be able to acquire with enough bucks, though I want it to be a basic right. I mean come on now people, no one signed up for this crap. This is a shithole, simple as that. I'm alive because some dumb, horny #$!* forced me into this hellhole and I'll die and be forgotten. And now I am supposed to marvel at this? To feel happy?
    I've exhausted all my "coping strategies" and will likely end up on disability (several illnesses, especially but not limited to the mental realm). Do I feel ashamed? No. I did not ask for this crap, and given the facts of existence, I see no point in working my ass off only to survive for a kind of random period of time. Nature will kill me brutally in the end anyway. Fuck. I mean: F. U. C. K. It's just all so depressing. I see no point in it anymore. Sorry.

    1. Nothing to apologize for.

      I hope, also, that open, not-hiding-in-the-shadows access to graceful exits is legalized.

  7. "I’m sure you understand:-)"

    Of course! Right on! Great piece!

    To (last) Anonymous:

    Feel welcome then, fellow sufferer.


  8. Anonymous, hear hear and bravo to everything you say! "No one signed up for this crap" - words to remember whenever one feels guilty about how one's feeling, or worries about not fitting in with the "happy round" that all of the "sunshine people" are so caught up in. I also know what you mean re.coping strategies. It just gets harder and harder as you get older. And ending up on disability sounds like an excellent option as far as I can see; I know people who've gone that road and, to be frank, I envy them. Any way to cope with this fucking nightmare!

    Shadow, thanks as always, man. Hope things are tolerable with you....

  9. Thanks for the comments, Shadow and Karl.

    Good point regarding "sunshine people": in my opinion, evolution is not a nice story. It's pretty crude and pointless. Not really something you'd want teach to children about (at least if you're after a honest version, not some strange "story" of how humans -- THE species -- "finally" arrived and now wallow in their own awesomness: I mean really, please get real, some people actually believe this.)

    So I think that the scientific facts about our existence are pretty grim and not very uplifting, but then add to this a society full of (mostly) loonies! It's depressing. Not that I'm one of the few "enlightened" ones, but I think I see a few things others don't. If at least most people were pessimists, life would be a bit more bearable. (Sometimes, you actually hear people saying that one shouldn't be such a pessimist. What hogwash! I wish they were!)

    Sorry for commenting twice. I've lurked here for a while and am not a native speaker. Please pardon any mistakes.
    (Yes, I've got low self-esteem, too. Life is mostly a struggle for me: art and "nature" can be pleasant and distracting, but mostly I find life, like Woody Allen, to be a pretty grim, brutal and nightmarish experience. I regret having been born. I don't hate my parents [who did a rather sloppy job], but I'm not grateful for their "gift" either. They forced it onto me, simple as that. It's depressing that people actually argue these fundamentals with Gary [inmendham].)

    Anyway, thanks for this blog, it's one of the few places on the net I check regularly.

    1. "So I think that the scientific facts about our existence are pretty grim and not very uplifting, but then add to this a society full of (mostly) loonies!"

      Hear, hear!

      We live among a species where -- to borrow from the "new atheists" of which I was an ardent, aggressive member until extremely recently -- most people have imaginary friends such as God or Jesus or any of thousands of other gods or spirits, or believe in astrology, or are caught up in the easily disproved (and equally easily disbelieved!) optimism bias, and so on, including hardly least, no coherent material basis for believing in the illusion of contra-causal free will.

      But if we go, "Hang on a minute, here. I noticed that we all die and, in the meantime, it's bloody hard. It hurts. In fact, not only do we have tens upon tens of millions of trained humans whose job it is to use variously destructive weapons to kill and maim other humans, in any sizeable city on Earth, people get tortured in basements. And how many women and children are raped again? 30% of people get cancer? Did you say 30%!?! Diabetes, heart disease, schiozophrenia, malaria -- what are those? Oh, grieving? Estrangement? Hmm. There doesn't seem to be a lot of point to this; I don't want to play this game anymore," then you are crazy, and need medication for your mental illness!

      The "mental illness" of seeing reality, and grasping its implications.

  10. Even in the case of jobs that are reasonably pleasant, I think that just knowing we HAVE to work in order to earn a living makes it more painful. People who are independently wealthy sometimes still work, but they don't have to do any work they don't want to, and they can always take comfort in the knowledge that they don't need to work, and could quit at any time if they stopped liking it. I think work would also be less painful if we had a legal, comfortable, and effective method of suicide available. It would be much easier to get through life in general knowing we could always kill ourselves effectively in a non-painful way when we were ready.

