Jacobin Lays an Egg

The latest issue of Jacobin, the thirteenth issue of the journal produced by the youth of Democratic Socialist of America, continues, and significantly expands, its lively coverage of politics. What interests me most about the magazine is its critical coverage of work. Peter Frase’s essays on the topic are always worth a read. Frase doesn’t quite channel Paul Lafargue, but he comes closer than any other writer I know of this side of the Atlantic. You might say that is faint praise, but still it is enough praise that when I read in the current issue an article that seems to revive the old lefty handwringing about the demise of the American Dream when it comes to jobs, I was surprised.

The article in question – In the Name of Love – by Miya Tokumitsu, riffs on what the author says is the “unofficial work mantra of our time” – “Do what you love. Love what you do.” Ms Tokumitsu pulls these words from the mouth of Steve Jobs as he delivered them in his (now) famous 2005 Stanford University Graduation Speech and slaps them up against the precarious reality of work in America, and beyond. What follows, in part, is a criticism of the presumptions of the privileged that blinds them to the reality of daily life of the masses, who hardly have the energy to imagine what they love nor the money and time for it if they wished to pursue it.

Most of this essay execrates those who, obviously successful in their pursuits, adopt this slogan as a “philosophy” of life to exploit, as bosses, interns and to manipulate their employees (or team mates) to become workaholics. A corporate culture that requires extreme self-abuse as a demonstration of one’s love for the job is simply transferring the creditor/debtor power relations of neo-liberalism to a micro level. And as Ms Tokumitsu makes clear, individual effort, riveted into the skulls of youth not much after toilet training, is the driving force behind this socio-pathic behavior.

Let’s be clear about this – there is nothing new about wanting to find work one can, if not enjoy, at least take pride in. The auto mechanic doesn’t dream of oil-soaked, injured hands, but of righting a mechanical problem – that brings satisfaction at the end of the day. In other contexts, the same applies for the plumber and the electrician. These examples of skilled jobs, and not the “knowledge” work the author highlights, and seems most comfortable discussing, by definition entail pride in execution. Craftwork for generations stood as an example of the good work people sought, and in those small, self-sufficient communities Thoreau mentions in “Life Without Principle” that work was dominant.

Today salary appears to be the only measure of worth and prestige, contrary to the 19th century when social recognition for work done well counted more than money, but still the desire that drives longing for satisfying work often transcends monetary compensation as the prime goal. The number of small businesses started each year by individuals who take a loss of wages from their previous employment, testifies to this fact.

It is certainly true that many illusions accompany the desire to do work one loves, but to condemn the hope for a better life because it is saddled with fantasy hardly suffices for social analysis. Individualism skews everything, even the deepest, most heartfelt creative impulses. This should not come as a surprise given the wall-to-wall promotion of self-aggrandizement in our schools, the media and most especially in sports. The hold on our culture by this situation chokes countervailing forces. Those forces of community bonding that existed in the past may not have disappeared with the demise of bowling alleys, but it certainly seems more difficult to situate these days. On the other hand, it is not insignificant, for example, that the internet provides a forum, however tenuous, for sociality. Whether it is in collaborative gaming, social interest groups or simply responding to “comments,” the hollowness of isolated lives seeks fulfillment.

The internet may be the worst illustration of the effort to overcome an atomized existence. The better case could be made by considering the growing popularity of collective endeavors from urban agriculture to cultural manifestations, like the explosion of book fairs across the land. And the best case that I could make rests on the accelerating interest in cooperatives and commoning. For instance, the bi-coastal hotbeds of worker cooperatives have now been joined by developments in cities that lie between those two regions.

May be the slogan Jobs promoted should be altered as a more seductive appeal: “Do what you love. Love what you do, together.”

 

 

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In the “world” of kiddie capitalism, kids obey

In the “world” of kiddie capitalism, kids rule obey

 

Several years ago it looked like theme parks would go the way of drive-in movies – down the trap door of history. But recently Walt Disney Co. reported that the profitability of its worldwide chain of theme parks carried the company into the black, wiping out the embarrassing losses of its movies. Creating experiential fantasies (and not the less tangible kind), to accommodate consumers’ desires for more unique experiences, may rank higher in the company’s future.

And it makes sense that given the dismal state of the economy people who can afford it will flock to escapist entertainment, just as they did in the Thirties when they went to the movies en masse. Today with escapist entertainment no farther away than one’s pocket or purse, the fix looses its effect and, like any addiction, more intense pursuits are sought. Tourism thrives on feeding this craving and don’t we marvel at the development of Old Towns in formerly abandoned city centers? Theme parks are simply the most extreme (or extravagant) commercial response.

In North America and Western Europe the market for theme parks has been saturated and, with the economy in the toilet, development has stalled; but this is not universally the situation. China, for instance, has dozens of theme parks and continues its expansion (six major parks opened in 2011) with Disney expected to open its Shanghai venture in 2015.

Interestingly, one of the most innovative new theme parks to open this summer is located in Beirut. Called KidzMondo it offers a thoroughly unique approach to the concept of a theme park. No giant rodent and certainly no Gallic Warrior will be seen on site. What you will see instead are Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, and Pepsi Cola and Colgate will be present, along with sixty popular European and Middle East brands of consumables of one sort or another.

While the branding will be familiar, and comforting, the context is startlingly provocative. KidzMondo is a scaled down (1/3 regular – adult size) replica of a city. It occupies a 30,000 square foot mall on two stories and comes complete with an airport lobby (the entrance), a bank that issues credit cards (all the kids get money), a hospital, fire and police departments and brand name commercial establishments and services galore (that’s where the business funding for the park comes in). The idea is not that the kids (adults are discouraged from entering the premises) simply run around purchasing items at all the stores, but that they enter an establishment to take a job.

So, for instance, Colgate sponsors the dental office and an adult actor playing at being a dentist explains dental hygiene to the kids who don a white smock and pretend to be dentists. At Burger King, the kids are chefs and at Pain d’Or, they are bakers. Or they can be police, firemen (and women, since gender roles are abolished in this mini-utopia).

The promoters maintain that the kids are naturally attracted to the role-playing, but more importantly, education is integral to the whole experience of KidzMondo. They learn job roles of course, but also they learn the basics of budgeting when they use their credit cards as shoppers at the food store, and are checked out by kid cashiers. If they attend the American University of Beirut’s kid’s university, they get a diploma and extra kidlars (KidzMondo currency) at any of the jobs that they take on. Their salary provides them an opportunity to buy toys and other goodies at a store in the complex that accepts only kidlars. To earn enough for a purchase the kids must work, and the more they work, the more kidlars they have to spend. A simple lesson of the (utopian, debt-free) consumer society.

