How's your work life?
[I'm leaving this sticky for the heck of it. Anybody want to dig out that SMBIVA post and defend the right to be lazy? --lambert]
Freud said, more or less,* that the only two things that matter in life are love and work.** So, since this is Labor Day, How's your work life?
Living without that safety net, knowing that if something goes wrong, that’s just too bad, changes you. Living without any real hope of the future, knowing that the shitty job you’ve got now is probably about as good a job you’re ever going to have, changes you.
And it changes your sense of what hard work is, of what it means to be deserving. I remember working on a downtown construction site as temp labor, and I’d watch all the soft office workers with their uncalloused hands come out for lunch, and I’d wonder why they got paid two or three times what I did for work that was so much easier (and which, of course, I could do, even if I didn’t have a BA.) At the end of the day they might be stressed, but I’d go home physically exhausted from hard labor and so would my co-workers.
Of course, I got out of that. I’d say “I went back to university”, but even though that’s true, it’s not what got me out, since I never finished my BA. Instead what got me out is that I finally got a couple chances to prove what I could do—I got a temp job in an office, and was one of their most productive workers (they measured it.) Later I got invited to blog, and hey, I can write, even if I don’t have a BA. I got lucky. Like most people who get lucky in work, that luck involved a lot of hard work, but it also involved luck.
But a lot of folks never get lucky despite the fact that they work hard. Perhaps they aren’t really all that bright (half the population, after all, is below average intelligence.) Perhaps they’ve got some personality issues or weak social skills. Perhaps there’s something not quite right in their brain chemisty. Or perhaps they just never catch a break because they aren’t lucky and their parents weren’t well enough positioned to help them get those breaks.
But still, most of them work hard and earn their money, whether it’s barely more than minimum wage or they did get a bit of luck and got one of the few remaining good blue collar jobs.
But when they look in the mirror, they know that the guy or gal looking in the mirror ten or twenty years from now is probably going to be doing the same thing. And they know that they’re one bad break away from losing even the little they have—one illness, one plant closure, one argument with their boss.
They don’t have a lot of hope for the future, except that it won’t get worse. The life they live now is the best it’s probably gonna get.
Living like that changes you. It makes you see people differently. You understand that there are a lot of bad jobs out there, and that someone’s going to be stuck with them. You know that most of those jobs are either hard or humiliating, and often both. You know that for too many people, a shitty job where they’re abused by their boss is as good as it gets.
I suspect that those who have never experienced what Ian has experienced should never be allowed to make policy choices that require empathy, if they are to avoid treating people like animals. And now name me a policy choice that doesn't require that.
I don't know where Ian began, but I didn't begin in the mills. But I made my way out of the mills -- back in the day, there were mills, where we made stuff -- into printing, and then into publishing, and then into desktop publishing, and then into symbol manipulation, and then into Collapse #1 when the dot com bubble burst, and then into Collapse #2 when the MOTU collapsed the financial system in 2007-2008. A trajectory followed by millions of others, most less lucky than I was.
And now, my work life is better than it's ever been! I love blogging, and gardening, and I have interesting (and I hope useful) technical work that I hope to show soon. That doesn't mean that my financial horizon extends out more than a few months, and I'd certainly better not get sick, but today, my work life gives me great happiness.
How about you? Readers?
NOTE * I tried to run down the exact formulation, and came up with this:
13. In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Sigmund Freud wrote: "The communal life of human beings had, therefore, a two-fold foundation: the compulsion to work, which was created by external necessity, and the power of love." Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), 48. Erik H. Erikson apparently shortened this formulation into "Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness." Erikson, Childhood and Society (W. W. Norton, 1986), chap. 7.
Leave it to Erikson to come up with the sloppy "humanness," and to leave out both "power" and "necessity." And then there's "Love and work...work and love, that's all there is", also attributed to Freud, and unattested. Can anyone run down the real quotes? Readers?
NOTE ** Along with food and, er, which mediate the two.
NOTE SMBIVA has a fantastic post that assaults my whole premise and asserts the right to be lazy, but I can't find it. Working hard at stuff that matters makes me happy. What can I say?