I don’t know how The Truth came up in my Facebook feed but their audio project The Last Job was an interesting look at what a post-work world would look like.
It is mainly inspired by the economist John Maynard Keynes and his essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, it considers automation as key to our liberation from work.
Before you continue any further I highly encourage listening to it. It’s well produced, acted and in general I heavily enjoyed the narration and story.
That said, I disagreed very heavily with its depiction of what a post-work world might look like.
First off, the society is controlled by an organization called Quality Control (QC) and headed by an (ironically) work-obsessed father who wants nothing but perfection from the world. QC has the ability to impose regulations and use law enforcement (why are they still there if work has been abolished?) against “illegal” work places.
This of course backfires and a John Henry Society (JHS) is created that operates in order to set people up building “Unregulated man-made goods” instead of “perfect” and machine-made goods as is required. Our main character, David Kirsch is head of QC and the only worker there in any case, so he takes it upon himself to shut them down.
But instead of this having any sort of Streisand effect on the phenomenon it merely shuts down defective models by 98%.
I don’t think this was a very satisfying conclusion and it wasn’t particularly realistic either. The leader of the JHS warns Kirsch that he’ll be out of a job if he makes the JHS stop working and there’s all sorts of fun with this idea that could’ve been had with this conflict. Sadly, the narrative ends with Kirsch resigning himself to go to the beach with his daughter.
The resolution comes too quickly and while I understand there’s a limited budget to this sort of project, I wish they had explored Kirsch’s flaws a bit more. Instead we’re just left with him marveling over the “perfection” over a music box he was able to get fixed because of the investigation. The narrative is very well done but it’s full of missed opportunities.
Especially as an anarchist I don’t see why the system had to be so dystopian. Why would we stop other people from working if work is optional. Kirsch says from the get-go that work is optional and voluntary but in practice this system of laws, regulations and law enforcement only makes it so people can only work how QC wants them to.
It’s your basic “freedom for me but not for thee” set up and I don’t think it’s anything any anti-work advocate should pine for. Not the least of which because although I am not sure with the leader of the JHS that working is in “our nature” I do think that laboring is a big part of our lives and something that shouldn’t be restricted by institutions.
Look, if scientists want to spend 60-80 hours a week on finding a cure for disease or just testing different chemicals then why should we shut them down? Doing so doesn’t sound like freedom to me and it doesn’t seem like any sort of post-work world that I’d want to live in. Honestly, a lot of the world reminds me of Bellamy’s Looking Backwards but with a more explicit anti-work bent. It might be a liberal’s dream of the post-work world but it offers nothing for anarchists.
That said, it’s aesthetically an excellent piece. I can’t deny that the acting, direction and general pacing is fairly good. I was intrigued the whole time and paid fairly close attention. Especially as someone who can get distracted easily this was a sign of good art even if I disagree with the direction that the piece went in general.
For those curious, the alternatives to such a system seem to me to be no system at all.
Why should the anti-work bias be systematized in some sort of institutional way? I don’t see why we should regulate, control, harass, threaten and use violence (i.e. law enforcement) against anyone who wants to work in some general sense of simply laboring. Further, the idea that any institution would have the legitimacy to dictate these sorts of conditions to other individuals is foreign to me. Where do they get this authority, exactly?
But let’s leave all of that aside.
Even then I’d still object to this system because Kirsch is throwing away his life or the time with his daughter so he can work on…making everyone else not work? It’s a paradoxical situation that only highlights the imperfections of a world where we systematize the anti-work bias. This makes one person suffer so we can maximize the happiness and free time for the rest of society. And to me all of this adds up to a convenient excuse to justify self-sacrifice.
I’m not any sort of objectivist but I take the routinization of self-sacrifice as a very serious flaw in any world. The individual is what I am ultimately concerned with and if we have to build a “perfect” world on the backs of one person then it’s not a world I’m going to find desirable. If we want optimum results from society then we aren’t going to put all of its weight on one person or even a group of people. That kind of society is unstable in the end and liable to failure in catastrophic ways far more drastically then an efficient system would be in its failure.
The alternative for me is an anarchic order whereby people are free to form associations of productive play, autonomous activity, free labor, etc. And there aren’t any institutions who control, regulation or enforce ridiculous rules on non-consenting individuals who want to live their lives and on their own terms.
If we make work optional, can we make government that way too?
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For more critiques of this audio production check out the comments on NPR.