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Why work?
June 23, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

We're a pro-leisure and anti-wage-slavery group of people dedicated to exploring the question: why work? (related)
posted by Joe Beese (142 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal."
posted by swift at 9:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wish I'd have been alive 60 years ago. I think I'd have liked being a liberal more back then.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are prisons full of these guys, 'bout time they organized.
posted by tommasz at 9:45 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh my word. Because it's a bit unethical to ask society to pay for what you consume whilst you do not support the lives of others? And let us not forget that even the utterly self sufficient are supported by the police, military, and fire services. As well as contract law, the judiciary, creation and enforcement of product safety standards, creation and enforcement of environmental damage standards, provision of free healthcare (hey, look at the way you aren't dying of measles any more), provision of transport networks and the general rule of law?

Because, you know, those seem like things worth contributing to.
posted by jaduncan at 9:46 AM on June 23, 2009 [24 favorites]


This is a joke right?
posted by oddman at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2009


because having a roof over one's head and enough money to feed your children is nice? Because that's why I work. (Actually, I don't have any children, but I would if one of us had a job.)

I fully support the idea of minimal work, of choosing to work less to gain more time with your family. But this also assumes that those who work long hours have a choice. Many people work long hours because that is what they need to do to gain the money for the essentials (housing, food, transportation), others because their work pays them well but its a case of either 60 or 80 hours, or no hours (and no income). Those who have the minimum income they need to get by even at reduced hours, and the flexible work culture that allows them to reduce those hours without excluding them entirely - they are lucky.

I would like to see a promotion of a sense of worth and happiness that has less to do with income and consumption; maybe it's not good for lifting the economy out of the doldrums (really, we need to spend to do that), but it's better in the long run for both our society and our planet. But to make this available to most people, there has to be a complete reversal in the trend of growing income disparity - time without work is not leisure for the lower half of the socio-economic scale, it's just a source of more stress.
posted by jb at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, who knew you could make an anti-capitalist statement that one should not be a
"Wage slave: A wage earner whose livelihood is completely dependent on the wages earned." - or, if we aren't completely illiterate, a member of the proletariat - by explicitly alienating the production of the workers with no communal input?

I'm almost sure that's what Marx suggested was not a good idea in the first place.
posted by jaduncan at 9:50 AM on June 23, 2009


"You already know liberals want to take all your hard-earned money -- well, now they don't even want to work themselves! More on Hannity, tonight at 8:00."
posted by brain_drain at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have time to read their web site, really. Can someone summarize how they get around the whole idea that to survive you need certain materials that involve work to produce, and that you either have to do that work yourself (which is not leisure) or you have to pay someone else to do it for you, and earning money involves working?

I assume they have an answer for this, yes? not being snarky. genuinely interested in how they think to work this out.
posted by shmegegge at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2009


Because it's a bit unethical to ask society to pay for what you consume whilst you do not support the lives of others?

Also unethical: To claim they are asking for that when they aren't.

At the very least, skim the FAQ, people.
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2009 [17 favorites]


I understand their point, but I think a better question would be, Why Shop? Or Why Consume?

Why work? Is a little to close to the bone in my town, where people are kind of *born* into that attitude.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2009


Holy shit. This message board is crawling with wage slaves.
posted by klue at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


It takes a certain kind of independent thinker to be "job-free". We use that term rather than "unemployed", in an effort to convey to people that we're proud, not ashamed, of not having regular jobs.

Awesome! I would suggest we all also switch from saying "living in parents' basement" to "leveraging unused familial living space" and "constantly mooching off of friends" to "creatively utilizing the resources of associates."
posted by burnmp3s at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2009 [20 favorites]


My own work-free scheme involves lots and lots of robots. Robots to grow food and robots to fix those robots. (And more robots to fix those robots.) Probably also some robots to enable me to capture some land to grow food on. With that, and a robot doctor, I'd be pretty much set.
posted by DU at 9:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [14 favorites]


"It has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself; a convenient belief to those who live on the wealth of others." William Morris in Useful Work versus Useless Toil.
From a cursory (as is traditional before spouting off) perusal of Joe's link, seems like a slightly more liberal take on the general socialist critique of wage labour under capitalism.
posted by Abiezer at 9:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


shmegegge: reading a little more into the site, I believe that they believe that people will do productive work without coercion, just like people will clean their own houses or balance their own checkbooks without coercion. It's something I believed when I was about 17, and reading utopian anarchist-socialist novels like Hogan's Voyage to Yesteryear.

But thing is, having an unbalanced checkbook can make you overdraw and thus lose money; having a messy house creates an unpleasant living situation and/or social reprobation. Both of these are a kind of coercion. Being hungry is a coercion to go hunt or gather food; in our society, we do not have those resources or those skills, so we offer to trade our labour to those who have things of value (money) to trade for food and shelter.

Sometimes I think that if all in society really lived treated each other the way our major religions tell us to treat each other, we could have a kind of utopian socialism/communism, where each contributed to their best but not excessively, and each could have what they needed to live. But we don't treat each other that way. Some of us want more than we need, so we charge others more for what they need to make more money. And we justify it by saying that we are creating value.
posted by jb at 9:59 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I love how anytime anything remotely political is posted on MeFi, the first thing everyone tries to do is scrutinize it for potentially libertarian sympathies and then quickly, quickly post $GENERIC_LOLLIBERTARIANS_AMIRITE. Get a life.

(I'm a Bob Black, aka post-left, anarchist. His essay "The Abolition of Work" is linked on the site.)
posted by nasreddin at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


I support the idea of work not being your primary identity, and not overworking, but fer Christ sakes, what the hell is wrong with work.. at least honest work?

Why work? Because you can find meaning in it, because some people don't have the skills or desire to grow/hunt their own food....
posted by edgeways at 10:03 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are the first to mention libertarianism nasreddin.
posted by edgeways at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Cue Pope Guilty ready to rant against Bob Black and "lifestyle anarchists" any moment now! ;)

Ha, Hiyah Nasreddin! Just saw your comment :P
posted by symbioid at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2009


Being hungry is a coercion to go hunt or gather food; in our society, we do not have those resources or those skills, so we offer to trade our labour to those who have things of value (money) to trade for food and shelter.

That sounds nice and all, but in 99% of cases the employee/employer relationship is a little more unbalanced than that. Can you work when you want and take time to yourself when you want? Do you define the terms of your employment or does your employer?
This isn't about not working, it's about working under your own terms. We've all been conditioned to believe that the current system is the only way, but is it really?
Frankly, I'm surprised by the negative reaction to this from anyone other than a corporate employer.
posted by rocket88 at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


"how come I have to spend all this time doing all this stuff I don't really want to do?" Somewhere deep inside you, you know that you were meant for greater things; you know that you came to this planet to play; you know that there's a part of you that simply wants to be happy. "

Because you are an adult?

Snark aside, the answer could be as simple as:

1. Find something you love to do and then
2. Find a way to live responsibly while doing it.
3. If 2 is not practical, find something you don't necessarily love but can use as a means to an end in accomplishing 1.

Duh. These are conversations I have (almost) daily with our children.

DU: My own work-free scheme involves lots and lots of robots. Robots to grow food and robots to fix those robots. (And more robots to fix those robots.) Probably also some robots to enable me to capture some land to grow food on. With that, and a robot doctor, I'd be pretty much set.

Oh, sure. Until...
posted by jquinby at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do we castigate those who live in their parents' basement? Maybe that is something which could be better for both parents and their grown children.

So many problems in our society could be helped by having a more extended household. It's silly that we have this cultural bias that middle-aged people should rattle around in large houses after their children have grown, even as their children struggle to afford housing and/or to care for their own children. Living together could save money for all in the family, could bring them closer together. Certainly, it would make for greater connections between grandparents and grandchildren, and thus more stories and wisdom passing from one generation to another. Grandparents can act as backups for parents, even as they have reliquished the primary care responsibilities. And grown children can more easily support their own parents as they get older, when they are strong enough to live in a house, but maybe shouldn't be on their own. Just think of how much more comfortably an elderly person could live with their family than in a care home.

Of course, in the west, there are cultural barriers to such living - either we would have to accept our parents as an authority well past the age when we demand independence from them, or else our parents would have to accept living with their children as independent adults, consulting with them on decisions, etc. Because western expectations of generational relations and adulthood are not currently very compatible with multi-generational living, since north-western Europe has had a nuclear family model since sometime in the middle ages at least, if not earlier. But we have gone through revolutionary changes in our societies in the last 100 years - why not open up expectations regarding household arrangements?
posted by jb at 10:10 AM on June 23, 2009 [38 favorites]


CLAWS is engaged in creating alternatives to the capitalist, white male dominated, corporate-dominated wage-slavery system. We don't believe that "external" changes, made through legislation and political action, are enough. We don't wish to discredit some of the great contributions that political activists and legislators have made, and we encourage you to get involved in social reform if that is your calling; but our focus is on the internal work that each of us can do as individuals and in our communities. We believe that the only route to real, lasting change must begin within our minds and hearts.

Think globally, slack locally.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:10 AM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


Haven't read it but I like it.
posted by pointilist at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


We must stop linking a person's needs with her/his deeds. In other words, we must break the link between employment in the service of profit and provision for citizens' food, shelter, health care, etc.

In other words, do what you love, and do it for the love of doing it. These folks like to think that someone will enjoy trash collection, because someone's going to get fed up with the stench of rot.

