Thursday, November 24, 2022

On work.

I hear all the time from local business owners and my neighbors the same statement: ‘No one wants to work anymore.’ 

There is a lot that we could unpack from this very specific location of rural upstate red-county truths; but I might argue that people are simply not willing to do the jobs that society offers anymore. The old ways of working are simply - not working. 

I think about work all the time and how to re-evaluate it here on the farm. 

At present, the larch trees are turning and dropping their needles after all the maple and oak leaves seem long fallen, it’s as if we get a second autumn. We deserve it I tell myself. 

When I first landed here 11 autumns ago I thought the trees were sick and dying. I was sick myself at the time over climate change, preoccupied by news; guzzling and drunk on liberal doomsday fantasies. (To think that was a time before Trump, before the loss of Roe…)

When the needles fall it sounds like rain on the deck of my cabin - I often can’t tell the difference. They get in everything - the dog gags them up in coughing fits after they stick to her frisbee. The needles end up occupying a notable percentage of our kale and carrot salads - so much so that I feel compelled to google their toxicity (moderately tolerable.)

In my daily chore routine at the farm, I spend a significant amount of time sweeping the larch needles from the deck of the cabin before I bring in firewood and water. This is work I think - small work I do as a part of the larger work in this place. (But what constitutes large and small work anyway? and to whom? What is meaningful work?)

Almost none of my friends have corporate jobs anymore; few of them have 'careers' that I could easily describe in the way my parents might have; Susan: teacher, Pentti auto-body repair man

Many of the brilliant people who have built this project over the years and gone off for their own endeavors, have work and projects that are beautifully difficult to describe in career or corporate business speak. Most of them I would categorize as artists - a useful catch-all for the intersection of work and the manifestation of creative desire. They work for money - Taryne and Zoe are installing a plant wall at the Uniqlo on Broadway in NYC as I type this - and make strange worlds in their own time see: Takata, Fuzz Industries, Secret Meeting.

Many people I know are in transition. Close friends have taken time off or removed themselves from their careers in order to revaluate their lives. One might see these transitions as the stuff of mid-life crisis, couched in a current milieu of existential narcissism, but a lot of the people I'm talking to are figuring out how to position themselves between the need to earn a living and take care of themselves and their families and how to make (or be a part of) meaningful changes in the world. 

Being with oneself outside of the cultural apparatus of career can be an excruciating process. Career is identity, stability, and it leads to predictable outcomes. One knows how to answer questions about oneself at cocktail parties. 

I think we’re walking into a future where people won’t have jobs anymore.  People will always perform ‘work’ (as all living things in nature do). They will string different types of work together for survival and for celebration. Some will focus on highly specified work others work will vary widely. But the idea of having a ‘job’ will be fade into history. People will follow leaders and work together with others but there will be no more bosses. Some people will still be miserable when they have to do work, some will always resent working, some people will die working. Some people will do certain kind of work in order to avoid other kinds. (Sweeping is this for me.) But working will just feel like living. 

James is here and says that my attitude is optimistic; he introduces me to a more cynical future:  we will all be debt slaves in Martian colonies serving Lord-Emporer Elon Musk. One might also consider the ‘company-town’ model of live-work employment illustrated in chilling detail in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You.

Certainly the essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber addresses the trouble with managerial capitalism (i.e. once upon a time there were only workers and capitalists) and it's scripture of organized hierarchies (teams, departments, administrations, etc). As the work of the world becomes more automated, we've invented meaningless jobs to keep people busy. Because people who are working all the time (and consuming with their earnings in their free time) make for reliable members of society - Graeber argues that happy people with free time are dangerous to the ruling class.

I like to imagine specific paradigm shifts and it occurs to me that maybe there is a future where we don't have 'white collar' jobs anymore. Where there are no more corporations. Where there are no more doctors or lawyers or accountants. No more Firms. No more industrial agriculture, no more prisons. Where the work of these types of people and places is done in more localized, relationship-based ways. Some people will still be healers, others organizers or numbers people, we’ll all be engineers in some ways. We’ll all be artists and we’ll all be more connected to the physical needs of our survival.

Emergence is new unrecognizable forms lifting out of old ones. I see it like a magic eye poster. I think am I seeing the dolphin!?



Dallas said...

I’m one of these people. The pandemic shook my out of my bullshit job and I started an “artist” who works for money situation. It is the best thing I’ve ever done and the happiest I’ve ever been except for the terror of financial insecurity. I have kids. At times it feels irresponsible.

Not sure where you are with TV but the vision your describe for a new society reminded me of the one depicted in Station Eleven (the show version more than the book version). Worth a watch. The first episode is rough but then it gets very beautiful.

josh f said...

Hmm…I’m with James on this one but interesting ideas. I’ve always appreciated your work ethic.