What is amazing about this venture is that it did not originate in America. Did it require an “outsider” to the American Dream to devise this utopia? Or should we recognize that the market economy has become the economic DNA of the world? Trading is not a foreign concept to the Middle East by any means.

There are US charter schools that have adopted a similar system – without the built environment – as a teaching aid. The kids learn math by counting money. They work on art projects that they can then sell in the school marketplace, they run a snack bar and so forth, but these are usually auxiliary aspects of the teaching experience and not the core curriculum, yet.

There are some elements of KidzMondo that teach more than playing at work and being a happy consumer. All the kids are manacled to a Radio-frequency identification (RFID) wristband at the airport and there are hundreds of CCTV cameras tracking the kids to comfort (and amuse) the parents. What does this compliance to surveillance portend?

And what happens to the kid flaneurs that just want to hang out? Do the kid police move them along? Or does the kid psychiatrist intervene?

But maybe this is just my curmudgeonly self in evidence, after all the kidizens do have a constitution that shames every (adult) constitution in the world. The first principle says all kids are equal and united in play. And the second one is even better – kids have the right to be happy and free! What? It goes on: be creative, explore the world, express yourself, be helpful to and respectful of others, and be honest and kind. Furthermore, protect nature and the environment.

The ten principles of the kidizen constitution challenge the KidzMondo (utopian) capitalist system. On second thought, isn’t that the case with the American Constitution (and the Bill of Rights)? But the creators of KidzMondo need not worry about kidizens demanding their rights – they made certain that there is no government in KidzMondo. Hmmm?

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No one is happy at work

A new app for smart phones, Mappiness, clinches the science re polling people about how happy they are. With the free app, the participant receives a random call anytime during the day to record exactly how they feel at that particular moment. With this software in place, researchers at the London School of Economics (who are promoting the app) were able to determine that when queried at work, respondents universally registered “unhappy.”

Do we need further proof of the obvious? No, I’d say. Nonetheless, an academic, not affiliated with LSE we must note, questions the validity of this study:

The point I would make is that work means more to us than just the money it brings. Work can be a source of creative expression and a route to self-realisation. Even where work lacks creativity it can still bring the benefits of social interaction. The problem with seeing work as just a disutility [this is economic-speak for a ‘drag’] is that it fails to capture the dual-sided nature of work in human life. It misses the worth of work both as a means to an end and an end in itself.

OK, we can dismiss these comments as abstractions without much relevance. But then further we have this:

To be sure, work is often endured by workers but this does not reflect anything intrinsic to work as such, rather it reflects on the way that work is organised. To see work as just a disutility is to abstract from the influence of the structure and organisation of work on the way that workers experience work.

First, let’s be clear that the LSE research simply determined that at work, folks were unhappy. Now maybe they didn’t poll academics, bank managers or dentists who would register a high “happiness” quotient, but the larger issues re work were not polled.

The question of the intrinsic value of work is too complicated to explore in a brief comment. [ See my Introduction to Paul Lafargue’s essays collected in The Right to be Lazy .] However, the organization of work demands a comment, especially in the light of Michael Seidman’s book on the resistance to work by workers in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and likewise by the Parisian workers during the Popular Front days.

I come to these comments after years in worker-controlled enterprises in Chicago (a very small co-op print shop) and in Berkeley (at a much larger commercial printing plant). In both places, the work was usually under pressure of deadlines and with very narrow economic margins (an error was costly to the co-op, not the customer – unlike from what I gather is the case with government contracts!). The actual mechanics of the job were the same as in capitalist enterprises that I worked in, but there were some very important differences that made the work more tolerable in the co-ops.

In worker-managed situations, gratuitous regimentation was absent, so, for example, a radio could be played (with earplugs, or with speakers after collective agreement, of course) and discussions with fellow workers could be conducted. These things lowered the level of stress. Another difference was the customer base. For the most part the customers were non-profits and activist groups who printed useful material, not trash advertisements, or worse.

One further point to register here, and one that is a bit more elusive to any one outside the actual work situation, was the camaraderie amongst the worker/members. That camaraderie, which was built on a broadly compatible politics, formed the foundation for solidarity that cushioned the stress of the daily routine. A common complaint of many workers in traditional worksites is that they have to put up with their co-workers besides a sociopathic boss.

All that said, the way we all work, no matter the conditions, may never be elevated to a state of bliss, but for a very narrow spectrum of the population, work can be a fulfilling experience. And trying to achieve fulfillment motivates many to “strike out on their own” and become their “own bosses.”

The vast majority of jobs, however, will always be drudgery, even if mechanization can be introduced on an unprecedented scale. Despite the ancillary conditions of employment, the only recourse is to limit the amount of time devoted to such work and, consequently, to spread it around, to “communalize” it.

There is more to be said regarding work that verges on utopian speculation, but not to be dismissed for that reason. This refers back to the old saw used against anarchist theory – Who will do the dirty work? “We have a revolution and somebody bloody needs to take out the garbage,” as a somewhat bloated British Marxist once blurted into my face.

Several years ago, while discussing the concept of “zero-waste” with a friend who was trying to secure municipal funds for a complete recycling/reuse center, that antagonistic question came back to me. “After the Revolution there will be No Garbage,” came the reply, decades late.

Work as the name for monetarily enforced behavior is culturally specific. Cavemen didn’t work, the Iroquois didn’t work and for a goodly number of years I didn’t work. That said, of course, stuff would still need to be done after the revolution. Stuff that may take some considerable effort, and yet we have all had the experience, I hope, of expending considerable effort on some project that we would not consider work. Maybe we would not say it was play, but then what would we call it?

I think here we have a real conundrum: what do we call work that is not work? Activity that is done voluntarily, preferably with friends for social benefit and that we have a great deal of control over – is that work? Further, if we manage to do that activity within a festival-like context, like the old barn raisings of the agricultural era, is that work?

It is not enough to organize work, as we have it today, on a democratic basis – it needs be limited (as mentioned) and communalized, but also transformed wherever feasible. The transformation of work has several aspects, the common denominator of which is to limit work to a measure of social usefulness. Saying this conjures up images of supermarkets filled with only one detergent, one breakfast cereal and one brand of beer. While maybe we could live with one brand of laundry soap (though I doubt that), the proliferation of microbreweries, however, testifies to the creativity of work freed from the domination of corporate conglomerates and expands the notion of utility beyond strictly market parameters. I mean by this that often the beginnings of a microbrewery is someone’s hobby that becomes commoditized because the time for hobbies cannot expand much outside the confines of the daily grind. The temptation, again, to succeed as one’s “own boss” demands that the hobbyist be transformed into an entrepreneur, there isn’t much of a third choice.

