One of the most infuriating parts of holding a counter-intuitive idea is that people will sometimes shift the blame. They’ll tell you that you just have the wrong perspective or attitude about it. That you aren’t giving your all or that if you just tried a little harder things would get better. Often they’ll just shrug and say, “yeah, well, that’s just the way things are.”
I literally had this happen to me about a week ago within an anarchist collective I am a part of and during Christmas Eve at distant relatives.
In the second example I remember hearing someone complain about work and their life and their own brother be mostly nonchalant about it. He just kept giving him a “hang in there, it’s bound to get better!” attitude about it and it caught me off-guard as I heard the conversation. I just can’t imagine hearing about something like that and saying, “oh, that’s just life:”.
On the first example that I had this sort of conversation it was with someone who I didn’t know very well but wouldn’t have expected them to be so complacent sounding. This isn’t to demean them, mind you. But it just was a really weird thing to hear that sort of attitude. Granted they had been working many hours and seemed to be exhausted and so perhaps they just didn’t have thy energy to sympathize (ironically) at the time. But here I managed to say something in reply like, “hey that’s why we do this stuff, right? to change things!” and I don’t remember getting much of a reply.
On a fundamental level I understand it:It is a lack of belief that much will effectively change in our lives and so we gotta make the best of the situation that we are currently dealing with.
To some degree I can even sympathize. I definitely wouldn’t tell someone who was struggling to pay rent and the basic necessities of life to strike through idling or to try to knock their precarious life situation all at once in one grand movement. If the situation is bad enough I may not even want to advise small steps if I think it would be too difficult.
Instead, perhaps I’d consul some long-term things. Now, I suck with this personally so perhaps I’m not the ideal person to give this sort of advice. Nevertheless I think it’d probably be a good idea. Just ask them: In 5 years, do you want to be in this same situation? What do you think you could do to get out? I won’t even suggest a method, I just want you to think about it.”
Now, I don’t know how effective this would be universally but I think that generally speaking it may be a good idea to just start slowly with these sorts of questions and try to go from there to actual implementation of methods that would work best.
The whole situation is also indicative of focusing the blame, not on the system at large (for if that were true then we’d all really be in trouble) but on the individual in question.
When I was thinking about this, I remembered a song by the pop-punk band The Offspring called Why don’t you get a job?
The song spends most of its time painting fairly sterotypical pictures of slackers and people who don’t want to work. Offspring is actually downright conservative with their idea of slackers. Apparently to them the people who don’t want to work are totally able to but just lazy, irresponsible and we don’t treat our partners very well either or are rude in general.
To be fair I am lazy, am probably capable of working some jobs (though not others) and can be irresponsible at times (though I don’t think I am such in any systematic way) but I consider these things (largely anyways) virtues in comparison to the alternative: to get a job. Clearly the guy watching TV and eating food while his wife slaved away knew this on one level or another even if he wasn’t such a good role model on how to get away from jobs.
But even if a few of these things are (sometimes) true for me or for others, so what? That doesn’t mean that the system can’t be corrupt or ineffective or something else entirely does it? It doesn’t mean that the way we as a culture in the US and elsewhere think about work isn’t fucked up does it? Even if I love being lazy and disregarding social norms at times I don’t do these things to harm others and they hardly ever do. So what’s the use in using people like me as an example?
I think part of the problem here is fear. People are afraid of what slackers and bums represent. Although people typically express a lack of empathy, anger, annoyance and so on, I think that some of it comes from fear. A fear that the society they are in is in actuality really fucked up and fucks over a lot of people. Why else would someone not want to work? It could be because they are just lazy (though I am skeptical that this is often the case, we humans tend to be more complex than that). but it could also be because they hate the concept of work. That they dislike the society they are in and maybe that means you have good reasons as well.
I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who slacks off or doesn’t like work is an ally of mine. Some of these people can still have awful positions on other things but it is sort of like they have a “gut” feeling about these issues. They feel instinctively that something is wrong but don’t know or don’t care to explain it or look into it.
Putting the responsibility all on the individual to get a job or whatever in an economy where options are limited, bosses hold most of the power (or else boss-led unions do) and your pay is probably going to be minimal if you don’t have “the right skills” it doesn’t seem fair to keep putting it on the individual. To some extent you’re going to have to realize the The Offspring’s question is unfair and belies a failure to recognize systematic and cultural failures in our society.
The failure to emphasize critical thinking about the system we live under, to de-emphasize people who are “just being negative” and the emphasis on pushing things away from others lived experiences are all around terrible things. They push others to become more complacent and more tolerant of shitty situations. It makes them question if they even do deserve anything better sometimes.Instead of being critical of our situations and trying to raise alternatives we should just work until we’re dead (or somewhat close to death) and not get so upset about life.
This is life? This is living? Giving up most of your time in a given day, week, month, year or whatever for little pay, little control over your own conditions and to have a good amount taken by your boss and the government? Is that supposed to be living?
Why don’t I get a job?
Why don’t you stop being so apathetic?