    1. "I think work would also be less painful if we had a legal, comfortable, and effective method of suicide available. It would be much easier to get through life in general knowing we could always kill ourselves effectively in a non-painful way when we were ready."


      It sounds like you read Sister Y's illusion of control post, and either way, I agree entirely.

      I have some personal experience showing that something like this is so too.

  11. I think that just knowing we HAVE to work in order to earn a living makes it more painful.

    So true, Stacy. The other day my friend, an amateur astronomer, fell in a conversation with a professional astronomer. When my friend mentioned that astronomy is so thrilling and almost told the professional astronomer I'd love to be an astronomer instead, the professional astronomer said anything we 'dabble in' seems so much more interesting.

    While I can still see that there are things I'd rather do for a living, I know I will find them less enjoyable when I actually do them for a living.

    Indeed, wish we didn't have to spend SO MUCH time to just earn a decent living. I recently read http://fineillstartagoddamnblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/feminism-could-have-definitely-worked.html -- what a beautiful piece of work.

  12. “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner”
    There's a sad irony, in that whenever "Modern Civilisation" comes accross those living such ideals, it eventually succombs to a rage to erase their modus vivendi: wildlife projects, forced assimilation and reforestation are things many "isolated" peoples have been fighting against for many decades up to a century (even within Europe itself, there's the example of the Saami). But "We" only do this because "THEY are the bane of sustainability" ...

    Need to add though, that I don't idealise pre-industrial life as something worth living; but it does appear something less worth killing yourself as fast as possible in - if you've never inhaled the added aroma of the industrial tobacco, that would be.

    This also makes me wonder how more depressing our standard of life (and how more the chase) will become, when there'll be an even more substantial upper-class with an internally more standardised higher level of prosperity, that becomes a large second norm to compare with. Of course, then we will just be another kind of bane to the 'good' life and with a "jealousy that can only be invalid", and so on and so on ...

    Well, blah... just some thoughts that welled up.
    Lo, all. Great blogpost. It's March.

  13. Anonymous, thanks for your comment. Again, I can only express my absolute agreement with everything you say. I've often wondered how parents explain evolution to their kids: "By the way, Bobby, you're the just the random product of millions of years of the development of a blind bunch of chemistry. And you're mortal. And the world is full of apes who won't think twice about hurting you if you get in their way. And you'll lose us before you die. And you'll die yourself. Ain't it great!" Funnily enough, a kid of 12 told me the other day that he didn't believe in evolution and that it was obvious crap. Said God had made him. There ya go...

    And Anonymous, please, you can comment as often as you wish. And your English is flawless. I wouldn't have thought you weren't a non-native speaker if you hadn't told us.

    Stacy, agreed. Once you HAVE to do anything, it becomes less attractive. Obligtion = bondage = mental strangulation.

    Srikant, yeah, the amount of time needed is horrendous. As I'm continually saying, 4 hours a day is the max we should be obliged to slave for. Otherwise, there's no dignity.

    Bazompora, spot on. I think there's a massive amount of resentment going on in modern civilisation. People cannot stand to see others successfully evading the shit they're in themselves and will generally try and drag them into it also. This is regularly cloaked under language like "the need to modernize", "the need to develop" etc.

    "I don't idealise pre-industrial life as something worth living." Nor do I, although I will say that after spending most of my life in a city of 110,000 people with easy access to the countryside, and then moving a year ago to a metropolis of 11 million where there isn't a sign of a grassblade the quality of my life has significantly deteriorated. Most of what we call civilisation is superflous and is designed to engender new needs to keep the new sun-god, "the economy" sated. Fuck that shit, I say.

    And yes, the rich will get richer, and accept that as the norm, while the middle-class fume even more about being deprived of access to that "magic circle", and the poor will continue to slave for no real reason bar keeping the other two groups secure in their smug self-regard.

    By the way, Inmendham's latest two videos entitled 'WarblesOnALot' are well worth watching as a classic restatement of AN principles and are a fine demolition job of yet another life-lover offended by having his complacencies challenged.

  14. Funnily enough, a kid of 12 told me the other day that he didn't believe in evolution and that it was obvious crap. Said God had made him. There ya go...
    Do twelve-year-olds know that their being born is a conscious decision made by their parents?

