BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Work Less. We Need You.

May 23, 2017 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification, Work

It seems like everyone I know is in one of two situations. Either they are un(der)employed and trying to figure out how to get some hours/money to survive or they are working far too many hours and trying to figure out how to fit any kind of a life into a workday.

I used to work appallingly long hours. It started because I was severely underpaid and had little choice. But it continued because I had internalized the idea of a “hard worker” being a good thing. I succumbed to the expectation that people are supposed to fit their life around their work, rather than the other way around. I also wanted independence. Work seemed like a better route to independence than housewife, the only other option on offer.

There were some rewards for all that “hard work” and long hours. It might almost make you believe in the pull yourself up by your bootstraps nonsense. Of course, not everyone can do it. While I was getting raises and promotions for being “indispensable,” my coworker was struggling just to get to the office on time. She was a single mother who lived in a part of Liberty City where the buses, when they were working at all, only ran Monday through Friday during rush hour. Ostensibly my raises and promotion were a result of all those long hours. But the reality is that requiring long hours to “get ahead” is a way of privileging certain people without seeming to.

Even a forty hour week is too much. It worked o.k. for my father, when I was small.  He was able to work full time, still have a social life, and participate in his community. But that is because he had a stay at home wife, a support staff in his office, a periodic housekeeper, and various babysitters for us kids. In other words, he had a cadre of women doing much of the work for him. Once his business was crushed by the big box stores, life changed. No more stay at home wife. No more support staff. The community participation stopped. He had a stroke and was never really able to work full time again.

So if you are feeling like you are somehow failing, if you think you need some self-help bullshit about how to manage your time better, you don’t. There is nothing wrong with you. The reason we have so many exhausted, sick people hanging by one last nerve is not that we are all inadequate. It is that the grind is killing us.

When I entered the nonprofit world things got even trickier. Suddenly, it isn’t that you are giving all your life hours to make an owner even richer. It is that you are dedicated to a cause. When the people you are ostensibly helping seem even worse off than you, how can you justify cutting them off?

Ironically, one of the first nonprofits I worked for was an organization in California that helped people who were caring for someone with a brain impairment. I worked long hours. I was tired, stressed, and cranky. I spent zero time trying to be a part of the community. I didn’t treat people the way they should be treated. While I was supposedly helping caregivers, I had a life which would not have allowed me to do any caregiving. So how was that really helping anyone?

What I have come to see is that the more we work at our jobs, the worse off we are as a society. Our work structure is designed to provide cover for continuing discrimination and inequality. It is designed to prevent us from being able to participate in the life of our communities. It relies on a cadre of women – disproportionately poor women of color – whose struggles are mostly invisible. It is exploitation that we are all complicit in, whether you hire someone to clean your house or are so busy that you need to rely on the poverty wage workers who make your fast food. I began to understand what Nancy Fraser refers to as a “crisis of care.”

Between the need for increased working hours and the cutback in public services, the financialized capitalist regime is systematically depleting our capacities for sustaining social bonds. This form of capitalism is stretching our “caring” energies to the breaking point. This “crisis of care” should be understood structurally. By no means contingent or accidental, it is the expression, under current conditions, of a tendency to social-reproductive crisis that is inherent in capitalist society, but that takes an especially acute form in the present regime of financialized capitalism.

In short, Capitalism cares only about production and marginalizes the relationship building and care that our lives actually depend on. If our communities are falling apart, it is because the time we need to nurture the relationships that make communities strong is being stolen from us. I don’t see how we will resolve any other problem unless we can tackle this one.

Clearly, this is a systemic issue that will require collective action. But one of the first steps has to be reprogramming our own thinking and pushing back on the theft of our time and well-being.

It is not easy to break the cycle. It might even be a little terrifying. We have been programmed our whole lives to believe that one false move will land us on the streets. The reality is that some people really are in such a precarious position that they have little room to push. But that isn’t true for all of us. And the more collective hours we can recover, the more time we will have to do things to open space for the people who don’t have it now.

A good start is to push back against all the voices, including the ones in the back of our heads, which tell us to judge people for not being hard working enough. Push back when people start every conversation by asking what a person does for a living. Don’t work overtime if you can afford not to. Find ways to decrease your material needs or alternate ways to meet those needs. Refuse to get on emails outside of work hours. Take every minute of your vacation (if you are lucky enough to have it).

Thank people who actually take off when they are sick. Support paid sick days for everyone. Applaud publicly those who prioritize their family and community in actions and not just words. Call out anyone who criticizes people who actually have their priorities straight. Build a support system that makes risking your job a little less scary. Be there for others so that they can take risks too. Be the one who helps those trying to live without wage labor, not the Petty Crocker who resents anyone that isn’t working as much as they are.

