Anti-Work and Leftist Lutheran Theology: An Overview, by Luke St. Peter

Note from Doreen: My good friend Luke has kindly offered to post their thoughts on theology and the anti-work philosophy I’ve been writing about for years now. I’m happy to post their well-crafted ideas here, but this should not be taken as a full endorsement of their beliefs. For example, I am not a Lutheran, much less a theist. Yet, this site has had a big gap in its comments on the ties between theology and anti-work philosophy except to criticize the Puritan Work Ethic. My hope is that this great essay by Luke will help fill in that gap, if only just a little. Thanks for reading!
Source:, Ken Ellis and Robert Wuensche/Chronicle

Because of COVID-19, we have seen that workplaces are finally offering better wages and benefits to their employers so as to help open them back up as the Feds, States, localities, and businesses move forward. One benefit that hasn’t been considered is an anti-work job environment. To discuss the arguments for, and the benefits of, an anti-work outlook from a Leftist Lutheran perspective, we shall see what has hitherto been the case for the Protestant Work Ethic. Then, we shall then see Leftist Lutheran arguments in favor of the Leisure and Work Ethics and why this fits with the communal economics implicitly prescribed, and explicitly described, of the Christian Church in Scripture. Lastly, we shall see how exercising the Leisure and Work Ethics in the current climate will affect the climate moving forward.

First, let us first address the commonly called the Protestant Work Ethic, also popularly known as the Puritan Ethic. I would more appropriately name this the Calvinist Work Ethic, for it is popular among the various Christian Reformed (Calvinist) Churches. The basic idea proposed by Calvin is this: We are all predestined in this life and in the afterlife to be certain places and to do certain things. Since this is the case, we really have no control over the scheme of things, including whether or not we happen to be saved – the Lord has determined from the beginning of time who specifically wind up in either Heaven or Hell in the afterlife.  Therefore, no faith is truly our own, but rather a symbol from the Lord himself that we are saved. If a person loses their faith, their faith was never true from the beginning; this means they were determined from the beginning to go to Hell.[i]

Within the span of a few generations, many – not all, but many – Calvinist theologians proposed that faith + earthly blessings = heavenly blessings. This was never proposed by Calvin himself; even still, it was proposed by a large swath of Calvinist theologians and remains a part of many Calvinist churches to this day. This proposal caused Calvinist lay folks to work hard, because that seemed the only “earthly” conclusion to gain earthly blessings. Out of this we get the sayings “A penny saved is a penny earned” and “Idle hands are the Devil’s Playground.” To a Calvinist, if the Lord ordained me with faith, He also ordained me with a hard work ethic to gain earthly blessings to show the world through my hard work ethic and through my earthly blessings that I am saved. He also blessed me with a generous heart to share with others my blessings while still retaining my blessed status.[ii] This work ethic is harmful in the long run for one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health.[iii] This particular strain of Calvinist theology is the source of viewing the poor as inferior, and implicitly bound for Hell. We see this theology as the root of the Prosperity Gospel theology, which drives mainline evangelicals now, which is the most common type of American out there.

In comes Lutheranism, at the same time as Calvin, saying that salvation comes from faith alone, regardless of one’s earthly blessings or good works. Humans can passively accept faith from the Holy Spirit (G-d the Mother), or actively reject it. This determines our salvation. While good works are not necessary for salvation, if we have a true faith, then good works will blossom. We’ll still sin at times, just as a good tree may produce bad fruit at times; however, just as we determine a tree to be good because the majority of its fruit is good, we determine Christians to be Christians with true faith because the majority of their acts towards their neighbor is good. Martin Luther (1483-1547) is quoted to have said, G-d doesn’t need your good works, but you neighbor does.[iv]

An example of such a good work is an employer providing mercy to their workers through leisure. In the words of Luther, who wrote to Phillip Melancthon in order that the former would advise latter against too much work: G-d is also served through leisure and through nothing more than leisure. For this reason, it is His will that the Sabbath is kept above other days. Do not forget that! It is the Word of God that I am writing you.[v] While Luther specifically mentioned the Sabbath, he was by no means otherwise advocating for continuous hard work from dawn until dusk every day until the Sabbath. He saw a need for leisure every day, not just the Sabbath.

Thus, we see the difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism immediately: Lutheranism leaves more time for leisure than Calvinism. In Calvinism, we see that constant work produces more earthly blessings in the form of wealth, which is symbolic of more heavenly blessings. In Lutheranism, we see that work balanced out with leisure is best for one’s spiritual, physical, and mental health – even when one’s work, as was the case with Melancthon, is for the Lord! Since work measured out by appropriate leisure is supported by Best Practice science[vi], Luther gets it right and Calvinist theologians get it wrong.

Let us not forget to provide meaningful labor. To quote Luther, The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of G-d just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but [rather] because G-d loves clean floors.  The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because G-d is interested in good craftsmanship.[vii] In short, to quote Hugh Whelchel in How Then Should We Work: According to Luther, We respond to the call to love our neighbor by fulfilling the duties associated with our everyday work.[viii]

With that said, to define productive work strictly is impossible. Productive work looks different in each line of work. Productive work at the vehicular assembly plant looks different from productive work at a health insurance company, which looks different from productive work at a coffee shop. For what can be properly said of work, productive work can be best defined as labor to provide a quality product or service within reasonable time constraints for that specific individual and staff and with time allotted for appropriate, quality, and timely leisure for maximized production. For each circumstance, this looks different, but the basics are all the same. So, if leisure or work is maximized to such an extent that production is minimized, then the employees can find a balance that allows for all that. It must also be considered that Christ told his disciples: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful[ix]. Since appropriate leisure is necessary at work to optimize functionality[x], and since overwork is unmerciful, the merciful act of scientific Best Practice in this case would be to provide appropriate leisure, which well then serve to optimize performance.

