Mandos

Macht Arbeit(slosigkeit) frei?

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I have a long mental queue of posts that I’ve been wanting to write, including a review of Elysium, the whole Egypt coup thing, Québec’s proposed hijab ban “secularism” “charter,” the asymptotic deflation of BlackBerry and lessons to be learned therefrom, the politics of diet and virtue, progress vs. environment, and so on and so forth, probably only a fraction of which will ever get written.

But I was just thinking this morning about the whole issue of modern left-wing attitudes towards the concept of work and employment, particularly the concept of wage slavery. That’s another post that’s been long in the mental queue, but it is the sort of one that I wait for something to riff off of. But lo and behold my old buddy Lambert includes this article from Counterpunch in this morning’s collection of Naked Capitalism links. Might as well take the opportunity then.

The article, entitled Freedom from Jobs but is not a direct denunciation of Apple, restates the usual argument in a nutshell. That thing that we call employment? As we understand it, it is at best a transitional state necessary during the expansion period of industrial capitalism and at worst the vice-like jaws of an insidious system that inevitably ratchets up the exploitation on behalf of vile Masters. In this vision of the world, the demand to increase job opportunities to reduce the bargaining power of capital is a kind of misdirected stop-gap measure: the true goal is to reduce the total amount of work required and to distribute that work in a better way, and of course to distribute the fruits of that labour in a manner that is socially defensible.

And in the face of increasing automation, this is quite obviously correct. It’s increasingly the case that the science-fictional world where our needs and many of our wants are mostly met via energy-efficient automated systems has actually come true.

However, the flip side of the coin has been: that the machines in questions will not be used to serve the wants and needs of the majority of the population, but instead be used to render them redundant — and we appear to be in an economic phase where this is systematically the case.

But — and I suppose this is one case where over time I have gotten crankier and righter-winged — I am increasingly skeptical that of the idea that even if we came up with a fair distribution of the fruits of automation, we will automatically live in a low-employment utopia. The basis for this idea of a post-work ludic hegemony seems to be a belief that we all somehow have some kind of inner creative spirit, an inner artist or scientist or gardener waiting to be set forth into the world if only we were afforded the opportunity and time to do so.

This is the world in which I would rather live, and it is something that I have always wanted to believe. But I wonder if this is not a little too optimistic. I am now more willing to entertain the dire thought that maybe, for perhaps a good chunk of the population, punching in and punching out and the security of obligation and structure are not inherently alienating, and that expecting everyone to experience a world of unwork as blessèd freedom is not a fair expectation.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on September 1, 2013 9:21 AM.

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