Remember when folks used to retire? You know, that pesky thing that makes work finally end for maybe 10-20 years (the latter if you’re lucky) and then you die. Cool, right?
You’ve spent just about 3/4 of your life and now you can finally relax and enjoy your life! Except you’ve still got rent to pay, bills to pay and the retirement money isn’t as good as it used to be. But lucky for you there are opportunities out there for industrious seniors like yourself!
Does it suck that work has left you somewhat crippled or handicapped in your advanced age? Doesn’t it blow that you need ibuprofen all of the time, so much that you need to get a prescription from your doctor? You’ve likely lost the ability to safely drive due to some of your cells decaying and dying over the years, maybe faster due to work, so you’ll need to take the bus.
Or, maybe you’ll need to be reliant on Uber or a friends good graces. Maybe you’re lucky and only need to be partially taken care of and haven’t been left to rot in a nursing home like so many other people. You’re independent after all! No one can slow you down now that you’ve got more time to spend on yourself. But time isn’t money, not unless you’re working for that time. And even with social security finally doing something meaningful (however slight) you still feel pressured to be productive and a fully-engaged member of your larger community. How grand!
Thank goodness Amazon makes that easy:
They’ve got these warehouses, which they call “fulfillment centers,” which to me sounds like Orwellian jargon, all over the country. And when you place an order, it goes through to whichever one is near you and has it. And these warehouses are essentially just huge input/output machines. … Amazon markets this kind of work to old people as a positive thing, using language about freedom and flexibility. But why even worry about optics when they’re dealing with people who are kind of desperate?
The interviewer here (bold), Allie Conti is speaking with journalist Jessica Bruder who has written a book on the, “shocking number of seniors who travel the country working seasonal odd jobs at places like Amazon’s network of warehouses.” Bruder did the typical journalist thing, she went undercover and saw how these people’s lives were going now that they were in this line of work.
Predictably, it doesn’t go well for them. Amazon markets their wages, flexibility, etc. while ignoring the awful fact that this is necessary to begin with. Shouldn’t these people be spending their twilight years away from “flexibility and high wages”. They should be getting money for nothing even if you’re the most die-hard conservative? These people put decades into providing society value and their bodies only for society go, “Yeah, but about how a little more? You know, for fun?” And seniors often feel pressured into it due to the way shame and leisure intersect.
As Bruder writes,
So what I see out there is a lot of people don’t want to say to other people, “Yeah, I’m going to work at Amazon this winter because I’m broke, and I need money.” It’s a lot easier to say, “I’m going to stay active, I’m going to make friends, I’m going for some camaraderie, and, yeah, maybe I’ve gotta take a lot of ibuprofen, but that’s really a weight loss program, the 15 miles a day of walking I have to do.”
People don’t want to say to their friends or family, “Oh I still need a job because the economy sucks!” They want their families to know they’re still worthwhile and in this culture being “worthy” often means you’re producing something. Even for myself, someone who prides herself on being lazy and taking my time with things it’s hard to deny that writing these articles makes me feel good. Or that it gives me a positive boost in my mood, especially when I’m having a tough day.
Part of that is just me loving to write. It’s something I really enjoy because it gives me the chance to better formulate my opinions, emotions and preferences to a larger audience. Even if that audience is just one other person, that’s at least one more person I can connect with. But another part is the feeling that I need to write. I need to be productive or otherwise my day will be a waste! To be clear, the money I get from Patreon is appreciated but never makes me feel like I need to write. It’s the boss in my head that does that, not my lovely patrons.
One of my favorite sayings about writing comes from the anarchist Benjamin Tucker who once said, “[Liberty] will be edited to suit its editor, not its readers. He hopes that what suits him will suit them; but, if not, it will make no difference.” My hope is that when I write, it’ll both elevate myself and others around me, but ultimately as long as I get something out of it, I’m satisfied.
One of the most horrifying aspects of this articles come in here:
…So what do you replace this unskilled labor with that’s easier on the body?
Did I tell you what’s happening in Japan with exoskeletons? This is fucking crazy.
The population is aging in Japan, and there are some employers whose workers have heavy lifting jobs—and they’ve started giving them these exoskeletons so that they can lift heavier loads.
In a weird a way, I kind of think this hybridization is what we’re going to see in the immediate future. Some people look at it as positive, like, “Oh, it makes things easier on your body,” and maybe I’m a bit more cyclical because I think, Oh, wow, you can squeeze even more exertion out of this human piece of meat.
It’s not cynical (which I think is what was meant here?) at all! It’s 100% realistic to call out this capitalistic exploitation for what it is. It doesn’t matter, as Bruder points out, whether automation happens or not but who controls that automation. I’ve been saying this for a while and to see a normal(ish) website have something like that made me smile. Not that it’s a happy thing to reflect on but as I’ve stated before, it’s nice to see your opinion validated every now and then.
I told my partner about the exoskeleton while we were having dinner. She looked at me and went, “What?” I’m not sure she believed me at first, hell, I almost couldn’t believe it myself. There’s something so insidious and destructive about capitalism and I’ve only become more and more convinced about that as I get older, not less. Trying to draw as much labor time from human beings who are old and retired is especially cruel when they should be living their life.
And, as always, our lives are very different from work. The way we act, the things we do and say, I often think about all of the things I’d rather do than go to work. And by the way, I’ve got a pretty cushy overnight shift that doesn’t require much from me. Well, you know besides wrecking my sense of time more than 2020 has already done and my sleep schedule as well. Making my timing with friends and my partner more difficult than it would be otherwise, no big deal though, right?
One last thing on this:
I don’t think that universal basic income without something that allows for social mobility is a solution. If it creates a subsistence level where people are alive and sheltered and whatever, but there’s still no way to better their lot, then that’s not good enough.
I loved seeing this as well. Bruder seems to have a good head on her shoulder about the way capitalism works and the ways it has fundamentally failed our elderly. The same goes for Conti and her pointed questions and responses to what Bruder says.
It’s a great interview and comes highly recommended to my readers!
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