The Sorrows of Work
I have had many jobs throughout the course my life but the one job that was without question absolute bullshit, was what time I spent working for a large American trucking company, which Iegally I can’t name, due to a non-disclosure agreement I was forced to sign in order to remain eligible to receive my severance package upon being subsequently laid off, due to ‘restructuring.’
My official title was Driver Development Coordinator. People would often ask me what that title actually meant, but I never had any idea what to tell them. If you can’t easily summarize what you do, by definition your job is pointless. I suspect my job was originally just an empty space filler, created so that someone could boast about the number of employees they had working under them.
My job, I shit you not, literally took me two hours a day to accomplish and an hour or more of that time was spent compiling unnecessary reports. Essentially, I was paid to be bored. Especially towards the end. I actually ended up spending the majority of my time pretending to work. However, I soon discovered that being forced to pretend to work was the most absolute indignity, because it was impossible to pretend that it was anything but what it was: pure degradation, a sheer exercise of the boss’s power for it’s own sake. Being forced to pretend to work is one of the worst indignities a person can suffer. Because it makes clear the degree you are entirely under another person’s power.
I was also purposely mis-trained and disorganized by design in my position, so that my job was repeatedly and consistently done wrong. My unofficial capacity was to serve as a buffer. In other words I existed merely as an entity that other departments could then use to blame as to why things never worked out the way they were supposed to, despite my near constant feedback and recommendations for solutions and improvements, none of which of course were ever implemented.
Once I realized my role in the company was basically pointless, I lost all motivation and with it the ability to concentrate on the job itself. So I devoted most of my working hours to more productive and meaningful activities; such as reading and writing. I was essentially trying to reclaim a little of my time from those who were stealing it. It wasn’t a very effective protest, granted, since I still had to sit in that depressing room and fill out enough spreadsheets to keep from getting fired.
Working at the Illinois Terminal, was also one of the most abusive environments I have ever worked in. I was in an environment where nobody spoke to each other. An environment where you had to be constantly on the defensive as someone was always trying to throw you under the bus. It didn’t matter if you were responsible for anything or not. Everyone consistently tried to make themselves seem more important to the company than they in fact were. This is also why our Terminal Manager, I suspect, spent so much time running his own bullshit reports. He wanted to appear more useful than he was. It was obvious to everyone there that if he were gone nothing would fundamentally change, but even if it had changed, it would actually have been for the better.
I didn’t recognize the effect all of this had on my body while it was happening, but in retrospect I see what a huge impact it had on my physical and mental health. A terrible job erases our sense of self and I ended up becoming an entirely different person. Easy to anger. Depressed. Hopeless. And I have very little doubt that the stress and anxiety I was forced to endure played a significant part of why I had to be hospitalized.
But the absolute worst part about working a job you hate is really the humiliation. It’s soul crushing. Couple that with the fact that most people in upper management positions completely and totally identify with their own misplaced authority, making our lives even more unbearable. They themselves are often to stupid to realize that they were only given a little authority so as to make themselves more compliant, more readily willing to accept orders. Most managers, especially middle managers, are pointless and those hired to work under them invariably know it and resent it.
I actually think the fact that more people aren’t deeply offended by the existence of “supervisors” and “managers” in our modern workplaces, is a testament to how far capitalist culture has removed us from our self-respect. Our workplaces have become virtual plantations. What adult needs another adult to watch over them? And notice how the people who argue in favor of supervision will never admit that they need it themselves. It's always the rest of us that need it. All of those "stupid" and "lazy" workers who need to be controlled.
In some of his writings, social psychologist Devon Price has written that “laziness,” at least in the way most of us generally conceive of it, simply does not exist. “If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you,” he writes, “it is because you are missing a part of their context. It’s that simple.”
Some of the first factories in London actually went bankrupt because laborers refused to work all day, every day. To the factory owners, this proved that the workers were indolent loafers, so they reduced wages to the point that workers were forced to put in even more hours to survive. But this was really doing the workers a favor, the owners insisted, because otherwise they’d just get drunk and lie about. Now we’ve all merely internalized this view of work. Which is also a view that is extraordinarily convenient for the ruling classes.
We like to think that we have an open society because we can criticize our government, but the company we work for has far more of an impact on our daily lives, and if you criticize them publicly they can, and often times will, fire you. The private sphere is still run like a dictatorship, by thousands of petty little tyrants.
Kim Stanley Robinson once said, “If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue - control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is - a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives, our labor, under duress, to feed rulers who do no real work.”
Bosses, executives, investors: these people do not "create jobs.” They use wealth they already possess to create more for themselves. Workers are always in need of money since a series of laws has made money necessary to survive over the past few hundred years. They beg for some of that money by helping someone with more money make even more. The people with more money offer as little as they can get away with, which leaves the employee with less. So yes, money is a zero-sum game. You have less because your boss, and everyone else who has taken from you, has more. If you don't want to see it that way, then fine, but an employee should never be an open supporter of capitalism.
However, the real degradation doesn’t even begin until you get home from work. Because it’s then that you have just enough mental energy left over to realize what you could be doing with your life. And as you’re sitting there, trying to stay awake long enough to eat your dinner, you realize a couple of very important things. Hard work is not a virtue. Taking your job seriously is not a virtue. Stressing out to please your boss is not a virtue. And more importantly, that the start of work means an end to freedom.