In another context, one wonders what all those scientists hired to fine tune the chemistry of laundry detergents would do if allowed to expand their research as they might have imagined while college students. This question probably nags scientists in all fields, and maybe most those with Defense Department grants.

It comes down to this: the crux of the system that dominates us is work. Whether we thrive or starve hinges on it. Whether the society functions at its current minimum for our welfare hinges on it. And finally, and this is the radicality behind abolishing work – all the catastrophes we face demand for their resolution that we overthrow the obedience that comes with the work that creates the conditions for catastrophes in the first place.

Bernard Marszalek

October 21, 2013

 

 

 

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A movement to free time

We are living in a time of dis-ease when the millions who are consistently working long hours pass by the millions of unemployed as ships in the night. The former, physically exhausted from overwork, share with the “chronically unemployed,” themselves psychically drained from months of fruitless search for work, the continuum of employment as the extremities – from none to too much. The most obvious solution – to share the work – never enters the popular discourse. Instead, we are forever bombarded with nostrums from a plethora of pundits, left and right, who must acquire their sagacity from the backs of cereal boxes. They mouth the need for more job training, more government work projects, more tax breaks for the “job creators,” more “insourcing” and so forth.

Fortunately, Benjamin Hunnicutt in Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream provides some clarity regarding the sharing of work by telling the story of US workers’ fight to reduce their hours of toil. If that were all that this book covered it would be noteworthy since most people seem to believe that the 40-hour workweek was inscribed in the Constitution. More significantly, however, Hunnicutt makes clear that the century long fight for more free time, from twelve-hour shifts to ten, and from ten to eight and less, was a vital aspect of original American Dream.

This American Dream can be traced back to the beginnings of the Republic, to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who all expected that the bounty of the country would provide the time for the citizens to supersede their Greek forerunners and establish the leisure to govern and to develop a truly democratic culture. This trio, and many of their contemporaries, assumed that the citizens of the new Republic, in a few decades, would need only work three or four hours per day.

The most noteworthy champion of this other American Dream was Walt Whitman, who extolled the purpose of the American experiment to create a “higher progress.” Whitman envisioned American history as a three-stage phenomenon. The first stage was to wrest control of the political process, the second was to develop the economic engine as a basis for the last stage, the “higher progress” stage, which consisted of a free people molding a culture to reflect the best in themselves and their highest goals. It was in this stage that every village and town would have a vibrant arts community and an educational enterprise to rival the European universities.

Whitman, late in life, saw that the machines of the second stage aborted the promise of further progress by sequestering the workers in factories and workshops all day, leaving them too exhausted to be proper citizens, much less creators of art. The country was in danger of being denied its heritage, according to Whitman, by the greed of the bosses.

The remarkable fact uncovered by Hunnicutt was that those exhausted workers had the very same vision as the poet. They wanted more time away from work to develop their intellectual pursuits, to walk in the woods and to be with family and friends. They fought for free time and succeeded throughout the 19th Century in reducing the hours of their imprisonment from twelve, or even more, to ten and then, in the last decades of that contentious century, they made a mighty push for the eight-hour day and the weekend. Both May Day and Labor Day came out of that struggle. But their goal took over sixty years to be realized. It was not until the Depression that what we consider the “normal” workweek was established by legislation.

FDR’s failure to create sustainable employment through government hiring programs brought forth the demand for the six-hour day. This simple idea was to spread the work around and it caught fire throughout the country. Both houses of Congress had passed legislation endorsing the idea, but though FDR at first backed the bill, in the end he didn’t sign it and instead promoted the slogan we still hear today: Full-Time, Full Employment. Within a few months war production muted the demand and it never really surfaced again as the unions all fell in line, after the war, with the Full-Time, Full Employment program and chose to concentrate on increasing wages and not decreasing hours.

Hunnicutt mentions two outliers to the 40-hour day: Kellogg Foods in Michigan and Goodyear Tire in Ohio. Both companies reduced the workday to six hours in the late 30s and Kellogg kept to that schedule for another few decades.

Given this history it is a tragedy that the labor movement has not revived this venerable demand, especially now, five years into the worst economic downturn since the Depression. Maybe it is time for the environmental movement to take up the historic cause to reduce the workday – not for narrow economic reasons, but for broader cultural ones. Of course, this demand would increase employment, despite the threat by the bosses that ultimately jobs would be lost to automation if the status quo were disturbed.

The intent of this demand would only incidentally be job creation; its main purpose would be to push for less work and more free time for us to expand our leisurely pursuits, whatever they may be. This could be an end run around the issue of economic sustainability. By displacing the dominant role of working for a living, we could begin to value our precious time and devalue the time we sell to live. In other words, we would downsize.

And by downsizing we entertain the prospect of moving into a post-growth society, where what we do, because we have the time, approaches pleasurable activity and displaces the commoditized leisure we are offered in lieu of time to make our own fun.

Published on CounterPunch October 17, 2013

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Workaholic Leisure

The American workaholic culture cannot tolerate idle pursuits, and so when not at work Americans diligently pursue their leisure as strictly as a doctrine of faith. Gone are the late afternoons when saloons would fill with the local workforce having a drink or two and engaging in a chat with mates before heading home. Today there’s no chance to slip into casual conversation at the bar when a large screen sports program demands everyone’s attention. Spectatorship occupies those moments away from work as another form of production – the production of leisure time.

The sociopathic behavior of workaholics’ can be traced back, in America, to the early 19th century when popular agitation to reduce the working day, to a mere ten hours, prompted clergymen to decry the threat of idleness. One sympathetic minister, William Ellery Channing, while endorsing the shorter working day, cautioned against sloth and preached the “higher life” which required vigorous effort, not passive indulgence. This reference comes from a newly published book, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream by Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt. (More on this excellent history in a forthcoming post.)

It was a revelation to read in Michael Seidman’s Workers Against Work the sections on leisure and the proletarians in Barcelona and Paris. Minutes from meetings show that both the anarcho-syndicalist and the Communist militants characterized workers who hung out in bars and cafes as lazy. Some CNT activists wanted to close bars and music and dance halls by 10pm since they were unproductive activities. A more extremist current of this repressive tendency executed drug dealers and pimps. The ordinary workers, of course, were not oblivious to the privileges, and the hypocrisy, of the militants who managed to commandeer the few automobiles set aside, ostensibly for official work, for personal uses. On the more positive side, participation in sports appeared to be the major leisure time activity before the revolution and that continued afterwards with rival unions and factories sponsoring teams.

