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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?

Ian Welsh, as so often, has gets it so right that it hurts:

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 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?

No votes yet


twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

I'm having no luck finding a physician to co-author a book I REALLY want to write about some of the less well known methods of self healing.

Meanwhile, etsy is allowing what they call "collectives" (sweat shops to the rest of us) to list cheap, "hand made" stuff, killing sales for the real hand mades.

All that's left is a counseling job at one of the private rehabs, which are mostly expensive scams and thoroughly depressing.

ms_xeno's picture
Submitted by ms_xeno on

Uh, there are a great many office jobs that don't pay anywhere near what certain branches of manual labor do.

At the peak of my "soft office" earning power, I was still well below what my Union brethren in construction, carpentry, and the like were earning.

Just saying.

JLA's picture
Submitted by JLA on

Hard work and luck no doubt both play a role, both in finding and in keeping a job. With the high unemployment and underemployment rates, more and more people are working very hard to find something, with very little if any luck.

Cyn's picture
Submitted by Cyn on

which is better than nothing. I love with I do, but the part time status (going on 3 years now) isn't easy on the budget.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Because as bad as it is for men, it's worse for women, at whatever "strata" they try to find or keep a job. Let's just say Freud is not one of my heroes.

I hope that was your point about Anglangel's post you linked, not (which might be reasonably inferred) that people/ women who went to grad school have no business complaining. I guess I'll confess I was confused. But that's the "woman" in me (snark).

Yeah, I do have it better than most, because I went to grad school. But the sheer discrimination applies to any job, any where, and that pisses me off.

When I went to grad school interviews, one was especially memorable: "Do you realize you won't always be able to get home in time to cook dinner for your husband"? "What's a nice girl like you doing trying to go to grad school?" etc. etc. And then, a congratulatory phone call- "You're the only girl we didn't make cry." And then one of the interviewing committee hit on me, and continued to hit on me, and then called my mother to try to track me down, even after I said NO to that particular Univ. But all of my interviews had sexual innuendos, be they positive or negative.

So, I really hope you weren't dissing Anglangel.

Yes, Lambert, I got your main point, and I read Ian's post, which was very moving. No one should be happy with the situation for anyone, man or woman. But, you referenced Freud, and that alas for me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.... or a cow with too many tits.... whatever.

I wanted to remind myself of a Freud quote so I found this page:

~~~The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”

SIGMUND FREUD, Ernest Jones' Sigmund Freud: Life and Work~~~

Uh, I can answer that one.... the short answer is equal pay for equal work.... not 67 cents on the dollar.

~~~It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.

HOWARD ZINN, A People's History of the United States~~~

So, I just got this book, and I am gonna read.

