Jack Saturday

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writers Exchange

writers on work

Email exchange with F.B. ("Bat Man"):

F.B. ("Bat Man"): Good morning.

Jack Saturday: Good morning to you!

F.B. ("Bat Man"): I have rapidly read through the writers' page on your website and I feel I must tell you that I disagree with much of what I read. Among the quotations you might add these by George Bernard Shaw:

"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell"

"The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not."

Jack Saturday: Hey Bat Man--

Nice to hear some genuine arguments, thanks for the material. I have to tell you that I agree with you!

There is a dividing line in talking about "work," that once pointed out, is obvious.
In the last couple of hundred years of "moralizing the proletariat," Industrialists and church authorities have very cleverly slipped in an imperative identification of the very word "work" with commodity labor, that is, "selling yourself to a boss" or to clarify, "to sell yourself to a master"-- and that propaganda, often beaten into children, has rejected all other forms of work. Working for a boss = obedience, so it would be more precise to speak of an "obedience ethic" than a work ethic. So to play "Shaw quotes toss," Shaw said: "Disobedience is the rarest and most admirable of the virtues."

Therefore, when someone just doesn't want to sell himself or herself to a master, the propaganda which over the centuries has become "self-evident," is a silent premise, that one is "lazy" or "doesn't want to work"-- or is "idle."

So there comes a time to point out the elephant in the room. Selling yourself to a master is one (unfortunate) form of "work." Outside of that, all over the world, are as many forms and sorts of work as you can imagine. "Work" generally means the overcoming of obstacles. Working on your garden is work, but not according to capitalist economists, whose job is to intellectually police the job (obedience) system. Learning to play a musical instrument is work, but not according to capitalist economists. Parenting, the most important work of all, is hard work, but according to capitalist economists, parents are "idle" or "doing nothing."

Study, learning of any kind can be work, but you have grown up immersed in the idea that it is "idle" if it isn't on the commodity market or through school (obedience training) toward the commodity market.

Buddhist meditation, according to one guru, is "virile effort." But not according to capitalist economists.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): It is very arguable that idleness is the ideal situation for producing even the most elevated form of art of any kind.
Jack Saturday: Indeed. Idleness is not productive at all. Artistic production is active and energetic. Incubating the art, though, that is, daydreaming, can appear "idle."
F.B. ("Bat Man"): Take Shaw himself, or Trollope. I seem to remember that Seneca was a swordsmith or something, but I can find nothing on this right now so may be confusing him with someone else. Primo Levi was a very happy chemist and worked till pension because he liked it. He wrote:
"Apart from prodigious and unique instants that fate can bestow us, to love one's job (which unfortunately is the privilege of few) constitutes the best concrete approximation to happiness on earth: but this is a truth not known to many."
Jack Saturday: Good example. "The privilege of the few" is no argument for the many, is it? -- despite that such an argument underlies the absurd excesses and profound miseries of the profit system in an age of abundance.

F.B. ("Bat Man"): I agree that not many people are lucky enough to have a fulfilling occupation, but Levi also says that it is not known to many that love of one's job is a practical path towards happiness--as opposed to idleness for instance. Work--to some extent, any kind of work--and thinking about other people are if nothing else a way to relieve tension and find meaning. This is psychology, not religion. Maybe Kafka would have gone crazy and killed himself if he'd been "fortunate" enough to share a room with his ego all day.

Jack Saturday: There are all kinds of things in Maybe-land, you seem to prefer the most miserable.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): Most people wish they could do nothing all day and work to earn the kind of money that will allow them to do so,

Jack Saturday: "Most people"-- but not you, perhaps? I personally have never met anyone who wants to do nothing all day.

F.B. ("Bat Man"): except that when they succeed or they win a lottery, they sometimes spend the money in six months and do drugs etc. Because--thank God!--most people have no significant artistic tension and, however much they complain of their jobs, they wouldn't know what to do with their time. They have no calling so that they can at least "bear" jobs that are objectively horrid. Although--no, not "objectively": I suspect that if a man were intelligent and observant and perceptive enough, no job would be completely alienating.
Jack Saturday: The joy of working for Wal-Mart and going "home" to sleep in their car because they can't afford rent? The pleasure of writing ads with subversive messages to children that it is cool to smoke? The delight of working making weapons to drop on innocent families abroad? Make a game of it, make it fun! How about Hitler's promise of jobs for depressed Germany? Helpers hired at Auschwitz were quoted as saying something like "a job is a job." Maybe Primo Levy would approve! I hope that that particular example reveals that the loose term "work" has been glued to selling labor to a master, and then stuffed with morality, so that people don't even question the morality of the job itself, or whether it has a positive or destructive effect on the community. Obey! Do what you're told, and you're cool. Only wage-slavery is honorable work. Hitler gave us all a peek into the results of "virtuous" obedience. Arbeit Macht Frei is the motto over the entrance to Auschwitz. Eichmann argued the "virtue of obedience" at his trial in Jerusalem.
It's probably right that your choice of words excludes at least half-- more now-- of the working population, women, 50% (in Canada) of whom are sexually harassed on the job, and afraid to file complaints for fear of being fired. Perhaps they are not intelligent or observant.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): Also, hardships have been a blessing for scores of writers. Including Kafka: who knows what vapid prose he would've written had he not had exactly that sort of job.

