Saturday, June 23, 2007

How the Cult of Busy Protects Capitalism

I have a confession to make. The other day I was reading Ways to begin gutting Capitalism (and this - Strategies that have Failed), and the first thing that I thought was yeah, but who has TIME for this. Neighbourhood associations, local currencies, growing my own food, it all sounds great, but geez, there's practically no time to eat and sleep any more let alone adding all that face time with people. (I'm also kind of shy, but that's another issue altogether.)

As regular readers know, I'm quitting my job of 9 years and going back to school, and the more I think about it the happier I am about this decision. The truth is, I have a great job, with good pay, a fair bit of autonomy, and great co-workers. But it's not nourishing me. And I have no time to even contemplate a change in my daily routine, such as would be necessary to get more involved in my community. I used to be time rich and cash poor. Now, relatively speaking, I'm cash rich and time poor. I wouldn't really call that progress.

But it's hard to give up busy. There's a certain pride I take in my work and accomplishments, and having a schedule that isn't completely full feels, well, empty. But that's the whole point, isn't it? That unstructured time, that space in the interstices between appointments, is where the mind plays. That's where imagination, creativity, and problem solving all function their best.

So I know all of this, and I accept it. That's why I'm taking about six weeks off (well, I'm taking one class) before full time school starts, and looking forward to it. Despite this, I worry what others will think of me. People might think I'm an unproductive member of society, lazy, morally deficient, stupid, ungodly, whatever. What's this insecurity all about? See, somehow there's this equivalent between how hard a person works in the paid sphere, or how much money she makes, how busy she is, and her moral value. Oh, and the stuff she consumes - people who own BMWs and Audis are superior to people who take the bus, because clearly they work harder.

Let's wrap up. The measure of our moral character is equivalent to our busy-ness. Extra points for each hour of sleep debt incurred. Working so hard to buy more things that take up our time (video games, television, cars, big houses) leaves us us too exhausted to organize. How convenient for capitalism


TomCat said...

RJ, I spent the vast majority of my life pursuing goals that were not my own. Bad choice. Don't worry about how productive anyone else thinks you are. Follow your own dreams.

Polly Jones said...

The work-buy cycle is a great form of discipline and control. I have been really sick this past year and wasn't able to keep up with all my courses. Even with a legitimate illness, I fight feelings of shame and inadequacy. The beauty is that I learned way more this year by being forced to slow down than I would have on the money-hungry academic schedule. I am trying so hard to start living my life by my own values.

Anyway, take your six weeks off! Be unapologetic and if you get any of those icky guilt/shame feelings replace them with those of happy defiance!

Chris Benjamin said...

This post resonated very strongly with me. A year ago I was working 60+ hour weeks at an enviro org, doing really good work that was not just enviro but helped human beings in a fairly immediate sense - a rare combination. I worked in that role for 3 years and was very proud of what I accomplished, what I built. But I was neglecting the people who needed and loved me the most. Plus, I wasn't writing anymore, and there was no time to think, so my actions at work were becoming less well thought out.

I took a year off, travelled around Europe, Asia, and spent five months working in West Africa as a journalist. I too worried that people would think me a bum, but many of the 9-5 types I knew called the journey inspirational - they were in anything envious and wished they could do the same.

Now I'm back in Canada, working part-time at my old employer and completing a novel in he other half of my time. I have less cash, more time to do what matters most, but I'm still doing good work.

So, good luck at school, I'm sure you won't regret the decision.

Chris Benjamin said...

ps. agree with Polly Jones about the work buy trap - the more you work the more things you need to support that work - you end up eating out more, needing more wardrobe, wheels, etc. when you work less you need less.

Anonymous said...

Red Jenny - fantastic post!

Like benjibopper, this post resonated with me a lot.

I think you did a fantastic job of articulating this point. I've thought about this myself and, since I do a fair bit of work on Chomsky and Herman's 'Propaganda Model' I was even thinking that the 'cult of the busy' could help reinforce capitalism not only directly, as you point out, but also indirectly as an unmentioned 6th filter in Chomsky and Herman's 5 filter model.

Personally, when I do my 'propaganda in action' series, most of the critique is pretty straightforward and simplistic, but the time it takes to uncover these systemic pro-capitalist biases makes expanding the series prohibitive on any regular basis.