The same page (linked above) includes this gem from, ya never know what yer gonna discover on the toobz....

~~~The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it's educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they're going to fall behind.

BARACK OBAMA, Ladies' Home Journal, Sep. 2008~~~

Stay classy Obama....

Okay, forgive the rant, Lambert. (Yeah, I know you're gonna respond "and what is your point?"... but sometimes your articles just touch off "extra thoughts"...

Submitted by lambert on

I must not have been clear. The grad school types, the Marshalls, the Kleins, etc., lack Ian's empathy because they lack Ian's experience (although it was once the job of the Humanities to make up for that). Therefore, they shouldn't be anywhere near policy, since they end up treating people like animals. Unfortunately, that's a requirement with Versailles as presently constituted.

UPDATE Yeah, OK, Freud. Still good words, though.

Submitted by gob on

I completely agree that Freud was stunningly oblivious to the basic humanity of women, but nobody can be wrong about everything 100% of the time.

If I restricted my reading and quoting to thinkers who deeply know that women are humans, I'd have damn little to read or quote.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

with part-time work-study at minimum wage. And a whole two interviews out of the 100-150 applications I've put in over the last 6 months.

Maybe it's bad luck, maybe it's that "lack of responsibility" Republicans and others always talk about, or maybe it's just fate, but I grew up poor, I'm still poor, and until a few days ago, I thought I was going to be making my home in a tent in a friend's backyard.

My landlord's decided to rent to gas workers -- far more profitable, after all. All 5 apartments were given 15 days to vacate (which runs out tomorrow night at midnight). A 1BD here is now almost $900/mo, and coming up with first, last, and security makes finding a new place is impossible. So..... my daughter is going to live with my mom and step-dad so she can stay in her school and graduate with her friends in June. My oldest son is crashing with my other son and his fiancee. And I got lucky, finally -- a friend of a friend of a friend invited me to use her spare bedroom for a few months.

I never expected to be a millionaire, or to even make much above the $29K I made as an electronics salvage tech. But even at the worst times of my life -- broke, on welfare, on unemployment -- I never, ever would have thought a time would come when I'd be effectively homeless, scattering my family to ensure they had shelter.

"Living without any real hope of the future..." would about sum it up.

Ian Welsh's picture
Submitted by Ian Welsh on


twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

that's just awful. Awful doesn't even do it justice, but seriously, I don't know what to say. And this is all so the gas workers can have a place to live while they're destroying the environment and your landlord can fill his/her pockets? They're going to have to put an addition on that "special place in hell" or else it's going to be really crowded really soon.

Submitted by lambert on

At least the landfill operation that's going to poison our groundwater isn't also going to throw us out of our homes. Condolences.

It's the curse of being energy rich, isn't it?

Have you considered clinging to guns and religion?

Brian.Nelson's picture
Submitted by Brian.Nelson on
If we could get back to that hard work, dedication and deserving attitude we may all have a fighting chance. Unfortunately, our children are being raised to feel entitled instead of deserving and this will be the downfall when there is nothing left to be entitled to.

Le blackjack est l'un des jeux de casino les plus populaires que l'on trouve sur un casino en ligne et il existe une quantité de sites de jeux en ligne pour faire son choix.

Submitted by Elliott Lake on

but then I'm in the Left Elbow of Nowhere, rural, ag/logging, and the economy left us behind years ago.

I put myself through grad school (art), realized I hated cities more than I loved teaching, and have never looked back. Farming is hard work, but I will never fire myself, and the incredible day to day beauty of the outdoors, and the opportunity to grow and make things that are useful & beautiful make me proud of my callouses and dirty jeans. Anglachel was right on, thanks for that link.

Now I have peach jam to make for market, and batches of soap to make and cut and herbs to harvest before a killing frost so I wish you all well--thinking especially of you, PA Lady.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

Who's kids are just starting out, is that this generation is entitled out the ass, and having had to deal with a few of them, I'm inclined to agree. Sure, they are kind, dedicated and hard working, but growing up with all the advantages they have here, they really feel entitled.

Entitled to that 6 figure job straight outta college(oh, and if they don't have that, they are afraid to tell their college friends about the lesser job they did have to get),

Entitled to a brand new car straight outta college, even though their current car is perfectly functional, it's just old.

Entitled to continue living with Mom and Dad after college, cuz independence is hard.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

And I'm not far removed from just outta college (less than 10 years). Maybe its because I know mostly middle class and lower but I can't name very many of my brother's friends (in their early 20s) who expect to make $100k/year or have a shiny new car. None.

What I do hear a lot more is a questioning of whether or not college is worth it. Do you spend that time and energy (and go into debt) to go to college to make marginally more than if you didn't go to college or do you enjoy life while you can?

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

Within the past 2 years, and these are middle class kids. I have no idea where they got these outsized expectations and entitlements, but they've got'em.

cenobite's picture
Submitted by cenobite on

I've been working in IT for many years, most recently in game software. I was laid off back in November 2009 and I've been looking for a new job without much success. I'm open to moving out of the area, but I own my house so that could be a very expensive proposition... I just told a recruiter that I'm willing to take a 30% cut over my previous salary for something local.

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

send me an email lizpolaris at gmail dot com

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Most people that I've known have liked to work. Part of the way we feel about ourselves is the effect we have on the world around us. It takes very minimal appreciation of other people's efforts to get them to knock themselves out for you.

On the other hand, the conditions of paid work in the U.S. absolutely suck. (It's actually amazing how many people nonetheless like their jobs anyway). We need to insure civil democratic rights on the job. We also need to minimize the relationship between income and employment, to stop the flow of greedy people into destructive activity and to make possible the flexible civic infrastructure of volunteerism.

Above all, people seeking to live meaningful lives that include useful work should not have to feel as some of the commenters here have expressed.

Submitted by Fran on

I've never really had any money beyond what I needed to live, but I realized at a young age that it was not the same as people who are poor. They lacked hope for it to really change. I merely lacked cash. I knew I had more options. I thought about it then because my friends in similar circumstances thought they knew what it meant to be poor. I felt they did not. They could more or less opt out any time.

It does give you a different attitude. You cannot plan for the future. I remember older neighbors I was friends with. They probably got SSI. Why did they not plan for their retirement?! Well, they worked all their lives just to get by. At least back then there was a social support system.

Things have changed and now it is difficult for anyone to plan. Everyone is just trying to get by - at all levels. The work environment has been deteriorating for a couple of decades.