This Leisure and Work Ethics argued by Leftist Lutheranism is summarily consisted in the preceding two paragraphs, and can have this motto: Quality Work for the Love of Others, Quality Leisure for the Love of Self. Thus, all leisure and no willingness for production is immoral; as well, all work and no leisure is immoral. An allegorical example of this is the Creation Story.[xi] In this story, the Lord rests on the seventh day and thus establishes the Sabbath, a day dedicated to rest and holiness; as well, He also takes rests during each day of creation. We are not given the specifics of how He rests versus producing Creation, so there’s no set schedule for leisure and work; this lack of specifics accepts that the application of the Leisure and Work Ethics is different for each individual and in each setting, but is still a necessary ethic to have. In short, if the Lord regularly rested during Creation in said story, then that indicates we need rest, too, for similar reasoning is used in establishing the Sabbath[xii]. Thus, included in good works is allowing your employee to have proper leisure during a shift. The fact that this is also backed by Best Practice science[xiii] indicates that the Lord intended us to rest.

Because of how the Leisure and Work Ethics operates, while suited for secular societies[xiv], it is also well suited for Christian libertarian left societies. Acts 2:42-47[xv], paraphrased, reads that the Early Church was formed as a communal society, where their slogan could be from each individual according to their ability, capability, and capacity, and to each individual according to their needs for holistic well-being of the gestalt of said individual. With this slogan, we can see that while the Early Christians held true, generally, that those who are unwilling to work don’t eat[xvi], it also held true that working at ability, capability, and capacity recognizes that each individual is different when it comes to productive work. Also, because these verses base the standard on willingness, this addresses those who, out of any control over their own, cannot produce as much as they want – or none at all, though they want to do so. It does so by implying that lack of opportunity despite willingness is not immoral. It does so by also implying that productivity of one over the other makes one superior not. This implication is because no verse says “he who doesn’t work” or “he who doesn’t work enough,” but instead simply says “he who is unwilling to work”.

In other words, Scripture protects those who have no opportunity for work, but are willing to work, by having their needs met from the community. As well, productive work is different for each individual, but at no point does Scripture say to deny anyone their needs, but rather protects them. Production is not the standard in Scripture, but willingness. This is why Christ implores us to be loving and merciful[xvii], especially more so to orphans, widows, and the poor, who are willing but inopportune, reiterating what’s been found in the Old Testament, even to the destruction of Sodom.[xviii] This solves the free-rider problem while maintaining that an insufficient number of jobs in a specific community doesn’t mean the unemployed yet willing are unduly hurt.

The notion that left libertarianism is the best system here is reinforced by the verses presented from Acts, which let us know implicitly that the Early Christian communities were not only communal but also confederal. While there was no strong central authority, there was general agreement at the time on what constituted canon and what constituted proper theology. As early as the first century, we find evidence in Acts and elsewhere that these communities were, for the most part, coming to the same conclusions on what constituted heresy and who were ex-communicated. Even Peter, and Apostle and a disciple of Christ, was called out for his heresy, and he repented[xix]. To bring back Acts 2, we see how everything was held in common. It wasn’t until the centralization a couple centuries later when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire that problems started to arise and communal economics went to the wayside.[xx] Had Christianity stayed the track of grassroots conversion that they had before that, we would’ve seen many communities operating with communal economics, not individual economics, and we’d be significantly closer to libertarian left politics than we are now.

Since we can’t have a libertarian left economy now, we shall discuss whether the implementation of the Leisure and Work Ethics in the current economic framework would work. While this may initially strain relations between employees and employers, it may be that once employers see the maximized efficiency that will inevitably happen, the strain may be loosened, and may make our capitalist economy somewhat better as a whole. This is especially true in a pandemic environment, when maximum efficiency is more of a necessity with a lighter labor load. At certain work places in the current environment, tensions may increase and stay at a certain level permanently, or increase even more beyond that. In these cases, if the Leisure and Work Ethics are widespread enough, employees will leave for better work environments or create co-ops where they can. This will either cause the employer to better their work conditions, or cease to exist for lack of employees. While we should fight for a Leisure and Work Ethics in the current environment, it should also be promoted as part of a local, provincial, national, and international libertarian left economic structure (and this would include specifically a Lutheran libertarian left economic structure in one or more specific municipalities for those municipalities wishing to have one).

[i]       Weber, Max (2003) [First published 1905]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Parsons, Talcott. New York: Dover. ISBN 9780486122373.

[ii]      Ibid







[ix]    Luke 6:36, EHV


[xi]    Genesis 1 & 2

The Lord is known for spreading parables and allegories throughout the Bible – known since the Church Fathers – but sometimes, the question exists whether something in Scripture constitutes empirical fact vs. parable or allegory. To answer that question in a basic way that really doesn’t allow for nuance or exceptions (which there are of both), if there’s a large gathering of scientific evidence rendering such fact impossible, then we can assume it’s an allegory. In such things where there’s little to no scientific evidence on the matter, we can assume it’s either an allegory or parable only, or both an allegory or parable and empirical fact.