So, even if you can break away from the cult of busy long enough to want to inform yourself, there is still the added dimension of the time it takes to get informed in an unbiased fashion.

Anyway, fantastic post once again.

Oh, and P.S. if some people might think you're "an unproductive member of society, lazy, morally deficient, stupid, ungodly, whatever." I shudder to think what these people wold think of me. It certainly would be less flattering. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Red Jenny. I just wanted to pass on that I wrote a response to you... I hope you don't mind that I put it on my blog, it's pretty long.


Anonymous said...

The thing about capitalism is that it is so malleble and can change its form to deflect that which challanges it.

Take for instance the transition from lassiez-faire to keynsianism in the post war period due to the social costs of unregualted capitalism which allowed social costs to progress to the point where we had the rise of bolshevism and fascism etc....Then we witness the tranistion from keynsianism towards neoliberalism with the unsustainablity of so much state intervention with the rise of oil costs (amongst other things)

Further, all that tends to be promoted in responce to capitalism is the building up of various lifestyles that are built on principals contrary to capitalism

Anybody with the smallest knowledge of the history of the development of capitalism will know that capitalism destroyed vast established civilisations in its development. So if it can destroy huge powerful civilisations that are built on different principals to it then how on earth can we realisticly believe that setting up some small scale alternative will really challange it...

Its probably for this sheer steamroller effect of capitalism was how the traditional marxist (or the engels variety for these pedantic marxian peeps out there) conception of history was such a popular idea of hope for those who wished to see the end of it.

Red Jenny said...

Interesting points, all. Thanks especially to Ahni for your response. I know I don't have the answer, and truthfully I doubt there's any single answer at all. Us lefties have been arguing tactics forever, and as stixzz said, capitalism has this amazing ability to simply absorb and continue. So maybe our movements, associations, organizations, etc. won't break capitalism, but they provide real personal and community growth and a sense of togetherness and accomplishment and for that alone they are worthwhile. There are amazing movements going on around the world, the teachers in Oaxaca and MST and many others.

Anonymous said...

Id agree with that community thing being an end in and of itself. These things can at least amelierote the negative impact capitalism brings to both people and the environment.

Sorry to keep this going but i noticed something about this idea of the 'cult of busy' that keeps capitalism going. I'd say, yeah thats probably true for middle class people whos income levels are such a rate whereby they can afford to not work for periods but for working class and lower class peeps (by lower class i mean welfare class) the only real choice you have is between being extremely busy or to subsist on welfare (if thats possible) in order to actually perpetuate your existance. Nothing more nothing less is an outcome of that life.

Peter Dodson said...

Great post RJ, and as you can imagine, I agree fully. As someone who doesn't have a full time job (I work contracts) I struggle with the society imposed feelings of being a failure (because in the societal sense I am one). But you get over it. Sometimes it creeps back into your conciousness, but a few beers takes care of that.

Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you honey.


TomCat said...

RJ, perhaps capitalism, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, properly regulated. The US and Canada are as capitalist as the USSR was communist. NOT. While the US claims to be a capitalist republic, it's closer to an oligopolistic plutocracy.

Red Jenny said...

TC, that's a whole 'nother argument. ;)

TomCat said...

Yup. :-)

Unknown said...

Hey, Apologies for my delay in responding here. My computer has been having alot of troubles (I'm expecting it to die any moment now.)

You're right stixzz-- if there's only a few people here and there to engage in any of these alternatives then it could really only be for ourselves -- but on a large scale, they would certainly have an impact on the system. How much though would depend largely on our strategy. As for whether or not this can realistically happen, probably not. But the list is meant to be a starting point, not our sole means.

About the malleability of the system and our 'failure' --- the absence of a long-term strategy is a pretty big reason too, for why things went as they did. We have only ever really focused on short-term goals, and on top of that we have been so divided and isolated that more often than not we defeated ourselves before taking a single step -- whereas those who drive the system have always had a short/long-term, local/global strategy.

If we adopted a similar strategy (not using the same means for the same goals though), then changing how the system works becomes something we can actually accomplish. Definitely got to be realistic about it though, yeah.

Ok, I want to write more, but I'll stop there.