Garbage collection can be looked at the same way. If society were set up so that the consequences of not removing your own refuse were living in a stench-filled apartment, we're willing to bet that people would indeed choose to do such jobs. Is that coercion? We don't think so.

It's not the flawed notion of living off of other people's wages, but the notion that someone will like any job necessary. I'm not sure if they are envisioning a barter culture, or some enlightened society that gives what is needed to others. Unfortunately, a lot of work is done for the incentive of getting more, not getting enough.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This website is long on ideas and disturbingly short on sending me money.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:16 AM on June 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Cue Pope Guilty ready to rant against Bob Black and "lifestyle anarchists" any moment now! ;)

I was going to skip this commenting on this post, confident that nothing good was going to come from it, but uh... hi.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


because having a roof over one's head and enough money to feed your children is nice

and yet paying for the actual consumption of physical shelter and food is a vanishingly small part of most people's budgets.

In my life since 1986 I've personally rented a bedroom in the back of a house built in 1922 ($390/mo) half a master suite in a condo built in 1983 ($400/mo) a 1 bedroom apartment built ca 1975 in West LA ($700/mo), various apartments in Tokyo ($600 - $1100/mo), a room in a friend's house ($800/mo) and an apartment here in the south bay built in 1980 or so ($1320-$1750/mo).

I was paying all this rent money for shelter yes -- not for my "consumption" of it, but largely the ground rent of the location itself and the exclusive right to use it. 23 years of renting at say $900/mo is over $200,000 ($700/mo) of my wages gone to ground rents, maybe another $60,000 ($200/mo) or so to depreciation of the roof &c., and $80,000 on food. $600K or so has gone to taxes. $50,000 or so on PCs. Everything else is incidental.

Part of my broken-record observation of the existence and effects of the "All-Devouring Rent" phenomenon is that paying ground rents is what keeps all of us in the rat race.

It is a humorous condition, since we are immersed in it like fish and generally do not appreciate the actual economics of our existence.
posted by @troy at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


You are the first to mention libertarianism nasreddin.

This is what I mean by $GENERIC_LOLLIBERTARIANISM_AMIRITE:

Oh my word. Because it's a bit unethical to ask society to pay for what you consume whilst you do not support the lives of others? And let us not forget that even the utterly self sufficient are supported by the police, military, and fire services. As well as contract law, the judiciary, creation and enforcement of product safety standards, creation and enforcement of environmental damage standards, provision of free healthcare (hey, look at the way you aren't dying of measles any more), provision of transport networks and the general rule of law?

posted by nasreddin at 10:18 AM on June 23, 2009


Why do we castigate those who live in their parents' basement? Maybe that is something which could be better for both parents and their grown children.

I think there is some western (maybe even more-so US-centric) focus on individuality and personal strength, versus the power of groups. Those who don't move out of their parents' home are deemed slackers or unmotivated. Those who live in group quarters are seen as "hippies" or questioned for their alternative living situation.

I really like the idea of living with extended families. Roles shift with age, with support for everyone from babies to grandparents.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:20 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lafargues pamphlet The right to be lazy is a good read on the subject.

I recall someone telling me it was the second most read book in the days of the Russian revolution, but can't verify that right now.
posted by monocultured at 10:22 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


For all you fans of classic autonomist texts, here's all-round bright spark Cornelius Castoriadis on Socialism and the Transformation of Work from his Workers' Councils and the Economics of Self-managed Society.
The problem is to put poetry into work. Production isn't something negative, that has to be limited as much as possible for mankind to fulfill itself in its leisure. The institution of autonomy is also -- and, in the first place -- the institution of autonomy in work.
posted by Abiezer at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not the flawed notion of living off of other people's wages, but the notion that someone will like any job necessary.

if this is what they actually believe, it sounds to me like they're confusing "the reduction of misery" with "the joy of service." it honestly sounds like part of their vision involves making people miserable enough to do something about their horrible living conditions.

it's like that roommate who doesn't do the dishes until you can't stand the pile up and subsequent lack of stuff to eat your food off of, so you do them. and when you ask him to maybe do his dishes next time he says "dude, just don't do them. I'll get around to it eventually. just 'cause I didn't do 'em doesn't mean you have to."

except that if you DO do them, to reduce that portion of your own misery, these guys seem to be saying that you're doing work you want to do. which just doesn't make sense.

further, when I briefly skimmed their faq, I noticed them saying:
For example...if you have friends who will give you a meal, you don't need money to eat. If you are willing to go to a soup kitchen for dinner, you don't need money. It helps, but you don't truly NEED it. And on and on. The same goes for any choice you make in life. Money can help, but it's not the whole story. If you believe the solution to your woes is "more money", you'll overlook other ways to achieve your goals.
which leads me to ask: okay, but do you have examples that DON'T involve getting others to support you for free? should one take these examples to mean that by being pro-leisure and anti-wage-slavery, you're equating that with being unable to support yourself? (no, going to a soup kitchen is not supporting yourself.)
posted by shmegegge at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


I really like the idea of living with extended families.

That's really only a good thing for people who have really good relationships with their families, and whose families don't have a lot of mental illness and such. It only takes a single asshole to fuck up a communal house, and when that asshole is your grandparent and too old to kick to the curb for, you know, being an asshole, the whole "let's all live with our families!" thing starts to suck shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2009 [17 favorites]


edgeways: what the hell is wrong with work.. at least honest work?

Did you read the FAQ?

"In addition, we think there's a possibility that you may have misinterpreted the essential message of the CLAWS site. We don't presume that no one should do anything that resembles work. There is a difference between work and jobs."
"Work can be done joyfully, meaningfully. "Jobs" are often just a meal ticket, no more, no less. We are not "anti-work"; we are anti-wage-slavery. People can do work, and make money, without being wage slaves. You can even have a "regular" job without being a wage slave, although our bureaucratic, profit-at-any-cost oriented society makes it quite difficult. We dispute the notion that work EQUALS wage slavery."


Over the past two summers, my job's schedule has meant I had to work while everyone else i knew had time off. Almost half my pay went towards rent, which was in staff housing- meaning if I quit I would have to move out. I was paying 40 bucks a month for a cell phone that only my boss called me on. It didn't help that my job (barista to tourists) was rather unfulfilling.
I would have done better to stay with family or camp in the woods, work three days a week, and actually be able to do the things I like to do.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2009 [11 favorites]


It is very well to talk of ease and dignity; but ease of spirit comes from action only, and the world’s dignity is given to those who do the world’s work. Let no man put his neck from out of the collar till in truth he can no longer draw the weight attached to it. (Anthony Trollope, Rachel Ray)
posted by timeo danaos at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another thing standing in the way of multi-generational living situations are our modern notions of the importance of privacy, which is also what makes carpooling so totally unappealing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


...which automatically equates having a job with making a living.

Because the options are basically starving, going on the dole, & entrepeneurship.

That starvation is bad goes without saying. My childhood on the dole doesn't invoke many pleasant memories.

As a former small business owner, let me go on the record as noting that it is impossible to understate the "advantages" of owning your own business -- from the joys of the 120 hour work week to the sales tax audit, to being embezzled by a bookkeeper for $7,000.00, to screaming red-faced clients, to screaming red-faced competitors, to being hauled in front of the employment commission for firing an employee who screamed "FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!" ... and losing (I had no proviso against screaming obscenities at the owners in my employee handbook). It has it all this, and more.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:28 AM on June 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


I love how anytime anything remotely political is posted on MeFi, the first thing everyone tries to do is scrutinize it for potentially libertarian sympathies and then quickly, quickly post $GENERIC_LOLLIBERTARIANS_AMIRITE. Get a life.

Do you object to this Mefi tendency because it is repetitive and often inapplicable, or because you labor under the illusion that libertarianism is not, in fact, a laughable political philosophy?

(I need to know, so that I can muster the appropriate emotional response to your comment.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


If the site helps even one person think beyond the constraints of a societally imposed illusion of what constitutes respectable employment, which seems to entail all manner of humiliating and inane wage-slavism of the sorts that are found all over the country, and instead inspires that person to search for meaning in life and how that meaning can be turned into productive and satisfying and real work of the sort that feeds the spirit and the mind and the heart AND provides a contribution to one's community, whether in a positive way or also with the creation of money and taxes for general good, I think that's great. Work is really where the rubber meets the road in all these conceptually loaded and destructive "isms" people are throwing around. And the sooner a lot of that destructive labelling gets shown for the empty theoretical pablum that it is and the sooner humans get back to practical thought, the better. Work is elemental, it's as important that a person feel good about their work as it is that they have three square meals a day.

My only one little criticism is that sometimes you do have to be a wageslave a bit to have enough money to get to what you love doing, but then again once you even begin on that road the wage slave handcuffs get put on you and it's hard to think differently, as these folks obviously are attempting too.

But, I'll admit, as a wage-slave with a rent to pay and familial responsibilities, getting from here to there, seems daunting, and quite the tightrope act of sorts. And I suppose CLAWS is a resource to help people do that and is planting seeds for the future.
posted by Skygazer at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


See also e.g. English Utilitarianism:"the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility: that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people." There's a kernel of an interesting idea here, and saying "HERPDERP HOW CAN I HAS PAY" is a bit of a disservice to J.S. Mill and close to 200 years of philosophical thought.

Some thoughts from reading their FAQ:
A "job" (as defined by these CLAWS people) has low utility, decreases the summed pleasure or alternately increases the suffering of the people. "Wage slavery" is an increased state of misery, actively denying pleasure and greatly increasing suffering. Again, this is consistent with Utilitarian though. Wage slavery's classic example would be the industrial revolution machine operator, pulling a lever thousands of times a day.