[xii]   God blessed the seventh day and set it apart as holy, because on it he rested from all his work of creation that he had done. – Genesis 2:3, EHV

Remember the Sabbath day by setting it apart as holy. Six days you are to serve and do all your regular work, but the seventh day shall be a sabbath rest to the Lord your God. Do not do any regular work, neither you, nor your sons or daughters, nor your male or female servants, nor your cattle, nor the alien who is residing inside your gates, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. In this way the Lord blessed the seventh day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11, EHV


[xiv]  Ibid 

[xv]   They continued to hold firmly to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers. Awe came over every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They were selling their possessions and property and were distributing the proceeds according to what anyone needed. Day after day, with one mind, they were devoted to meeting in the temple area, as they continued to break bread in their homes. They shared their food with glad and sincere hearts, as they continued praising God and being viewed favorably by all the people. Day after day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47, EHV

[xvi]  We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to avoid every brother who is walking idly and not in accordance with the teaching that you received from us. In fact, you yourselves know how necessary it is for you to imitate us, because we were not idle among you. We never ate anyone’s bread without paying for it. Instead, with labor and hardship we worked night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. This was not because we lacked authority, but to provide an example for you to imitate. In fact, when we were with you, this was our command to you: If anyone does not want to work, he should not eat. Indeed, we hear that some among you are idle, not busy working, but being busybodies. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we command and urge these people to work quietly and eat their own bread. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, EHV

[xvii] The Gospel of Luke is a perfect example of this, which is why it’s known as “the Gospel of Charity”.

[xviii]        As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom along with her daughters has not done what you have done along with your daughters. Look, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: Pride, overindulgence in food, and complacent ease were the way for her and her daughters, and she failed to strengthen the hands of the poor and needy. They were haughty, and they committed abominations in my presence, and so I removed them when I saw it. – Ezekial 16:48-50, EHV

[xix]    Found in Acts 15:6-21

[xx]   Gibbon, E. (1790). The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire: By Edward Gibbon, Esq. London: Printed for A Strahan.

“Laziness” is Context, not Content

Coming in early 2021!

I could have written this post yesterday. Instead, after reading an excellent article by Devon Price about how Laziness Does Not Exist, I chose not to. Instead, I decided to go play video games for nearly 3 hours, then have dinner, play video games with friends (Fall Guys) and then play more video games from 11 PM to nearly 3 AM (It’s Ghost of Tsushima , if you’re curious).

Am I lazy? Why didn’t I just write this article instead of slacking off? What does it say about my character that even though I had hours of opportunities to write this I didn’t?

According to Price? Nothing.

…[W\hen I see a student failing to complete assignments, missing deadlines, or not delivering results in other aspects of their life, I’m moved to ask: what are the situational factors holding this student back? What needs are currently not being met? And, when it comes to behavioral “laziness,” I’m especially moved to ask: what are the barriers to action that I can’t see?

Taking Price’s line of reasoning here what were my barriers to action that others may not see?

Well, I’d already done some organizing for a D&D session during my birthday in a couple of weeks. I read some other articles before that and generally didn’t feel like overwhelming myself. I felt a strong urge to do something to just relax and get lost in and I felt video games fit that need of mine better than writing did. I was also aware that this site is completely run by me (even if it’s just an unconscious recognition at this point) and that I make my own deadlines.

But do all these barriers say something about my character? Nope. They’re just circumstances I find myself in and I react however I feel best able to in the moment. My ability to “recognize those barriers—and viewing them as legitimate” is key in me still finding enjoyment in writing.

Consider an alternative scenario: I shame myself heavily for not writing. I tell myself I’m a failure and that this just further proves I can’t commit to anything without messing it up. What would that do for me? According to Price it would do the opposite of helping:

It has nothing to do with desire, motivation, or moral upstandingness. Procastinators can will themselves to work for hours; they can sit in front of a blank word document, doing nothing else, and torture themselves; they can pile on the guilt again and again — none of it makes initiating the task any easier. In fact, their desire to get the damn thing done may worsen their stress and make starting the task harder.

The solution, instead, is to look for what is holding the procrastinator back. If anxiety is the major barrier, the procrastinator actually needs to walk away from the computer/book/word document and engage in a relaxing activity. Being branded “lazy” by other people is likely to lead to the exact opposite behavior.

I can shout, hurl insults, negative self-talk and curse myself out for existing all I want but what good will it do me? And even if it got me to write the damn thing, what would it accomplish? I’d likely still see myself as a failure or that the article suffered because I guilt myself so feverishly. This would only keep the cycle of self-hatred going and affect my writing even more!

No, there’s no point in self-shaming yourself over what you can’t find in yourself to accomplish. Ask yourself this question: Even if shaming got you to where you needed to be: Would it be worth it? Would it be worth constantly denigrating, belittling and emotionally harming yourself just to check something off on a checklist for the day? How much is the assignment you’re berating yourself really worth? Is it worth your self-esteem or your sense of well-being? I doubt it.

Shame is a powerful social tool but it’s often too strong for what we think is necessary. Guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing to feel. Feeling remorse for past wrongs isn’t a fault and telling yourself you should have and need to do better isn’t either! But shame doesn’t work like that, as we’ve been talking about in the last couple of articles. Shame builds secrecy, it makes people take out their anger on themselves instead of focusing that energy on progress for themselves.

So OK, you get it, self-shaming doesn’t work.

Well, Price thinks their so smart so what is the solution then?

The class & I talked about the unfair judgments people levy against those with mental illness; how depression is interpreted as laziness, how mood swings are framed as manipulative, how people with “severe” mental illnesses are assumed incompetent or dangerous.