In France leisure developed, by the late 19th century, into a more diverse culture, encompassing sports, camping and family activities, often sponsored by religious institutions. The socialists, seeing that they could loose influence especially with youth, developed their own institutions, like sports teams, holiday camps and trips.

In 1936, when the Popular Front gained power they began to funnel municipal funds into sports facilities, community centers, evening schools and even art events.

What may have begun as an attempt to limit the political influence of the Church, morphed into a robust and enterprising sector of the economy that appealed to working class families, now that they had the weekend and the 40-hour week, as an outlet for their free time.

Though consumerism had a head start in Paris compared to Barcelona, the workers in both cities demanded security and good pay and refused to foreclose those demands for the militants’ moral vision of work. And likewise, the attractions of consumption – most notably in Paris – meant that when the prospects of loosing their shorter working day and their Saturday, the most rebellious workers were not the militants, but those workers generally considered apolitical. In other words, when it came to fighting for less work (and therefore more consumption, in its widest aspect) it was precisely those workers who had disabused themselves of the work ethic that fought the capitalists most ferociously.

Their rebelliousness supports James Livingston’s thesis in favor of consumption in his Against Thrift. (Preliminary notes on Against Thrift here) For him the sphere outside the job defined freedom and fulfillment for the proles. Livingston, as well as Seidman, share an assumption about the hierarchical arrangement of work despite the very different times and locations. This may seem odd given that the workers in Barcelona ostensibly ran their factories, but Seidman carefully documents the contradictory role of the technicians, and even managers, that the militants installed because of their expertise.

It would be a mistake to assume that shopping fulfills Livingston’s insights regarding “the realm of freedom,” just as it would be futile to decry democracy in the workplace as an illusion because the Catalans failed to achieve their lofty goals. To abolish wage slavery marks the first step to radically transform work, that is to abolish it. And to enjoy leisure when work is abolished cannot mean a day in the mall as anything other than an excursion into boredom.

Bernard Marszalek (October 4, 2013)

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Workers Against Work

It seems plausible to imagine that workers, no matter how abused they are in their workplaces, would rally around the work ethic during moments of national catastrophe. During WWII US productivity advanced as industrial workers “enlisted“ in the war effort. We have all seen those old newsreels with hundreds of workers streaming out of factories looking noble and, of course, at a brisk clip – wouldn’t you if you just spent 10 hours manufacturing war materiel? And then there was Rosie the Riveter – the iconic figure of the dedicated anti-fascist worker.

The real story of war production, however, depicts regimentation that rivaled the military. One need only recall the post-war labor agitation, as workers released from the pressure cooker period of war, erupted in strikes that eventually led to state repression in the way of anti-labor laws.

One would think however that the workers in Barcelona and Paris during the late 30s, in their struggles to fight fascism, had an allegiance to their role as anti-fascists to conform to the demands of production. Especially in Barcelona where in most cases they had taken over the factories when the owners fled.

Michael Seidman, in his 1991 book (out of print), Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts relates an entirely different scenario, one of workers resisting the productivist demands of the militants in Spain’s CNT and the French union CGT. Through meticulous research Seidman details the absenteeism, the defense of a casual work pace, the theft and the resistance to overtime, among other acts of rebellion against the workplace, and presents us with a more complex appreciation of the struggle against the work ethic.

There are several points that arise from Seidman’s history, aside from the repudiation of the standard histories of so-called politically committed workers and their zeal for work. The most significantly, Seidman questions the revolutionary ideology of both anarchist and Marxist organizers. When push came to shove these politicos, despite their putative disagreements, were devoted to an economic vision that duplicated that of their class enemy. They became the new bosses. The workers recognized this and fought against it.

Seidman, in a short pamphlet: The Strange History of “Workers against Work” – The Vicissitudes of a Book, comments on the reviews of his book from both the legitimate and clandestine translated editions that have appeared recently, 20 years after its original publication. This alone is noteworthy. As he remarks, there seems to be a revival of interest in the questions that he delved into in 70s France while living with some ultra-leftists. At that time, he says that he recognized a seeming contradiction with those he knew who resisted work and yet at the same time believed in a form of council communism, after the fashion of the Situationists. I guess if you presume that workers’ control would be limited to a simple transfer of industrial production from the current bosses to dedicated militants then I can see some difficulties. But was that the view of those who believed – in agreement with council communism – that the workers would be satisfied with new asses warming the seats of power? Or that the workers, disgusted with their enslavement to wage labor, would not transform the way they work?

I have no idea of course what his friends thought, but those who I knew at that time in the US had a more nuanced view of the Situationist’s “generalized self-management” that incorporated the utopianism of William Morris and Oscar Wilde, the vitriol of Paul Lafargue and Albert Parsons, the visions of the surrealists and the long tradition of dissident Marxism and anarchism. Seidman’s newer book, The Imaginary Revolution: Parisian Students and Workers in 1968, may illuminate some of these currents in that explosion against work in May.

In The Strange History…, Seidman makes a telling distinction between advocating the “ abolition of wage labor” and not “for ‘the liberation of work.’” The implication here is that he is for the former and he should not be confused with those who advocate the work-free utopia.

Appropriately enough, Seidman, in his concluding chapter raises the viewpoint of Paul Lafargue on work; unfortunately, he misinterprets Lafargue’s intent in The Right to be Lazy. He presumes that Lafargue took the 1848 slogan – The Right to Work – resurrected by the conformist opposition of the 1880s, as the position of the workers themselves. But in fact, his essay was directed at the politics of those who wished to compromise with those in power. When published, Lafargue’s pamphlet was enthusiastically received by the French workers and as Seidman mentions, is the most translated socialist text aside from the Communist Manifesto.

One last point: Here are Seidman’s concluding sentences:

Accepting labor uncritically and believing that it provided meaning for workers, the productivist utopians [the militants of CGT] logically concluded that the state would be superfluous once workers had taken control of the production forces. Yet the actual historical experience of the Left in power in Paris and Barcelona question such a vision. Despite the presence of working-class parties and unions in government, workers continued to resist constraints of workspace and worktime, thereby provoking state intervention to increase production. Historians may conclude that the state can be abolished only when Lafargue’s cybernetic utopia has been realized.