"Work" and "Leisure" are so similarly defined by CLAWS that I suspect my traditional-definition "work" on computer systems may arguably defined as leisure: self directed, done for its own sake, and producing no tangible output.

There are three interesting points about consumerism and income from the FAQ that may be of general note:
1) I've consciously chosen to live simply and avoid debt. I know I can be quite happy with few material goods. I've also chosen not to marry, have children or keep pets.

2) I've shifted my perspective on wealth. Wealth has little to do with greenbacks. No matter how little money I may have, I can always find something to make me feel rich - like the fact that I can hear a bird sing a beautiful melody outside my window, for example.

3) I've invested time in friendship and creating community. As a result, I have a lot of very good friends who are happy to share their resources (homes, food, etc.) and barter services with me.
Are these radical concepts? Not really. It's not that one eschews working altogether, it's that the work one does is fulfilling and useful. They're falling prey to their own "see how clever we are" POV and definitions, though.
posted by boo_radley at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: we're a pro-leisure and anti-wage-slavery group of people dedicated to exploring the question: why work?
posted by mazola at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, not having fully disected the article, I dare say I agree with these guys.

I love my career, but my job makes me want to scream as it continues to be less and less about my skill set and more and more about air traffic control and figuring out who wants what, when. I'd also like coworkers who would tell me what they want and when rather than kind of vaguely hinting.

To put this another way, why do we say that big centrally planned economies are bad, but big centrally planned corporations are good?

Looking at jaduncan's list, I think, for example, we're getting real close to an age where some variant of open source medical research could be done. I wasn't entirely kidding here, for example. I can also direct you to the web pages of guys who are machinists Monday through Friday, but on weekends, to relax, the go in the basement and do some machine shop work.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


But, I'll admit, as a wage-slave with a rent to pay and familial responsibilities, getting from here to there, seems daunting, and quite the tightrope act of sorts. And I suppose CLAWS is a resource to help people do that and is planting seeds for the future.

The problem with folks like this is that the condition of work is created by the society the work exists and is performed in. There seems to be this idea that you can claim victory simply by opting out of it, which is narcissistic and shallow.

(Oh, there I go!)
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]



Do you object to this Mefi tendency because it is repetitive and often inapplicable, or because you labor under the illusion that libertarianism is not, in fact, a laughable political philosophy?

(I need to know, so that I can muster the appropriate emotional response to your comment.)


As I said, I'm an anarchist, not a libertarian. (Note that "post-left" != "anarcho-capitalist.") I do think libertarianism is often the only voice questioning the state in political debates, so to that extent I do believe it serves a useful function--and easy dismissals of it often rely on a simplistic state-centrism that I also oppose. But you won't see me defending Ron Paul or Ayn Rand, that's for sure.
posted by nasreddin at 10:35 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job, sir. The bums will always lose. Do you hear me, Lebowski? The bums will always lose!
posted by Ratio at 10:35 AM on June 23, 2009 [16 favorites]


That sounds nice and all, but in 99% of cases the employee/employer relationship is a little more unbalanced than that. Can you work when you want and take time to yourself when you want? Do you define the terms of your employment or does your employer?
This isn't about not working, it's about working under your own terms. We've all been conditioned to believe that the current system is the only way, but is it really?
Frankly, I'm surprised by the negative reaction to this from anyone other than a corporate employer.
posted by rocket88 at 1:08 PM on June 23 [+] [!]


I completely agree with you that the employer/employee relationship is unequal - we have tried to use unions to balance this somewhat, and they have helped. The gain in the living standards that the working classes (by which I mean all of us who do not own our own means of production) have experienced in the last 100 years are due to using unions to try to create a more equal negotiation position with employers (by stacking many weak employees against the more powerful employer).

I'm just trying to think through how our system works. The proponents were talking about people willing to work without coercion - I tried to think about the coercion behind their examples, and how we have always (throughout our history as humans) had coercion to get food, to get shelter. In some hunter-gatherer societies, you are coerced by need to do it yourself; in a more specialised economy, you are coerced by need to figure out what you can trade to get these things. This may mean making things, or may mean trading your labour. I'm not saying that this is right or moral or that the system isn't deeply unequal (check out my other rants about the cultural factors which contribute to income inequality) - but that there is no time in history that I can think of work without coercion.

Our system is clearly not the only way. In our history we have seen many ways to organise economic production. We have seen slavery and serfdom; even in relatively equal tribal societies, we humans organise work by gender and/or status. (Actually, many small tribal societies also have had slaves). And the nastiest work inevitably gets thrown on those with the least amount of power.

I feel like the proponents of "Why work?" are saying that many people work to get a new car; I was pointing out that most people work to have a roof over their heads. Yes, there are people who work to have a nicer roof over their heads, and in that they have made a choice. But having lived under a not very nice roof (with cramped spaces, cockroaches, even bedbugs), this isn't a choice of work over leisure, it's a choice of work over discomfort. This makes sense to me.

Of course, what we think of as discomfort changes with our cultural expectations. And we do have the personal agency to declare that we are willing to give up some things that others deem necessaries to gain what we want. But in our current economy, I feel like there are only a minority of economic positions that allow such flexibility. Anyone in a low paid job cannot give up any hours to gain leisure, because they need those hours solely for housing and other necessities (housing can take 50% or more of one's income). At the same time, some people in some well-paid positions cannot chose to work any less hours, because the culture of their work is such that failure to put in excessive hours results in being denied that employment entirely (many people in business, law or academia are in this position - good or very good pay, but failure to put in excessive hours can result in one being excluded entirely, and having no living.)

And now I'm repeating myself. So I should stop.
posted by jb at 10:36 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I for one have endeavored to live "job-free" for as much of my adult life as possible. This does not mean I've endeavored to be "work-free". Far from it.

I've generally found that when I don't have a "job", I get a lot of really valid, creative, relevant "work" done (some dare call it art). When I do have a "job", that too often seems to be all I have. The Job. It dominates my life and, often as not, the fruit of my labors benefit pretty much only my boss (and the shareholders) and, if anything, have a detrimental effect on my community as a whole.

We need to separate the notion that having a "job" and "working" are one and the same thing. They aren't. Work is good. Work is necessary. Work defines us. Jobs just suck, and they're supposed to. It's all there in the origins of the word JOB for Christ's sake ... or perhaps, I should say, Satan's sake.
posted by philip-random at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Options for living a more fulfilling, job-free lifestyle:

- Shack up with a man willing to pay for your upkeep in exchange for food, rent, etc. If it's not a "marriage for money", it's not trite!
- Make so little money you are able to take advantage of state and federally funded programs for things like health insurance, disability, etc!
- Phone sex operator!
- Write books about the above methods!

I am holding a series of seminars with these and other methods of remaining job free while still having a fulfilling existence. Mefimail me for reservation details! I accept paypal.
posted by shownomercy at 10:39 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, I wish MeFi Black were a real thing right now.
posted by boo_radley at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why do we castigate those who live in their parents' basement? Maybe that is something which could be better for both parents and their grown children.

I never lived in the basement - couldn't, the drop ceilings come to just over my head, and the place broils in the summer. But I did live in their house for about six months after I graduated college. And you know what? Compared to most, mine were extremely understanding and respectful of my being an autonomous adult. But most of my friends in similar positions had their parents demanding to know where they were, and generally behaving as though this mid-20s adult was still a teenager. It drove my friends nuts. More than a couple had parents imposing a curfew, or attempting to. Et Cetera. Yes, there are plenty of parents who are capable of being understanding that their kids have grown - mine seem to be of this ilk - but it's still very common that parents, at least the ones my friends have, start treating their grown adult children not as young-but-grown-and-functional adults, but as teenagers in need of constant vigilance to prevent all manner of horrible fates.

As for me, with my very understanding and reasonable parents, I moved out the instant I had the money, for the very simple reason that I'm in my mid 20s, and my bedroom shared a wall with my parents', and I decided that it would be nice to have a sex life.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I really like the idea of living with extended families.

That's really only a good thing for people who have really good relationships with their families, and whose families don't have a lot of mental illness and such.


It also only works if everyone in that extended family can handle living in the same location. The whole grow up in the suburbs, go to college somewhere across the country, move to a different city to get a job, move back to some other suburb to raise your kids, retire and move to someplace warm cycle doesn't work if everyone in the family is financially dependent on living in the same physical location.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2009


"Do that which you love the most and can be compensated for, and you will do it longer, harder, faster and better then anyone else in the world and you will find your heart full of joy and your pockets full of money."

-Mr. B. Balrog and about eleventy billion other friendly guys with beards.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have been working on this since I was old enough to understand that people had jobs to earn money.

Basically, it comes down to this: Lowest Common Denominator

There will always be people willing to work for low wages. Everything else is built up from there.


Note, in an unfree society, it can be argued that willingness is not a factor, that it's not a choice. This is true, but it's also true that in an unfree society, you still have a choice; work for low wages or starve to death/face imprisonment/torture. This isn't much different than a "free" society, which is kind of the point of the site in the FPP.

Regardless of the system, we are always in competition for resources. Resourceful people will take advantage of certain inequities to create gains for themselves. Sometimes this leveraging is seen as ethical and moral, such as smart, hardworking people going to college. Sometimes it's not ethical or moral, such as vicious, brutal people running a protection racket.