Jack Saturday: Maybe-land! I'll try it myself: If freed, Kafka would have written superlative, joyful brilliant prose expressing happiness and guiding us to freedom. "Ode To Joy" in novel form. I like my Maybe-land story better than yours.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): Or Dickens, or Jack London, or Shakespeare, or Mark Twain. Dostoevskij went to prison. Take Hemingway: he couldn't have had much time to write when he was a small-time reporter, but he killed himself not then but when he was a rich writer who had all the leisure in the world to write... what? The good life is almost invariably a curse for an artist. Some of the people you quote seem to be contending that living and its demands are an obstacle to writing, but I think that you can only write yourself, and if you're nothing you can write of nothing. Many writers have turned drunkards when they got into some money and "finally" could devote all their time to writing--except they hadn't a single decent line in them any more.
Jack Saturday: Here's a transcription of a bit from a Robert Bly talk, starting by quoting William Blake: "Too much sorrow is like a blight in the tree. Was the tree ever helped by its blight?"-- "and don't go round and say now that the fruit is the consequence of the blight. That's what the confessional poets did, they did so much damage that way-- saying their art came out of their blight, and Blake says 'don't you lie to me.'"
F.B. ("Bat Man"): I myself write. I have never been published and I never may be published, but I don't believe anyone owes me anything--the world, or the "system" or anyone else. Besides, if "it" owed _me_ something, everyone else would deserve as much.

Jack Saturday: Exactly! Notice that my site is titled, "The World Owes You A Living." You-- and me both. And everyone else on the planet.

Ever use a road, Bat Man? Did you build it yourself? A car--or a bicycle-- built it from scratch, did you? A telephone-- strung it up yourself? A computer-- cooked it up independent of the thousands of inventors and laborers who came before you? You "earned" the billion-dollar systems you use and take for granted every day? Ever read a book from a library? Use an electric light? It is too obvious for many to see the tremendous wealth they take for granted that came from the laborers and inventors of history, whom they can never pay. History gave you those things, from hydro systems to transportation systems bringing you your food to combines that farm it-- whether or not it "owed" you these things. You got them anyway. I suggest you give up all that stuff and go naked into the woods, if you think it spoils people to accept our industrial heritage.

F.B. ("Bat Man"): I do believe that writers should be supported more, but it's a very fine line between getting a shelter and money because you write and writing because it affords you a shelter and money. But mostly I wanted to write to you because I felt the main idea in most of those quotations--at least when you read them all together so that they form a sort of pattern--is that work is bad.
Jack Saturday: Wage-Slavery is bad-- not work. I don't believe writers should be supported any more than anyone else; everyone, none excluded, should be supplied with the living essentials, and decent hygienic systems-- why? Because humans have created a horn of plenty, and it is immoral to keep that huge supply to 1% of the population who have so little imagination and so much power that they try to kill the imagination in generations of children.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): and that ideally most people ought to have the possibility of doing whatever they chose with themselves. Thank God they can't! Saramago mentions "most of the earth's inhabitants": they "work to get by" trapped in the drudgery of their meaningless jobs. For one thing, it's your choice to attach no meaning to _whatever_ you do; also, if those people could do without their jobs, most of them would shoot heroin rather than write the Divine Comedy over again.

Jack Saturday: Ah! So you are tempted to shoot up, are you? The devil has work for your idle hands, eh? Trace that line back, you'll find yourself in an austere old stone protestant church; that string is tied to the mouldy skeleton of John Calvin, the serial killer and sexual predator, the "father of the work ethic."

F.B. ("Bat Man"):  Saramago himself had his share of boring jobs, I seem to remember. Then he became a successful writer: no doubt he became a happier human being--which maybe is more important than art--but as a writer I have doubts he will survive Steinbeck or Dostoevskij. He writes exactly the kind of thing you'd expect of an idle writer: he has all the time and paper in the world and not a drop of hard-earned wisdom.

Jack Saturday: Perhaps you should write to the Nobel committee and ask them to withdraw his prize.

