Over the years, many criticisms and insults have been directed at me as someone who writes openly about her principled opposition to the work ethic and the job culture.
Among these is the puerile accusation that I’m a “faker” because I am looking for a job, and have been actively doing so for the past year and a half.
Apparently, according to this critic’s worldview, no one who objects to the job culture for principled reasons should ever take a job, regardless of the particulars of their life or the context of their specific situation. So if I am actually job-hunting now (horror of horrors!), then I must not have meant what I said about any of those radical ideas I espoused on the whywork.org site since 1998. I must not be serious about anything I write about on this blog. Never mind that I have devoted huge amounts of time, research, and effort to this project, at great personal cost. Never mind that I started and moderated a well-respected e-mail list on these topics for years. Never mind that I have repeatedly stated the paradoxical truth that it’s possible – and sometimes even preferable – to be engaged in radical unjobbing while still holding a conventional job. I must have just been leading everyone on. Because I’m looking for a job now, I must necessarily be a “faker” – in other words, a hypocrite.
Just for the record, I will state once again that I would, indeed, prefer not to have a job ever again. What I want is to work in a self-directed manner (although not as an “entrepreneur”). I would prefer to continue working for myself, for my loved ones, for the land, and for the good of my local community. There are countless projects I’d love to do. I would prefer to spend my time focusing on writing, learning, research, dancing, spiritual pursuits, organising gift circles, and learning the skills necessary to building a more sustainable life (healthy cooking, nutrition, fermentation, foraging, gardening, rainwater catchment, composting, building tiny houses, etc.). I already have three baccalaureate-level academic credentials; clearly I love reading and learning, but I am an autodidact at heart and prefer to direct my own education.
Unfortunately, however, my life situation at the moment is such that I simply cannot live like this and still meet my financial needs, meager though they are.
I live simply, in a tiny urban apartment, by choice. I don’t drive (also by choice). I don’t drink or smoke. I have no kids or pets. I take care of my health and am relatively healthy for a middle-aged American woman of middle-class background. Money is simply a means to a more important end for me: a life worth living. I have done everything I can to simplify my life greatly and reduce the amount of income I need, in order that I might avoid jobs as much as possible and focus all my attention on writing and other underappreciated work that doesn’t pay much but is essential to a fulfilling and meaningful life for me.
However, I am also single, I lack health insurance, and I live in the USA. In this country, people who do not have health care coverage through a spouse or employer are pretty much left to fend for themselves. I’m eligible for my state’s low-income plan, but I’ve been on the waiting list a long time, and there isn’t enough funding for everyone who needs it, so I’m out of luck for the time being. Fortunately, I haven’t had any urgent, severe health crises ever since I lost access to health insurance through a divorce.
Even if I continue to go without health insurance – which I have done for two years now; I go to community clinics for the low-income and homeless whenever I have medical needs – I can’t stay free of jobs and the need for money all by myself. None of us really can, no matter how simply we live. Even monks and nuns who live in monasteries and take vows of poverty accept alms, donations and patronage from the lay community.
Finding a way to live indefinitely without a job if you are single – especially in a country with an ailing economy, and in which you have a high chance of facing bankruptcy if you ever contract a serious illness – is not at all an easy task. At the moment, my circumstances are such that I do not have the wherewithal to pull it off. Divorce and economic recession have wreaked havoc in my life. I have no financial assets left; my assets are my education, skills, relationships, and the belongings in my home. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t matter whether or not I want a job; I must continue to look for one. And I am hardly the only highly educated person my age from a culturally middle-class background who is dealing with a situation like this. In fact, my situation is still quite fortunate compared to that of some of my friends. The middle class is collapsing.
Does this make me a hypocrite? Perhaps, if your worldview doesn’t allow room for the various complexities and nuances of individual lives that resist easy categorisation, or if you are blind to the way social and economic systems shape individuals’ behaviour in ways they cannot control.
But so what? So what if I’m a hypocrite, and can’t maintain pristine ideological purity? Does that mean what I write about has no value, and can therefore be easily dismissed?
A reminder: This isn’t about me. My critiques are not meant to call attention to me, except to the extent that I can use my own life experiences as a window onto larger and more important issues. My critiques are intended to call attention to the toxic job culture and work ethic, as well as the money system. These are interdependent complex systems. I criticise these systems even as I am forced to work within them to provide for my basic necessities in life. And I am not perfect. Maintaining a critical awareness in the face of ongoing resistance and lack of support is a far bigger challenge than it may seem to onlookers. Sometimes I, too, fall into traps such as rationalising. After all, it’s far easier to rationalise than it is to fully accept the reality that I am not truly free to work in the way I wish to (free of jobs, and within a gift culture as much as possible). This is painful, but nonetheless, my task of the moment appears to be: learn to live with the contradictions inherent in this way of life. I live in two worlds at once: I rely on the “old” systems even as I faithfully envision and promote “new” ones.
How do we uncouple ourselves from these toxic systems? How do we free ourselves from wage slavery? The answer: Partially. One step at a time. Cooperatively. With the help of one another, the land, and our communities.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We cannot do this in isolation. We do not make our task any easier when we spend our energy criticising others’ hypocrisy instead of strengthening our alliances and helping one another.