The “cybernetic utopia” refers to Lafargue’s speculation that the capitalist technology currently used to increase profits, needed to be re-conceptualized to benefit the workers. Mainly this meant, for Lafargue, that timesaving advances in mechanical work should reduce the workday and that homicidal machines should be abolished. He, like the socialists of his day, did not address the question of technology’s supposed neutrality. Only the Romantics rejected technology which they saw as synonymous to industrialism, a despoiler of the environment and human crafts. A more nuanced view of capitalist technology didn’t appear for almost a century.

The modern industrial plant of today would probably affirm Lafargue’s wildest dreams of a workplace paradise. The industrial worker today benefits from the enormous power of automated devices that, to use an extreme example, flip huge metal carcasses around to accommodate a delicate application of human power. And wouldn’t he marvel at the sight of a lone technician manipulating a control panel to dictate mechanical operations with the power of a Greek god? We have one half of Lafargue’s utopia all around us, and no prospect of the other half – workers’ control. And the workers are fast disappearing!

 

 

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Labor Day, May Day, What’s to Celebrate?

I suspect that more than a few people would accept as historic fact that Stalin created May Day, and to checkmate Stalin’s evil, communist attempt to influence US workers, FDR initiated Labor Day. Two utopias in conflict: the Workers’ Paradise vs. the American Dream. The Communist Manifesto or FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.

Oddly enough, there is symmetry at play here as both leaders corrupted the original meaning of these workers’ holidays. Neither Stalin nor FDR cared two figs for the historic struggle of the working class; their intent, like the Fathers of the Church before them, was to seize dissension, drain it of its original content and fill it with a conformist ideology.

May Day grew internationally to memorialize the struggle of the working class as exemplified by the Haymarket Martyrs, however, in America, the home of this infamy, workers were expected to “Honor Labor.” In other words, on Labor Day the workers celebrate work, while on May Day workers commemorate the struggle to gain control of it, in fact, to abolish it.

This may sound extravagant, but how else can one view the origins of the struggle for the Eight Hour Day, which both holidays share? Let us not look upon this demand for a shorter word day with the mindset of a 20th Century labor union official, but from the point of view of a half-starved laborer trying to survive the brutal conditions of his or her employment, whether in a factory where the machinery created a din so loud that ear drums shattered, or in a sweatshop bent over a sewing machine all day, or in a poorly ventilated mine, or in a slaughterhouse where human body parts where lost on a regular basis. The demand for eight hours was not the goal, but the means to build workers’ solidarity for another fight and yet more control of production. The bosses’ knew this. To give an inch here, they recognized, would open the door for more demands.

The struggle to reduce the hours of the working day is widely believed to have begun in 1824 with a wildcat strike by the women weavers of Slater’s Mill in Pawtucket, RI. These young women protested to work only ten hours! The righteousness of their cause, repudiated by the bosses, inspired the townspeople to pool their money and erect a community clock to prevent the mill owners from jiggering the length of the work shifts.

Sporadically in the coming decades, attempts to limit the workday continued until in the 1880s work stoppages for the eight-hour day advanced from individual worksites to citywide demonstrations. The most successful protest, organized by the New York City Labor Council for September 5, 1882, brought out as many as 40,000 workers. The success of this event, which some refer to as the first Labor Day, spurred replication throughout the country.

Some labor historians credit Peter McGuire, a carpenter who became a leader in the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL), with founding Labor Day. But others believe that Mathew Maguire, a socialist and organizer of the New York demonstration, deserves the honor. He was, after all, instrumental in 1884 for situating the holiday on the first Monday of September. Disputes on the origins of Labor Day give way to agreement that the historic beginning of official recognition began in 1887, when Oregon became the first state to proclaim it as a legal holiday. Several months later, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York followed the lead of the west coast state. Workers continued to agitate for the Eight Hour Day and by 1894, 23 States had fallen in line and on June 28 of that year, Congress declared the first Monday in September as Labor Day, though it didn’t legislate eight hours as a standard working day.

Celebrations of labor’s Day reached a peak at the end of the 19th Century and trailed off in the early decades of the new century, until it was revived in the 30s to coincide with the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and renewed labor agitation. Finally, the Eight Hour Day achieved legal status in 1935 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, taking only one hundred and eleven years from that original Slater’s Mill strike to be enshrined in law.

Labor Day celebrations waned during the war years, and then were revived again by the unions in the late 40s to fight the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Bill. With that battle lost, the unions retreated from promoting Labor Day as a day of protest to one of commemoration, or rather, as some see it, given the increasing irrelevancy of organized labor, subservience.

May Day too had its historic period of obligatory (state) subservience after the Russian Revolution. In Russia, May Day was a day of boring, seemingly endless parades of military hardware, where the Russian workers, reduced to spectators, gazed at the slow rolling phalanxes of armaments meant to defend their paradise.

The origins of May Day, less disputed than Labor Day, also arose from the agitation to control the production process by limiting the duration of work. In 1884, at the convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, a resolution was passed marking May 1, 1886 as the day that all of the workers in North America would limit their time at work to eight hours.

Building support for that date, eighteen months in the future, commenced immediately and in Chicago popular labor agitators, anarchists of mainly German descent, began organizing for a one-day general strike for May 1st to support the Eight Hour Day.

The turnout in Chicago was immense, with some sources counting 90,000 participants it was by far the largest protest of all the cities in North America. It is not hyperbole to say that a total of half-million workers across the country downed tools and paraded that day. May Day in 1886 fell on a Saturday, still a working day, but the warm temperatures enticed whole families to come out and celebrate. The parades everywhere were peaceful and carnival-like, despite the fear mongering of the corporate press.

In Chicago, the general strike coincided with several ongoing labor disputes. The most significant strike was under way at the McCormick-Harvester Works. McCormick employed several thousand and was one of the largest industrial plants in the US. On May 3rd, a rally was called to support the workers and thousands gathered at the entrance to the plant to hear a series of speeches, that though militant, did not advocate violence. The factory shift bell sounded and strikebreakers began to emerge from the complex, a struggled ensued, and the police overreacted and killed several strikers. The next day, a protest rally took place and in the drizzly evening, as the speakers were winding down and the crowd peacefully dispersing, a bomb exploded. The explosion and wild shooting by the police killed seven of their force and four workers, besides wounding dozens.

The event, known today as the Haymarket Affair, resulted in the first Red Scare (or more precisely, Red and Black Scare) with media, police and judicial forces joining in ruling class-coordinated repression – a corrupt judge, biased jury and a lying cop – the result: four innocent men hanged, one suicide, and two got life (years later commuted by an ethical Governor, who acted against popular sentiment). Despite this local repression and a national bomb-throwing anarchist scare, workers’ organizations continued to grow: the Knights of Labor doubled its membership that year and a united Labor Party formed in Chicago.