The inequities exist in their individual makeups: ruthlessness, intelligence, good sociopolitical skills, personal charisma, attractiveness, ability to work.

Another factor is in their inherited inequities: social status, inherited wealth.

It gets complicated quickly, but that's basically it. In a way, competition for resources is more difficult and brutal now than when we lived as hunter gatherers.
posted by Xoebe at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Paraphrasing Tony Gibson, we can define work simply as the expenditure of energy in a productive process, and leisure as the expenditure of energy without productive result. We're not saying one is good and the other bad - they're just two ways of being. We are not against being productive and we recognize the satisfaction that can result from being engaged in productive activity of one's own choosing...

But we are critical of the mindset (supported, as it were, by social norms, government policies and collective fears of poverty) that results in people working against their will, and believing there is no other way to "survive". This results in taking jobs out of joyless obligation, need for money, coercion, or a desire to "get ahead" in some sort of competitive social status or consumer game, for example. We think such a mindset is at the root of many, many otherwise solvable social, economic, and environmental problems.

But many people today don't use the kind of simple, non-judgmental definition above. Many of us think of work not just as effort expended in a productive process, but as a "necessary evil" - in other words, work is what we have to do so we can support ourselves. If your concept of work is drudgery, if you think of your job as something you'd rather not do if it weren't for the money, if you simply can't wait to retire so you can "enjoy life" - that kind of thinking is what we define as wage slavery, and we seek to abolish it.


I'm not sure if they see the enemy as Capitalism, Gordon-Gecko-as-Satan, or if the movement is more accurately interpreted as seeking to realize the ideal of all folks engaged in the "work" that makes them feel like self-actualized human beings. I could definitely get behind the "do what you love to do" movement (provided that someone would still love to haul my garbage away on Thursday mornings). I can't imagine not working--I got smacked hard with the Protestant work ethic stick--but I recognize that I'm in the rosy situation of having heard a calling to a career that am fed by--intellectually, spiritually and physicially. I'd no doubt feel differently if my true calling were something that didn't so fully compensate.
posted by njbradburn at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2009


I think that the real challenge is going to be when we run out of jobs. I don't want to get all futuristic, but as long as the formula remains less people = less pay, there is always going to be a great drive for corporations to reduce the number of people it employs. Eventually, robots, computer programs, and other non-people are going to drive the number of employed people down very low. (maybe not tomorrow, but it's coming)

When that happens what does the government do? If, like in America, your sense of worth is tied into what you do for a living, how do you keep people from just wandering around aimlessly, demoralized and downtrodden? Does the government just make up jobs for them and pay them a "wage" that is really just disguised welfare?

I think it would be nice if we took the situation by the balls instead. We've got enough of everything that we could feed everyone for a fairly low amount, provide housing for everyone for an equally low amount and also provide a basic level of education. Then tell people that if they want anything else, they have to do something to earn it. The important part would be to not call it welfare, but name it the "American Dividend" or something.

If people truly didn't have to work for food and shelter, I think the majority would settle down into not doing much of anything, but that's really all that most of us do anyway, but I think we'd be a lot happier. Plus, a precious few of us would produce some amazing works, because they would be driven to, not out of necessity, which only drives you to do enough to solve the problem, but out of a desire to do something, anything.
posted by BeReasonable at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


Also from Bob Black: Theses on Groucho Marxism.
Contemporary G-Marxists must resolutely denounce the imitative, vulgar
"Marxism" of the Three Stooges, Monty Python, and Bugs Bunny. Instead of
vulgar Marxism, we must return to authentic *Marxist vulgarity.*
Rectumfication is likewise in order for those deluded comrades who think
"the correct line" is what the cop makes them walk when he pulls them over.
posted by nasreddin at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


"You get yourself a job before sundown, or we're sending you to military school with that...goddamn Finkelstein shit kid! Son of a bitch!" -- Arnold Stoner
posted by VicNebulous at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2009


Wow, is THAT ever a group of people who don't understand the idea of "wage slavery."

Wage Slavery is not about whether you work for a living, whether you gain money through employment to make your life better. It's a phrase used to describe the rather miserable state many Americans (and possibly others around the world) find themselves in.

It describes what happens to a worker when they discover they cannot leave their job in order to somehow upgrade their life. Do you have so much debt, either from student loans or credit cards or even mortgage, that you cannot leave a miserable work situation and find something better for yourself? Then you have a chain holding you to your job in the form of money as real as any shackle put on an owned person. Do you find that if you leave your present employment, you will lose your health coverage, and that prospect either frightens you or directly threatens your health and well-being because of required maintenance drugs? Then you are in bondage to your employer who holds your insurance over your head like a taskmaster wielding a whip.

THOSE are real examples of wage slavery. Anyone who puts forth the idea that one should not somehow find a way to contribute to society at large and can somehow drift by on the goodwill of others is a freeloader. Someone who seeks actively to avoid financial and other arrangements which prevent their mobility throughout society and still earns his or her keep? That is a responsible adult. But if you "cannot quit" for a reason which will cause a load of shit to fall upon you outside of basic personal care issues, then you're a wage slave.

Jebus. When I was attending the Rainbow Gatherings, there would be about 20% of the people who did active work to promote the wellbeing of the community, and about 40% of the people who would provide sparkle and texture to daily life. The other 40% seemed to spend all their days begging others for marijuana or playing frizbee, and then were the first in line at the kitchens during meal time. We had a name for those people: Drainbows.

This website is about the Drainbows of our culture, at large.
posted by hippybear at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2009 [28 favorites]


The sooner a Banksian Culture-like post-work society gets here, the better. Bring on the AIs! :)
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2009


We've got enough of everything that we could feed everyone for a fairly low amount, provide housing for everyone for an equally low amount and also provide a basic level of education. Then tell people that if they want anything else, they have to do something to earn it. The important part would be to not call it welfare, but name it the "American Dividend" or something.

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2009


It's all there in the origins of the word JOB

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2009


The sooner a Banksian Culture-like post-work society gets here, the better. Bring on the AIs!

Your ideas are also intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter as well!

That's two newsletters I've subscribed to. What a productive day!
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


We've got enough of everything that we could feed everyone for a fairly low amount, provide housing for everyone for an equally low amount and also provide a basic level of education. Then tell people that if they want anything else, they have to do something to earn it. The important part would be to not call it welfare, but name it the "American Dividend" or something.

Check out Paul Goodman's 1947 book Communitas. The third section is essentially a by-the-numbers analysis of how this could be done.
posted by nasreddin at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


This seems like as good a thread as any to throw in a plug for distributism.
posted by jquinby at 11:07 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with work? I enjoy what I do and WTF else would I do with my day? it's sad but true that I have accomplished much, much more with my life via external structure and direction than I would have by myself. We're not all Edison and I'm OK with that.

Do you have so much debt, either from student loans or credit cards or even mortgage, that you cannot leave a miserable work situation and find something better for yourself? Then you have a chain holding you to your job in the form of money as real as any shackle put on an owned person.

Well, you know, there are shades of grey to this. I could dump this job tomorrow, but it would be tough.
posted by GuyZero at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plus, a precious few of us would produce some amazing works, because they would be driven to, not out of necessity, which only drives you to do enough to solve the problem, but out of a desire to do something, anything.

Wha?? Why, this statement flies in the face of Platonic law and Schoolhouse Rock idiomatic creed!

I think the motivation to "make" and "make better" does not exist in a vaccuum where people are settled down not doing much of anything, because there are no examples or inspiration.

And I actually don't agree with the premise that most people would choose your definition of "leisure."
posted by njbradburn at 11:09 AM on June 23, 2009


There seems to be this idea that you can claim victory simply by opting out of it, which is narcissistic and shallow.

Agreed- absolutely.
The kids I know who sit around on the floors of their packed squat eating dumpstered food and tattooing doodles on their legs don't really seem to be planting a lot of seeds for the future, as one might say- and that's not much of a victory. You can live near the edge of society and lead a 'non-traditional lifestyle' without completely marginalizing yourself in the process.
What's important to me is to able to strike a balance between a certain amount of stability (AKA enough clothes to wear, food to eat, shelter, &c) and enough free time so that I can still have fun and be fulfilled.

On preview: I know way too many people like hippybear's 'drainbows'. They tend to be the kids who have been doing way too much acid for way too long to the point where they think those giant fuzzy Slash hats are actually cool.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2009


I've never worked in my life. I've had plenty of jobs, done things that earnt money, but never any work. Nothing I've ever done for money has contributed to the well-being of society in a real tangible way. It's odd to think that even when I've been tired after a day's "work" and felt that I really deserved my income, it was just the feeling of having fulfilled my social expectations. I went to a place of work, did the things required of me for X hours, and so I have a certain claim on society's resources. But none of the resources I used were created by me, just exchanged for my non-work. Somebody somewhere got the raw end of the deal: they gave their work for my "work". They supported me by toiling for hours in the creation of resources, and I copied their actions faithfully in pretense of doing the sense. It has an almost cargo-cult quality to it, with thousands of people everyday going through the motions of "work" in the belief that resources will rain from the sky. And they do, which is perhaps the most interesting thing about how western society ir organized.

