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The Antiwork Movement: Philosophy and The Changing World Order
Repost - the resurgence of Covid is bringing back memories...
Remember the antiwork movement from a couple of years ago? Everyone was quitting their jobs, we were all worried about China taking over the world, and Covid was at its height. Ahhh the memories.
Things look a little different today: unemployment is low, China is looking less like an economic threat, and Covid is… well, Covid is still around.
My entire household is recovering from the latest bout of Covid that is making its way around, which means I didn’t have the energy to put together a new post. I wrote the following post in December of 2021 - it was the height of Covid, I was living in Spain, and I had no more than 15 subscribers to this blog (which at the time was called El Cooperativo).
While my writing has certainly improved, and some of the context is outdated, I hope you still find some relevance in one of the angstier pieces I’ve ever written. The ancient philosopher Diogenes (seen below in the wine jug he supposedly lived in) still offers a unique insight into the relationships between work, economic growth, and… nation-state world dominance?
The Antiwork Movement: Philosophy and The Changing World Order
You've likely heard something about the antiwork movement or already have an opinion on it. r/antiwork is the fastest-growing subreddit on reddit.com and has been for a couple of months. People are leaving their jobs in record numbers in what the media is calling 'The Great Resignation.' 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September and US CEOs are bracing themselves for worker shortages.
To better understand the big picture, it can be wise to step back and look at what history has taught us about people who refuse to work. Ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes famously gave up a comfortable life and became homeless, sleeping in a wine jug. He found it ridiculous to own material goods, so he threw out the only wooden bowl he owned. Diogenes owned nothing, did not work, and was maybe the truest cynic that ever lived. He often challenged social norms by performing grotesque activities in public, which would definitely get you arrested today.
Now, most of r/antiwork would not condone all of the behaviors of Diogenes but they are at least quitting their jobs.
Reddit has proven to be the platform where people organize to fight back against inequality. Most infamously, you might remember the r/wallstreetbets fiasco with Gamestop and AMC. r/wallstreetbets organized to fight back against the too-big-to-fail hedge funds and proved that together they had enough power to be heard. The antiwork subreddit may not be as big as r/wallstreetbets but they have more activity on their page.
The r/antiwork subreddit has grown substantially over the past few months. You can find many different characters on r/antiwork, most of which employ a variation of this mindset: They don’t want the 1% to take advantage of them and they want a better work/life balance. Upon visiting the site you might see text screenshots of people quitting and degrading bosses or organized strikes against black Friday - all in the name of sticking it to the man.
People are angry. Workers want to take their lives back and have autonomy. r/antiwork and China's 'lying flat' movement are challenging the corporate rat race by deciding to avoid work, live frugally, and opt for a less stressful life.
Inside the r/antiwork library you can find their essential reads including:
Black's famous antiwork essay calls for, you guessed it, the abolition of all work. The first two sentences read, "No one should ever work. Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world." Next, Black proceeds to describe the nature of work and play.
Work is something that you do because someone makes you. Work is a degradation. Play is what you do on your own merit. Play is autonomous. Depending on the context, any activity can be work or play. The submissiveness that workers have to endure makes Black sick, and he has a point. r/Antiwork is exposing toxic management behavior that degrades their subordinates through threats and unfair working conditions; though, It's not just the managers and owners at fault. The whole aspect of discipline is a scam to convince subordinates to make capitalists rich.
Black does offer some sorts of solutions, one of them being automation. Today, automation is a scary word that makes one think of unemployment and poverty. Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate, championed the idea of universal basic income to combat automation. Many believe that universal basic income is an unavoidable future considering projected automation growth.
The slowing of the economy is a political nightmare for those in power, so those in power best keep people working. Chinese millennials have opted to instead lie flat, leaving Xi Jinping worried about his dwindling workforce. As China emerges to challenge the US' world domination, both Biden and Jinping are looking for ways to mitigate their employment shortages.
One of the true tests of Bidens presidency is going to be how he deals with this issue. He needs to either ensure that wages and benefits rise to meet new expectations from the labor force or face a lagging economy. With inflation on the rise and the omicron variant finding its way around the world, the last thing Biden needs is a striking workforce to dampen the effects of his new infrastructure bill. What this striking workforce wants, for a start, is for Biden to redistribute wealth back to a healthy balance.
Economically, it is not healthy for us to have such a violent gap in wealth and wages. Economists over the centuries have argued over how to distribute wealth and how the government shall participate if at all. The way the government interacted with the economy in 2008 and now, while helpful in keeping the stock market from crashing, hardly helped struggling lower-class citizens. In reality, most of the subsidy inflates the pockets of the rich.
Not only is antiwork taking form in different ways around the world, it has been an idea that arises time and time again throughout history. There is no reason to believe this movement is going away anytime soon and we can expect more to join r/antiwork as tensions continue to burn.
First off, something needs to be done about wealth inequality. History shows that a society with unfair wealth distribution either needs to redistribute wealth or face extreme civil unrest/war (Dalio, The Changing World Order, 2021). Civil war would weaken us as a nation and give our competitors a chance to capitalize on a failing America.
Second, automation and Universal Basic Income (UBI) offer opportunities for less work. We are becoming more automated and productive all the time, we could use this to our advantage.
Lastly, take time to question your own priorities and goals. Covid has caused people to question everything, especially how we spend our time. Why not spend time working toward your own goals?
If you can't simply quit your job because of financial obligations, you can always start your own side hustle that could eventually provide income. Entrepreneurship is a great way to give yourself autonomy through an activity or service that you actually enjoy doing. On your time. If there is something you are good at, monetize it. It is easier than ever to start an online business and there's no better feeling than being your own boss. If you can't not work, take the advice of Bob Black and turn your work into play.