The quiet, occasionally-class-skipping student watched this discussion with keen interest. After class, as people filtered out of the room, she hung back and asked to talk to me. And then she disclosed that she had a mental illness and was actively working to treat it. She was busy with therapy and switching medications, and all the side effects that entails. Sometimes, she was not able to leave the house or sit still in a classroom for hours. She didn’t dare tell her other professors that this was why she was missing classes and late, sometimes, on assignments; they’d think she was using her illness as an excuse. But she trusted me to understand.

Support! As I talked about in the previous article with regards to addiction (and of course mental health issues and addiction often go hand and hand), support from your peers is one of the most important things people can have. If I didn’t have my loving and supportive partner, my close friends or my online communities, I’m not sure what I’d be doing right now. I’d still probably be just as preoccupied with hating myself and wishing I could’ve done X or Y over again.

But just like with “laziness” these things don’t help me. They make me feel worse while helping no one around me. It makes me spiral into the pits of despair and self-hatred and eventually those emotions need to be let out somehow and often they’ll be on people I love and care about. I don’t want to be that person anymore and so I have to strive to do better, not wallow in self-pity.

And what happens when this kind of support is given?

Price explains:

These students all came to me willingly, and shared what was bothering them. Because I discussed mental illness, trauma, and stigma in my class, they knew I would be understanding. And with some accommodations, they blossomed academically. They gained confidence, made attempts at assignments that intimidated them, raised their grades, started considering graduate school and internships.

Success! Support leads to success! It’s almost like making folks feel ashamed of themselves by forcing them to go to work camps or go to prison is a bad idea! It’s almost like manipulatively hosting summer field picking jobs is a way to reinforce to people that they need to be productive or else they’re not leading a “full” life, even in retirement!

As Price says, y’all aren’t lazy. And even if you were, it’s OK to be lazy and take care of yourself when you need to do so. There’s a need that you feel isn’t being met at that time and that’s valid and so important to listen to. It should be better respective and legitimized in today’s society. But sadly, we live under a capitalist regime so that kind of legitimacy won’t be afforded anytime soon.

If I had one quibble with Price’s (excellent) piece, it’s that while laziness as a moral status doesn’t exist, I think it’s very much the case that laziness as a neutral status does. Yeah, maybe I was being lazy yesterday when I didn’t want to write immediately after reading an article that mentions mental health, sexual assault, and trauma, but you know what?

That’s OK, because I’m here now and I wrote it, didn’t I?

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When Prison is Better than Work: The Story of CAAIR

Almost a smile

When I told y’all about exoskeletons keeping the elderly working past when they should I figured that’d be the most horrific thing I’d talk about this month. It’s pretty hard to outdo making use of genuinely useful and needed technological advancements in such exploitative ways but I think I’ve found a story that does just that and then some.

Not that this is a suffering contest, both of these issues matter and are worth our attention and criticism. But I think it’s safe to say that this story may hit a little harder, affect more folks generally speaking and may be even less known than the exoskeletons.

Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery or CAAIR is about as bad as it sounds. It’s a “rehab” program for “addicts” or more concretely criminals who don’t want to go to prison. Most people would do just about anything than go to prison (myself included) so it’s a  Good thing to give alternatives to the prison system! Well, that would be the case normally…

But in this case, the alternative may be just as bad, if not worse:

People called it “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stayed for a year, got addiction treatment and learned to live more productive lives. Most were sent there by courts from across Oklahoma and neighboring states, part of the nationwide push to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.

A few weeks later, McGahey stood in front of a speeding conveyor belt inside a frigid poultry plant, pulling guts and stray feathers from slaughtered chickens destined for major fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

There wasn’t much substance abuse treatment at CAAIR. It was mostly factory work for one of America’s top poultry companies. If McGahey got hurt or worked too slowly, his bosses threatened him with prison.

And he worked for free. CAAIR pocketed the pay.

“It was a slave camp,” McGahey said. “I can’t believe the court sent me there.”

Of course, I can believe it. If you know anything about the way prisons work (and I’m not blaming McGahey here) then you probably know about the 13th amendment and how prisons undermine this important part of the constitution. It says (in brief) that slavery is abolished except as a punishment for being convicted of a crime. This opened the door to all kinds of exploitative work “opportunities” happening in prisons with prisoners being paid next to nothing.

You can also see this in shows like Orange is the New Black where the characters are constantly working for pitiful wages in sometimes dangerous jobs with minimum supervision. They do this so they can buy things like deodorant or ramen, etc. So the fact that judges would send people to a place like this and then have their “softer” option as CAAIR doesn’t surprise me one iota.

The situation at this chicken farm doesn’t sound much different. The sad thing is that although McGahey is correct about the chicken farm being a slave camp he wouldn’t have been much better off at prison. Though, I don’t know that for a fact. And as it turns out, he got released from prison when he failed the program later after a couple of months…due to overcrowding.

Perhaps the saddest part is that these factories have become, “…the bedrock of criminal justice reform, aiming to transform lives and ease overcrowded prisons.” But instead they’ve transformed an already exploited population into an arguably more exploited population:

[They are] little more than lucrative work camps for private industry, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants.

Perhaps no rehab better exemplifies this allegiance to big business than CAAIR. It was started in 2007 by chicken company executives struggling to find workers. By forming a Christian rehab, they could supply plants with a cheap and captive labor force while helping men overcome their addictions.

The allure of a “captive work force” shouldn’t be new to any of my anti-capitalist readers. But just in case, capitalists have a long history of wanting to make use of the easiest and most vulnerable working population. Why? Easier wages. It’s why immigrants are so often hired in terrible work environments and industries, because capitalists know they can pay them less and get away with more and especially if those immigrants are undocumented. Then you can just threaten them with deportation or ICE and that gets people to work on the cheap very easily.