Though they say their against wage-slavery, perhaps it's best to see this group as asking for honesty. Masses of people do little or nothing productive, but spend hours creating the pretense that they should be awarded resources. If they were freed from this and given the time to do what they pleased, they wouldn't spend it in the pretense of work. Sure, a lot of time would be spent doing nothing, but not all. Even a little time doing real work would be an improvement on the current situation for many.
posted by Sova at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2009 [19 favorites]


Hmmm . . . work? Work?
posted by barrett caulk at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


We've got enough of everything that we could feed everyone for a fairly low amount, provide housing for everyone for an equally low amount and also provide a basic level of education. Then tell people that if they want anything else, they have to do something to earn it.

And now is when I purposely link to Asimov's Caves of Steel, which depicts a society with just this arrangement, and how it was just as classed and competitive as any other.

The provision of the basics of survival is something which I strongly support for humanitarian reasons; it is immoral that anyone in a society as rich as the developed world should ever go hungry or freeze to death (both of which happen more often than we like to admit). But this doesn't do anything about social inequality, just sets a floor of minimums - you can still have a deeply unequal society and all the problems that come from that, unless you talk about inequality itself.
posted by jb at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: they think those giant fuzzy Slash hats are actually cool.
posted by jquinby at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2009


jkquinby: Distributism. Nice addition to the conversation.
posted by njbradburn at 11:18 AM on June 23, 2009


Sova - I'm very intrigued. What kind of non-work did you do? Me, I've been studying and researching history, but I am constantly reminded by the almost non-existent market for history how little my work contributes what people want. I'd like to think I contribute to society in intangeable ways, but frankly it's a bit arrogant of me to assume I know better than society - maybe I don't. But then value is often a collective delusion - we convince ourselves that X has a great value because, well, because someone else told us so.
posted by jb at 11:18 AM on June 23, 2009


tl;dr
....ZZZZzzzzzzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzzZZZZzzzzzzzzz
posted by not_on_display at 11:19 AM on June 23, 2009


I think that the real challenge is going to be when we run out of jobs. I don't want to get all futuristic, but as long as the formula remains less people = less pay, there is always going to be a great drive for corporations to reduce the number of people it employs. Eventually, robots, computer programs, and other non-people are going to drive the number of employed people down very low. (maybe not tomorrow, but it's coming)

This won't really happen until AI reaches the point of matching at least an average uneducated person in terms of intelligence, which is still a long way off. Most jobs that involve absolutely no independent thought already have been automated or eliminated through technology, but the remaining ones are going to be very hard to cost effectively transition into something that can be done by a robot or computer program.

Basic things that we take for granted like being able to walk around a typical workplace, understand what your boss is saying, and make common sense adjustments when things go wrong are beyond the abilities of most current robots and software systems. Even after those kinds of technological gaps are filled, it's not obvious that they will quickly or ever become cheap enough to produce, deploy, and maintain in most work environments. It's going to be a long time before it makes sense to replace the average minimum wage worker with a robot, especially considering that if the robot breaks down you have to pay someone to fix it, whereas the minimum wage worker is on his own for health care.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


njbradburn, I don't know maybe I'm cynical, but I think given the option without the guilt, most people would be happy just to sit around and do a little of nothing. I'm a bit of an elitist, so that might be showing, but I've got plenty of life experience to back up my attitudes. And the good thing is that if I'm wrong, they all get food and satisfying work!

As for inspiration, I would argue that the true lasting achievers are driven by more than just role models. They see something wrong, or have a question to answer, or simply hate their circumstances. People change the world because they don't know how not to.

jb, I never said it would make things equal. as long as there are people, there will be classes and competition. I just like to think that if we leveled the playing field a little more, I wouldn't feel so bad for being "statistically" in the richest 1% of the world. If I knew everyone, or at least everyone in America, was at least getting a good meal and going to sleep in a bed with a roof overhead, that'd be nice...and achievable.
posted by BeReasonable at 11:28 AM on June 23, 2009


Why work?
When Work Disappears
posted by lunit at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2009


Goodness. If I had the choice, I'd probably work *more*. Not because I want to work, mind you. I've always been intrigued by people who say things like "If it wasn't for my job, I'd go stir crazy." I can think of plenty of things I'd rather be doing! But I also like making my car payment, staying current on my mortgage, and being able to feed myself, my husband and my child. Basically, I like feeling secure and being able to buy myself and my loved ones little presents now and then.

So why am I not working more? Because I'd end up working to pay for daycare, which is so not worth it when I can just pull in enough to pay a few bills each month right from home with Dr. Babygonapus here beside me. This works only because I'm pretty damned good at the home economy game (how retro) and we started out with a lot of savings and helpful parents.

Then again, this non-choice -- which is is a consequence of there not being a huge amount of very well-paid writing work out there -- has basically allowed me to guiltlessly do what I wanted to do anyway, which is stay at home with my child. Win-win?

(And as for the no work movement... doesn't being able to not work kind of depend on other people having to work? Living fully off the grid requires that *you* do work to support yourself. Living on the grid requires that *others* do work to maintain that grid. No matter what, someone is working! Unless you define "work" as doing stuff you hate and "non-work" as doing what you love, in which case we better figure out who loves cleaning toilets, maintaining sewers, working in machine shops, etc., so the rest of us can diddle around with art supplies and lay on the beach all day.)
posted by Never teh Bride at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here, let me help.

1) Stop buying stuff you don't need. Number one savings.
2) If you do buy something, buy a good one. Doesn't have to be new.
3) Make and keep good friends. They improve quality of life.
4) Eat wisely. Not too much. Mostly plants. Grow your own if possible.
5) Do something nice every day, and share it. Music, art, gifts, etc.
6) For fuck's sake, stop being an asshole. Smile at strangers. Say please.
7) Welcome each awakening as full of possibilities.
8) Welcome each sleep as a peaceful rejuvenation.

I think these "why work" guys are probably pretty cool, but really if the goal is happiness you don't have to bring money (or lack of) into it at all. Just live WELL, as above, and see just how little money you really need. It's not very much at all.

(I'm not a perfect practitioner by any means, but damn if aspiring to these things hasn't changed my life completely.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:44 AM on June 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


"Get leave to work—
In this world 't is the best you get at all;
For God in cursing gives better gifts
Than man in benediction. God says sweat
For foreheads, men say crowns, and so we are crowned;
As gashed by some tormenting circle of steel
Which snaps with a secret spring—get work, get work,
Be sure it is better than what you work to get."
posted by frobozz at 11:50 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smile at strangers.

My on-purpose smile looks like a rictus of pain, so instead I raise my eyebrows in what I hope to be a friendly manner. Just sayin'.
posted by everichon at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the past workers have tended, like Oliver Twist, simply to ask for more. Now, on an increasing scale, they are moving away from traditional trade union demands. They are beginning to challenge some fundamental aspects of the work process. The old illusions about 'a fair day's work', about 'doing a good job' and about 'loyalty to the company' are happily dying.
At Lordstown wages were not an issue. Workers were used to regular wage increases. But despite these their life at work had deteriorated. But even if conditions remain the same workers themselves do not. They are increasingly rejecting the industrial prison.
The Lordstown Struggle And the Real Crisis in Production. "The Lordstown story is a clear example of working class resistance to work itself. This resistance, which we want to describe in some detail, is a very welcome tendency. It must be looked at in a very concrete way, if by socialism we mean something more than just a re-arrangement in the distribution of surplus value, which would leave the technological infrastructure of industry unchanged."
posted by Abiezer at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just like to think that if we leveled the playing field a little more, I wouldn't feel so bad for being "statistically" in the richest 1% of the world. If I knew everyone, or at least everyone in America, was at least getting a good meal and going to sleep in a bed with a roof overhead, that'd be nice...and achievable.
posted by BeReasonable at 2:28 PM on June 23 [+] [!]


Homeless shelters provide a good meal and beds with a roof overhead. Have you ever stayed in a homeless shelter? Sure, one could say that levels the playing field a little, but it's the equivalent of changing its angle from 89 degrees to 88.

Yes, it needs to be done. But actually happiness and satisfaction is relative - the effects of poverty are not just pure physical deprivation, but also lacking that which your society considers to be essential to be decent. In the early middle ages, a warrior like Beowulf could sleep with a bunch of other men in one big room, and be counted rich because the room had ivory decorations. Now someone who sleeps in one big room with other people just thinks about their lack of privacy and security.

As I said above, providing food and shelter to all members should be a moral imperative for all societies. But providing that minimum really doesn't address the problems of inequality - social dislocation, disenfranchisement, etc. I hate it when people do this, but I'm afraid I will point back to the Caves of Steel as a book which illustrates this much better than I can. In that society, robots did much of the simple work, but people just hated them for taking work away from them and condemning the unemployed to live as you have suggested. Everyone who was employed was just stressed out at the idea that any minute they could fall back into the warehoused unemployed.
posted by jb at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2009


I've never worked in my life. I've had plenty of jobs, done things that earnt money, but never any work. Nothing I've ever done for money has contributed to the well-being of society in a real tangible way.

Correction: you've work, you just feel you haven't contributed useful products to society. Values placed on work output vary: I use paper, ink, electricity, office materials, computers and software in my job. My output is nothing physical, but the review and approval of designs that shape the design of something physical.

Jobs have grown from making something, to managing the created items, to managing the creation of items. More steps in the system. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it's shuffling of papers. But society has become complex to the point where it needs more cogs to get things reviewed, approved, cross-checked, sorted, tallied and accounted for. These are jobs. They are work. Things we value and things we take for granted happen because of the cogs and pieces, because of jobs and work getting done.

