“But Don’t People Need to Work?”

What most people think will happen if they stop working

What most people think will happen if we have a society that has abolished work.

I’m writing this to address a concern I got from a few friends of mine about my post concerning the State of the Union Address.

Their first problem was something like this:

Well I don’t have a problem with Obama saying we need more jobs because people in the current economy really do need jobs to live and survive. So it doesn’t appear as problematic as you’re trying to make it seem.

That’s a somewhat fair response and I think I should clear the air on this topic if I haven’t before.

The short answer is yes people do need jobs (or just money) in a lot of cases to survive.

Strictly speaking it is possible to live and even have a moderately good life without money but it’s not going to be easy and to do it you’re probably going to have to give up a lot of things you may not want to part with. So I am not denying that people need jobs in the current economy except in those rare cases where people decide to live without money. And I don’t expect (or desire) everyone to do that.

When I lament Obama calling for jobs or saying that more people need jobs I am not lamenting the fact that he wants people to have the opportunity to survive. I am not against people surviving or people taking a job in corporations just to get by. We all do what we have to to survive and make a living, etc. What I am objecting to is that the way in which Obama wants people to live is made out of fairly authoritarian structures and relations within those structures.

That doesn’t mean I am gonna stop someone from getting a job or shame them for taking a job somewhere. This especially wouldn’t happen because I currently work in retail. And that would make me a hypocrite.

So my lament doesn’t have anything to do with people getting jobs or needing jobs, or at least not in the sense that I am denying that they currently need them. My complaint comes from the fact that what we actually need in the long run are not jobs. I didn’t make this clear I will admit and perhaps I just hadn’t even thought of it like this. In the short run? Sure, jobs are necessary to some extent or another to survive. I know that personally and so I can’t really argue otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the long term solution like Obama and other politicians seem to think it is. The longer-term solutions to making people’s lives better isn’t sticking them under bosses within businesses they don’t care about, doing work that they hate every day. That isn’t exactly a comforting solution much less a very fulfilling one. And in any case it doesn’t sound like it would lead to more progress, in fact it sounds like the opposite.

And this talk of short term and long term brings me to the second problem that another friend brought up:

The ideology of anti-work is good but it won’t really matter to people because without knowing what to do instead it’s irrelevant to most people except those that already agree. So you should focus on the alternatives to work so people can still live and survive while eschewing traditional forms of labor that you’re against.

This is another totally legitimate and fair point to make. Hopefully the posts from Mr. Wilson and my few tips on how to slack off at work have helped alleviate this problem a little. A lot of the beginning stuff though will be ideological though. I can’t really help the fact that most of the people in the world don’t even understand some of what I am saying or care. So part of what I feel I must do is to give the practice and the ideology.

Both are really important and I hope I will give sufficient ground to both as time goes along in the site. But in general I know more about the theoretics than the practice, at least for now.

That said, I’m not encouraging people to just blindly quit their jobs or start a business. In fact, I know I’ve probably been relatively silent about what people should do or how they should do it. Part of the reason for that is simply because I feel more at ease talking about the theoretical stuff than the practical. It isn’t like I don’t have any practical suggestions (I’ll list a few shortly) but as an anarchist I don’t always feel comfortable telling people what they should specifically do with their lives on big choices like this. Especially when individual lives can be so specific to each other and what I say for one person may not apply to someone else.

So, at the risk of making some sort of pretense of knowledge, I do have general ideas about how to approach abolishing work in our own lives.

Here are a few.

First, the project of abolition for me is radical but also gradual. I try to take a sort of gradualist revolutionary stance. That is to say that we’re gradually trying to make better life for ourselves and the people we care about in small and perhaps less notable ways. But these same ways keep building on each other as they branch further and further out. And eventually as a compounding effect the individual effects become more networked and pronounced. By that time, revolutionary change is hopefully going to be more practical. If so, then people could approach radical change much more quickly and easily.

Given I support such a thing, it wouldn’t be reasonable to suggest that I want people to just quit their jobs and risk starvation, homelessness, etc.

Instead I’d suggest gradually weaning away from traditional forms of employment. That isn’t even work itself it could be argued but just the worst kinds of forms of it. Even if work in a cooperative or on your own can still be bad in the current economy, in some ways you still may be better off. For example not having to deal with bosses (I don’t buy the notion that customers are “bosses” in the same sense) or having more flexibility or general autonomy.

In any case, that’s the general gist of my strategy in my own lifetime because I think it’s fairly achievable and you can be at least somewhat consistent and honest in it. And what I mean by this weaning of traditional employment is to stay at whatever job you hate for now and try to be able to build up the resources. Resources that will help to break off from that job and do something different and hopefully better.

That doesn’t mean your own business necessarily, though it could if you’d like to and you think you can. It can mean working at a cooperative or it could mean working at simply a more lax business than the one you are at. It could mean building a skill while you’re working at something you hate so you can work within a field you really enjoy. Or perhaps you could use these added resources to just take a break from work. Go on a vacation or go traveling or writing that novel you always wanted to do and see if you can get it published.

So there are a bunch of possibilities that I am trying to leave open and I definitely want it to be as practical, smooth and easy for people. I don’t have a “program” so to speak. I am not gonna give you some sure-fire “12 step program” to help you live autonomously once and for all. But hopefully the gradual approach mixed with better and better conditions for yourself via improved (or shared) resources, having more time to yourself, more time for creative urges and so on can reasonably help people’s lives improve.

And hopefully this post has made people more aware that I am not a strict ideological person when it comes to this. I don’t want or expect everyone to go into independent contracting, cooperatives, collectives, mutual partnerships and whatever else tomorrow. I don’t really think the culture at large would be necessarily ready for this sudden shift in structure, though perhaps that is paternalistic of me to assume.

In any case, the idea of immediatism strikes me as wildly unhelpful. I think it’s more likely to lead to a lot more unnecessary suffering than the gradual approaches I’ve laid out here. Education, dual power and direct action are all of my usual go-to option when it comes to a better society. Not pushing magical buttons so that we may wreck havok upon the world.

So for the people who still need to work, by all means, work.

But always try to have one eye towards the door.


One thought on ““But Don’t People Need to Work?”

  1. Pingback: The (Lazy) 100th Post Spectacular! | Abolish Work

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