Besides this bosses also tend to love it, especially historically, when workers will decide to scab (or work in place of striking workers) and then work for less. Speculation on my part but I’m betting that’s often how bosses can get scabs to begin with, promise them a solid wage to replace people who are striking against workplace injustices and then eventually get their wages up to normal.

Lastly, we can go even further back to look at the history of feudalism and pre-industrial revolution and how often landlords and capitalists loved using peasants who were dispossessed of their lands, often by the feudal lords themselves. No matter what part of history you’re looking at there’s a long line of people in power taking advantage of the vulnerable, especially in work.

By the way, just so you know, try to steer clear of these brands:

They slaughter and process chickens for some of America’s largest retailers and restaurants, including Walmart, KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. They also make pet food for PetSmart and Rachael Ray’s Nutrish brand.

Just giving y’all some places to avoid, think of it makings your choice paralysis minimize by taking out the extremely shitty brands and making way for the only moderately shitty ones!

There’s discussion in this article about how dangerous chicken farms can be, but y’all could’ve figured that out. A place like that where the countless slaughter of animals happen (I’m not vegan, but when they’re right, they’re right) keeping a place like that safe and sanitary is a huge job pretty much no one is well-equipped to deal with.

Here’s another quote about captive workers:

“They work you to death. They work you every single day,” said Nate Turner, who graduated from CAAIR in 2015. “It’s a work camp. They know people are desperate to get out of jail, and they’ll do whatever they can do to stay out of prison.”

Desperation breeds injustice is a great slogan I just thought of but has probably been said by someone better than me before and in a more succinct way. In any case, it’s true. I’ve been in desperate situations myself and they’ve often culminated in great harm befalling either myself or others, sometimes with myself as the person harmed and sometimes I’m the person harming.

As noted anarcha-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre said, “The hells of capitalism create the desperate; the desperate act-desperately!” And in desperation these workers will take just about any job they can get their hands on instead of going to prison. There’s a supposed dignity in work that cannot be said about prison. Even if you say things like “I did my time” people won’t exactly be handing you medals and saying congrats. But saying you worked your butt off in horrible conditions?

Well that’s a recipe to get a polite smile, more than you’ll likely get from saying you did time. It’s also worth noting that the shame I noted last week that people feel when they aren’t working (even when they’re “retired”) coalesces “nicely” with the shame people feel for going to prison. If we can do something our culture looks kindly on instead of one that is heavily punished (felons still have to fight for their right to vote) then it seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean CAAIR is a good choice:

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Noah Zatz, a professor specializing in labor law at UCLA, said when presented with Reveal’s findings. “That’s a very strong 13th Amendment violation case.”

Instead of paychecks, the men get bunk beds, meals and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. If there’s time between work shifts, they can meet with a counselor or attend classes on anger management and parenting. Weekly Bible study is mandatory. For the first four months, so is church. Most days revolve around the work.

Now, to be the most generous I can be, this program has helped some addicts. There’s a few people in the article who either speak up or are mentioned as being genuinely helped by the program and gotten away from their addictions. But even in those cases the way forward shouldn’t involve dangerous, no-pay and exploitative work to get clean. There should be a far better treatment path for addicts who committed crime in the name of their addiction.

That doesn’t mean I’m not happy for those that felt helped by the program and got themselves into a better state of mind and living. Just that I think there can be better ways forward for those  people. Having support programs without the work component is a good start.

There’s also some disgusting defenses that I don’t think this article does enough to tear apart, so I’m gonna do it instead. I’m not writing journalism, it’s all about those polemics!

“Money is an obstacle for so many of these men,” said Janet Wilkerson, CAAIR’s founder and CEO. “We’re not going to charge them to come here, but they’re going to have to work. That’s a part of recovery, getting up like you and I do every day and going to a job.”

Part of recovery, for many people, is having a support system and work doesn’t always facilitate that for non-addicts, let alone for people struggling with drugs and alcohol. Work often gives us the opposite of support systems in the form of abusive bosses, temporary co-workers who are gone as soon as we get to know them or live long enough to become the villain (the boss).

And just because “you and I” do something every day doesn’t mean it should be considered part of a healthy routine. Plenty of people hate what they do every day or at the very least wish it was something different. Something that inspires them, pays them more, treats them better, gives them more hope in the world or whatever else. Yes, we all get up to our jobs and that’s bad.

Seeing “recovery” as a form of assimilation is exactly what’s wrong with huge corporations dictating what “recovery” means to begin with. Sure, it’s possible this program may (and has) helped some people with their addiction. But it’s even more likely it’s left many people injured, isolated, pressured and falling off the wagon once they leave. I doubt CAAIR gives those statistics.

But Donny Epp, a spokesman for Simmons Foods, said the company does not depend on CAAIR to fill a labor shortage.

“It’s about building relationships with our community and supporting the opportunity to help people become productive citizens,” he said.

Building relationships isn’t the same as employing people! I can’t believe this needs to be explained to someone who claims to be smart enough to manage corporations. On the other hand I suppose it’s entirely believable. Employment is seen as a relationship starter with communities instead of what it really is: A toxic and abusive relationship that’s often a non-starter.

Employing people doesn’t make people necessarily productive either. Many folks will tell you that they pull out every trick in the (anti-work) book to make sure they can slack off. Some of them take micro naps, others gossip, some people re-fold the same pile of clothes for a few minutes.