Your work may be unnoticed and insignificant in the grand scope of things, but the system has a place for you. Maybe your role can be made redundant by streamlinging the process, but that doesn't make your work non-work. It just makes it less useful. This is not a hymn for the drones of society, but a reminder that all work results in something, even if that something feels like nothing.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2009


seanmpuckett and Baby_Balrog's plans are working out well for me personally.
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on June 23, 2009


yeah man, why work when wage slaves can make all the things you want to consume? don't be a wage slave, just find ways of getting the stuff they make for free. that's really radical.
posted by molecicco at 12:04 PM on June 23, 2009


In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.
posted by Sailormom at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


previously :P esp!

on some level i think we're dealing with the consequences of (conf)using money as a proxy for utility (cf. use vs. exchange value, e.g. bread & diamonds on a desert island), whereas "before" it might have made some sense -- for lack of better information transmission and rationing mechanisms -- markets were better than nothing, but of course this tended to privilege 'market' activities over 'non-market' ones that nonetheless still hold value, but just aren't as easily measurable, storable or exchangeable... um, so i've been wondering about capitalism lately :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 12:12 PM on June 23, 2009


Why work?

The key thing to remember when you're doing work, no matter what it is, is that you're doing it because someone else has a problem that needs to be solved. To take a simple example, yesterday we paid a plumber to fix some leaking pipes under our sink.

In a large, bureaucratic organization, it's not easy to keep this in mind. The best managers I've had have been really good at conveying the big picture, explaining how the task that I'm working on helps our customers.

As a society, we'll always have problems that need to be solved--growing food, hauling away garbage, whatever--and that means that we'll always have work to do. Even robots need to be designed, built, maintained, and repaired. And there'll be problems that robots can't solve.

To me, work has a number of benefits. The first and most obvious is financial. (We don't buy a lot of stuff; it's more about financial security.)

But I also get a lot of personal satisfaction from working: I enjoy solving problems and helping people. I've worked full-time since I was 18, and my plan is to continue working as long as I'm able. I have no plans to retire at 55 or 65. If I have to drop out of computer programming, I'll find some other line of work (helping seniors with their computer problems?).

For me, work gives meaning to life--a life devoted to primarily non-productive leisure seems wasteful to me. The contemporary emphasis on happiness as the meaning of life (Epicureanism/hedonism) rather than virtue (Stoicism) seems misplaced.

filthy light thief: Correction: you've worked, you just feel you haven't contributed useful products to society. Values placed on work output vary: I use paper, ink, electricity, office materials, computers and software in my job. My output is nothing physical, but the review and approval of designs that shape the design of something physical.

Somewhere Orwell compares the output of a coal miner over his working life (in tons of coal) with his own output (in books). It's a humbling comparison.
posted by russilwvong at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Somewhere Orwell compares the output of a coal miner over his working life (in tons of coal) with his own output (in books). It's a humbling comparison.

And yet a big powerplant will burn that coal in a matter of days and have nothing to show for it except ash. Orwell's book have lasted decades. Many people are about impact and not just effort.
posted by GuyZero at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't contribute a goddamned thing to society and I get paid twice a month for it. All I do is talk. hee hee but at home I grow tomatos and peppers and squash. (weird squash, let's hope. If that is me smiling at you as you walk down the side of the road, well please smile back)
posted by longsleeves at 12:25 PM on June 23, 2009


jb, that's why I'm saying you also have to transform how the notion is seen. If you're not unemployed, but reaping the rewards of being American, it's not so disheartening.

The transformation of people's attitudes is the most important aspect of any change. Anything sucks if your attitude is lousy and conversely the meagerest portion is a feast if you think it is. I also opine that, naysayers aside, low employment is coming quicker than we think. I'm sure there are bright people all over thinking of ways to streamline every process you can think of. It pays to do so, and is just the sort of problem people like to solve. A smart government wants to get out in front of the havoc this will eventually wreak.
posted by BeReasonable at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2009


I think these "why work" guys are probably pretty cool...

Not really. I've lived in a university town most of my adult life (a couple decades) and have known guys (they're usually guys) like this: they don't buy rounds at happy hour, they show up empty-handed at pot-luck dinners and BYOB parties yet eat and drink their fill, they draw deeply on bowls someone else packed, and they absent-mindedly butt in line in front of poor elderly people at the soup kitchen. And they are champion rationalizers, who can talk your ear off with self-justifying nonsense, particularly after they have drawn deeply from the aforementioned packed bowl.

Best of all, I am looking forward to paying for their universal health care and Social Security during the coming decades. Yay for the wage-free!

longsleeves: I don't contribute a goddamned thing to society .... at home I grow tomatos and peppers and squash

People who grow squash always end up contributing to the welfare of others as they have to give all that crazy surplus away to everyone they know.
posted by aught at 12:29 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does the government just make up jobs for them and pay them a "wage" that is really just disguised welfare?

Most states already have this, it's the Department of Motor Vehicles.
posted by maxwelton at 12:29 PM on June 23, 2009


Where does leisure-slavery fall on this scale?
posted by ...possums at 12:32 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many of the CLAWS people spend time removing garbage from their neighborhoods or cleaning out sewers, just for the sheer joy of it.

This also reminds me of an acquaintance who is living one of those "non-materialist" lifestyles CLAWS recommends. Though she has a certificate in a well paying field, she's very picky about the hours she wants to work, and so has gone nearly two years with no job. She's migrated from one friend's house to another, including staying with some friends who desperately needed a paying guest to pay medical bills. But she DID clean occasionally. Currently she is looking for a new person to stay with; I know this, because the word has gone around our circle of friends that she's a sponge, and so at this point she's run out of people to stay with. I wonder if the CLAWS people would be willing to put her up?
posted by happyroach at 12:37 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this something I should not be reading MeFi at work to understand?

Disclaimer: Not actually at work, please not to be firing.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:39 PM on June 23, 2009


People who grow squash always end up contributing to the welfare of others as they have to give all that crazy surplus away to everyone they know.

such as at birthday or holiday parties when they have the nerve to give that shit instead of real presents.
posted by shmegegge at 12:39 PM on June 23, 2009


Don't miss our list of unconventional replies to the question "So, what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a pretentious creep who pretends to be anti-work, but whose lifestyle is wholly dependent on others' willingness to work and to keep our society and its infrastructure humming."
posted by univac at 12:40 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." - Harry Lime (Orsen Wells), in "The Third Man"

This is the other side of this argument. One I frequently think of in regards to man's true nature, which I don't necessarily pretend to understand fully, but a lot of things I have accomplished and been proud of, have to be honest had an element of fear motivating it, amongst other things, like the love and support of people around me, or if that was lacking simply a bloodyminded sense of pride, which I guess is self-respect or love and goes back to the "fear" aspect too.

And who's to say the cuckoo clock isn't as sublime and beautiful as any work of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Perhaps the problem is that we attribute greater worth to those works that reflect man's own self-absorption with his pain and drama and need for the divine? And let us not forget that the renaissance was a time of relative peace, when the repression of the dark ages lifted and man began to believe in himself again and his ability to have a say in his world.

Ahhh...too many questions....
posted by Skygazer at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2009


Well, it helps to remember that argument was delivered by a sociopath. A fear driven society works well for them.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


This thread makes me want to go to Starbucks for some reason.
posted by hellojed at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The mere idea of 'why work' is a conceit made possible by a society built upon the labor of many, many generations of people.
Leisure is nice so long as someone else is tending the crops, manning the ER, educating the next generation, maintaining the infrastructure and providing security from those of different ideology (e.g. 'leisure is an affront to...').
this is not a matter of respect from your peers, anyone can find a group of likeminded folks to validate a worldview, this is a matter of whether or not one recognizes that the benefits one reaps from a 'society' do not happen without effort on someone's part. to not participate in that effort is an option....but not a just one.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:51 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


People who grow squash always end up contributing to the welfare of others as they have to give all that crazy surplus away to everyone they know.

Thanks for reminding me to go roll my windows up.
posted by jessamyn at 12:54 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Garbage collection can be looked at the same way. If society were set up so that the consequences of not removing your own refuse were living in a stench-filled apartment, we're willing to bet that people would indeed choose to do such jobs. Is that coercion? We don't think so.

As someone living in a city where the municipal workers are all on strike, I can say pretty easily that this is not true. We've had no garbage pick up for only a couple of days and the shit's already stinking and piling up everywhere.

just like people will clean their own houses or balance their own checkbooks without coercion.

Not me, pal. I am this group's fucking nightmare. Sometimes I invite friends over just so I have a driving reason to do the dishes. I get similar literature inserted into the biweekly produce boxes I order sometimes. It never ceases to sound like both the best and worst idea in the history of ideas.
posted by SassHat at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not me, pal. I am this group's fucking nightmare. Sometimes I invite friends over just so I have a driving reason to do the dishes.

LOL> I used to do that so I'd be motivated to clean my apartment.
posted by Skygazer at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2009


thousands of people everyday going through the motions of "work"

That's the nub of it, Sova. Until the amount of money you earn depends on what you actually do, e.g. when you're working at home, you have no ide how much time you waste at 'work'. Programming at home, I do, honestly, 4-6 hours of concentrated work a day, and that's the most I can do, but it is probably at least twice what the usual wage slave does if you choose to elide their socializing, meeting-attending, etc.

Now I am going to be the enemy of the wage slave. So be it.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:01 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


"ide" = "idea". You knew that!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:02 PM on June 23, 2009


Thanks for reminding me to go roll my windows up.

Didja hear the one about the accordion player who left his accordion in the back seat overnight?

