Those That Leave Arizona

“Arizona Department of Corrections Director David Shinn said Arizona communities would “collapse” without cheap prison labor, during testimony before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Thursday.”

-Jimmy Jenkins, “Arizona communities would ‘collapse’ without cheap prison labor, Corrections director says.” azcentral.com. July 14, 2022

Reminds me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Let’s assume that what David Shinn is saying is true, and not saying it for some other reason, say, to keep his Department’s funding at a certain level.

What is the moral responsibility of people living in Arizona communities that rely on prison labor? How does this responsibility intersect with other societal problems, such as racism? How does this feed into other problems? For example the existence of unsustainable communities might act as a further draw on other limited resources, such as water, that make other communities unsustainable in a vicious cycle.

How is this different from slave labor? How is it different from other exploitive labor, whether that is rice imported from Indian farmers exploiting village, cotton farmed in concentration camps in China, electronic devices that can only be economically produced using similar systems of exploitation?

Let’s assume you feel the need to do something about these problems. Is it enough to be an incrementalist, to be slightly less exploitative than you were yesterday? Or, is there some kind of deontological threshold of purity, where – given the environment – lives based on a lower level of exploitation is enough?

The correct answer is probably that we need to radically we think our lives and adopt a much lower standard of living that eliminates this kind of exploitation. Easy to say, but it is both difficult to know how to do that and probably even more difficult to want to do it.

Noncompete Clauses are Evil

“Traditionally, noncompete clauses like the one Kenny signed were found in contracts for white-collar executives or other high-profile employees who might have access to company trade secrets or develop personal relationships to clients. Businesses fear employees will leave and take those valuable assets with them to a competitor, so noncompete clauses help protect those companies.

But after the recession, when jobs were hard to come by and workers had less leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment, noncompete clauses started appearing in contracts for workers in low-wage or middle-income jobs like sandwich makers, and they remain a road block for everyone from hair stylists to security guards and house cleaners. The scope of their reach is difficult to determine because many workers don’t realize they’ve signed a noncompete clause until leaving a job. And though many courts are reluctant to enforce overly broad agreements, few low-income workers have the resources to legally challenge them.”

—Jared Bennett, “Noncompete clauses: They’re not just for executives anymore.” Center for Public Integrity. October 24, 2018.

Processed World

“Are You Doing the Processing, or Being Processed?”

—Slogan of Processed World

Processed World was part zine, part street theater, part forum for college educated temp workers serving as grist for the machines of capitalism. The first issue was published in April 1981, at the dawn of the “information age” and explored its underside. The early 1980s were its hay day, but there were occasional “special issues”, like this on-point question from the 2001 issue, which is just as relevant now as it was then:

“What happens when pressure to work longer and harder constrains non-work life? When lunch breaks are shorter, less convivial, or simply an excuse to slip in more work? When fast food isn’t deemed fast enough, so we “drivethru,” take out, and dine alone, en route, as tens of millions of Americans now do everyday?

What becomes of imagination when we entertain, read, vacation, play, sleep (and, in consequence, dream)less? What happens to personal life when, as time-managment authors now advise, we schedule weekend “appointments” to garden, to have brunch or “romance,” or to meet with family to review the “domestic agenda”

What happens to work itself when, to get more done, we go at several tasks simultaneously?

Book Review: Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat

Highly recommended. Describes in detail the operation of an industrialized slaughterhouse, from the front office to the delivery of cattle and back again. While it is clear the process is inhumane and unsanitary, the working conditions of the employees are the focus. Even if the ethics of killing animals for food is not an issue for you, a system that has one person kill 2,500 cattle, every work day, in order to put meat on your plate has qualities reminiscent of the hypothetical posed in Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Horrifying, but a book everyone that buys and eats meat in cellophane packaging should read.

“Like its more self-evidently political analogues—the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, the execution chamber, the extermination camp—the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is a ‘zone of confinement,’ a ‘segregated and isolated territory,’ in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bagman, ‘invisible’ and ‘on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society.’ Close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might thus illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable but the ways distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives…

You may find the descriptions in the pages ahead both physically and morally repugnant. Recognize, however, that this reaction of disgust, this impulse to thumb through the pages so as to locate, separate, and segregate the sterile, abstract arguments from the flat, ugly day-in, day-out, minutiae of the work of killing, is the same impulse that isolates the slaughterhouse from society as a whole and, indeed, that sequesters and neutralizes the work of killing even for those who work in the slaughterhouse itself. The detailed accounts that follow are not merely incidential to or illustrative of a more important theoretical argument about how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in contemporary society. They are the argument.”

—Pachirat, Timothy. “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.