March 22, 2012

Our Real Job


Where it comes to fossil fuel use, it’s superfluous to “advocate” this or that; the end of cheap oil is a fact. Most of the population of future societies will be agricultural workers, as is the historical norm. The legacy of the modern age is our newfound democratic consciousness and a large accumulation of agronomic knowledge. We can choose to use these to establish agroecology as the basis of truly democratic economies and communities. That’s the real goal of the food sovereignty movement, to establish itself as the basis of post-fossil fuel societies.
It’s not an argument against any of this to say that non-mechanized farming is physically more laborious than industrial agriculture. That’s never been true for farm laborers under capitalism. Nor, on the other hand, was it necessarily true from the other point of view. Medieval peasants worked less than modern industrial workers, for example. Even non-industrial agriculture, if democratically organized and purged of all parasites, can produce more than enough and still leave far more leisure time than we have today with the “job” model. Meanwhile life expectancy is now headed back down in the West. Under capitalism, the mass availability of modern medicine was a temporary feature of the Oil Age. Society is certainly supposed to continue spending ever more obscene amounts on the “health care” system. But more and more this will simply go down corporate ratholes, and to prop up luxury care for the 1%. In the hands of the 1% even seemingly good things like modern medicines become fraudulent and weapons against us.
The fact is that where it comes to medicine or something like renewable energy, even if their promises were physically possible post-oil (but they’re not), these promises are actually lies, as these sectors, like all others, are to be completely enclosed for the benefit of the 1%. To believe in a renewable energy utopia is just like continuing to believe in the liberal welfare state. This welfare state was a feature of the Oil Age, a temporary concession on the part of the 1%. It’s now being rolled back across the board, and as we see everywhere, any attempt to hold a “reformist” line somewhere is immediately obliterated. Reformism is simply a misdirectional ploy. We can have freedom and prosperity, but only by eradicating the 1% and its hierarchies completely. We can’t have the rancid liberal utopia of reformed capitalism and state.
As for the actual nature of the work, physical labor is not “bad” and a chore to be avoided. On the contrary, all able-bodied citizens must do their fair share of the physical work. He who does not work shall not eat. Work is something we’ve only been indoctrinated into thinking is an undesirable chore. It certainly is that under any hierarchy, and anyone who willingly works for a boss and considers that desirable is a scab. Historically people have always sought to avoid that, and the modern mass willingness to do so is yet another bizarre, ahistorical trait of industrialization and capitalism. As Marx analyzed, modern “workers” with “jobs” are systematically alienated from their work, robbed of both the physical produce and the spiritual satisfaction. By design, people are driven to hate work and seek ways, as individuals, to shirk it. They’re supposed to want to individually rise to petty bourgeois status and then fight furiously against anything which might level them with those who still do the hated physical work. Thus they’re acculturated to support the hierarchy which oppresses them all, for the sake of its false promise that their slightly higher position will be maintained. As we’re seeing today, this was always a lie. The mass middle class was a temporary concession on the part of the 1%, affordable on account of the oil surplus. This middle class is now being liquidated.
But it remains humanly true as ever that work undertaken on one’s own and for one’s family, friends, community, however physically hard, is fulfilling and even enjoyable. I usually enjoy the physical work I do in my garden and for our various relocalization projects. And even where the work is unpleasant in itself, it’s still ultimately satisfying, as it’s toward a cooperative democratic goal. That could be the nature of all work, where it’s finally liberated from the control of criminal elites.
We stand here, ready and able to work. Our work is there before us. The only thing in our way is a barbed wire fence which a few gangsters have strung between us and our work. They now force us to pass through checkpoints in the fence to get to our work. We need passes, in the form of “jobs”, to be let through. Almost all that we produce we must leave on the criminals’ side of the barbed wire, taking home only a meager portion in the form of “wages”.
There’s a similar fence between us as political animals, and our political sovereignty. There we may pass through the checkpoints only as “voters”.
No amount of dreaming about better checkpoint procedures will avail. We’re dispossessed, disenfranchised, alienated, enslaved. It’s this barbed wire enclosure which does it all. And in turn, all we need to do, and all we can do, is to tear down this fence between us and our human birthright. Our entire birthright.
It’s the only thing that’s necessary, and the only thing that’s sufficient. Tear down all system fences. Tear down all enclosures.



