A Nation of Slaves is the title of an essay by Charlie Stross that came to my attention today. It stems from a UK-specific situation, yet it is a problem of all developed countries at the moment. Mainly, capitalism has failed most of us, and yet we don’t seem to have a way out.
Stross refers to Graeber’s Bullshit Job definition, which requires the answers to the following questions: (1) Is it good for you (the worker)? and (2) Is it good for other people? For what I am doing at the moment, I’d say (1) yes, kinda, sometimes and (2) some of the other people. But at least I can say that (2) is not a definite no, whereas a lot of people working in a lot of industries can’t deny that for them the answer of (2) is inevitably a big no.
Yet, we all need jobs, and it’s not like we can just choose a job with (1) yes and (2) yes. And as much as I’d like to think that we could choose not to take a job that was obviously negative for one or both options, better that than to be unemployed. Even if we were all to pick a job, any job there will still be unemployment, and even more unhappiness. Especially for those who don’t even have the luxury to think about Graeber’s Bullshit Job definition. One has to work, one has to earn money to support her family, provide for her children. In most cases, one finds a job that provides that, bullshit job or not. Fulfillment of dreams and goals and self-actualization are secondary, when all one thinks about is the first two steps of Maslow’s pyramid. (Physiological + Safety, see here.)
Stross also brings up the question why should we work? A great yet hard to answer question. Most of us just know/think they have to, without ever wondering what kind of a person am I and what do I want to do with life. Most people are on auto-pilot. If lucky, the auto-pilot can afford the track of graduate university, get job, get married, car, house, kids, provide for family. When this is the track, or people are better off, they don’t care about what happens to those who can’t afford university, who could not finish school, for various reasons. They don’t care about reasons, circumstances of these cases. This we see a lot with politicians: for example with recents cuts in food stamps in the US with the argument that they make people lazy or with the recent report ‘shocking’ rise in use of food banks in the UK.
Where can we go from here? Reform is necessary, not just in how we define “capitalism” and how much we let it roam free, but reform is necessary in politics, in education and how we all think about our futures. Lots of work ahead of us …