It was awful! Someone smashed out his window and threw another accordion in!
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:09 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of Krisis' Manifesto against Labour which created quite the discussion in the german left ten years ago. Go read it if you want a critique of dead labour from a marxist perspective.
posted by kolophon at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2009


I think it would be nice if we took the situation by the balls instead. We've got enough of everything that we could feed everyone for a fairly low amount, provide housing for everyone for an equally low amount and also provide a basic level of education. Then tell people that if they want anything else, they have to do something to earn it. The important part would be to not call it welfare, but name it the "American Dividend" or something.

The UK Green party's manifesto interestingly contains such a suggestion, which they call a Citizens' Income.

I think the site is interesting. I don't think they are as "pro-slacker" as many people in this thread think they are. But their views do put them in somewhat of a tight spot in this regard.

I think the core point they make is this:

The focus of CLAWS is re-thinking the work ethic, so we have gone into great depth on attitude because we've found through experience that guilt about laziness and other relics of the Puritan work ethic run very deep in capitalist cultures. Thus, shifting our attitudes is the level we want to focus on in our quest for freedom from wage slavery.

I think one thing we are often blind to is that capitalism has a moral as well as an organisational basis, tied as they say in part to the Puritan work ethic. What I'm referring to is the idea that laziness is not just organisationally inefficient but basically morally reprehensible. We also strongly tie social rank and value to income (though labour more so than income maybe). I am in no way claiming to be above or beyond this as well, it's just the way we think, as innate as social judgements on politeness. This is also why they have to step on eggshells slightly when stating their beliefs.

To state the obvious, many other societies have had different organisational structures, but tied into this completely different moral and social attitudes. So in previous ages the idea of a noble doing work in the fields would be offensive, whereas the reverse is true today. I think it's foolish to see capitalism as the "end of history" as such, though I have a feeling that every system views itself this way.

I agree with the Why Work? people in wondering whether one day another organisational system with a different structure will evolve. Though I do think it's essentially beyond our power to imagine what such a society would look like. We might even find it morally reprehensible and it may not even be as egalitarian as the current system.
posted by Erberus at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2009


People who grow squash always end up contributing to the welfare of others as they have to give all that crazy surplus away to everyone they know.

Shit yes. I have to make sure to lock my car at work every August for fear of finding a basket of over-ripe zucchini "baseball bats" in my backseat.
posted by bonehead at 1:25 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


This site made me laugh:
Quoting from the "Practical Ideas" section:

One of the most common questions we get is: "But how do I survive without a job? You have plenty of philosophy, inspiring quotes and theory on this site, and I know that my attitude is important, but I'd also like to hear stories from others about how they've done it and see a list of practical ideas I can use in figuring out a way for me to free myself from wage slavery."

My two favorites:

1) **Consider taking up dumpster diving
2) * I did phone sex from home for awhile - flexible hours, you don't have to leave the house, or invest in fancy work wardrobes. Of course, it does take a certain kind of personality to do this well, and women seem to make more income this way than men do. Some folks also do similar work from home for those telephone "psychic" lines, I hear.

I think the biggest advantage of the capitalist system is that it focuses people's work -- you are more likely to do something that is useful than if you were just doing whatever your whims dictated. You may decide that "useful" to society doesn't seem all that useful, but hey I like being able to get a nice high quality coffee across the street (almost anywhere I go... =) ).
posted by spaceviking at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2009


And yet a big powerplant will burn that coal in a matter of days and have nothing to show for it except ash.

That, and the buildings heated, the meals cooked, the lights lit, the factories powered (and all that flows from that- including books such as Orwell's printed for us all to enjoy).
posted by IndigoJones at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2009


I have to admit, this part of the FAQ cracked me up:

Q: I found your site while searching for The Leisure Party. What happened to that site?

A: Sarah Nelson, creator of The Leisure Party, decided to take a "sabbatical" of sorts, and has taken the site offline.


So, what -- was maintaining the website .... too much like work?
posted by webmutant at 1:56 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well the...
... fuck it.
*drops to the ground limp*
posted by Smedleyman at 2:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Until the amount of money you earn depends on what you actually do, e.g. when you're working at home, you have no ide how much time you waste at 'work'.

I used to work for Industry Canada, and one Friday afternoon my co-worker and I sat down and figured out exactly how much time we'd spent doing actual, honest-to-God work that week. If memory serves it came out to about five hours, total.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:30 PM on June 23, 2009


In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Well, that and LSD.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


When you did that calculation The Card Cheat, where did the other 35 hours go? Also, what did you count as work?

I find myself spending a lot of time complying with policies and attending meetings that seem to be there so someone on high can say, "See, I drafted a banana control policy and hosted a roll out with suplimental on line training. m Since then we have had no banana related injuries." I wouldn't count them as work, but someone somewhere thinks they're vitally important.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:41 PM on June 23, 2009


I have always been a fan of Aristotle's ideas regarding the Good Life.

Unfortunately, I realize both that the slavery required to make the Good Life possible is currently unpopular, and that were slavery officially instituted I'd likely be a slave.
posted by klangklangston at 5:06 PM on June 23, 2009


For those who mock dumpster diving, come with me to the next level: The Scrap Yard!

Hey look, A ball screw ($320 at McMaster Carr)

Here's a 2 hp motor that needs new bearings ($475 at Grainger)

You know, I think these are the wings to an F-18 (Your guess is as good as mine at Boeing)

Once you've made your own CNC mill from things you've picked up from the curb on special trash day and bough at a scrap yard for $0.15 a pound, you don't need to spend too much time at it to cover your financial needs. Now if I can just find an F-18 wiring harness on the curb somewhere.

I've really seen all this and more at scrap yards. No I didn't buy the F-18 wings.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:06 PM on June 23, 2009


Obviously 90% of the people posting didn't read the fucking article.
posted by tkchrist at 5:44 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously 90% of the people posting didn't read the fucking article.

No, that would be 10% who didn't read. They write 90% of the words on this page, though.
posted by hellojed at 5:53 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously 90% of the people posting didn't read the fucking article.

Which article, specifically? The link is to a website which seems quite extensive, and I admit I did not read every page there, but found it was possible to get a clear view of the authors' collective viewpoint quickly without having to read every word.

If you have a specific page within the website linked, I'd be happy to make certain I digest it well enough to have a cogent discussion you about it. Link?
posted by hippybear at 6:26 PM on June 23, 2009


Obviously 90% of the people posting didn't read the fucking article.

I was too busy working.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:16 PM on June 23, 2009


Also: I'm exempt from reading the article -- I spent 10 years trying to be a "professional" musician, and it took me another 10 years to recoup my expenses playing in a cover band. I followed my muse down a blind alley and got mugged.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:21 PM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


My only question, at this stage, while I absorb these ideas (both from the link and this thread) is how is the market mark-up on goods/services justifiable as a fair system of distributing community resources? That is, if we all should work, and earn in order to purchase our needs and wants, is there an ethical-based economic viewpoint on how much goods and services should cost, apart from market demand?

The reason I ask is that it appears that some people with the greatest wealth (not all), do the least work and receive the most resources. I'm thinking of say sportspeople & moviestars (not producing good & services for the community other then entertainment - please forgive my ignorant examples) recieving incredible wages of millions of dollars for short periods of work. Or perhaps hereditary business owners, who work very little, but are rewarded enormously for their luck in choosing parents?

I'm a political agnostic, because I haven't figured out the best system yet. However, I'm happy to tolerate other people's beliefs on the matter in a polite manner if they do not come doorknocking.

Can someone please reword my question so that it makes sense to someone else who can answer it?
posted by b33j at 7:42 PM on June 23, 2009


[This is a response from an anonymous commenter.]
I’m the founder of whywork.org. I wrote the FAQ, designed the original site, moderated the email list, and basically ran the group for six years. I turned over the site to someone else when I could no longer maintain it due to a repetitive strain injury and heavy responsibilities, and I have not been affiliated with the group for many years. The site is no longer maintained, but apparently the folks hosting it think it’s worth keeping online nonetheless. I have had no correspondence with them for years, so I don’t even know who’s in charge of it now.

CLAWS was definitely a labor of love. For a while, it WAS my work; I worked on it full time for more than two years. It was originally driven by the idealism, radicalism, and rebellion of youth (and no small amount of frustration born of enduring years of dead-end, minimum-wage jobs). It was made possible, in part, by the financial support of my former live-in partner, who believed in what I was doing at the time, and paid the household bills happily.

I started CLAWS because it had always bothered me that pretty much everyone in the culture of my upbringing was expected to take jobs for pay – usually 40+ hours a week – for most of their lives. I hated living like this. I didn’t mind work per se – in fact, I’ve always been a largely self-motivated worker whenever I’ve been able to exercise some measure of choice and control over the work I’ve done – but I hated how much time and life energy it consumed, and how little it paid in return for my efforts. Almost all my time was devoted to preparing for my job, doing my job, and recuperating from my job…and my friends and family were all in the same boat. It seemed we were always too busy or too tired from our jobs to devote as much time as we wanted to building healthy relationships, enjoying leisurely meals with family, gardening, arts and crafts, and other activities that didn’t pay much but were essential for our health and well-being. And many of us were stuck with huge credit card and student loan debt, or had no access to health insurance unless we had full-time jobs. So I envisioned a world where people would join forces and form communities and create gift economies in order to explore alternative ways of supporting and caring for themselves. The idea was to lessen the burden on everyone. The more work we could do ourselves, and the more simply we could live, I figured, the less time we would ultimately have to spend in thankless, low-paying drudgery.