  1. In a very general way I don’t disagree with the basic dynamics you are describing. But as a service for your readers (I know I have more of a chance of convincing a determined Jihadi to stop killing children than I do in getting you to see the sheer utopian stupidity of your hybrid Marxist / Anarchy ideology) I will examine what you are saying from a realist / Machiavellian point of view.

    Sure peak oil is just around the corner. So what is the wealthy elite going to do? There is no doubt that as a society grows wealthy inevitably hard physical work (as well as military values) becomes things for “others” to do. And traditionally these others are slaves or low-status immigrants from the marches. What happens is that as wealth grows, the traditional city / rural balance becomes skewed in the effete urban direction. Of course this trend is only going to end badly and you should be commended in trying to re-instil a work ethic in people (especially people on the Left) and to rebalance things back towards the rural.

    But the wealthy do need their food grown. The problem is, if the local native populations are going to be all high maintenance and want to maintain a high carbon footprint and make all kinds of political demands and stay obese then the elite will dump their sorry asses for something new just like they would kick their overweight forty-something year old big mouthed battle-axe to the curb for a low-maintenance sweet young thing. So again you are going in the correct direction here in trying to get locals to lower their standard of living expectations.

    But obviously your words will fall on deaf ears and ultimately the wealthy elite will continue to import low-maintenance third world replacement labour to make the local populations redundant in the strictest meaning of the term. What is interesting (and you have nowhere near the guts to call them on it) is that ever since the glory days when Senator Walter Mondale, Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Martin Luther King’s successor) and Cesar Chavez marched on the Mexican border against illegal immigration that undermined working class standards of living, the American left has been taken over by champagne liberals who love cheap gardeners and housecleaners and actually get leftists to fight FOR importing cheap labour immigration allowing the right to pretend they are against it to help them recruit working class votes.

    So obviously the elite post peak oil plan is to replace fat lazy native Americans with mean, lean, working machine, third world labour who will not complain when the wealthy maintain a pre-peak lifestyle while the third world peasants live like they always have.

    But where you went totally off the rails is with the silliest four words ever: “purged of all parasites”. I mean dude, do you have any idea of why the state exists in the first place? It’s actually very simple. States rose from agricultural societies who suffered from raiding by hunter gatherers, pastoralists or other agricultural societies. In the simplest of terms, people will always choose a fixed bandit / parasite over a roving bandit / parasite. And that is because the fixed parasite is more dependent on the survival of the host than the roving parasite is. Of course what often happens is that the agriculturalists get a weak fixed parasite (state) and end up getting raided anyway by bandits.

    Watch Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” to see this dynamic explored in its most fundamental form.

    And this is why I always have good laugh when people in comment threads refer to governments as Kleptocracies. No shit Sherlock, the very definition of a state is that of a fixed bandit / parasite. All governments are thieves. But sadly the only alternative to states are roaming thieves. Sorry but Marxist/anarchist pipedreams have no answer to the problem of roaming bandits.

    So of course blind ideologies will try to ignore this most basic fact of human life; that a sizable percentage of the human population will always prefer to steal than work. The stupidest among them will try some variation of the noble savage, that humans were all lovey, dovey, hopey and changey right up until the beginning of capitalism, which suddenly turned humans into cannibalistic savages. But any honest look into history shows a certain number of humans have always been more than willing to steal instead of work; if offered the chance. Humans at their most basic nature can be cannibals and any political theory that ignores this deserves to be ridiculed.

    So sure, things would be great if we could just get rid of parasites. There would indeed be no need to have a state. But how exactly do you propose to get people to stop cheating, stealing, and acting as parasites?

    William McNeil wrote a great book called “Plagues and Peoples” where he compares macroparasites (thieves and governments) to microparasites (plagues and diseases). I strongly suggest anyone interested in really understanding the State to read this book.

    Comment by kevin de bruxelles — March 22, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

    • Brilliant analysis! “Roaming bandits”, therefore exploitation is justified and natural! Marxism and anarchism don’t work… because of human nature! Trenchant!