    I really would like to know at what age kids understand that their birth was completely avoidable. I think this age is monitored very carefully in every societies to achieve the levels of natalistic philosophy we see everywhere.

    moving a year ago to a metropolis of 11 million where there isn't a sign of a grassblade
    You should watch Wimbledon. =D

  15. Work: As Chomsky said, if it's a job you're truly interested in, fine. To repeat your remarks, how much of it is like that?

    As I recall Todd (I believe it was who did) relayed to us about Benatar's remarks, at best, life is like a mediocre movie - not so horrid that you'd want to leave, but you certainly wouldn't recommend it for others who haven't seen the flick yet.

    You're born, you grow and struggle, reach adulthood, then struggle some more - then die. So what?

  16. I go on about this shit all the time... there is no rational reason for anyone in the modern world to work more than five hours a day. But we drive ourselves crazy trying to invent bullshit marketing jobs for ourselves, because we need to feel "useful" for 40 hours a week or else the old Protestant God will come and crush us for the sin of sloth. When EVERYTHING PEOPLE DO IS AT BEST USELESS ANYWAY.

  17. Filrabat, so what indeed? Alas, it's the futile pain and misery of it all that makes it significant, but not, unfortunately, significant in a good sense.

    Ann, great to see you drop by. I reckon we could get by even with four hours a day, although perhaps people's ridiculously inflated needs might mean it's five. I think you're on to something as well with the religious underpinnings of the work cult (Weber's work on the Protestant work ethic etc.) And yes, what we do is at best useless, and at worst HORRIBLY POINTLESS AND PAINFUL.

  18. Ann, Karl,

    It's easy for First World folks to talk. =(

    Four or five hours of work a day can't get pig shit in some countries.

    In India and China, you know, if you've got some uncommon ability, maybe something like being able to touch the wrist with a fingernail from the same hand, chances are there'll still be at least a thousand from the country who can do that.

    And India and China hold well over a third of the world's population.

    That also means, if you do some magic and turned 99.99% of these countries antinatalist, you'll still have over 25 million people making (millions of) more babies.

    Hell, we're screwed SO BADLY!

  19. Hey, Srikant. I feel for you, man. Your comment reminds me how blase people in this part of the world are about rising population figures. People don't seem to register that more people = equals lower quality of life. No doubt their complacency will catch up with them one day, and in certain parts of Europe it probably already has. A friend of mine and I are always saying that Ireland's recent economic crash was probably the best thing that could have happened to the country, as it'll discourage immigration and may make the natives think carefully about reproducing.

  20. Srikant: Speak for yourself! I don't know where you live, but here in Chicago the "first world" labor force is so overabundant--not to mention the fact that we're competing with a steady flow of steadily breeding incoming third world labor--that I really don't feel I'm living in the first world any longer. Employers can pay people with two degrees and computer skills the minimum wage, and more and more employers are going off the books and paying sub-minimum wages in cash.

  21. (Sure, you see well-dressed people driving around in fancy cars, but you see that in India and China too.)

  22. @ Srikant again: Ah, I see, you live in India. Your post made me think you lived in some Scandinavian fairyland where a living minimum wage was still enforced. Hey, if schadenfraude makes you feel better, 5 hours of work won't get most people in the U.S. pig shit either these days. We're talking about the way a better world would run, not the one we're living in.

  23. (We can produce what we need to live with everyone working four or five hours a day, considering the technology we have--but NOT while labor is subject to the "free" market ["free" market being a darkly hilarious term, considering what percentage of the world's population is forced to sell its labor at the going price or starve... and yet the slaves keep making babies!])

  24. Anyone here familiar with The Abolition of Work by Bob Black? I came across that about five years ago, shortly after I got my first job[1]. I've only read it once but I remember it being an interesting read.

    The picture he paints is a little too rosy, but it fit me just fine back then when I didn't realize how seriously shitty everything really was. We can't create paradise on Earth, but I'm pretty sure we could get really close with the right mindset. And shitty jobs shouldn't be too hard to automate if we redesign our lives around automation a bit more. The Venus Project seems to be working in this direction.

    Well, I'm hopeful. But it's mostly false hope.

    [1] What?! That's only five years ago? Seems like an eternity!

  25. In fact we can pretty much see the effects of the so called free market in todays world. Everywhere in the planet nowadays there is economical crisis.

  26. Tim, cheers for the Bob Black piece! It pretty much sums up everything I've been groping toward in my past few posts. I'll be using it in the next installment on the dreaded work topic. Cheers again.