The impetus to agitate for the eight-hour day continued and the newly formed AFL, in 1888, proclaimed May 1, 1890 as another Eight Hour Day general strike day. A year later the international workers’ organization meeting in Paris (the Second International), after an in-person plea by Samuel Gompers (later the conservative head of the AFL), declared May 1st as an international day of strikes to demand the eight hour day. And so in 1890 the first International May Day occurred. It was a major success across Europe and parts of South America and the following year the Second International declared it an annual workers’ holiday.

It is ironic that though the AFL was responsible for alerting the Second International to the eight hour agitation scheduled for 1890, it quickly back-pedaled from any hint of radicalism, for example by repudiating strikes. And in a move to salvage the Democratic Party from the dire electoral effects of the Panic of ’93 – a major depression began that year – the AFL supported pro-business President Grover Cleveland, who in gratitude signed legislation that proclaimed Labor Day a national holiday. His pro-labor gesture wasn’t enough however to secure his victory, another sour labor defeat at the poles.

Much of the history of American labor is the history of its domestication. The workers had first to be tamed before the industrial plutocrats would negotiate with them. And who better to serve as the workers’ minders, than their union leaders? Ruling class violence in the early labor struggles had but one purpose: to teach the workers that they could never win on their terms. The industrialists saw the dispute about hours as a step by workers to wrestle control of the work schedule from them, and so consumerism and electoral illusions were traded for workers’ control of production. The bosses retained rule of the shop floor.

What then does Labor Day or May Day represent? What significance can they have for a workforce that, universally, slides down the steep slope of broken promises? Labor Day especially, with all its archival references, amounts to little more than an insult to the American workers.

We all know the tragic litany of working class defeat, from living wage jobs to dead end ones, from prized skills that one could be proud of, to soulless routines. But the defeat of the working class, as our brief historic overview indicated, began before the Golden Age of the Fifties when unions were winning concessions and workers were enjoying the consumer bounty that came with their acquiescence. It is obvious today that the immediate post-World War II era was an exception in the history of capitalism. It is foolish to fight for those days to return.

The demand for control of the workday was grounded in the insight, now seemingly lost, that workers should benefit from the increase in productivity. Paul Lafargue, known for his essay The Right to be Lazy, stated the obvious:

A good working woman makes with her needles only five meshes a minute, while certain circular knitting machines make 30,000 in the same time. Every minute of the machine is thus equivalent to a hundred hours of the working woman’s labor, or again, every minute of the machine’s labor, gives the working woman ten days of rest.

When Lafargue wrote these provocative lines, in 1883, they were directed at the wage slaves toiling in the sweatshops and mines. Workers then, as now, never benefited from the introduction of machinery, in fact, the machinery mostly meant a speed-up. And beyond that, workers could not take pride in their jobs; if they were proud of anything, it was the solidarity of their class. The artisanal sense of a job done well persisted in a few trades, like printing, tool making, custom needle trades or cabinetry, but for the vast majority, to call their work a craft, much less a calling, applied to another era.

Much has changed in the one hundred and thirty years since Lafargue wrote –

“A strange delusion possesses the working classes…. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work….”

The most obvious change has been the decline of manufacturing jobs in the West and the growth of the service sector. But what has not changed is the corrosive influence of the work ethic. Then as now the elite, in the media, in the political parties and in the boardrooms, propagate the dogma and the workers attend the church. Every body grumbles about their jobs and yet we are all expected to identify with one. If useful work were available, maybe dedication to a job might be understandable. This might be the case for healthcare workers, who despite dispiriting management practices, have higher job satisfaction than most other workers. They may, not incidentally, have union protections. On the other hand, employment “opportunities” are expanding faster in unorganized sweatshops, like the Amazon warehouses, or in fast food, retail, janitorial services and other marginal jobs. The mobilization to raise the wages of these exploited proles merits support, yet support does not entail ignoring economic realities and the resulting immiseration.

Few today raise the heartfelt concerns about job quality that were expressed forty years ago in Studs Terkel’s groundbreaking book Working. Are the tasks we do useful? Do they satisfy our need to feel accomplished? To call for “Jobs Now” too easily amounts to a demand for grunt jobs. Adding the demand for a so-called “living wage” – a misnomer if there ever was one – seems purely cosmetic, or more precisely, it simply assuages class guilt. Where is the demand for useful work? Even the demand for Green Jobs has evaporated, I presume so as not to embarrass Obama for his poor performance, again.

Of course, raising this issue lifts the lid on a sequence of interrogations that corporate America cannot recognize. What defines a useful job? And when did corporations last create one? Their track record is almost as bad as the Federal Government, which at least still hires a few food inspectors. How can it be that millions of people slave away in dull, meaningless jobs as our infrastructure collapses around us? We have here a supreme waste of material and human resources. A troubling thought must arise – do we have useful employment for all who need jobs?

Let us dream the ideal government-hiring program. The federal government hires all the people needed to rebuild and repair the thousands of bridges civil engineers have designated in poor condition. More people are hired to update school buildings and public hospitals, to construct a new energy grid and to build high-speed rail all across the country. The federal government pays local school districts to hire teachers and teacher aides (or more correctly, re-hires all those fired). Rural clinics are established. The National Forests and Parks receive funding to update and expand and to prepare for the devastating effects of climate change fast upon us. We have here a new, New Deal. A Green New Deal. This is the program the fans of FDR want, and as an immediate program to create useful employment and resuscitate capitalism, it fits the bill. Of course, this is fantasy. The corporate and political elite (no longer home to enlightened Keynesians) would fight it savagely for numerous reasons.

But more to the point, A Green New Deal is not a long-range strategy if we want to address, at minimum, the next twenty years. Stop-gap programs are ultimately a waste of valuable political energy, besides being delusional about radical change. In the 19th Century, unlike today, the vision of those who opposed capitalism took the form of controlling the workplace so that the economy could benefit all. Today with the workplace, as it was known then, almost extinct (at least in the West) and work itself taking an atomized form, where it can be secured at all, another vision needs to be developed. Economic democracy, in other words, must have a 21st Century relevancy and a contemporary vocabulary.

Given the precariousness of employment, the wasted intelligence and creativity of those who do have jobs, the lack of collective engagement (formerly called civic pride) and the need to retrieve the quest for a just society that motivated our ancestors (a legacy stolen from us by an increasingly repressive system) a society based on an expansion of citizenship must be imagined. Just as our passport certifies our political rights, we need a debit card that guarantees our economic rights. In other words, income has to be separated from jobs. The term defining this idea in the US is Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). The same notion exists throughout Europe, in some countries of Africa, Asia and South America.