Whatever the case may be, being productive is overrated. Productivity isn’t all there is to life, it’s just enough to be and not have to deal with the constant pressures of modernity. That doesn’t mean we should go back to a bygone era but it does mean there are some serious issues when society starts to conflate the words “recovery” and “productivity” in the workplace.

Let’s get a little bit into how CAAIR started, per the article:

[Janet Wilkerson’s] brother had died from alcoholism, and her husband’s drinking had nearly destroyed their marriage. She had long wanted to help others like them. The economics also made sense. The chicken plants needed workers, and Jones’ program was bringing in revenue of more than $2 million a year.

This was after a meth dealer came to Wilkerson offering her the use of his men as they’d be cheap and easily available. But I don’t need to elaborate for you to guess that some of these “sensible” premises and economics contributed to brutality towards workers both in the short-run and especially in the long-run. And not only did that but it deepened the pockets of the higher ups:

By 2010, hundreds of men poured into CAAIR from courts across Oklahoma. So did the money, allowing the Wilkersons – Janet as CEO and her husband, Don, as vice president of operations – to draw combined salaries of $168,000 a year, nearly four times the median household income in their area.

How bad were these places? The article details McGahey’s experiences which, while I won’t fully detail here, I’ll leave up to your imagination. Read the article if you want the full picture, but just imagine someone who is familiar with dead animals nearly vomiting after first stepping into one of the chicken plants. And then to have nearly lost the use of his arm only three months later.

CAAIR’s response?

Wilkerson said she doesn’t remember the specifics of McGahey’s case but acknowledged that CAAIR has given such ultimatums before.

“You can either work or you can go to prison,” McGahey remembered administrators telling him. “It’s up to you.”

He already had made up his mind.

“I’ll take prison over this place,” he said. “Anywhere is better than here.”

McGahey’s story doesn’t get any happier from there, but read the article for yourself if you want all of the details. It’s a sad story about a building pill addiction due to pain, CAAIR being financially irresponsible (to say the least) and another example of how our perceptions around work in this country are fundamentally damaged and need to be re-examined.

Abolishing capitalism means abolishing CAAIR, it means abolishing work.

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Your Life Ends When Work Ends (And It Never Ends)

I’m not being paid to do this, but the book seems neat!

I get up just about noon
My head sends a message for me to reach for my shoes and then walk
Gotta go to work, gotta go to work, gotta have a job

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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Laboring Under Delusions vs. Laboring Under Bullshit

Nick Irving

Content Warning: Brief discussion #MeToo subject matter

A few months back I wrote about David Graeber at an RSA talk concerning his book Bullshit Jobs. I was struck by some of his claims but found many lacking academic rigor behind them.

Apparently, when reading his book, I was not alone on this front as Nick Irving in his article, Unpacking the Millennial Work Ethic noted much the same:

The book does almost no work to address the complexity of using self-reported, self-selecting sources, despite the enormous interdisciplinary literature on such topics.

There’s no effort to address the contingent cultural (or even social) factors that might lead to a person thinking their job is pointless. I can think of quite a few such factors … class, education, gender, the entitlement these things bring, cultural expectations of reward for effort or meaningfulness…

When I read this first part I said aloud, “Yes, thank you!” We’ll get to that bit about “contingent cultural … factors” later on in my discussion. For now, it’s worth noting that it’s always nice to be validated by other folks. Of course, Irving’s validation of my own opinions isn’t consistent (nor should it). There are plenty of places in the article where I think Irving is off base.

For example, Irving says of Graeber’s methodology that:

[it] seems like a canny attempt to capitalize on the article of faith among young leftists on the internet that the victim who speaks should always be believed.

First, Graeber just taking people at their word doesn’t necessarily have to mean he’s capitalizing on any particular branch of identity politics. Taking folks at their own word about their own experiences has been a common thing folks do before #MeToo happened and women came forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of powerful men.

There’s something to be said for taking people at their word. If I go up to my friend and ask him how work was and he says, “It kinda sucked” I’m not gonna sneer and reply, “Well what about all of that cultural baggage and expectations you’re carrying around? Maybe that is what made it suck so much?” And he’d be right to say, “What? No, it just sucked.” Maybe he does have cultural expectations that are unfair, but as I’ll discuss later that says less about him than society at large.

By the way, I say “sneer” because the term “article of faith” is meant to denigrate a solid foundational epistemic claim: That people are often the best judges of their own situations and contexts. Yes, it’s possible people have false memories or that bad expectations lead to bad results, but does it happen often? No, the false reports percentage has always been low and when survivors (not victims) speak up, they should be believed unless there’s strong reason not to.

That isn’t an “article of faith” so much as it’s the right thing to do and something that makes the most sense. If someone calls you out and you say, “Well, yeah, but are people supposed to just take you at your word?” Then folks are gonna quickly take grievance, cause unless you got a great alibi or a terrific personal history, there’s reason to take your response as itself very telling.

I know this is all besides the (anti-work) point but it irked me that Irving would put the idea that survivors should be believed down and it’d be irresponsible of me to say nothing about it.

That said, let’s back up and start from the top

Three days ago, I changed my job title on LinkedIn. The title change was part of a broader restructure at work and was accompanied by a new role description that was really just a superficial tweak to the old one. There was no real increase in responsibility and no extra money.

Irving goes on to say he got congratulations despite the lack of increase in his financial security or role in the company. That felt like bullshit to him and it leads him to discussing Graeber later on.

