A piece by the Guardian UK’s Peter Fleming called Work is no cure for illness – the 24/7 culture is making us sick makes many interesting points while highlighting a then recent story. Ian Smith, a conservative party politician announced back in the summer of 2015 that he planned on having people fund their own sick days.
The reasoning could be some sort of toxic individualism that claims it’s our responsibility to be healthy and so why should employers have to pay for it?
It’s obvious to most of us why this is silly but let’s run through it anyways.
Not all forms of sickness are preventable or knowable and most people don’t go out of their way to get sick but simply forget to wash their hands or hang around one too many sick people. Or they hang around people that don’t even know that their sick. Or sometimes they even go into the outside world (does Mr. Smith know what that is?) and catch a cold from the weather or another person’s feral sneeze that went past the person’s grasp.
…Also intentional sick-ins are totally a thing and should happen more often.
Anyways, most people aren’t members of the Industrial Workers of the World or reading this site (alas…) so it’s unlikely we have to worry about the intentions of people or their lack of “responsibility” when it comes to getting sick.
Now, notice I said that this is what the reasoning could be, Fleming highlights what it actually is (hint: it’s not much better and is possibly worse in some aspects):
It seems that the work and pensions secretary has apparently hit on the answer. Working can actually cure people of the serious afflictions that they erroneously thought exempted them from full-time employment.
As he stated: “There is one area on which I believe we haven’t focused enough – how work is good for your health. Work can help keep people healthy as well as help promote recovery if someone falls ill. So, it is right that we look at how the system supports people who are sick and helps them into work.”
Okay, this isn’t even worth directly addressing.
The sad part is I could’ve kept going with that list and I only put 10 “here”s because it was a nice even number.
But if you’re too lazy to look at any of those posts (I won’t blame you, promise) just a reminder that, “…those who work very long hours face a 33% increased risk of stroke…”
And that, “…researchers at the business and medical schools at Tel Aviv University teamed up to see if they could find a link between job burnout and heart disease, they got a surprise: The most disenchanted employees developed heart problems at a 79% higher rate than their less-stressed peers.”
In addition to that last bit, “During the follow-up period, 93 new cases of CHD were identified,” the report says. “Burnout was associated with a 40% increased risk … But the 20% of participants with the highest burnout scores had a 79% increased risk.”
Fleming himself cuts through this nonsense beautifully in one part:
Where the announcement is potentially dangerous is in the underlying message that nothing is broken within the employment sector in the UK. This message is aimed at a wider audience, those who are currently employed: work is fundamental to who you are and is the only source of fulfilment and wellbeing one can expect. It can even cure the sick.
That’s right, work can make you thinner, slimmer and more attractive!
It can turn water into wine!
It can turn you into Jesus!
I’m not a big fan of Fleming’s easy-going reference to “work will set you free” but I suppose it’s undeniable that the claim “work will make you healthy” has background assumptions buried within it that are fairly disturbing in their own right. I’ve never been a huge fan, more generally, of making easy-going Nazi comparisons to people who like work a bit too much. The subreddit r/antiwork (one of my favorite subreddits naturally) had it as its logo once and I’m glad it changed.
But making the claim that work can make you healthy in an intrinsic way is scary in both its lack of scientific vapidity and its staunch conservatism. Not to mention its devastating consequences for those most susceptible to the ruling class’s inept ideas about what constitutes reality. That’s no concentration camp, but it’s certainly deathly wrongheaded .
One issue I take with Fleming is when he says near his concluding paragraph:
Work itself is not intrinsically bad for you, it’s the social conditions around it that are the problem. Micro-management, minimum wages and a life inundated by debt can render even the most gratifying job a nightmare from hell.
To put it mildly, I disagree.
Work, as its structured currently by capitalism and the state is bad for you. That’s part and parcel because of the state and capitalism but even if we changed those social conditions and had a society without those elements it isn’t as if work would necessarily go away in the objectionable way that I use it.
Reason being that we can still have societies where work is socially encouraged or pressured in ways that cut off people’s opportunities and makes them more likely to go into some fields as opposed to other.
From a leftist side of things we could pick out cultural influences like sexism, racism and other harmful cultural norms that can bend, push and pull a society in many different directions. These norms in turn help make the individuals within that society taken along for the ride if these cultural norms are ingrained deeply enough and defended hard enough.
On the other hand, we can also look at things like nepotism, in-group biases and out-group biases and societies based on social capitalism (instead of material capitalism) that limit and frustrate individuals abilities to be able to perform on their own terms. Don’t have the right political beliefs or ideas about the world? You’re potentially going to get fired and if you’re lower class then you may just end up on the streets. Shame is a powerful tool and often the tool of the state for a reason. It’s a really shitty situation when leftists decide to use it to target their political enemies.
Often that’s because it can easily be turned back on them in terms of either PR or just from a pure mechanistic standpoint. There’s nothing saying that a community couldn’t keep transgender folks in hiding or in shame about their identities and thus this would externally limit trans folks abilities to work on their own terms, etc.
So yes, by all means let’s consider the social conditions of work.
I’m in favor of removing debt, minimum wages and micro-managing but those aren’t the root issues at play here.
And even attacking the root causes like capitalism and the state we still have cultural issues of sexism, racism and the issue of social capitalism in play.
Work isn’t going to be a simple thing to abolish, but that doesn’t mean we should settle for half-measures either.
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Next up we’ll be having a look at a film and then a short essay that Len Bracken was kind enough to send me!