Nick’s Notes: This is another one of those questions I got from fans of the site. You can see the last question I addressed in this post, where I talked about the prospects about technology and alienation in a post-work society.
There’s some questions that are rudimentary but vitally important and I never think to address them. Despite writing about abolishing work for over 3 years now, I sometimes forget that there are, you know, real people who I have to talk to about these ideas, not an imagined united anti-work front.
And even if I have a ready-made answer to these types of questions, that doesn’t mean my fellow anti-work advocates do. Plus, putting it to writing should therefore be much simpler and allow me to expand on that response or review it for later.
The easiest way to answer the question in the title is through a Mikhail Bakunin quote:
I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.
(Man, Society and Freedom, 1871)
Now, whatever you may think about anarchist communism or Bakunin more generally, I think there’s a lot of broad appeal to this quote here. To what extent are all of us free if our neighbors are subjected to laws they do not agree with? To what extent are we free if people of other races are constantly discriminated against and abused?
Perhaps we are free in some relative or isolated sense but is this the most meaningful sense to have?
Wouldn’t our own isolated versions of freedom, while surely not meaningless, have more meaning if other people shared our positions? The ability for individuals to engage with each other on the basis of freedom only becomes easier as more people actually have freedom to begin with.
The same situation exists for jobs.
Even if you currently work a job you love and have no qualms with, what about the people who don’t love their jobs? Are they not as deserving as you are to enjoy the fruits of their labor? If not, why not? Presuming that they do, wouldn’t their equitable access to jobs they love make your life more pleasant as well? After all, that would mean more people to interact with in happy and fulfilling ways than just the people at your workplace.
I think this question suffers from some misconceptions of the anti-work position. For instance, I don’t think it’s the case that the anti-work position needs to abolish all forms of labor or effort, just that some forms of it are better than others.
And while I think corporations should be abolished and replaced with worker cooperatives, independent contractors, loose networks of artisans, etc. I don’t think that would mean the end of all jobs in every particular position. It may mean the end of bullshit jobs, but a lot of those people tend to hate their jobs. And even when those people don’t hate their jobs, the people on the receiving ends of those jobs may or the job itself doesn’t produce much value to society.
In that case, getting rid of these jobs (even if some folks like them) doesn’t seem like a problem.
There are some folks who really enjoy the fast food industry or (god help them) working in retail and so on. And while I don’t see these kinds of jobs sticking around, I also think they’ll likely be replaced by better jobs, at least in the short run.
In the long run, it’s hard to say what will exactly happen. It may be that no one needs to work those sorts of jobs (or jobs at all) but still may to keep themselves busy or feel productive. They may decide to engage in play or artistic endeavors instead and dedicate their lives to these pursuits. It seems most likely that people will pursue a mixture of play and (useful) labor and have much more time to dedicate to the former, than the latter.
Abolishing work isn’t just about getting rid of bullshit jobs though, you should care about it because the byproducts of these end goals is the flourishing of society. It’s for the benefit of individuals creativity and happiness as well as their imagination for what society would benefit the most from. Not what makes it simply look the most productive.
Ask yourself: If you enjoy your job so much, why wouldn’t you want others to feel the same?
Although I feel like the golden rule is, at best, a good rule of thumb, it seems appropriate in this scenario to wish the same for others as you would wish for yourself. If none of that or anything else I’ve said appeals, then consider how much more prosperous a society based on people’s desires are instead of the desires of those who rule them.
The meaning of value and ability for it to be created would surely go under drastic changes, but I find it hard to believe that they would be anything but positive. People’s time to dedicate to things they actually want to do and in the ways they want to do it as well as access to the tools to make it happen would increase dramatically.
By focusing too much on the topics of work itself and not mentioning the side-benefits the anti-work position advocates, we make the anti-work idea less relatable and interesting to folks. Let’s change that by reminding people that the anti-work position isn’t about automating the worst jobs and leaving all of the rest to chance.
It’s about purposely re-imagining a world, one that has time for creativity, play and happiness.
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