So, I’m on vacation waiting for my retirement at the end of this month. I’ve worked long and hard and most people wouldn’t begrudge me some rest. Still, I’m not sure why people congratulate me on my retirement. What is there to be congratulated about? Managing to stay employed for so long? Staying alive until 65? Getting irretrievably older? Not having to go to work anymore? Being able to ‘do what I want?’ I’ve asked some people why they just congratulated me on my retirement and they sometimes pick one of the above reasons or they just shrug their shoulders. It’s just something people do. I’m sorry, but I find it annoying, but also very instructive.
Since the ‘industrial revolution’ there’s been a strong desire among our handlers, the ruling class, to get us to work without complaining, and even, maybe, to like it and, of course, to shit all over anyone who doesn’t share this ‘work ethic.’ Protestantism was essentially created as an ideological support for the idea that working hard and without complaining at our ‘calling’ was next to godliness. Of course, a lot of people don’t work at their ‘calling,’ nor are they especially happy about their work unless they’re heavily sedated or medicated. Work is pretty much a drag and we all know it. Oh, some people get to do what they want in life, but they’re pretty scarce. If you ask people if they would do what they do for a living without getting paid for it, a precious few would say yes. After all, we work to live and not the other way around. I always made a point of asking my students where they live. None gave me their work address. We don’t ‘live’ at work, we ‘live’ at home. We work at work and don’t think of it as part of our lives. Now, I’m writing here about life in the ‘industrialized’ countries. What goes on in a rice field in Thailand is anyone’s guess. A lot depends on who owns it and whether or not it actually sustains life in any meaningful way, I presume.
But to get back to the issue, work is a four-letter word. A clue to how we really feel about our work ‘life’ is to congratulate people when they exit it. “Geez, how does it feel to get off the ol’ treadmill, eh?” The answer is supposed to be: “Aw, yeah, feels great.” [Silently: “if I only had enough money now to enjoy it.”] But, of course, I’m generalizing here. Some people are quite happy and wealthy in their retirements. But I’m not referring here only to retirement, which is a permanent retreat from work. I’m also writing here about vacations. If work is so great, why do we constantly need a vacation from it? How often do you hear people saying “Boy, do I need a vacation.” All the time. Everywhere.
But there’s more. Not only do we congratulate people who retire and long for vacations when we work, we are really ignorant about it. We call people lazy who lay about watching TV, we deride people who go on state-sponsored ski vacations, we treat the unemployed like crap…yet we yearn to be just like them. We crave the idle life. We long for leisure. Work is this must thing we do, like taking bad tasting medicine for a cold. Not surprisingly, either, because for most of us we have no control over our work, who we work with, the equipment we use, or the products or services we produce. [Again, this isn’t true for everyone, but it is for the vast majority of us.] The only real interest most of us have in our jobs is our paycheque (and benefits, if we’re lucky enough to have them). Take that away and there isn’t much left. Still, all is not lost, as Karl Marx argued, in ancient Rome where slavery was the vehicle for the accumulation of wealth, slaves were 100% owned and controlled by ‘the ruling class.’ In the Middle Ages, when peasants were indentured to their masters, they had about 20% of their time to themselves and for themselves. During the more recent ‘capitalist, industrial’ era, we spend roughly a third of the 168 hours a week we have at our disposal at work (as well as getting to and from work). I’m talking averages here. In the following era when people will all (for all intents and purposes) be unemployed (replaced by automated tools, factories, etc.) we’ll be 100% without masters. [Don’t laugh, it’s not that far down the road] Strange as it may seem. When the capitalist mode of production succeeds in eliminating employment as we know it, life will be a lot different. We’ll still ‘work,’ but not for a wage. Now we think of this idea as absolutely outrageous and dumb, but then it will seem quite normal, just as normal as it would have been to be a slave in ancient Rome.
So, in the end, we’ll get what we want: a job free world. Retirement starting at birth! Permanent vacation! Yeah! Because efficiency to business means the elimination of workers. The ultimate efficiency is a factory that employs no one, not even maintenance personnel (that can be handled remotely, by robots, etc). Problem is, who will they sell the products they make to? It’s the ultimate business conundrum…and most business people don’t even know it exits.