F.B. ("Bat Man"): Or consider the case of all those university professors turned novelists who are satisfied with their occupations and have enough time to write. They have no real urgency to write creative prose and their novels are ultimately irrelevant in many cases.

Jack Saturday: Irrelevant to whom, my friend? I'm not saying you don't have the right to judge literature and set yourself above, for instance, the Nobel committee-- but hey, everyone has the same credential to judge. But anyone who lets you decide what is relevant to them is an unfortunate case.
 F.B. ("Bat Man"): And what about Henry Miller? "Starve to death"? He may have starved, but not to death; at least not before he turned 88 years of age.

Jack Saturday: He said "starve to death" rather than "earn a living." So he quit a lousy job (read Tropic of Capricorn) and risked starvation to follow a calling, and arrived!

F.B. ("Bat Man"):  Rilke said to the famous "young poet" that "life is always right".
Jack Saturday: Yes, and as I quoted Brendan Behan in the quotes Pages, "A job is death without the dignity."

Among those quotations was Thoreau: "I don't need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me." Calvin said that "the damned must police each other." You sound like a great spokesperson for Calvin's damned police, F.B. and if you have writing talent, perhaps it would be best to find a master to tell you what, when, and how to write.
F.B. ("Bat Man"): I can't explain why I couldn't keep my disagreement to myself, but there it is.

Jack Saturday: Same here!

F.B. ("Bat Man"): Goodbye

Jack Saturday: Take care, F.B.

Here's a chunk of Henry Miller for your further reading pleasure:

Henry Miller: In a few months I was sitting at Sunset Place hiring and firing like a demon. It was a slaughterhouse, so help me God. The thing was senseless from the bottom up. A waste of men, material and effort. A hideous farce against a backdrop of sweat and misery. But just as I had accepted the spying so I accepted the hiring and firing and all that went with it. I said Yes to everything. If the vice-president decreed that no cripples were to be hired I hired no cripples. If the vice-president said that all messengers over forty-five were to be fired without notice I fired them without notice. I did everything they instructed me to do, but in such a way that they had to pay for it. When there was a strike I folded my arms and waited for it to blow over. But I first saw to it that it cost them a good penny. The whole system was so rotten, so inhuman, so lousy, so hopelessly corrupt and complicated, that it would have taken a genius to put any sense or order into it, to say nothing of human kindness or consideration. I was up against the whole system of American labor, which is rotten at both ends. I was the fifth wheel on the wagon and neither side had any use for me, except to exploit me. In fact, everybody was being exploited-- the president and his gang by the unseen powers, the employees by the officials, and so on and around, in and out and through the whole works. From my little perch at Sunset Place I had a bird's eye view of the whole American society. It was like a page out of the telephone book. Alphabetically, numerically, statistically, it made sense. But when you looked at it up close, when you examined the pages separately, or the parts separately, when you examined one lone individual and what constituted him, examined the air he breathed, the life he led, the chances he risked, you saw something so foul and degrading, so low, so miserable, so utterly hopeless and senseless, that it was worse than looking into a volcano. You could see the whole American life-- economically, politically, morally, spiritually, artistically, statistically, pathologically. It looked like a grand chancre on a worn-out cock. It looked worse than that, really, because you couldn't even see anything resembling a cock any more. Maybe in the past this thing had life, did produce something, did at least give a moment's pleasure, a moment's thrill. But looking at it from where I sat it looked rottener than the wormiest cheese. The wonder was that the stench of it didn't carry 'em off. . . . I'm using the past tense all the time, but of course it's the same now, maybe even a bit worse. At least now we're getting it full stink.
Henry Miller, Tropic Of Capricorn

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Layin' Pipe

Monday, August 29, 2011

Anti Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom Quotations Of The Week 698-700

Workers in China’s export heartland of Guangdong make $200 a month assembling the consumer goods Americans hold so dear. In Jiangsu, they make $175. It seems that isn’t cheap enough.
Terry Gou, the founder and chairman of Foxconn, which employs one million workers in China making Apple iPads, H.P. computers and other electronic devices, announced at a company party in Shenzen last month that he would deploy a million robots at his plants by 2013 to do much of the labor currently performed by human hands.
Cheap Robots vs. Cheap Labor
New York Times
Published: August 14, 2011

Most people in analysis are there because nobody has had time to see them or hear them. They’ve spent their lives trying to please somebody else, so they’ve never found their own values.