    Ann, yeah "free market". Free in the same way rats in a cage are free to run around the cage. I've noticed that the strongest Libertarians (as in the asshole variety of Libertarianism) generally live behind state-run and state-protected institutions while urging the free-market on others, the hypocritical bastards.

    Shadow, there's also an intellectual crisis, as in no one can think outside the box of mindless, endless and pointless production.

  27. That Bob Black anti-work idea has been floating around for years n years... you'd think it would catch on but people are only virtuous slackers in their youth/dreams it seems...

  28. Ann,

    Sorry haven't been around in the last two or three days. I too did think for this thing while about the "free market" -- actually about how 'money' makes everything so different. I hope to post something on that some time ... Hell, I should post more actively on my blog ...

    Let's see if I do something this weekend.

  29. Work is useless to begin with and to tie one's living rights to it is diabolical.

    Work exists because of the slaughterhouse of life and the need/desire of humans. Remove the desire/need, no more work is needed.

    All the action we did or will ever do includes some indirect manipulation of matter to yield some stupid result convenient for the capitalistic consumption culture of the world.

    None of it matters and none of it carries any meaning. All work ever did was annoy and destroy people and whatever semblance of fun they thought they could extract from it.

    Even if life was an utopia, if someone told me that I had to forcefully work to maintain it, I would rather remain in non-existence and never be born.

    There is no rationale for why anyone should be born and then left to fend for themselves within a world they never agreed to and according to the rules they reject and think are moronic and serve no end.

    The whole human enterprise is just a joke. If I was a putative intelligence in a different galaxy, I would just blast this planet to hell because it never did anything worthwhile but just attempted to fix problems (through work) that were never there until they came!

    1. Awesome comments here, and this is one such example.

      Fight on, brothers.

    2. Thanks, Shadow!

      Yeah, it's insane, isn't it? Wake up, get dressed, go to place for 8 hours, toil, make inane conversation, go home, flop, sleep. Repeat ad mortem.

      The three most depressing words in the world, heard in workplaces at 5.30: "See you tomorrow".

    3. Yeah, I don't understand that. What are they so happy about that they all need to go back to work the next day? Look above you on the sky assholes and see how insignificant you are and how meaningless your goals are. You are worse than bugs who are carrying out the same survival function but at least they don't need to worry about abstract awareness of all that crap! No need to worry about all the shit that we worry about!

      Truly the most miserable sentience there could ever be. A total, complete failure.

    4. Yeah, the animals have it easy (as long as they're not being hunted/tortured/eaten by humans).

      As for work, it's life in miniature: it's bad enough to have to do it, but to be expected to be enthusiastic about it also! No thanks!

    5. Mother Earth Father Space.
      Once scientists published that human DNA was 99% ape, and 1% alien, it all fell into place for me. Government whistle blowers have helped fill in the rest of mankinds story. The truth about human history expelled a lot of anexity, confusion and depression for me, which I hope it does for you.

      It seems that long ago, a higher and much older form of intelligent being wanted to harvest our planet of it's natural resources at the time. They simply created a self reproducing biological slave species to assist them. By mixing 1 cup money and 1 pinch alien. Being wise, they wanted their creation to be self governing but not enough to ever seek them out and destry them. Instead, they intalled a perpupetually loop of self destruction. And once their task was completed, as a reward, they left their slave species to govern their world.

      And that's where we come in. We are most likely the decendents of the original ruling class. Capable of seeing the hordes with compassion and knowing what is best for them and their survival. Yet completely powerless to do anything. The management of the slaves was our ancestors task. Yet our masters are long gone, and our purpose long over. The contract fulfilled.

      Throughout history, all goverments are overthrown. And power currupts. It's the fail safe mechanisim to keep our species in a sate of rebellion that will always lead to self destruction. It was designed that way. So even if the best of us were in power, the end result will always be the same. It's a mathamatical equation.

      Deep down you alredy know this and it gnaws away at any happiness you might feel at the moment. But like anything, it's all about how you choose to view it. We actually do have a few choices. A man with one leg can still find contentment once he accetps his limitations. But there is no natural law that says he has to. You can join the rebellion and die fighting if you want. Or you can live off the land in a remote location. You can commit suicide and fade to black. Or become a criminal master mind. That's the wonderful truth in all this. You are part of a dying slave race with no future and nothing you do matters. That is the truth treasure buried within it all. It's the reward our ancestors were given. Complete run of the grounds they harvested. Nothing you do matters so why not have a little fun in it all? Or not. You are free.