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Freedom is Slavery

May 23, 2011

I was recently talking to a friend about the emergence of stories about Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer electronic currency.

“Suddenly, Bitcoin is everywhere” I said.

“Maybe on the internet, but not in the real world” he replied.

“The real world, as you call it,” I said, “is a lagging indicator.”

I offer this excuse as a way of apology for my response to this story posted at the Layoff List, a site dedicated to stats, news and opinion about the jobs crisis. When one is unable to provide food and shelter, not to mention the decencies of a normal life to ones self and ones family, it is indeed a personal crisis.

“Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the sons and daughters of mankind have no place to rest.” ~paraphrase Luke 9:58

This personal crisis, replicated throughout society, becomes a crisis for the nation-state, as we have seen recently in North Africa, in Greece, and now in Spain. My approach will seem maddening to readers, and it is for myself too, because I offer no humane solutions. To speak in abstractions about real suffering is a luxury. It is a view from a wider perspective that, by its nature, does not detail the individual pain and vulnerability of poverty. It is not to dismiss or minimize that fact that, as Bob Dylan says “Every nook and cranny has its tears.”

“The job market is admittedly improving for some, but it’s not improving quickly enough for millions of jobless, especially the long-term unemployed.” The Layoff List

First of all, I think we should recognize the irreversible evolutionary trend toward dis-employment. It is quite clear that beginning with industrialism itself (see Gideon’s Mechanization Takes Command) that from a macro-economic view, as technology becomes more adaptable, pliant, intelligent, widespread and cheap, and as world population rises, the value of human labor inevitably falls. I do not necessarily consider this a bad thing. Wage slavery is still at its core, slavery, even if the wages are considered ‘middle-class’.

Second, by continuing to uncritically consider the labor/time-for-wages system as an unquestioned good, one strengthens the hand of employers. The fundamental power behind the increasingly infrequent use of the strike is that organized workers realize, and then act out the realization that they would rather live than work under existing conditions. Let us consider that the problem is not dis-employment itself, but rather that one cannot live properly without the individual, personal resources necessary for a decent life because of the way our society is structured. Wage slavery should be regarded as a temporary necessity, not an intrinsic good. “Be your own boss!” is a marketing slogan that appeals to a basic desire for freedom of time, movement and purpose.

The anarchist composer John Cage gave this example: “In Puerto Rico, U.S. Corporations came in and wiped out the local economy. As a result, unemployment in Puerto Rico is 50%. The problem is, they only did half the job.” Cage’s point is that employment is not life, it is misery. The problem is not that everyone doesn’t have a job, the problem is that one cannot live properly without one in our current era. I personally have seen the same thing in Haiti, where U.S. / IMF policies have destroyed the local economy, have imposed sweatshop wage-slavery economic policies on the central government and now suffering is amplified through industrialized poverty.

The reason that every economic ‘initiative’ in Haiti fails is that they are inevitably based on creating (export) jobs. Haitians hate wage slavery because they will not tolerate slavery of any sort. Haitians recognize slavery when they see it. When Haitians have the opportunity for self-employment, they prosper everywhere.

I know this seems terribly cavalier, but we must, on both a personal and a global scale come to realize that this industrial structure is killing us. We must begin to approach these everyday issues by reconceptualizing the fundamental problems in order to have any hope of conceptualizing, if not solutions, then at least modes of survival.

I don’t want a job, I want a life.

** Graphics by Jo Truman

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