In the meantime however, he notes how LinkedIn was completely incapable of not sending his “promotion” to all of his friends online. That also seems like bullshit to me (not his story, but LinkedIn) but it isn’t surprising given how social media tends to handle our personal data. I jest but perhaps Linkedin isn’t at fault, but rather Irving’s own bad expectations of social media?

Before Graeber however, Irving mentions other writers named Dardot and Laval who wrote on how our culture’s obsession with self-improvement can lead to dystopian times. Here, Irving mentions the concept of a “Marxian capitalist” and I had to re-read this sentence a few times:

They argue that we relate to ourselves now as a Marxian capitalist is assumed to relate to capital: We want our personal capacity to accumulate at a rate faster than everyone else, so we can remain competitive.

I skimmed the articles in question and specifically went to the concepts that are supposed to explain this passage but came up empty. I’m not sure what “Marxian capitalist” is supposed to mean without further explanation from Irving, which he doesn’t provide. Perhaps I missed something pertinent within Irving’s articles or the linked ones? Apologies if so.

Regardless, I think our personal relations to the self under capitalists are damaged as Irving and co. argue. We constantly want to “improve” even if there’s no tangible improvement to be made to ourselves or we’re just doing it due to Fear of Missing Out. There’s a pressure for gamers, for example, to have the latest hardware like the PS5 that’s coming out and then those who don’t are implicitly looked down upon by some in the community which only ratchets up FOMO.

Getting the PS5 is “self-improvement” because it means your life is more hi-tech, that you’re more “in touch” with the current state of technology and “up to date” with the world. For gamers it means there’s up to date on the latest games and fastest loading times which means they’re not “behind” on the big news of the day. But when do you actually get ahead of such news?

It’s a never-ending quest for “betterment” at the cost of finances and perhaps even your financial security if it goes far enough. You drive yourself mad trying to keep up the world and that’s why I try to keep my time on Twitter and Facebook rather limited. The world can be a horrible place, we can be horrible people and social media often flocks to the negative more than the positive.

All of this lends itself to, as Harry Frankfurt argues, bullshit:

 [The bullshitter] does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Funnily enough, I own this book and, like so many of my books, have yet to get around to it.

Irving compares LinkedIn to a parody app named Binky which has you “like” useless photos that do not modify what you see later on. Binky is an app where you can’t socialize with anyone else and you’re only able to scroll to your hearts content. The app is non-responsive to you in ways that corporations tend to be non-responsive to the needs of their workers, how apt!

This conversation about bullshit leads us back to Graeber and his book/article on Bullshit Jobs.

Here’s Irving’s takeaway:

Rather than assuming that an ephemeral but hegemonic system has created pointless job descriptions because it can’t figure out how to make a universal basic income work, I think it’s possible to read the anger as a response to work that doesn’t live up to a system of meaning shared by Graeber’s Twitter followers.

This goes back to Irving’s title Unpacking the Millennial Work Ethic where the faults of the system come down more to cultural expectations rather than a “ephemeral but hegemonic system”.

However, it’s difficult to know what the upshot of all of this is.

Does this mean we (or at least Graeber’s Twitter followers) are to blame for the faults of capitalism? Do Graeber’s criticisms of capitalism come off as reifying an economic system to Irving? Does he not see capitalism as centrally at fault but something else?

It’s tough to tell so we need to dive deeper:

It’s fairly common to say that that much of the anger and resentment felt by this group of twenty-to-thirty-somethings is because what was implicitly promised has been placed beyond their grasp by a volatile labor market in the throes of apparently permanent and traumatic change. The world they were promised, in short, is now impossible. The skills they have attained are useless. The goalposts never stop moving.

Just a note here: I am a follower of Graeber on Twitter (though I didn’t participate in the book) and I am also a twenty-to-thirty-something. So I’m the exact demographic for Irving’s thesis. Of course, generalizations only work for individuals within the groups being generalized about so well. I could tell you that there’s many gamers who are toxic in one way or another but also find communities that are (on the whole) much better.

Point being, there are always individuals deviating and flying closer to the norm. Sometimes that norm is a flame for moths, and sometimes it’s a good norm to replicate.

Irving sees Graeber’s result and the demographic he cites as revealing a “cultural logic of work” that invites disappointment within millennials. We were supposed to get homes, have full-time jobs, the university was supposed to be our gateway to Better Things. Instead, many of us have to live with roommates in unkempt apartments, live with our parents/family, or live in college dorms and hope that ramen supply doesn’t run out.

This experience is such a wake up call for millennial when they get out of college. I remember dropping out around 10(!) years ago and only recently coming back. College didn’t get me the dream I wanted (professor of philosophy) nor did going out into the “real world”. I had lived in several unhealthy/abusive situations because of my poor financial status. Some of those relationships I made worse, but in all of them I felt disempowered to make my life better.

Irving goes on to list several of Graeber’s categories for bullshit jobs, we’ve talked about them before so no need to go over them again. Instead, here’s Irving on those types of BS Jobs:

This last part may be true. The folks who want these jobs want some level of satisfaction, a decent pay, benefits and to feel a sense of…purpose? Wait a second, these just seem like pretty basic expectations from something you’re going to spend a lot of your life doing, right?

Am I missing something here? Because it seems like the folks who write the descriptions have the messed up priorities and expectations here, not the folks applying!

Again, this comes off as victim-blaming to me.

The fault of capitalism doesn’t lie with the people who write and facilitate these boring, pointless jobs but with the expectations we have because of “do what you love”.