When you have a moment of guilt or fear, think about how this system is designed to make it impossible to have a reasonable life. Think about all the people who could benefit from a drastic shift in culture and expectations. Ask why, if you leave work early or get on Facebook at your desk, employers say that you are stealing time. Yet it is totally accepted that an employer expects you to be on email 24/7, schedules meetings during lunch hour, or takes advantage of lax overtime exemption laws to make people work late for free.  Get pissed. Remember that you aren’t just pushing back for yourself. Remember that time is not money, time is life. They are stealing your life.

No matter how you earn your living, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by abandoning your loved ones, community, and health to the organization. No person can work 40 hours a week or more, support their loved ones in the way they deserve, be an active member of a community, be aware of what is going on in the world, be conscious about the systems they support, take care of themselves, create beautiful things, and find time for the joy that makes life worth living. Too many of us are sacrificing all the most important things on the altar of work. We need to look at our lives differently. Or as Fraser puts it

“The idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.”

You can (and should) read the whole interview here.

Pregnancy, Coercion, and Responsibility

January 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Misc

I was reading about this abortion restricting bill in Michigan. While I realize that it is another attempt to regulate abortion out of existence under the guise of safety and regulations, something in that article struck me.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers.

Why those quotes around “coerced”? I know young women who were coerced into having abortions because their parents were embarrassed, because they said they would refuse to help take care of the child, because the father would not take any responsibility, because the community would not take any responsibility, because they had no other place to turn to.

I also know many women who were coerced into having children. Women have their contraception tampered with. They are pressured by their husbands and families to reproduce when they don’t want to, even though the primary responsibility for the kids will fall on them. They are pressured by their community and religious institutions not to abort. They are pressured by the social assumption that everybody “should” have kids.

If you read The Girls Who Went Away, you will read story after heartbreaking story of young women prior to Roe v. Wade who did not have the option to abort and who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption. When I say coerced, I don’t just mean the shame and social pressure. I mean that actual force was used to get them to sign adoption papers. Sometimes the papers were even forged.

And what about all those women around the world who have no access to birth control, much less abortion, and who are poor? Some wealthy couple from the U.S. or Europe sweeps in and pays an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to adopt the child. They take the child away from their mother and community and we are supposed to think that it is a happy ending. Meanwhile, if the mother received the money that went to the attorney, she might have been able to keep the child. Isn’t that a form of coercion?

Nobody should be coerced into having children and nobody should be coerced into not having children. But it is more complicated than not telling women what to do with their bodies. It is also about economics and social support.

And here is where it gets even more complicated. Whether or not other people have kids affects us. I sincerely wish that wasn’t true. I wish my decision not to have kids meant that I would never have to deal with the responsibility of children. But much as I hate to admit it, it just isn’t the case, not even in the best of circumstances. But it is especially true when really damaged people decide to bring kids into the world.

It may be tempting to say that some people should not be allowed to have children. But as much as I may cringe at the prospect of certain people being parents, even more cringe-worthy is the idea that there is anyone out there who has the right or the impeccable/superhuman/prejudice-free judgment to determine who is worthy to have children. We can’t have judges ordering women not to reproduce. We can’t let governments decide to sterilize people because they are trans or poor or disabled.

Other people’s lives and decisions affect us – even people we don’t know. Sometimes that really sucks. Sometimes people make horrible, irrational, and irresponsible decisions that we all have to live with – and that includes people who lived long before we were born. But sometimes people also do things that we all benefit from without having had to make any effort or sacrifice. While we are quick to condemn those whose bad decisions cause us inconvenience, nobody wakes up in the morning feeling guilty that they don’t have polio because some other person’s kid invented a vaccine.

I have written before about how I think the nuclear family is a failure, that it is really a mechanism for limiting our responsibility. It has also been used to control and shame women, especially poor women. Some of those Girls Who Went Away later found out that the only real difference between them and the adopted mother was a husband and a slightly larger bank account. But those two things are significant when we live in a society that likes the benefits without the responsibilities.

Conservatives want everyone to be in the supposedly perfect and stable nuclear family where the father and mother take care of everything and nobody else (supposedly) has to get involved. Maybe your church or neighborhood might pitch in. Liberals want to get involved (entirely too much) by legislating, taxing, or sending in some (hopefully) well-meaning civil servant who is getting paid to kinda care. Because paying a tax and sending in a social worker takes a lot less effort than actually getting involved in a kid’s life. Neither way is working very well.

All of which is to say that, when it comes to pregnancy and children, there are a lot of tensions that cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. The question is how to manage those tensions in a way that is not coercive or authoritarian. How to accept that we cannot seal ourselves off from others decisions, but also not leave us constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. How to get out of these intractable and unhelpful debates where we just grab onto a platitude and refuse to listen to anyone else.

Not easy.