      Comment by paper mac — March 23, 2012 @ 4:16 am

      • If a magpie grabs my keys when I’m not looking, that justifies Wall Street and Washington.

        Comment by Russ — March 23, 2012 @ 4:19 am

    • I think your comment shows extreme cynicism towards humans, and I don’t consider being cynical a positive trait. The best thing that ever happened to the tyrannically inclined was to get the average fellow to actively distrust (mistrust?) his neighbor. More people prefer to steal than work??? Sure, if you cultivate negative traits like greed, envy,laziness, competitiveness. Have you ever read John Taylor Gatto or other alternative educator’s books analyzing the school system and what it does to children? Or are you one of those people who also consider children to be naturally lazy,stupid, evil, etc.? Well, I have 4 kids and they have their flaws, but I assure you if you don’t treat children like prisoners they’re an entirely different breed. Those children happen to become adults with the training of childhood deeply ingrained in their character.

      I don’t consider myself an anarchist or Marxist but your tone is contemptuous and rude towards Russ and his readers. I don’t give a darn if this is the internet and you have complete anonymity.You appear enormously arrogant and despite some interesting points you make (which even this stupid housewife has thought of before), you’re correct about convincing anyone here with your approach.

      Comment by DualPersonality — March 23, 2012 @ 5:46 am

      • The comment I just left was obviously directed towards “Kevin de Bruxelles”, not you Russ 🙂 or you paper mac :).
        It appeared in a different place from where I expected it.

        Comment by DualPersonality — March 23, 2012 @ 5:48 am

      • No, it appeared in the right spot (as a Reply to the commenter), and is spot on. The lies spewed in the comment are the result of a combination of bitter cynicism (if you look at this person’s comments from just a year or so ago, he was singing a very different tune; he’s evidently quit, and is taking out his own personal failure on those who haven’t given up) and petty criminality (no doubt pipe-dreaming of clinging to his own ill-gotten crumb).

        Comment by Russ — March 23, 2012 @ 6:13 am

    • Russ,

      That was an excellent post, thank you.

      @kevin de bruxelles

      A nice try to impress everyone with your spurious erudition, but all you’ve done is unwittingly prove the truth of Alexander Pope’s line that “A little learning is a dangerous thing”.

      Comment by Sophie — March 25, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

      • Thanks Sophie.

        Comment by Russ — March 25, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  2. I think this is a great post, Russ.

    It’s sad that in the anxiety to avoid physical labor, our society has sacrificed virtually everything of value. Time, self-sufficiency, good food, health (our bodies were designed to be used, not just artificially exercised), children, the elderly, genuine relationships, enjoyment of nature and the satisfaction that comes from doing something of real, obvious value.

    Over the past 70 years, people have been spending increasing amounts of time at their jobs, and when they’re not physically present at them they’re expected to work at home. After a day like that, most folks are too burned out to do anything more demanding than sit in front of the TV or play computer games.

    Obviously, most of us are in the trap in one way or another, but I dream of my family freeing itself. I know it can be done, because in many ways we are free.
    The first step is to stop swallowing the propaganda about the perils of work and getting your hands dirty.

    All the people I know who are self-sufficient work hard, get dirty but are proud of their abilities and the results of their labor. They’re also the ones that are always called upon to do the tasks we can’t or won’t do ourselves.

    Comment by DualPersonality — March 23, 2012 @ 12:52 am

    • Thanks DP, you sum it up well. We’ve sacrificed everything which makes us human in order to avoid one of the most human activities of all. Absolute physical laziness (as opposed to an evasive or slow-down attitude toward any system-imposed task) is always decadence in the individual, and is decadence in any people where they surrender to it, as modern Westerners have.

      Part of building a movement is to nurture, build up, and organize the currently diffused, but still potentially strong, elements of the democratic spirit. It sounds like you and your family are doing well at this in principle. Then we have to do the best we can in practice.

      Comment by Russ — March 23, 2012 @ 4:17 am

  3. Vaguely on topic, I found this edifying

    Comment by paper mac — March 23, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    • Thanks, I’ll watch it when I get a chance. Is this the stuff about religious-based governance which explicitly rejects totalitarian claims on other communities?

