Are we "anti-work"?

Are we "anti-work"?

Ah, yes...a good question (and a very common one, as well).

CLAWS receives many questions about whether we are anti-work, wondering if we think everyone should "quit their jobs and sit around drinking Pina Coladas all day". This gets to the heart of what CLAWS is about, so we'd like to expound on this at length.

Are we "anti-work"? No, it's not that simple. We are pro-leisure, and we think leisure has gotten a bad rap in societies driven by the Protestant/Puritan work ethic...but the best answer to the question of whether we are anti-work depends on how you define the word "work".

Paraphrasing Tony Gibson, we can define work simply as the expenditure of energy in a productive process, and leisure as the expenditure of energy without productive result. We're not saying one is good and the other bad - they're just two ways of being. We are not against being productive and we recognize the satisfaction that can result from being engaged in productive activity of one's own choosing. (Hey, we put together this Web site, didn't we?) So we aren't anti-work in this sense.

But we are critical of the mindset (supported, as it were, by social norms, government policies and collective fears of poverty) that results in people working against their will, and believing there is no other way to "survive". This results in taking jobs out of joyless obligation, need for money, coercion, or a desire to "get ahead" in some sort of competitive social status or consumer game, for example. We think such a mindset is at the root of many, many otherwise solvable social, economic, and environmental problems.

But many people today don't use the kind of simple, non-judgmental definition above. Many of us think of work not just as effort expended in a productive process, but as a "necessary evil" - in other words, work is what we have to do so we can support ourselves. If your concept of work is drudgery, if you think of your job as something you'd rather not do if it weren't for the money, if you simply can't wait to retire so you can "enjoy life" - that kind of thinking is what we define as wage slavery, and we seek to abolish it.

Here's a similar point from Pekka Himanen's book The Hacker Ethic (p. 49):

"Survival" or "You have to do something to earn your living" is the answer a great number of people will give when asked why they work (often responding in a mildly puzzled fashion, as if this went without saying). But strictly speaking, they do not mean mere survival - that is, having food and so on. In their use, survival refers to a certain socially determined lifestyle: they are not working merely to survive but to be able to satisfy the form of social needs characteristic to a society."

Here's another way to conceptualize the change involved: We must stop linking a person's needs with her/his deeds. In other words, we must break the link between employment in the service of profit and provision for citizens' food, shelter, health care, etc.

Taking a position like this often brings up questions like "but who would clean the sewers, take out the garbage, etc., if they were not motivated by something like money? Somebody's got to do the dirty work!"

Well, we believe that if things were set up right, people would choose to do this work, as well as many other kinds of work. "Choice" in this case does not mean "only do things you absolutely adore and take delight in". Take, for example, balancing your checkbook. Many of us don't do that just because we delight in it for its own sake - instead, it seems like a bit of a chore. But we do it nonetheless, because we would rather do it than accept the consequences of not doing it. No one is coercing us; we are choosing. And in the final analysis, we may find a unique sort of satisfaction in doing it after all, since it can make us feel responsible and organized.

Garbage collection can be looked at the same way. If society were set up so that the consequences of not removing your own refuse were living in a stench-filled apartment, we're willing to bet that people would indeed choose to do such jobs. Is that coercion? We don't think so.

If you believe that people would not do productive work, even tasks like refuse removal, without being coerced or given a paycheck, then we humbly suggest that your base assumptions about human nature and motivation be reconsidered. We at CLAWS aren't quite that cynical. (Take a look at some of our recommended books or do a Web search for further comments on this view of human nature.)

We believe that in conditions of true freedom - not the temporary reactionary state induced by everyone suddenly being free of the need to secure money for their livelihoods after decades of feeling compelled - people would choose to spend some of their time in productive activities and some in leisure activities. (There is a point at which the clear distinction between the two breaks down, anyway).

We are interested in transforming ourselves, our thinking, and society so that we may see all productive activities ("work") done for reasons of real pride, joy, concern for social welfare, and intrinsic satisfaction - not coercion, whether induced by money, social status, or conformity. We believe that the path toward this sort of society is likely to start with each of us examining our beliefs about work and jobs, and understanding the meaning of leisure. There is a difference between "jobs" and work, as we see it, though many people use these terms interchangeably.

Changes in the larger system are necessary, of course, and we support these efforts. However, our focus at this point is on what each of us can do in our day-to-day lives as individuals, and members of families and communities. Consider these words from an anonymous editorial in Freedom, November 15, 1958:

"One cannot legislate for the free society. It can only be born by the actions of men and women who have understood what freedom is all about and desire it more than anything else that society and political wordspinners have to offer by way of consolation prizes in its stead."

In sum, we don't believe CLAWS is anti-work...but we are pro-freedom, anti-wage-slavery and pro-leisure. If the only concept of "work" is people engaged in productive activity for the sake of money, profit, recognition, status, and so forth, however, then yes, we are anti-work. As always, of course, you can decide for yourself.

"…wage slaves live out their lives staggering under the weight of materialistic ideology...we are expected to happily, or at least willingly...engage in a life of meaningless drudgery for wage pay (wage slavery). As long as we believe that this is our "lot in life", the feeling of hopelessness and desperation which runs rampant in this modern age is perfectly predictable."
- Matthew Webb and Courtney Schmidt, The Survivalists' Guide

"We should abandon the masochistic doctrine of work for work's sake."
- Barry Jones

"I define a free society as one in which there is no social coercion compelling the individual to work."
- Tony Gibson

"I do not care if in a social state of anarchy we work a great deal longer than we do today under capitalism. What I am concerned about it that the work itself shall be intrinsically satisfying. I see no other way of ensuring this than the abandonment of coercion as the mainspring of production."
- Tony Gibson

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, that chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elemental truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues form the decisions, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no person could have dreamed would have come one's way."
- W.H. Murray

"Human happiness and contentment involve so much more than improved material conditions, housing, educational facilities...to say this is not to decry the importance of material alleviations, only to insist that they do not by themselves produce the good life."
- John Hewetson