Re: The Anthropology of Slack

Tue, 29 Nov 1994 10:08:29 +0000

>I submit,
>based on personal experience, that much of the supposedly negative effects
>of welfare are caused by those aspects of it that are designed to enforce
>the tribal superstition known as 'the work ethic'.
>It has been known for several decades that the entire
>welfare apparatus could be eliminated by designing a programme of income
>insurance or guaranteed minimum income, without raising overall cost, but
>employers are afraid that people would quit working without compulsion -
>they have assumptions about human nature. As a society, we need to decide
>whether we believe that everyone should work, in which case we should see
>that jobs are available for everyone regardless of any physical,mental,
>moral, ethnic, or whatever characteristics they might have; or else, we
>have to admit that some people might live without work and see that they
>have a minimum living.

Hmmm! No better statement of the Slacker Ethic have I ever seen in print.
It's amazing, but both the right and left seem to have internalized the
Protestant Work Ethic. The right wants every "able-bodied" (and maybe those
whose bodies ain't fully able) person to work or lose government benefits.
And the left considers those people who don't work "lumpenproletarians,"
and, if they're people who don't do PHYSICAL labor, "exploiters."

As for me, I support Bob Black. Fire the workers and replace them with
robots, but make sure you fire the managers, bosses, and white collars too,
and replace them with Artificial Intelligence expert systems. Lay EVERYBODY
off, and let's get down to human cultivation, rather than "work," which
Black defines as anything you'd rather NOT do but have to in order to

Since I am a firm believer in the Slacker Ethic, as a viable alternative to
its worse cousin, I openly appeal to economic anthros and anthropologists
of work, et al., to answer a basic question: are there not human societies
in which people are guaranteed a basic level of sustenance, regardless of
whether they do "work" (physical or mental) for their society or not? (Dan
Foss, I hereby adjure you with a seventh-level incantation from being the
first one to answer this.)

Surely most people in academia have it made, in that most of us have found
a curious niche in which we can do what we love (thinking about things that
interest us) and still have our contributions valued as "work." Perhaps
only the classical Chinese ever rewarded their intelligentsia as well.

(The tricky problem being, of course, what the society defines as 'work' --
considering that many societies have often defined most of the domestic
labor sphere or the aesthetic creation sphere as being 'non-work,' i.e. not
requiring recompensation. And this is an entirely separate question from
how different kinds of work are rewarded, e.g. in our society the person
who grows our food may be rewarded less than academics and people who do
cogitation for a living who in turn are rewarded less than lawyers,
athletes, or actresses.)


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