“This is Hell!” Interviews David Frayne on Anti-Work

David Frayne (Photo courtesy of “This is Hell!”

I actually had Frayne’s book on my Amazon wishlist but had forgotten, so I attempted to add it to my wishlist and was pleasantly surprised when I saw it was already there.

That said, this interview isn’t too long (a little over 40 minutes) and still manages to cover a wide array of ant-work topics ranging from how life has become so work-centered to how we can resist these things. One of the ways that Frayne talks about a “work-centered life” is in the classic question of “what do you do?”. Which, of course, simply means what do you do for a living and not what you are doing for fun or pleasure.

There are other aspects of a work-centered life such as gaining most of our income through them. That’s not a quality of work I ever thought to really point out because it’s often thought of as so integral to the process itself. But there’s something to be said about how much work centralizes our resources into one activity in our life. Ideally we’d be getting our resources from many sources and not having single points of failure that involve oppressive hierarchies.

The sort of “work” that Frayne talks about is what he calls “economic work” which is probably a helpful distinguishing term I might use in the future. It’s important to add qualifiers when we talk about work and oppose it because so often people think we mean a much broader (phenomenological?) type of work as in “effort”. But for those who have been reading and watching this site grow over the past few years likely know that’s not what anti-work folks typically mean.

Instead, work is taken to be a problem economically because it distributes income and identity (great phraseology from Frayne here) in such a central way that can impose many costs. Such as the level of exhaustion many of us feel in our lives when we’re supposed to be enjoying our “free time”. But how can this “free time” be enjoyed when work spends most of our energy that we’d otherwise spend on it?? And then of course people complain that if we abolished work people would do nothing because they aren’t using their free time now!

The greatest of ironies here is that work makes it possible for not only our free time to become about work but also makes other jobs possible. For instance, it’s pointed out that the role of delivery food (pizza in particular) may often be the result of the fact that after work people are simply too tired to do things for themselves.

Which isn’t to say that not making food for yourself is lamentable. I get take-out even when I’m not tired because I simply enjoy having a night where I can get a sort of special meal. There’s a chicken broccoli and ziti that I get from a nearby take-out place that’s around $15 (it’s a huge portion with a soup and some bread) and I like to have it once a month.

I’m sure, to some extent my job and my tiredness that I experience every now and then probably contributes to me having that sort of food. But I don’t think (though I’m not sure Frayne does either to be fair) that these sorts of jobs would disappear without the contemporary conditions we find ourselves under work. I think they would likely be lessened to notable degrees because people would have more free time to themselves and for their hobbies, that’s likely true.

At one point the interviewer asks a difficult question of Frayne that summed up basically asks, “If we’re in such an acute crisis when it comes to work, how come people aren’t rebelling more?”

It takes Frayne a few seconds but he points to the NoJobsBloc as a formalized rebellion that’s going on and while I think that’s helpful, I don’t think it’s enough. Pointing to all of the little ways in which people resist work or are simply trying to get better and get ahead in life are likely more in number than formalized political protest in the streets. Frayne may not agree, but I do tend to see the cultural parts of rebellion as necessary (even if they’re insufficient by themselves).

For example, answering “what do you do” with, “Well if you mean what do I do for fun I…” and then perhaps adding, “…but as for a job…” is a subtle way of getting the point across that your identity isn’t subsumed by your work. I think Frayne is a little to quick to dismiss the overall effect of these sorts of things. They’re small but they’re also a lot easier than risking your life (especially given the police state in many countries) out on the streets in formalized protests.

Which isn’t to say I don’t think the protests aren’t necessary (they are) but that I think both of these elements of resistance are important to a strong anti-work movement. A movement that can fight back against the moralization of work that Frayne recognizes as one of the biggest problems that stops people from rebelling to begin with.

Interestingly, Frayne tells us that he doesn’t talk about a work defined by life to point out it’s “wrong” but more so to raise the possibility of alternatives in distributing income and identity. And of course one of those things for income may be (though I’m critical of this possibility) the guaranteed basic income. While another way of gaining identity may be through extending our free time and allowing more changes for education, art and learning as well as self-expression.

I tend to like this approach in part because I think telling people that their lives are wrong may be an unhelpful way to go about things. Perhaps encouraging them to look into alternatives and see if it’ll make them happy and give them a better chance to flourish is a more effective approach? As always, I look forward to folks trying this out for themselves and seeing what happens. Do people become more receptive to the message of anti-work if they feel less judged?

Intuitively I’d feel like that’d be the case but it’d be nice to know for certain.

Another interesting part of the interview was the idea that work both exhausts us and makes us feel detached from it by excluding us (the workers) from the decision making process. We end up feeling like cogs in the wheel of a system we have little to no say in. I couldn’t even request a different kind of tuna sandwich at the store I work in simply because no one cares enough to change the sandwich back to what it originally was (a plain tuna sandwich).

Lastly, Frayne discusses whether the anti-work demands of the left might come into conflict with better wages and better working conditions. And like Frayne I’m unsure how this all shakes out. I’d like to think that less work means better wages and better conditions but I’m not exactly sure how it’d play out and it’d really depend on how these ideas were applied in the first place. If they’re applied in a reformist way I won’t have too much hope but perhaps a more radical approach that takes ideas like anarchism seriously could be a positive step in the right direction.

In any case, listen to the interview and pick up Frayne’s book if you can.

I know I will down the line and will likely write a review too!

Happy slacking and listening!


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