I am awake now. Wow. How long has it taken me to realize that nobody on this earth has the right to tell me what to do? Oh, there are plenty folk who have bestowed upon themselves the right to say what I should do, and many of these people have had the support of others who also believe in hierarchies. But if I sit with the idea long enough, it becomes unfamiliar. Bosses? Yes, they pay me to produce for them something that will make them more money than they pay me, but that should be the limit of the exchange. How is it that I have been acting as if these folk have some extra power over me? Some mystique.
Now that I am awake, though, I cannot even sell my time to them for money, because they insist on telling me HOW to produce the thing they are buying from me. What's worse, they sometimes set up mini bosses, little replicas of themselves to enforce their idea of optimal labor. Even more deplorable, is that they don't allow me to use my full spectrum of powers on their behalf. They request the least creative or effective products from me. Did I say request? I meant demand to the exclusion of any improvement.
Pesky thing about waking up is that I am going to have to change the entire way I run my life. Because now, the very notion of having a boss is anathema. I just can't do it. Stay tuned for the revolution. Let the fires burn.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Anti Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom: 2 Poems

And They Obey

Carl Sandburg

Smash down the cities.
Knock the walls to pieces.
Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses
and homes
Into loose piles of stone and lumber and black
burnt wood:
You are the soldiers and we command you.

Build up the cities.
Set up the walls again.
Put together once more the factories and cathedrals,
warehouses and homes
Into buildings for life and labor:
You are workmen and citizens all: We
command you.

Internal Exile

Richard Cecil

Although most people I know were condemned
years ago by Judge Necessity
to life in condos near a freeway exit
convenient to their twice-a-day commutes
through traffic jams to jobs that they dislike,
they didn't bury their heads in their hands
and cry, Oh no! when sentence was pronounced:
Instead, they mumbled, not bad. It could be worse,
when the bailiff, Fate, led them away
to Personnel to fill out payroll forms
and have their smiling ID photos snapped.
And that's what they still mumble every morning
just before their snooze alarms go off
when Fluffy nuzzles them out of their dreams
of making out with movie stars on beaches.
They rise at five a.m. and feed their cats
and drive to work and work and drive back home
and feed their cats and eat and fall asleep
while watching Evening News's fresh disasters-
blown-up bodies littering a desert
fought over for the last three thousand years,
and smashed-to-pieces million dollar houses
built on islands swept by hurricanes.
Its soothing to watch news about the places
where people are dying (literally) to live
when you live in a place with no attractions-
mountains, coastline, history-- like here,
where none aspire to live, though many do.
A great place to work, with no distractions
is how my interviewer first described it
nineteen years ago, when I was hired.
And, though he moved the day that he retired
to his dream house in the uplands with a vista,
he wasn't lying- working's better here
than some misplaced attempt at having fun.
Is that the way it is where you're stuck too?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Professor Talks Sense

Monday, August 15, 2011

Anti Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom Quotations Of The Week 696-697

Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
Stop Coddling the Super-Rich
New York Times
Published: August 14, 2011

Given modern technology and wealth, American citizens should not be living in poverty. The statistics demonstrate that we now live in a neo-feudal society. In comparison to the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population, who are sitting on top of tens of trillions of dollars in wealth, we are essentially propagandized peasants.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are struggling to get by, while tens of trillions of dollars are consolidated within a small fraction of the population, is a crime against humanity.
EXCLUSIVE: Analysis of Financial Terrorism in America: Over 1 Million Deaths Annually, 62 Million People With Zero Net Worth, As the Economic Elite Make Off With $46 Trillion
David DeGraw

Monday, August 08, 2011

Anti Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom Quotations Of The Week 694-695

America has already reached a pinnacle of productive efficiency and prowess impossible to imagine just a century ago. Yet, the Productivity Dividends of an entire era of progress have remained undeclared. It's as if we do not understand, as a people, how to move into the assurance of abundance that we have already collectively created.

Currencies go into and out of circulation, not distribution. It's not about redistribution at all, lunkheads, it's about sustainable global resource circulation. If you clot up 43% of your blood in 1% of your body, it doesn't matter where the clot is; the whole body is going down. People and societies are complex adaptive biological systems, not rigorous, reductionist mathematical formulations.

Rich man's guru: Bore us with luxury

Friday, August 05, 2011


Monday, August 01, 2011

Anti Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom Quotations Of The Week 692-693

A fifth former News International employee who worked with News Of the World journalists at this time said its reporters were under "unbelievable, phenomenal pressure," treated harshly by bosses who would shout abuse in their faces and keep a running total of their bylines. Journalists were driven by a terror of failing. If they didn't regularly get stories, they feared, they would be fired. That meant they competed ruthlessly with each other.
By Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton
LONDON | Sat Jul 16, 2011 8:31am EDT

We hear a lot about "austerity". Well, austerity has to, finally, visit the super-rich. There are millions (sic) of millionaires and billionaires in the United States and Europe. As governments go bust, the trillions of dollars of these people must be heavily taxed or confiscated to end the unending suffering of the other 95% of humanity. My god, do I sound like a (choke, gasp) socialist?
William Blum