Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Ruminations

Monday, September 3, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Labor Day. I’ve got nothing planned. Sometimes we barbeque at my sister’s, but for whatever reason that’s not going to happen today. That’s OK with me. It’s nice just to have the day off from teaching. Besides, I have plenty to do around here—I want to finish a lecture I’ve been revising, along with a few other work-related things. Not that I plan on working too hard. Most of my day I hope will involve me lounging around and reading. The whole point of having a day off is to have a day off. Sometimes I forget that …

Actually I think that a lot of us in this country have forgotten that; we’ve been battered and brainwashed into thinking our lives’ main purpose is to kill ourselves for our economic masters. Not “working” (I define “work” as “a person giving up their precious time to largely line the pockets of the economic elite for relatively little compensation”—something one enjoys that primarily benefits the individual or that individual’s loved ones is not “work,” which is an inherently negative act, something perpetrated against someone in an unbalanced power relationship), I’m beginning to see, refusing to be part of the big soul-crushing environment-scouring system, can be an important act of defiance against that system.

I’ve been thinking a lot about economics lately, economics and power, in massive terms. I’ve come to the conclusion that since the rise of the first state societies (civilizations) several thousand years ago the overwhelming majority of labor done by people falls into two categories: that which is part of a system which has as its primary purpose to funnel the a huge percentage of that which is produced (wealth) to a small elite, or efforts thru which people eke out a living where much of that produced go to those producing it, but because so much of the available resources are controlled by the elite class that wealth potential for others is so limited that the wealth obtained thru this labor provides little basis for power, or in many case even enough to live anything approaching a full, healthy life. Nothing of course has changed today. Most people I’m sure don’t realize (or if they do they try not to think about it) that the primarily purpose of their job is to in some way help transfer most of the planet’s wealth to a tiny ruling class; any benefit seen by the worker is usually the minimum amount the elites can give to the worker and still have him or her be willing to do the job. In other words, most people’s lives are spent making other people rich at their own expense.

In recent decades it has become apparent that we are now dealing with something more than just a social problem. Due to massive increases in human populations in recent centuries and the rise of more complex technologies, the basic exploitive nature of hierarchical societies is gutting the planet and will soon make it unlivable. In fact, it is already nearing that point for the majority of the world’s population, especially those living in so-called “Third World” countries. Though it’s a complex question as to why some states have more power than others, the fact is that the wealthier parts of the world have gotten that way (or at least stay that way) because of their ability to strip resources and coerce labor from the world’s poorer regions (by which I largely mean those that have little control of their economic, and by extension, social destiny). Leaving aside the horrible direct human costs of this colonialism, it by definition creates an unstable ecological situation that seems to be coming to a tipping point.

The late Roy A. Rappaport, a very influential anthropologist, called this “ecological imperialism,” and pointed out that the power differences between nations creates a transfer of wealth, which creates unstable ecological situations at both ends of the spectrum: poor countrys' ecosystems are essentially destroyed to provide resources for wealthy nations, while these resources allow the wealthy to develop lifestyles that foul the planet (the dependence on fossil fuels would be a prime example). This, if left unchecked, will eventually cause a complete collapse of the biosphere. This shows a direct correlation between hierarchical societies (and especially their current capitalistic systems, which I see simply as a spreading out of the exploitive qualities from a smaller hereditary ruling class to a larger and therefore more destructive business class) and the degradation of the wild ecosystems on which everything alive must ultimately depend.

The reverberations from such an analysis are staggering, for they call into question nothing less the evolutionary viability of hierarchal societies. Human power is ultimately based on the control and exploitation of resources. However, this generally destroys wild ecosystems, which by definition are self-regulating. Human survival again is dependent on these ecosystems. This means that in order to survive as a species power in society must be decentralized—the more spread out this power is the healthier our environment, but also the healthier our society, in that human potential will not be harnessed to the machine of elite accumulation, but to fulfilling the individual’s needs (nutritionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, etc.). Is this a kind of proof of the anarchist dream or a recommendation for the New Paleolithic of the Deep Ecologists (I draw from, respect, and perhaps am of both camps)? I don’t know—but big changes will soon be coming one way or another …

All of this is my way of saying that I never want to “work” again. The machine has had too many of my years and from now on I’m going to fight hard for every minute it tries to wrestle from me. From the chiefdom to the devine ruler to the manor farm to wage slavery the elite classes have attempted to harness the majority of us to help fulfill their own misguided wants. Now not just the people but the planet itself is groaning under this weight. It’s become an ethical duty not to “work.” Personal fulfillment and social responsibility are one and the same—if we don’t all start seeing this soon catastrophe is in evitable.

Happy Labor Day.


helicopter steve (Estabrook) said...

Interesting post, we're again on a similar wavelength (see my last blog) But you make the important connection to the larger picture of civilization and the effect these structures have on its future. Good stuff.

Rob Woodard said...

Thanks. I'll check out our post soon (when I'm feeling more with it). I hate that I feel compelled to write about this sort of stuff. Politicians and business types are such ... boring people. It sucks having to enter their world ...

Anonymous said...

"Most people I’m sure don’t realize (or if they do they try not to think about it) that the primarily purpose of their job is to in some way help transfer most of the planet’s wealth to a tiny ruling class; any benefit seen by the worker is usually the minimum amount the elites can give to the worker and still have him or her be willing to do the job. In other words, most people’s lives are spent making othere people rich at their own expense." Of course people realize that, the boss's expensive car and billion dollar mansion are the daily reminder of this not so perfect world. What you are suggesting is that people should stand up and fight against the powerful few, and redistributing the wealth/resources,all the minimum wagers should just quit their job, their kids don't need to go to college, and the hell with health care/medical insurance, let's completely overload the well fare system, that'll show them! wait, you forgot people who are not rich enough to be millionare but enough to have a boat in Newport beach, a house in Irvine, a nice BMW, pay for kids' UCLA tuition and have the money, freedom to enjoy a 2 wks vacation that many people don't mind to have. They know they will never be like Donald Trump, they are still worker bees, but on a slightly higher pay scale, what about them? What should they do? The hell with all their silly fundraising events, pretentious charity organizations, forget about your bank accounts and your kids' future, sell that boat and move to Inglewood already. everything you said sounded very noble and ideal but if you don't have the answer to the problem or can't come up with a better solution to fix the problem, it sounds nothing more than a rant/venting from a struggling artist who believes those who made it are just bunch of sell out, he is so bitter that those precious time that he spends on getting from point A to point B, he can really use those time to do what he loves to do.

Rob Woodard said...

To Anonymous:

You make some interesting points. There's one thing, though, that I think you're dead wrong about. You seem to be saying that since I don't have all the answers that I shouldn't even bother exploring the problems. But this is how, indeed the only way, one ever solves anything--by first working thru what the issues are.

On that same topic, to hold out for some grand overarching solution, as you seem to suggest is the way to go, is a road to nowhere, I believe--it leads to tragedies such as the turning Marxism into relgion, which is the first step on the road to the Stalins of the world. Our problems are a complex melding of the ecological, social, and personal, and the solutions to them must come in small local ways, person by person at times, in order for them to be true soluctions, as opposed to just another blanket tyranny, such as the destructive empires of global capitalism or nightmares of Soviet "socialism."

Mine simply may be the cry of a "struggling artist," as you put it, but as one tiny attempt to come to understand part of the world today it's just as valid as any other--whatever my faults and limitations, I am attempting to honestly examine what's going on around me.

Thanks for commenting.