      Comment by Russ — March 23, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

      • The parts which are relevant to us describe the relationship of communities to the state in the premodern Islamic world, I think. Basically the role of the state in this context was almost exclusively protection from foreign invasion and ensuring the operation of law courts (although the actual generation of law as well as its administration was conducted by communities themselves). I think understanding how the muslim world transitioned from that kind of radically free system to a highly restrictive, legally monist nation-state model (coincident with the oil age and colonial ventures for the most part) may give us some ideas about how the dialectic between communities and the state operates under various energy-availability conditions.

        Comment by paper mac — March 24, 2012 @ 4:10 am

      • That’s an excellent example. I do think the end of the fossil fuel age will necessarily wreak havoc with existing top-heavy centralized hierarchies. That’s not to say new ones can’t arise in the future, as they often existed pre-oil, but part of our task is to prevent that. Perhaps examples like this can help with any sort of dual government structures people try to (temporarily, during energy descent) set up. It can provide at least a theoretical model for a decentralization vector, although in practice we’d want to simply dissolve centralized state power as fast as possible.

        Comment by Russ — March 24, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

  4. Well, this is obviously the post where I am going to put my little comment of the day, after a long absence…
    While I dislike Kevin’s tone, I will accord him that he locked right onto the very expression that always sends me into orbit in your.. thinking, Russ, and that is the term, “parasites”.
    I am not ready to forget that the ranting against parasites is.. symptomatic of Adolf’s thought, and while those of you across the ocean are light years away from the debacle of WW2, and it is something that you read about in your history books, it is not just that to me.
    When you will stop BORROWING Adolf’s word, Russ, then I will better respect your thinking. (And you really should consider that flirting with Adolf’s vocabulary serves to discredit you in the eyes of people who you might otherwise manage to convince…IF you are interested in doing something besides preaching to the already converted.)
    So… on to my thought for the day.
    Yesterday, on my daily walk around our nice sized pond, I stopped to pick up some of the humungous amount of trash which litters the pond’s edges : beer cans, bottles, juice packs, kleenex, lots, and lots, and lots of junk that COULD be thrown into a trashcan, but which mysteriously ends up in the water in what I call our non traditional society’s OBSESSION to soil anything and everything that could possibly be construed as.. sacred.
    Yesterday, I stopped and chatted with a man on green duty, a man who is paid to pick up that trash, and do other menial labor in the city’s parks.
    He doesn’t earn a ton of money, I bet, but there are worse jobs.
    We exchanged a few friendly words about how much trash ended up in the pond. He told me his impressions ; I told him mine.
    For several.. months, there has been a mountain of trash around the pond, and a little bird tells me that the parks man who is paid to do his job, well, maybe he was not as conscientous about doing it as he could have been ? No finger pointing from me, friends.
    So, today when I arrived at the pond with my trashbag, to pick up the trash, because UNDER MY LOGIC, I AM FREE TO WORK FOR NO MONEY IF I CHOOSE, well, there he was at the pond, very very conscientiously picking up all the trash he saw…
    Moral of the story ? He is able to invest his job (for money..) when he sees other people who are interested in what he is doing, and those other people WORK ALONGSIDE HIM (for free, too, I say, for no money…
    Could I do that… IF I WEREN’T A PARASITE ?
    No way.
    To Kevin’s analysis, I will add one other spot you are particularly blind to, Russ. VOLUNTARY SERVITUDE.
    Maybe someday.. if somebody besides me tells you about voluntary servitude.. you will be able to believe.
    Let’s hope.

    Comment by Debra — March 23, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    • The logic: Hitler used the term parasite in an invalid way, therefore no one’s allowed to call a parasite a parasite. Got it.

      Alas, just as innumerable commentators called parasites “parasites” before Hitler, so innumerable of us shall continue to do so after him, blind to our folly…

      Comment by Russ — March 23, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

  5. […] tear down the barbed wire and toll booths which interpose between us and our birthright. We have to redeem our work and through it our humanity.   Our work, in itself, prior to the necessary distribution and use of its fruits by those who […]

    Pingback by Our Labor Sovereignty and Birthright « Volatility — September 3, 2012 @ 2:11 am

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