“You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.”
—Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work and Other Essays.” Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.
4 thoughts on “The Abolition of Work—Bob Black”
A very interesting quote…
That is true at some level, esp the “regimented all their lives” thing, but not entirely. We complain about or criticize the routines and the “boring, stupid monotonous work,” but we never realize what it would be like if everyone on this planet does not have to work because there’s a constant source of income flowing from businesses and investments, instead of a job or strings of jobs. It’s an unpleasant reality, but the world can’t totally escape it. There are small jobs that look boring, but not really “stupid.” I think this last word view is the reason why the market gives small jobs stupid pay. Those who can’t escape the routines should see their work in terms of the results of the product or service their company or factory provides to society, so they won’t feel as “small” as the work they do.
Everything we use every day that makes our life convenient is made of “boring, stupid monotonous work” produced by the labor market. And we take it all for granted.
Maybe our lives would be better if they were less convenient? Or we were engaged in a gift economy dynamic? Work can be creative. It just rarely is in a factory model where workers are fungible parts of a mechanical process. The problem is so few of us have experience with alternatives that they are unthinkable. Bob Black is trying to get you to consider the possibility and that the real problem might be a crisis of imagination and exploitive social arrangements that could be changed. But, you’re right. It’ll probably be a lot less convenient. What would we do if there wasn’t someone willing to be the knocker and killing 1,200 cattle every 8 hour shift? Luckily, we don’t know that’s the price, since we’re not the ones paying it.
I understand what Bob Black wants to happen, and personally that is what I also want to happen. But, if we’ll think about it, some people are cut out for routine work, while others are not—esp. creative people.
Creative people should never do routine work, it will kill them. They are meant to create and expand their mind and abilities. If you have noticed, most of those adults suffering from depression are creative people. Their creativity has been stifled because our education system does not recognize individuality and so it “educated” people to become part of the labor market (which is not all about physical labor, but these days it has expanded into mental labor or what they call “corporate” or “cubicle” jobs). Having a day job is good, esp. if you like what you do for a living, but the whole structure of everything does not consider the worker. That the worker is a human being, not a machine. Working long hours, workers have no outlet for their creativity, love, and things that really matter to them.
I appreciate his idea, and leaders should really consider and study that if they really want to eradicate poverty. I would like to hear about your ideas on how this could be possible. It could change the course of history, I believe. I think it’s possible, but not 100%. And while it’s not yet happening, we can look at work in a positive way by seeing the end result. Any job contributes to the greater scheme of things and people benefit from it, directly or indirectly. We can try to be a little more appreciative of what we and other people do (I mean our work) every day, no matter how small.
I used to work in one of the big advertising agencies where a significant segment of the workforce were called, “Creatives”. I have a deep skepticism of dividing people into those that are creative and those that are not. There is also the significant problem with how creativity is employed in a work context. One example I often think about are singers doing the jingles for ads, singing their hearts out on lyrics that are some bald request for the listener to buy something or like a company. Is there an element of alienation there? I cannot help but think there often is.
The CDC says, “Percent of persons aged 12 years and over with depression in any 2-week period: 7.6%” and while I agree that this impacts people that are less conventional more (trying to avoid the idea that some people are creative and others aren’t since I think it is more a question that it’s a continuum of atrophy, with some individuals fighting the trend more than others, which is both stressful and depressing).
To your point, if you have to do a job, then it is healthier to find what joy and meaning you can in it. But, I think that’s the default. I think it is important to consider how alienating a job can be and look for ways to escape or mute those effects. There are many ways to go about doing that, from financial independence early retirement (FIRE), dropping out and becoming a “traveler”, becoming your own boss and starting a business, etc. But, it’s always going to be a one person (possibly an affinity group) revolution. Solutions that are society wide are just musical chairs changing who wins or loses, without changing the game very much.If you wait for leadership to fix it, whether poverty or any other systemic, structural social problem, you’ll wait your whole life.
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