I found an interesting piece this morning, posted at Permaculture.org.au. It’s in the form of an open letter “to everyone feeling screwed over by the economy,” and it strikes a resonant chord with me. This nation, and much of the world really, has moved from a primarily agrarian, rural civilization to an urban, high tech model in under 100 years, with a couple of generations in the middle being primarily industrial/manufacturing based.
Joe Bageant talked about this change in his final book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. His family changed, in about three generations, from one of highly self-sufficient farmers to being highly dependent technology jukies, incapable of doing or fixing much of anything for themselves. I think most of us can probably relate to that sort of change in our own families over the past three or four generations, and it’s disturbing.
One of my grandfathers only had an eighth grade education, yet when he left school, just before the the Great Depression struck, he had more knowledge in his head than most of my classmates and I had when we graduated from high school some sixty years later. Our civilization is a failure at almost everything except making a handful of people rich beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend.
The author of the following excerpt states that employed is just another word for used. To that comment I’d like to add an observation I’ve been making for years: supervisor is just another word for overseer, and the overseer’s job is to look after the slaves.
We may have ended racial slavery in the United States about a century and a half ago, but anyone who thinks slavery actually ended isn’t paying attention. Today we are all slaves on the global corporate plantation. Has the time come for an uprising?
How many people do you know who love their job? The truth is, most of us who have ordinary jobs can barely tolerate them. All else being equal, we’d rather not do them.
Work ethic is something this society takes pride in. But, if we are honest, we will confess that we call ourselves ‘hard working’ primarily to rationalize the daily abuses, deprivations, and indignities of the workplace. Work ethic is the only ethic most of us satisfy at our jobs. I think we can agree that most of our jobs aren’t making the world a better place.
So here we are, bickering and begging to fill roles we hate.
We should remember, that ‘employed’ is just another word for ‘used’. Just as you might employ a hammer and nails, your employer employs, or uses, you. The term ‘used’ very aptly describes our relationship with our employers. Like prostitutes, we resign ourselves to fake relationships for an empty cash return. In a healthy relationship, our devotions are reciprocated in kind. But in a relationship of use and abuse, the best you can expect is a cash settlement.
It should not surprise us, then, that politicians and other powerful people will laud our enthusiasm for employment and champion that cause. To the elite, unemployment is a crises because it means that the population is insufficiently used. An unused population is unprofitable, and potentially unruly. So, when the wealthy come to our rescue, they do it with jobs. As the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation slogan goes, “We believe that all people deserve the chance to lead healthy productive lives.”
Employment has become almost inseparable from other values like responsibility and human welfare. In our culture, promoting employment has become synonymous with supporting families, communities, and countries. At a time when we are so utterly reliant on employment and the economy for our survival, being anti-job is like being anti-life. Who but the laziest and most unrealistic sort of hippie would oppose jobs?
But let us not forget; people were not always so dependent on employment or the economy for survival. In fact, we’ve been hunter/gatherers for most of our existence. Money, the economy, and even farming are relatively recent contrivances. We made them up. And, until very recent history, jobs were merely part of a mixed strategy used by families to make a living. Hunting, gathering, gardening, crafting, gifting, cooperation, trade, and self-employment, are all perfectly viable ways to make a living. Our grandparents recognized that money wasn’t always the most effective way to meet a need. Living by paycheck alone was a thing for the urban wealthy.
Economic pressures, advertising, and propaganda have undermined the self-reliance of families and communities. Perhaps the ultimate victory of consumerism is that many people have lost their ability to find meaning outside of work. Many people will tell you they simply wouldn’t know how to spend their time without a job. Can they really see no higher value in their lives? Without respect for ourselves, and the support of others, there’s no climbing out of this abusive system.
The influence of the world’s powerful minority should not be underestimated. But those of us in privileged countries need to understand that this economic ‘crisis’ is largely due to the world, and perhaps mother nature herself, finally calling our bluff. The fact that our economic prosperity can falter so rapidly is proof that our wealth is not based on the real value of our work, but our success in a deceptive and exploitative game. We owe our declining wealth to mountains of debt and our lucky political position, and we’ve milked them for all they’re worth. We’ve been cheating people out of real value, for novelties and speculation, since the fur trade era. And now, bubbles are bursting.
Our way of life has also depended on finite fossil energy resources. This is not to mention threatened soils, waters, and forests. And the world is getting more crowded. It might be time to figure out what it actually looks like to live within our means.
But let’s be clear. We don’t need more jobs. We need access to the basics of survival. We don’t need more money. We need to heal our environment. We don’t need employers to keep us busy. We need time to make our communities into healthy habitats for people again.
The less we participate in this abusive economy, the better. 10% unemployment is deplorable. We need 90% unemployment. If we really resent this system, let’s earn less, buy less, and own less. Let’s invest our time, energy, and resources in things that can’t be taxed or parisitized by corporations. Let’s deal not in dollars, but in energy, nutrients, materials, local currencies, and relationships. Let’s not expand, let’s stabilize. Let’s enjoy art, culture, and leisure. Perhaps we can topple the pyramid by shrinking the bottom.