From I love old magazines
Mortality has figured in my thoughts as of late. For much of the last decade I was a grad student, so my ‘job’ was researching and writing. Of course, it’s work, but the point is there’s some creative control over it. You just don’t get paid for it.
But there is nothing to remind you of your mortality like going to an office every day. In the morning I open my eyes and realise that another week, another month, another six months has flashed by. And indeed, it’s been a half-year since I started my office job. My posture has slumped, my ass has gotten bigger from sitting in a chair all day, and despite my best efforts to network, build my CV and apply for new jobs, I’m still stuck there. On the 180th day there, I hate my job as much as when I started.
My coworkers don’t seem to be bothered. They socialise with each other, they take an interest in their work. At a meeting earlier this week, we went half an hour past quitting time, and I was the only person in the room watching the clock and ready to go. Everyone else kept extending the conversation as if they had nothing else to do with their lives. Even if I didn’t have a course to plan, lectures to write, editing to do, jobs to apply for, I would still leave the office at quitting time, because then I get my life back. I would rather stare at a blank wall than do any more work, because at least the latter doesn’t sap my creative energy and generate profit for somebody else.
My co-workers are not idiots or assholes. They all seem like quite reasonable, intelligent, sociable people. So why do I feel as if I’m hanging on with my fingernails, watching my life slide past me, while everyone else seems content to wave goodbye to their best years?
I get that we don’t have a choice: that’s why I’m doing this terrible job, because I’m in debt and have no other work to go to. But given those circumstances, I retain a little of my humanity by resisting, not giving up my time and concentration for the boss willingly and pretending like work has meaning.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: there is no value to what I do. I’ve asked my co-workers what they get out of the job, and they tell me it’s a puzzle, a series of mind games that keeps them occupied. But there is so much more to life: there is learning about films, appreciating humour, seeing new places, engaging in great struggles, intellectual and practical. And most of all, there is not doing mindless busy work because somebody tells you to. And if under capitalism our lives are mainly mindless busywork, then rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gently into that half-walled cubicle.
Work has to be more than just money: a good job provides creative satisfaction. I’ve never experienced a good job, and I’ve had dozens (with the partial exception of grad school, but that was tolerable precisely because it allowed creativity. It’s still work, of course.) In a shocking lapse of Marxist discipline, I don’t want to take over the means of production of my office and run it collectively with my co-workers. I just want it shut down, never to be entered again. I can’t think of any circumstances in which what I do right now would be socially useful, or interesting. While unemployment is terrifying, I genuinely cannot understand the so-called dignity of labour. Dignity lies in hobbies, laziness, sex, all the things that make us human and express our innate creativity.
Most work is non-creative, tedious and repetitive. Those who say otherwise earn large salaries and have creative control over their work processes, and generalize their experience to all other workers. This means that when they say do what you love, they genuinely believe everyone has a chance to do so. This is classic bourgeois ideology, transposing their experience of relative autonomy onto everybody else. But capitalism doesn’t work that way:
labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague.
Fuck work. Work is slow death. Next post: what can I possibly do about it?