Politics: Society without work

I’ve been asking this question very deliberately since about June. Most of the people I talk to like the concept, but we don’t have answers. Every time I ask this question, I have a great conversation about the issues around it, and it peters off into a frustrated silence.

I think is a very real question we need to be asking and no one really is yet:

What does society look like when people don’t need to work?

That’s the simple form of the question. I think we’ve distinctly reached a point where we don’t need everyone working 40 hours a week to maintain lives. We can make enough food, clothes, and… well just about anything and we don’t need all 7 billion people doing it. I would argue we’re already there… just look at how many people are unemployed or underemployed. Look at all the ways and places computers/machines are replacing people?

There are some pretty big, scary questions which revolve around this when I start looking at it.

#1: The Word “value”

Whether you are talking about people or commerce, the word value creates conflict in a society where people don’t need to work. I think that is why there is some nasty rhetoric about “lazy” minimum wage workers. There is an undercurrent of “value” is predicated on how much money you make – by saying minimum wage workers have intrinsically less value, there is a sense of logic that they can/should make less money.

There is also the problem of assigning value to products – especially those products which are necessary to live. Food. Clothes. Heat. Medicine. (in the South – air conditioning!). How do you choose the value of food? To someone who is used to eating 3 square meals a day versus the person who doesn’t know where their next meal might come from… the value of food might vary greatly! Apply that to medicine where you have a healthy person versus the person who needs 6 different pills just to get through basic life skills like showering and making meals…

We have a value problem.

#2: Motivation

In the world where I don’t have to get up. I don’t have to go to a job to eat, shower, or live… what do I do? Do I sit in front of my tv and absorb the lives of others? What are they doing? If I’m not watching someone who is working a job, is it all just drama then?  Why would anyone bother to go to school or learn? What is the purpose?

This question terrifies me even more. Throughout history, people have generally done the least required to survive. Oh, there are exceptions… but really the few dozen among the billions… how do you motivate people to grow, develop, and learn in a world where survival isn’t the driver? We already have this problem. How many high school students drag their feet through the system without understanding what they need? Education is another post, but if teachers can’t say “you need to graduate so you can get a job…” what will they say?

How do they do it in Star Trek?

#3: Strengths & Weaknesses

The real thing that I constantly hit against is this: not everyone is good at everything – or even anything. I can’t think in code. I’ve tried to learn to code several times in my life and although I can read code with some accuracy, when I sit down to try to write code… my brain starts to turn and twist in some terrible, terrible ways.  The same way that not just everyone/anyone can or will be a pro athlete.  It isn’t just a matter of “I want it enough” for people….

What I’m saying is that not everyone can/should become a programmer. Not everyone can/should become a manager. Or an engineer. Or an artist. Does that somehow make them… less? What is wrong with being a damn-good chair builder and not wanting to move into management because you know you don’t like people that much? How do we change our learning environment to explore what someone is good at instead of trying to dictate that everyone go down a path. How do we turn people into a Scotty, a Troy, a Sulu, or a Riker at the same time/place?

As I stated at the beginning of this blog: I have a lot of questions without a lot of answers.

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2 thoughts on “Politics: Society without work

  1. I saw a video yesterday (I’m looking for the link, but no luck yet) of a man talking about his work. He served some time in prison and had a hard time afterwards finding work. Finally, he picked up a job as a full time cook, where he now makes $7.25 an hour. Last week, he worked 45 hours and his manager cut his hours for this week by 5 hours because she isn’t allowed to pay him overtime so he is only getting 40 hours pay this week, and 40 next week. (BTW – that’s classic wage theft).

    But what he said really struck me. He is working 40 hours a week. He takes pride in his work. He can’t afford rent for himself and his son. This man is performing a service for our community – frying chicken at a fast food restaurant. How can we say it’s ok for the company be permitted to pay him $15,080 a year … approximately ONE THIRD of a living wage for a 1 adult and 1 child household? Why do we permit such an inequity of resources in such a wealthy country that a person working FULL TIME cannot afford to live? … For the record it’s little enough that even a single person would be categorized as poor at that wage. (ALSO: financial experts agree one should spend 30% of your take home pay on housing, which for this guy 30% of his GROSS monthly is $374 … i can’t even find a studio or room share in Atlanta going for that little).

    ALL day long, we can pretend it’s this guy’s fault. But we allow companies to hire FULL TIME WORKERS at POVERTY wages. $7.25 a hour is not a living wage. We must EITHER change our economy so that housing, transportation, and food are affordable on 15k a year, or raise minimum wage. This guy’s crimes – for which he has served his time – should not mean he has to be poor after serving time and when he’s willing to work HARD.

    Or stop talking about equality, justice and freedom. I guess that’s a choice. We could just admit we would rather live in a society/economy whose gears are turned by free/exploited labor because it’s good for those of us who have the kind of job where we can pontificate on blogs.

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    1. What is the quote that Stephen Colbert had: either we try to pretend Jesus is as selfish as we are or we have to acknowledge his call to love the poor without judging them and then admit we just don’t want to do it. (?)

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