I do think that people want to feel productive, and that salary does not reflect the real value of the job being done. And, I agree that people who make policy should have experienced 'real work', trying to live on low wages and hard work, so they can understand the implications of their policies. Why do they think that something like one quarter of the population is getting food stamps? All they really do is shift the costs around.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Yet he was able to push the debate left. Yeah, sure, he had some pressure from a number of lefties, but if you followed his campaign speeches, the New Deal was very much present in spirit if not detail.

FDR had a political philosophy based on principles of justice and fairness. This allowed him to effectively combat the libertarian anti-government arguments. Repeatedly, he asked the people to support his programs for the greater good. Most people did. Remember this?

Look, my pops spent some years in his childhood living in a dump--a fucking literal dump. My best friend growing up lived in a trailer that was probably smaller than the 1 BR downtown apartment I now live in--with two parents and 5 siblings! I know people who had it bad and I do think this gives me some perspective. But that doesn't mean that the principles of justice can only be known by those on the bottom. My dad worked his ass off so I wouldn't have to live in a dump. I can "get" that even though I never had it that bad. Never had it as good as people I work with daily either.

The problem is that no one talks about "justice" or "the common good" anymore. Bill Clinton--that evil POS--tried to do that. Hillary tried as well (the gas tax is a perfect example of the reaction). Bill Clinton was able to push back a little bit of the right-wing libertarianism by appealing to Justice and Fairness. Obama's "Hope" shit was not about common good or justice or fairness. It was self-centeredness. It wasn't "shared responsibility" it was about making yourself feel good, a self-indulgent campaign that fits perfectly with the "I've got mine" attitude of so many "creative"s.

I guess my point is that Justice and Fairness are ideas that rich and poor can understand--and many do. Its just been a while since any prominent pol has made that a centerpiece of their campaign. (With the exception of that slimey Edwards dude who supported the self-indulgent campaign rather than the clearly more populist one in the 2008 primary.)

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

And don't forget about the plenty of poor people who care not who the fuck they hurt, in their climb to get whatever small little piece of nothing there is to be taken.

I've noticed that arguments stop when I argue that illegal immigration is an injustice in this country, because it's true, and no one can argue against it. And deep down in all of us, we do believe in justice, it's required for our society to progress, and no one of decency wants to be arguing for injustice.

I think justice appeals to a lot of people, moreso that fairness, IMO, and I think it can motivate people to great things.

Edwards endorsement, along with later discovered facts, have led me to believe that his was schtick, nothing more, though I'll admit I bought it at time. Which leads me to believe that eventually somebody, probably Obama, will transition into selling Fair-eys and Justiceness in 2012.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

i'm glad you clarified your statement, Aeryl. because around here, "middle class" has taken on a new meaning (working class) and very few of kids from this state are graduating from college debt free and with shiny new cars. very, very few.

indeed, most kids here are thinking along the line gqm mentions: is college "worth it?" the only jobs advertised in this area are in health care/nursing/bed pan changing, very specific and probably time-sensitive IT work, the military, and corporate Taco Bell type jobs. a degree in anything else is very hard to justify, economically.

(boilerplate: i believe all knowledge is worth having and i would always counsel people to get a good education even if it means difficulty later on. i'm an educational purist like that.)

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

Education is worth having, as a matter of fact, I think it's so valuable, it should be free!!

I know that very few grads are getting these things, it's just the mind blowing fact that they think should be getting these things, already. My boss' daughter was whining for a new car before the ink was dry on her diploma, and before she'd even found a job with that shiny new degree. And now, b/c her expectations were so high for what she was going to get when she graduated, and she hasn't gotten them, she feels like a failure. She won't see that many of her peers are in the same boat, in her mind their lives are great, and she's worthless.

And it's endemic amongst her age group, from the HR friends I've talked to. All these kids coming in for entry level positions, and expecting executive pay and perks. Not that I don't think that employees should be getting more from their employers, but the deserving attitude is horrendous.

Now I know not all kids are like this, but it seems pretty bad. I don't know what values they are teaching in some colleges but what these kids are learning there isn't shit, at least for being part of society.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

are developed over time, as a result of information from elders, peers and family, and the media stream. most of that is still spinning the line that college leads to financial success, for all every sign in reality points to something else. college admissions officers (as i was once one) are salespeople, much of the time. they work really hard at selling a school, and the diploma it grants, and nine times out of ten that is done by ending the pitch with "...and then you'll get a great job in the field of your choice!" parents (those writing the check and making school possible for the student) love to hear that, and most of them still able to afford sending their kids to college still believe it's true. there's a desperation to clinging to that belief that rivals the desperation many middle class americans have when it comes to believing that their homes still have the inflated values of the last decade.

trust me when i say: except for making nice admissions packages filled with happy stats, admissions people rarely communicate with the college's job placement officers. and most students, even those who work part time jobs while in school, don't realize how little help they will receive from those placement offices, which can be notoriously unhelpful in difficult job markets.

also, older folks who went thru the college process and have jobs today contribute to the belief that diploma = instant good job, because that's how it worked for them. it's hard if you're a 22yo and everyone older than you told you all your life that college guarantees success, and then you come out of the playground of college life and find this job market. i've seen a great deal of "blame the lazy young people" stuff lately, and most of the time it's coming from smug/scared middle aged folks who don't understand that 1) they could be tossed into unemployment at any time despite their experience and education or 2) do understand that fact, and are projecting their own fears about how difficult it will be to find another one on young people.

as to "what colleges are teaching kids these days," except at the most select, the answer is "less and less." i was fortunate enough to go to grad school at a highly select university, and was sort of shocked to realize how much i'd gotten screwed out of real education at my undergrad public university. very little "learning" takes place in classes that are 500 students large, led by an overworked, underpaid, disinterested-in-teaching TA (often from a foreign background), in which students can effectively do very little reading or researching to get a passing grade. developing critical thinking skills in students requires interaction with critically thinking faculty, and that is happening much less often than it once did. toss in the fact that many college are essentially doing a great deal of remedial education on what should've been taught to students in high school but was not, and you've got the system we have today. which is failing, horribly, to prepare most young people today for reality.