The concept is straightforward. Every individual receives a stipend that covers all essential needs to live a frugal life, that is, an amount sufficient to live without holding a job. The insecurity that results from our current job shortage would be eliminated. This alone would save all the costs that the state must bear to deal with social breakdown. But beyond the welfare savings, providing modest economic security makes it possible for healthy social outcomes. For the great majority of people, receiving a stipend would not, as cynics think, see them take root to couches. Consider it an inoculation for the body politic. Anyone would be free to pursue an avocation, to experiment with creativity. How many artists, musicians and writers are waiting to blossom? Presumably, most people would supplement their guaranteed income with employment, however, that may not mean a full-time job, nor a poorly paid one, nor one that was complete b.s. The debit card extends the traditional rights signified by the passport into the realm of the economy. Instead of taking over the means of production as in the traditional Marxist model, the fully endowed citizen has simply seized his or her labor power and leases it to the capitalist on a more equitable basis.

This arrangement need not end capitalism, just its most egregious forms. Freed from compulsive wage-slavery, and sustained with economic security, the new citizen can begin to develop the idea of a democratic society. A society as envisioned by the world’s great philosophers, incorporating leisure, camaraderie and festival. The barriers that today restrict our ability to enjoy the pleasures of friendship and collaboration could methodically displace a life of toil and give way to new forms of enjoyable, productive and creative activity.

Worker cooperatives and employee managed firms, though rare business ventures today, do offer a hint of what this collaboration might look like. These firms, because they are hostage to economic forces beyond the control of the workers, are partial models of democracy. If, however, they were free of at least some of the stress of coping with a profit-driven economy, their convivial working relations could unfold new forms of working together. We have no name for this concept, this new sort of activity. What do we call an activity that encompasses the productivity of a job, without the coercion; that maintains the spontaneity of play, but does not presume its ephemerality; a term that encompasses creativity of art without its isolation and commodification?

The social implications that result from introducing a universal debit card are vast. Let’s dream again, but this time better. Firstly, the trap door to mass overproduction of commodities falls away and a whole range of community workshops replace shopping. Now able to devote more time to their first love, people create all sorts of treasures – like the family keepsakes that have disappeared from households with the rise of pernicious plastic crap. Next, hackers – again with newly available time – take on the universalization of the knowledge commons, making available to humanity systems and techniques better than the proprietary ones. Freeing social creativity in just these two areas unlocks technology from the commodity form and offers solutions to remediate the world wasted by capitalist exploits, especially for people in regions and countries suffering from its most ravenous excesses.

By subverting the mania for more jobs with pleasurable pursuits, we slow the expansion of capitalism  (and eventually put it in reverse gear) and that allows us time to reflect on priorities and to undertake together practical projects. With the drive to accumulate moderated, with growth no longer associated with progress, we develop, by doing, a truly sustainable society, one focused on conserving resources while enriching our cultural life. If we reverse perspective, from commodity production (immediate gratification) to communal production (long-range democratic planning) we then have an opportunity to respond to climate change, not as an emergency, but with an urgent and sensible plan.

For too long we have accepted the view that homo faber defines us as human, when it seems that to define us fully as culture-forming beings, homo ludens more appropriately reflects our being. The great visionaries and many traditional societies have known this. Since the onslaught of our humanity by the rise of industrialism, we have increasingly labored under a burden – we have been witness to an ever-diminishing prospect of realizing our potential. Future May Days, infused with its original Green hue will retain its festive nature, but Labor Day may simply move into that realm of respectful observance we reserve for the horror and mayhem that we solemnly contemplate on Hiroshima Day, or Armistice Day.

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Your Brain on Autopilot

Recent scientific research has definitively demonstrated that the notion of capitalism as the natural result of the human species quest for aggrandizement on all levels has no validity. Not only is our species empathetic and cooperative, but also this aspect of life extends deep into our ancestry – actually, as some say, life itself down to cells is defined by cooperation. I wrote a review essay some years ago that tackled the issue, Cooperation and Human Nature, a review of Michael Tomasello’s Why We Cooperate.

With Andrew Smart’s Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing we have another pillar of modern capitalism blasted: the supposed benefits, material and spiritual, of work – or as the Wobblies said sarcastically, “the harder the work, the greater the reward in the by-and-by.”

Smart establishes the scientific case for idling the brain to glean the benefits of doing nothing. What he presents is a remarkable, and seemingly counter-intuitive, discovery in neuroscience research that shows the brain at rest is actually expending more energy than when it is on task. While there is no unanimity among scientists on this subject – the research is relatively recent (and depends on an understanding of complexity theory to fully comprehend) – Smart’s very readable explanation of the science involved, coupled with pages of references at the back of the book, convinces.

For those of us who recognize the insidious mental and physical effects of work, but who hesitate to fling ourselves into argumentation about what should be obvious (it is not the quantity of work that is the real issue, but work itself) this slim volume comes as a handy source for scientifically embellished ripostes to lay low pro-work advocates, such as:

Being idle may be the only real path to self-knowledge as it allows the brain’s default mode network to kick in.

Most interlocutors will have no retort, but a blank face. There is more to this book, however, than clever rhetorical turns. We have here a good introduction to a new generation of scientific reasoning that values self-organization, non-linearity, randomness and more as ways to understand how our brains work.

For example, historically the brain has been viewed as a reflexive organ, but it is now recognized that the vast majority of the brain’s activity comes not from external stimulation, but from its internal operating system. This does not mean that the brain needs no external stimulation, just that the brain keeps itself in balance through self-generated patterns. Smart elaborates:

. . . the concepts behind these insights into brain function come from fields outside psychology and neuroscience, such as complex systems science and physics. We are just begin­ning to understand what the brain’s spontaneous activity really means.

Autopilot raises several intriguing suggestions about the connection between creativity and the type of brain activity at rest, or the default mode network. We have all had inspirations while daydreaming, or insights on a problem the morning after unsuccessfully wrestling with it. And artists recognize that a flow of creativity cannot be forced. The architect Christopher Alexander, for instance, would walk a new building site several times of the day, and often just sit to watch the course of the sun, to get a “feel” for the landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright did the same. Their buildings grew from a leisurely approach to design that allowed shape to emerge as out of the ether of the place. Their approach distinguishes their buildings from the structures crowding the airspace of the world’s major cities.

