Minimum Wage, Minimum Effort?: Ideas on Shaming and Jobs

“You Can’t Live Without Working Hard, Even if you Hate It”

Going back to my earlier ideas of identity and jobs there is another manifestation associated with it that I did not think about that appears in the above picture. The logic of that picture makes sense when you also revisit my post on shaming and jobs and that shame comes from the fact that we have merged our identity to ridiculous extents with who we fundamentally are. It’s fine to love what you do, to take pride in something that you have accomplished that is good and so on. But to merge yourself and what people know you as all through this one single thing in your life no matter how important can be damaging to building any bigger sense of yourself outside of that context as well. And if one wants to have a much more substantial life than just what they do to get by (even if they take pleasure in it) then you should keep in mind the limits of commensurability as I mentioned before.

Realistically speaking we can only reduce ourselves to some base level to certain degrees before we become some sort of cardboard cut out, a shell or husk of an actual being with depth and self-worth. If we put all of our life’s eggs into the basket of work, of our day to day living then I think it is very much likely we will end up with the pictures above. We will have a culture that encourages others to shame people for the position they are in. As if it’s their fault that the system divides people and puts some into a lower caste and that not all people are able to get out of this caste as easy as others are able to. A big part of the problem with the modern economy is the lack of real choice we have about our own lives. About what is important to us, what we should do with our lives and so on. We don’t have these choices as much as we should and if we did I think people wouldn’t have to tie their identity into these things and instead be able to look a lot more broadly.

But the statement itself even without all of this in mind is horribly collectivist in the worst way. So are all people who have shitty life conditions totally and without remorse responsible for it? These sorts of accusers are like the mirror-image of Marxian determinists who think that no blame can be assigned to us because the structures of the state and capitalism has made our choices for us. I do not take either position, nor do I claim they are the only ones available. I think the more reasonable position out of these two is to certainly recognize structural oppressions and limitations that are exogenous to the individual and outside of their limited control. But we should also recognize that the choices that people make under systems of oppression can still count for something. If they decide to join the oppressors so they can live a better life for themselves and (let’s say) their family. Then that is a choice they have still made to adapt to the structures and limitations around them and it must be taken as their own if that’s how they act like it.

Conversely the people who have these minimum wage jobs and who may want something better aren’t necessarily lazy or stupid or just incapable of working towards a better life. And all of this assumes what makes a better life. Maybe for some individuals living well means having enough disposable income to pursue this small pleasure and that but the rest is inconsequential. The rest of the things they need comes from friends and their own idle time reading and playing and living on their own terms. Maybe that is what they want besides the stereotypical “dream job” of being a lawyer or a politician or being a millionaire with a gigantic swimming pool and a few pet tigers on a gold leash.

In other words:Maybe not everyone wants your million dollar dream

And even more than that the idea that they do but can’t do it because where they are in life (and in turn that place in life is de facto evidence of that ability) is not only logically ludicrous but also hopelessly deterministic as well. What should we assume? That people with minimum wage have just given up? That they don’t care? That maybe they don’t have the time to build skills because they need to support their family or a close friend or maybe they have medical bills they couldn’t pay otherwise? Who are you to judge and shame them when you don’t know them? Again, this rhetoric, logic and the conclusions it draws are fairly anti-humanistic and collectivist.

But that’s no surprise because this is often how shame acts. It acts to lower a person to whatever level you want them to be at. So you can enforce your will on them and enforce your opinions. Instead of offering opinions and giving choices and chances you will shout and yell and make demands and tell them to straighten up or ship out of life itself. It isn’t enough for them to give you their “sob story” and it’s only enough for them to bend themselves and their ethics to youIn essence this act of shame comes from both a very non-individualistic base (everyone is the same if they are in X class) and an over-individualistic base (because they are all the same and I know I am not I must be better and thus their world must revolve around mine).

Someone could claim that this isn’t about minimum wage work deserve their jobs or don’t have a work ethic but then you can still definitely make the case that this quote is glorifying the work ethic to the extremes of ignoring people’s real efforts, their context and the systematic limitations that are imposed upon them. The fact that these positions exist, that the “dream” in life is just to be wealthy in some material sense is all there is, isn’t that the disturbing part?

Again, I am not against wealth or money but I do have a problem with people basing their entire future on these things. To me, life should be about so much more than just how much money you get or what you “do” for living. It’s about your desires, your passions, what games you are interested in playing and a whole lot more. The little moments and the big moments matter and they won’t matter as much if all you’ve got is one framework to see them through. You need many different perspectives to get the most out of a given object, not one.

But let’s assume all of this is true. That the dream is worth working for, that work is worth working for in its current form and the people just lack the work ethic to do it.

So what? What if that work ethic sucks to begin with? And what if they have good reasons to not want to work hard? If they hate their boss, the company they work for and have no personal investment in it then why should they work so hard? Just to please you?

The idea that shame is the health of the state (as Thaddeus Russell says) should be better well known among libertarians. Often times it seems like shame is not useful for much except trying to manipulate people to get what you want to do. To make the power disparities between you and someone else open up so you can, once again, enforce your will on them. This seems highly invasive to me.

To be clear, I am not saying we cannot call people on their mistakes or make people know that they have committed wrongs but time and time again it seems in terms of history that shame has been a powerful tool for the oppressors to use. And I would hate for libertarians to keep using it to get us to some better world. I don’t think those means are going to match up to our ends or if they do for you then I think you need to reevaluate your ends.

I don’t know that I consider shaming “coercive” in some sense that it should be de facto opposed by libertarians but I think it should be de facto under skepticism and doubt when used and the tactic itself called out. Especially when it is used to make other people smaller and yourself bigger. And even more so when it comes to the topic of work.

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