Though I didn’t expect to change the world, I did want to plant a seed of hope for a different kind of culture. I wanted to encourage critical thinking, and reassure people they weren’t alone in suspecting that something was amiss in this culture. I wanted to inspire people to devote more attention to finding alternatives to the 9-to-5 grind, and offer them resources to help them along the way. I wanted to find other people who shared this vision, and organize planning groups. And to a certain extent, I think I succeeded.

But I learned some difficult lessons after the small community we founded collapsed on the launching pad, and my partner and I broke up and went our separate ways, leaving me heartbroken, alone, and in sudden need of a job. I learned that while some aspects of my vision of a job-free world may have been workable under the right conditions, others were hopelessly utopian. I learned that interpersonal and community relationships are a lot more complex than I ever imagined. I learned that I really don’t understand much about human motivation at all – and this despite years of study, reading, and trying in earnest to work things out with my loved ones. I learned that “do what you love, the money will follow” doesn’t mean “do whatever you feel like completely at whim, and let the chips fall where they may – money will show up like magic, if you just believe!” It means something closer to “do what you love under the appropriate circumstances, and the support will eventually follow, though not necessarily in the form of money.” And most importantly, I learned that even if the kind of culture or system I once envisioned did actually come into being, it probably wouldn’t look anything like what I imagined, and might even be far worse than what we’ve already got.

Though some of the philosophy I explored on whywork.org is based on questionable or flimsy assumptions, some of it is also fairly sound, if naïve at times. I still believe transforming attitudes is at the heart of any lasting social change, for example. But I also think I vastly underestimated the difficulty of such transformations. These days my aspirations are much more modest. I’m no longer aiming to Change The World; in fact, I’ll consider it a major accomplishment if I can just do my small part, day-by-day, to make it a better place to live.

Despite what many think, I never made the claim that people should shirk responsibilities to one another or freeload. CLAWS was not intended to be a movement of people who wanted to “opt out” in a simple, straightforward, thumb-your-nose-at-the-world kind of way. No matter how carefully I laid out my position on this, however, some people could never hear the message as anything other than “here are a bunch of lazy, thankless ne’er-do-wells who take everything for granted and want to sponge off the hard work of others.”

Ultimately, I started CLAWS because I envisioned and hoped for a world where work could be done, as much as possible, with love and joy. (I sometimes called this the “joy culture” to contrast it with the “job culture.”) CLAWS was a product of my search for meaningful work and a sense of community, and my frustration at the fact that such work seems woefully scarce. Though I am no longer affiliated with whywork.org and have taken a different direction in my life and my thinking, I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity to shape the CLAWS philosophy and put it out there for others to explore.

Thanks for posting it to MeFi.
posted by cortex at 8:12 PM on June 23, 2009 [21 favorites]


Maybe they should move to Somalia and ask that question there.
posted by azazello at 8:41 PM on June 23, 2009


I'm suspicious of this commie pinko stuff.
posted by deborah at 11:17 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to pop in to say that although I have no beef with people who dumpster dive, I do hate it when they act like what they're doing is actually some sort of strong, positive political behavior. "Look at me! I am eschewing consumerism by taking items from the garbage! I'm not part of your consumerist society!" Yes you are: if there weren't overconsumers there wouldn't be anything left in those dumpsters, and you'd have to pay for your food just like everybody else.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:45 AM on June 24, 2009


I remember once someone tricking us into listening to their Amway spiel in our own house. It started with something like 'Wouldn't it be great if you could quit your job and not work?' and we both said 'No'. It went downhill from there. Some of us are lucky enough to find a reward in work, not only if it is doing something you love every day (which to be honest in most cases it is not) but the reward of knowing you are doing something that is contributing, whether that be more of a traditional public service way -- armed forces, police, fire, garbage collector, teacher -- or maybe less obvious -- a historian, an editor, someone who develops kick-arse websites. I think telling people to find something they love and then make a way of making it their work is actually a bit unfair, as in it sets the bar too high and if you can't make what you love doing into your work (what if what you love is also something you are not particularly good at?) well you just have to become a wage slave. What about taking pride in what you do being a reward. I am pro-anti-consumerism, I am also a big believer in people having balanced lives, consuming less, and finding rewards outside of purely material objects. But I think it is a bit of a mistake to lump those issues in automatically with people working at a 'job'.

Or, maybe just read this essay in the New Yorker, which says something similar but much more eloquently than I do.
posted by Megami at 3:22 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


must explore this website more. as one who has on occasion seen 'going to work' more as an opportunity to recover from real life. than the other way around.
posted by mary8nne at 5:37 AM on June 24, 2009


My only question, at this stage, while I absorb these ideas (both from the link and this thread) is how is the market mark-up on goods/services justifiable as a fair system of distributing community resources?

Well, I can answer for myself: I don't think it is, not fully. Much of our system is not a moral system, though it may be sommewhat more moral than what came before.
posted by jb at 5:59 AM on June 24, 2009


jb asks:

Why do we castigate those who live in their parents' basement? Maybe that is something which could be better for both parents and their grown children.

Because most of know people who do this - and they generally do not resemble the family-focused, socially engaged, constructive youth that you suggest.

Most fall into one of two groups:
(1) ambitionless wanks who are either dropouts (HS or college), or are using college as a perpetual avoidance of getting a job that can support themselves, or
(2) poor people, often single mothers, working their asses off to get and keep their job(s), despite downturns in the economy, their health, and so on... who, despite being admirable for the sheer effort their daily, dismal existence requires, are living a life to avoid, not emulate.

Granted, I know at least one person in the much smaller group #3, a Phillipino man with a good income, in his 20s, who lives with his parents because that's what young men in the Phillipines do. He contributes to the household income, does chores, and lives his own life otherwise as many 20-somethings do. He is the sort of person you allude to... but in America, he is the exception.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 AM on June 24, 2009


My only question, at this stage, while I absorb these ideas (both from the link and this thread) is how is the market mark-up on goods/services justifiable as a fair system of distributing community resources?

Look at the percentage of new businesses that fail in the first year. There is significant risk involved, a risk that people won't undertake unless there is a sufficient reward.

I'm thinking of say sportspeople & moviestars (not producing good & services for the community other then entertainment - please forgive my ignorant examples) recieving incredible wages of millions of dollars for short periods of work.

The idea that these people's only "work" is the 5 seconds you are paying attention to them seems simplistic. Sportscasters are mostly made up of former athletes, who spent years working their way up in their chosen sport. And that's not just time spent as a pro being paid, it's the childhood they sacrificed to a training regimen that put them in the right place to have a sports career. Similarly, actors notoriously spend years doing crap jobs they hate, while taking every acting course and seminar they can find, in hopes of someday landing the one lucky break that gets them started. During film production, cast members may be on set for 20 hours straight, in dangerous circumstances. Both of these types of people put up with a great deal of up-front risk, and quite a few of them do not ever get the reward in return. It only takes one twisted ankle before the big game to ruin a career, one bad cold on audition day to keep you from ever breaking out.

What a sad and dreary world we would live in, if no one risked it all for their passions.
posted by nomisxid at 9:03 AM on June 24, 2009


Most fall into one of two groups:
(1) ambitionless wanks who are either dropouts (HS or college), or are using college as a perpetual avoidance of getting a job that can support themselves, or
(2) poor people, often single mothers, working their asses off to get and keep their job(s), despite downturns in the economy, their health, and so on... who, despite being admirable for the sheer effort their daily, dismal existence requires, are living a life to avoid, not emulate.


I would also add (3), people who have personal problems (alcholism, drugs, untreated mental disorders) that keep them from functioning independently. In most of those situations letting them stay at home without doing anything to solve their underlying issues is arguably a harmful form of codependence.

The point is that most people who can live independently of their parents do so in the US, so there is going to be a stigma attached to those that don't. The only real way to solve that would be to greatly increase the number of people who choose to live with their parents when other options are available, which probably won't happen any time soon.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:14 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


1) Stop buying stuff you don't need. Number one savings.

That's good, but how do I figure out what's a need and what's a frivolity, when I live in a consumer based culture where selfish purchases like clothing decide how people treat me?

2) If you do buy something, buy a good one. Doesn't have to be new.

Nice, if you have the money to afford it. Part of (relative) poverty is only being able to afford stuff that breaks.

6) For fuck's sake, stop being an asshole. Smile at strangers. Say please.

I did this and now the creep construction workers near my building are all hitting on me. One climbed onto my balcony at 11:30 at night.
posted by Phalene at 1:37 PM on June 24, 2009


Well, Phalene, assuming you're asking serious questions rather than floating balloons because you're contrary, I think that you need to assess your own needs. Don't let someone else tell you what you need. This includes television, advertising, your friends and people who might sneer at you on the subway. As for buying durable goods rather than cheap ones, if you stop buying things you don't truly need, you will discover that you can actually afford good quality versions of things you do. And they last much longer, too, reducing the need for future purchases; c.f. Vimes Boots. And not being an asshole doesn't mean being a doormat. In fact, adding a Please to your "get the fuck off my balcony or I'll call the motherfucking cops and if they aren't here in thirty seconds I'll turn this lighter and can of Lysol into a flamethrower" is Miss Manners approved.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:01 PM on June 24, 2009


In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell says this all far more compellingly & believably. Russell felt everyone should work 4 hours per day, likely even less today.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:35 AM on June 26, 2009


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