Smart, a researcher and a chronicler of neuroscience, seemingly proves that he has spent idle hours in the lab, by offering a number of speculations connecting his science with everyday life. Take noise, for instance, both the external kind and the internal one that the mind creates while it buzzes along idling. The research shows that noise is not necessarily a distraction, but in fact an aid in retrieving a “signal” – or insight – that the brain hasn’t quite sprung from its depths. This notion flies in the face of those who think that the only proper way to do productive work is to focus, excluding all stimuli and distractions. The problem with this approach is that forcing the brain to work in this manner limits its potential.

And this is precisely the problem with Management Training fads (another focus for Smart’s rapier-like wit); they assume the normality of our mad pace of work life and offer spurious solutions to overcome slacking that leads, in fact, to closing down the brain. Given that the typical job is already brain numbing, the effort to juice imaginative thinking with clever “productivity tools” appears futile, except no one can admit it on the corporate ladder.

Though with some exaggeration regarding what we know about biological systems, Smart notes that:

The only system we know of in the universe that can be innovative is the human brain. But the brain seems to need things like freedom, long periods of idleness, positive emo­tions, low stress, randomness, noise, and a group of friends with tea in the garden to be creative.

One wishes that he took on the “utopian” workplaces in Silicon Valley for their amenities and their twisted goals to seduce greater sacrifices and more stress. The one corporate workplace I know of that comes closest to the ideal site for commercial innovation is Valve, the game design outfit that has a reputation of scrupulously avoiding top down management to provide time for staff to propose a project and solicit cooperation from workmates to solidify an authentic team approach.

And here is where I wish that neuroscience go to next to calibrate the brain’s optimum activity – that is, directly to situations where cooperation rules. Smart ends with a wish for “a true post-work society, one that truly liberates human energies.” A noble desire, that has been charted many times in the past, both theoretically and practically, only to be thwarted in its realization.

Maybe, however, we are entering a time when the visions of idle speculation, in great part provoked by the lack of work, especially for the young – the dreamers – are merging to achieve a critical mass of ludic triggers to our synapses. We can hope that the festivals of tear gas we witness today, as the old world’s response to these “triggers,” give way to festivals of sheer delight tomorrow.

 

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Techno-utopians and extreme abundance

In the April 23rd issue of the New Republic Tim Wu published a review of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s book  Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think and compared its theme – “more is better” –  with Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. In sum, the issue for Wu is that we have been overburdened by the choices that material abundance delivers and this exactly has led to an inability to define our real needs, a condition addressed in Roy and John’s book.

Wu is a Professor of Law at Columbia University and he is famous for coining the term “net neutrality.” Further, according to Business Week Wu “provided the intellectual framework that inspired Google’s mobile phone strategy.” In other words, we have someone here who believes in the free market, in the traditional sense of the term, not as a shibboleth with which to beat skeptics over the head, but still someone who assumes the permanence of the market society, and simply wishes to tame its excesses.

. . .

The extreme techno-utopians, like Diamandis, imagine a world where technology acts as an autonomous force, unrestrained except by the creative geniuses that guide it. And so, for them it is completely plausible that within a decade or two we will arrive at “a world where everyone’s days are spent dreaming and doing, not scrapping and scraping.”

. . .

And he [Wu] ends with these odd sentences:

So advanced are our technological powers that we will be increasingly trying to create access to abundance and to limit it at the same time. Sometimes we must create both the thesis and the antithesis to go in the right direction. We have spent the last century creating an abundance that exceeds any human scale, and now technologists must turn their powers to controlling our, or their, creation.

I am reminded of my previous post re Autopilot and the “science of idleness” that another techno-academic reviewer, like Wu, characterized as the subject matter of that book. Are we talking about sound-proof flotation tanks, or space-music, or meditation caps?

For more see Ztangi Press blog.

 

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Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing

I have to admit that book endorsements do not motivate me to buy a book, and often they do just the opposite, when I bother to read them at all. I read the endorsement by a PhD of Autopilot that proclaimed it was about the “art and science of doing nothing” because it struck me as an anomaly. Obviously, no one gets a PhD by idling. The PhD’s first sentence however seemed to confirm my suspicions that this book was hokum.

A tour de force of an academic field that doesn’t really exist just yet – the science of being idle.

Right, a new field of academic inquiry – immediately I could see the author, Andrew John Smart (a name too perfect, it must have been suggested by a low-life marketing guru, I thought) promoting his book to Fortune 500 Management Seminars.

Fortunately, I didn’t click on to another internet allure. The publisher of this book didn’t strike me as one that would be promoting slick, pseudo-cutting-edge personnel management crap. OR Books is new. Check out their offerings.

Questioning my initial impulse, I delved a bit deeper into the promo verbiage and found this sentence:

At every turn we’re pushed to do more, faster and more efficiently: that drumbeat resounds throughout our wage-slave society.

Use the term “wage-slave” and I’ll pay for your beer. For me, this put the author beyond the “cutting-edge” of so-called entrepreneurial concerns.

And then a bit further, this appeared:

A survivor of corporate-mandated “Six Sigma” training to improve efficiency, Smart has channeled a self-described “loathing” of the time-management industry into a witty, informative and wide-ranging book that draws on the most recent research into brain power. Use it to explain to bosses, family, and friends why you need to relax – right now.

That was all I needed to know. I plunked down my credit card and bought it (at a pre-publication discount).

Here’s an extract from the book:

Scientists like Buzáki and Raichle estimate that as much as 90% of the brain’s energy is used to support ongoing activity. This means that, regardless of what you are doing, your resting brain represents the vast majority of your brain’s total energy consumption. This is also known as the brain’s intrinsic activity. When you activate your default mode network by doing nothing, it becomes robust and coherent. So, somehow our brains seem to violate the second law of thermodynamics which states that left unattended, things in general get messy and lose heat. This is called entropy. It’s why your kitchen just gets messier and messier the longer you don’t clean it. However, the old adage that “the dishes don’t do themselves” does not apply to the brain.

On the contrary, when you leave important parts of your brain unattended by relaxing in the grass on a sunny afternoon, the parts of your brain in the default mode network become more organized and engaged. In your brain, the dishes do wash themselves if you just leave them alone. It turns out your brain is never idle. In fact, it may work harder when you’re not working at all.

One more thing. If you go to Smart’s blog you will find a smart post on professionalism and you will be able to read a draft of a play/screen script of a projected “epic” tale of Michael Bakunin! Hey, I might be disappointed with my impulsive purchase, but anyone who writes a screen play, titled Bakunin: The Lust for Destruction, needs all the support he can muster.

 

 

 

 

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