“They died for nothing – or rater, they died for work. But work is nothing to die for” – Bob Black, Abolition of Work
What is your relationship with Mondays? I think working in the service industry has skewed my view of the start of the week compared to the majority of society – Mondays and Tuesdays are usually days off for me or really slow days if I’m standing behind a bar. I’ve stumbled out of my workplace tipsy and giggly after an “after work” early Monday morning and felt sorry for the poor souls struggling to move like walking dead towards their first shift of the week, while I’m heading home to a warm bed.
That contrast in mood between me and the on-their-way-to-work people was fascinating to experience in the then and there: I didn’t know if I should give them some encouragement, tell them that it feels like a struggle right now but before you know it the clock will release you back home again.
In that vulnerable state, the encouragement would probably feel like an insult. Especially from a tipsy guy with a bar-name on his t-shirt. I would be a reminder of the weekend that fleeted away too fast, all the free time that is now gone and the harsh reality of a whole work week in front of them. I hope those people got to do something fun on the weekend to compensate for the miserable state they are in, sitting in their subway seat with blank eyes.
We are curious creatures. I wouldn’t want us any other way.
Paul Lafargue, a son-in-law to Karl Marx, reflected on the society’s obsession with work in his book The Right to Be Lazy: “Our Epoch has been called the century of work. It is, in fact, the century of pain, misery, and corruption“. Lafargue was living in a time where the normal workday was somewhere in the range of 12-14 hours, not counting having to transport yourself to and from work in an era without cars, I can understand and sympathize with the opposition toward wage labor in that context. It sounds like madness compared to our measly 8 hours of work.
Lafargue was also critical to the exportation of the fourteen-hour workday to non-industrialized parts of the world:
“There is a surplus of capital as well as goods. The financers no longer know where to place it. Then they go among the happy nations who are leafing in the sun smoking cigarettes and they lay down railroads, erect factories and import the curse of work” – Paul Lafargue, The Right to Be Lazy
It is a fascinating book to read. Lafargue is arguing for a sort of primitive version of what we today call Universal Basic Income because of how efficient machines and gadgets was becoming – Something that gets recycled and updated to 2019 by the likes of Andrew Yang. Everything old is new again?
I do believe we have a right to be lazy, but where me and Lafargues part ways, I think, is that the other side of that coin, from my point of view, is the responsibility you have to secure your own leisure by ensuring its possibility through autonomy that doesn’t burden or hurt others. Sharing fruits of labor is fine, but being a carefree-passenger that never gives some work-input toward your own survival is not.
Turning Work into Play, Or, We Can do Better
“Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They’re used to it” – Bob Black, Abolition of Work
In his classic essay ‘Abolition of Work’, Bob Black uses his colorful language like fine seasoning to the pages it is written on. With words like “Factory Fascism” and “Office Oligarchy,” there is no sugar-coating in regards to what he thinks about work as a concept.
I fell straight into ‘Abolition of Work‘, head first, and I struggled to dig myself out of the extremely skeptic and, perhaps, overly pessimistic view on the nature of work. By a few strokes of his pen, Bob Black transformed me into one of those people on the subway on a Monday morning – Filled with hopelessness, frustration over the state of things and the feeling in my stomach of powerlessness. A necessary cold shower?
Even if Black mentions play as a substitute for the structure and the grind that is standard in today’s work environment, it isn’t fleshed out how to implement it in the essay. Or even how it would appear. I’m not sure if he has ever looked into the “how” after writing the essay and it’s fine if he never has or will: Sometimes ideas just needs a set of sails and float into the right harbor to fully bloom.
I’m a big fan of Dr. Scott Nicholsons work in regards to Gamification. In Dr. Nicholson’s own words: “Gamification is the application of gameful or playful layers to motivate engagement with a specific context“.
Sounds pretty close to what we would mean with replacing the current way to conduct (and think about) work, no?
Don’t let work pull you down, have a fantastic Monday instead! Hope to see you next Monday for another installment on the subject of Work.