Now, I’ve written on that fallacious idea before and I agree it sets bad precedent for our expectations. Most people can’t afford to work at something they love because of the way capitalism is set up (notably nothing to do with our own expectations). And to instill that idea into young folks that you should reach for something you love and do it 40+ hours a week is a dangerous idea because it can quickly burn you out or even make you hate it.

But again, maybe I’ve got Irving all wrong and famed philosopher Hannah Arnedt will convince me that “Bullshit is just another word for labor”

Arendt’s notion is that labor—the realm of metabolism, maintenance, and consumption—has colonized and supplanted work—the realm of craft, fabrication, and use. Arendt describes the work of labor as both futile, in that it will never end, and necessary, because to be without its products is to die.

The logic of the market that Neoliberalism extends to all spheres of human activity essentially makes everything into labor. I think it’s possible to read Graeber’s sources as reports of people who expected to be working, but found themselves laboring instead.

I read some of Irving’s article on Arnedt’s and her definition of labor, but it came off as too ambiguous, though Irving claimed that as a strength for it. To be fair, conceptual ambiguity can be a strength in some cases as it can encourage conceptual flexibility as Irving argues. But this flexibility should not come at the cost of overall conceptual clarity. We need some sense of what the upshot for her definition and what Irving’s own take on what labor vs. work is. What does this difference in wording get us? What makes labor reducible to “metabolism, maintenance and consumption” while work is “the realm of craft, fabrication, and use”?

I’ll admit it sounds intuitive but I’m not sure there’s a lot of substance behind that intuition. For example, if I labor in my backyard and get hungry but I go to my job and get hungry (thus relating both to metabolism) which is work and which is labor? If I make something at a craft fair for myself with no intention but to hang it up on my wall does this display work or labor?

I’m also unconvinced that labor is “futile” simply because it never ends.

Firstly, as of now transhumanism has not won (not even close) so our lives will inevitably end which means our labor will as well. But, generally speaking, things lacking an “end” does not mean those things are then meaningless, fruitless or can’t contain meaning for those engaged with it. The process of learning has often been called futile because we are all human and therefore fallible and thus will make mistakes. But that doesn’t make our efforts useless or lacking purpose, it just means we have to accept an amount of “two steps forward, one step back” in our lives.

I’m not sure that the logic of “the market” and capitalism are the same, but that’s another conversation so I’ll skip over this second passage for sake of dialogue. I don’t usually look at the last passages of articles as I like to keep some of the original article a mystery for anyone kind enough to read my articles. But in this case it seems too important to Irving’s thesis to omit:

I think many of the people who supplied testimonies for Graeber’s book had looked forward to being engaged in paid activity that produced something lasting, but found themselves in a service or knowledge economy that cares more about the soft skills of maintaining the metabolism or life process of a network of relationships than the hard skills of fabrication.

I’ll be blunt here: This last piece of writing makes very little sense to me. It reads like an academic trying to over-complicate reality with overly-grandiose terminology. And keep in mind, I say this as someone who likes academia and wants to be in academia. I’m not unsympathetic to the plights of having to make philosophical words sound meaningful and intuitive to readers.

Despite my sympathies to Irving’s academic framing here, I can’t help but reaffirm my belief that it amounts to little more than thinly-veiled victim blaming. Make no mistake, Irving has his share of criticisms for capitalism both in this article and on his Twitter page and so I’m not about to begin calling him a pseudo-leftist. But, as far as I can tell, his argument amounts to, “These people had bad expectations and it isn’t the fault of capitalism for failing people with bad expectations“.

At least, that’s the takeaway I’m getting from all of this, I could be wrong.

But given I’ve reached the “this sounds a whole lot like victim-blaming” coupled with Irving’s bizarre taken on the “article of faith” around believing survivors, I doubt it.

Side-note but Hannah Arnedt herself wasn’t much of a feminist as far as I can tell:

In an early letter to Mary McCarthy she says something like, ‘Simone de Beauvoir’s not really worth engaging with. One should just flirt with her instead.’ Arendt was not a feminist…

My point here isn’t that you need to cite feminist authors to make your argument persuasive (though by and large it doesn’t hurt, pending which feminist), but I find the connection here between dismissing the “article of faith” and citing Arnedt compelling given what I know of her.

By that definition, calling LinkedIn the opposite of work doesn’t quite capture the keen sense of drudgery in maintaining a LinkedIn account. The platform is a wonderful metaphor for the failed promise made to millennials.

It only reinforces the anxiety-inducing need to be a productive member of the economy while endlessly increasing one’s market value. It promises both meaning and money, and it delivers neither. It only contributes to the processes of automation and precarity that make work murkier and more tiring.

Is bullshit the opposite of work? My understanding is that Graeber was saying most work is bullshit when it comes to corporate work. Unless Irving is saying this more generally about his own framing? Again, it’s unclear to me exactly what Irving is getting at here or what the upshot of his theory here is. I agree with him about his criticisms concerning LinkedIn and I also agree there were promises made to us millennials that were, to say the least, not delivered on.

But my problems of work don’t begin and end with the expectations I was given by the society I grew up in. The television shows that showed me people generally happy with their jobs, the parental figures (teachers, actual family members, authority figures) who said I could be anything or the media that constantly talks about how the “unemployment rate” means so much.

And neither do Graeber’s for that matter. His problems (as with mine) come not just from the bullshit that work has largely become synonymous from (after all I grew up in the 90s, the decade of Office Space) but also the “ephemeral but hegemonic system” that it comes from.

Sure, you can see the description of capitalism at times as vague (which I think Irving is getting at here with the word “ephemeral”?) but hey, there’s strength in conceptual ambiguity, right?

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