Life as Accountancy

There’s an interesting conceptual framing in the introduction to Let’s Destroy Work, Let’s Destroy the Economy which is written by Alfred M. Bonanno with the introduction itself done by Jean Weir.

Indeed, there are many good things to glean from the introduction (and quite a few more question-begging things) but this in particular struck me:

The pernicious mixture of hatred and dependency at the basis of the work relationship atrophies the individual, reducing life to a question of accountancy. ‘Free time’, a mere negative quantity ranging from a few hours between days at work, to months or even years between jobs, can be survived by performing a number of rituals. Shopping, watching TV, doing voluntary work or going on adventure holidays to far away places can fill gaps and prevent any feelings of anguish which might lead to putting the whole setup in question. If all else fails, capital’s white-coated auxiliaries are always on hand to prescribe the latest psychotropic fix tailored to produce a dim glow of indifference. (emphasis added)

Everything in life becomes reduced down to how it affects your job. How much free time can I spend in a day? How much I can talk back to my boss and assert my autonomy? How much self-respect can I actually try to obtain in this relationship? What will asserting myself in this not-job relationship do to my job relationship where I am exploited and treated poorly? How many movies can I watch on Netflix? What TV shows can I watch? What will happen if I talk back to the boss or try to act on my own? Could I take that risk with my family? What if we lost the house? What if I lost them?

All of these questions and thousands more have the owners of capital (political and economic) tied us down to their relations, their values and their ideas about how society ought to work. If we aren’t operating within the existing paradigm then we risk losing the benefits of the current one and putting ourselves or perhaps worse, innocent loved ones, in the crossfire of social war.

There are similar conflicts to have about bringing ideological social conflict into the workplace. How will it affect a co-worker you happen to like? Will it make an innocent customer who has no real idea about the exploitation that goes on suffer too? Do they deserve it just for their innocence if they do suffer?

And there are plenty of other factors and paths to consider and tread lightly on. It may a sort of ideological war but that doesn’t mean there aren’t eggshells to watch out for.

Unfortunately these eggshells are a lot less important to most of us when our lives have been reduced to vibrant ones with so much new information, new clarity, new explosions in our imagination and creativity to dull, boring and monotonous lives. Made up of short laughs and shorter pleasures. We can no longer enjoy our own time as our own much less our pleasures as our own. These pleasures belong (at least in part) to our jobs, our boss, the companies we work for.

Capital doesn’t end just with jobs and bosses though it also extends to how integrated we are with the current capitalism system. What is our credit rating? Does our stuff look okay? Do the neighbors notice how dingy our once white picket fence is? Will the teacher notice how ragged our child’s clothing is?

Things are reduced to social status and these statuses become stratified and isolated from everyone. Appropriated, accumulated and monopolized by certain people with certain interests who just happen to fall within certain classes. These certain classes, by the way, tend to have a certain amount of social, economic and political privilege too. But that’s just a coincidence.

Their lives are not a matter of accounting or at least they don’t need to be. Some who don’t have to be in that position still feel they need to be. Sometimes the people on top really do work themselves hard. But of course this work ethic is not only a self-destructive one but one that also beckons the destruction for the rest of us. If we have no real time for play, leisure and fun then where is our lives? Are our lives to be reduced to numbers, graphs, statistics, boring meetings and more? Should we reduce ourselves to whatever the prevailing economic system entails and leave it there?

So long as our lives are mere accounting and not something that has many varying spaces to allow us to explore ourselves and the spaces of others we will not be free. We will not see the end of work and the end of this economy and the beginning of a new and (hopefully) much better one until we destroy work and destroy the economy.

And unlike the insurrectionary anarchists I do not necessarily think this destruction requires violence. Though that may have a part to play in terms of self-defense or organizing neighborhood defense units and the like. It may require people to be armed and to know how to use these armaments effectively and safely. But ideally it would not include a terrible amount of bloodshed (and I hope none at all).

Of course, I don’t expect the ruling class to just give up but then attacking embedded social institutions doesn’t require bombs or anything like that. It requires building alternatives and supplanting the existing social order with entities that can help others gain the necessary material conditions to revolt more effectively. So that they may be able to actually live in some limited fashion and thus be able to resist more effectively. Mutual aid and direct act are synergistic in this way that one is needed for the other to succeed.

If we want our lives to be our own, if we want to “…encounter … real desires and create the means required to realise them … [and reach] some surprises and … undreamed choices.” then we must destroy work and destroy the economy.

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  1. Pingback: Excerpts from, “Against Productivity”, by Quinn Norton | Abolish Work

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