The Hijacked Self

I found a YouTube video for the latest Bill Maher show that someone had posted as a secret hack: another clip is spliced in first, a clip (apparently produced by Now This) of Rep. Tim Ryan (Dem - OH). He’s addressing the House regarding the recent General Motors plant closure in his district.

More broadly, Ryan ranted about what he called our system of ‘supply chain economics’, otherwise known as ‘trickle down economics’ or just Reaganomics, circa 1980 (which was based on Reagan's personal opinions, not economic theory or science).

Ryan’s angry point, repeated as a rhetorical question, is that if this economic ‘philosophy’ has been so great, why hasn't it benefited and protected workers in the heartland? Instead, he railed, when a plant is closed thousands of workers are sacked, but the company’s stocks rise. Clearly, this economy was not built for employed workers. Nevertheless, his solution is political action to increase manufacturing jobs for American workers.

Killed by Hard Work

In the past days a piece of related news has emerged: coal companies and mining authorities that have failed to make Black Lung (from silica dust) a transparent issue, which has created thousands of cases of coal miners in Appalachia who are suffering and dying from this condition. Yes, this is news now -- this is not the distant history of our Industrial Revolution.

The beleaguered coal miner could symbolize the country’s generic rural laborer or worker, but on principle we could expand this image to include all levels of employees in urban areas, too.

I wonder whether being employed as a mere ‘worker’ for any company that treats people as a cheap human resource is more dangerous than being downsized by such a company -- not only in these examples, but in a much wider sense. I wonder whether the real problem that should anger Rep Ryan (although we can admire his passion) is not the loss of automotive manufacturing jobs, but the vexing and covered up fact that those jobs suck, to boot.

Actually, the very ideology of workers, whether in a factory, farm, mine, or office -- including their unsafe employment by inhumane corporations -- truly sucks for a variety of reasons. But the identity of worker is not bad because of bad employers; arguably it’s bad because of employment itself, with its deleterious mind modifications. How could that be, when our society generally glorifies getting the ‘good job’, associating this with being a success?

Forty Years an Employee

If we’re on the right track here, in questioning employment, then we probably will find that this leads toward problematizing the whole economic paradigm that includes the Trickle Down dogma: the cunningly adaptive state of affairs that creates the super rich minority and the working poor majority as its status quo.

I would argue that the trouble lies not in any specific political program; the real trouble lies in the ways that mainstream ideology is conditioned by notions such as:

  • having a job is good
  • mass employment is good
  • being an employee is desirable and respectable.

But, who or what does this basic chain of statements benefit most?

Doubting employment, if it's a smart path to take, should hold up even in the example of someone who heroically quits a job to start one’s own company -- a narrow version of entrepreneurship also valorized in society. Yet, this newly hatched bourgeois Owner likely replicates the pattern of employing others as cheaply as possible (using them, utilizing them -- perhaps growing a thick scaly skin as barrier toward the suffering perpetuated).

Doubting employment must hold up in many other examples as well, notably the fraction who say they love their jobs, or, jobs that we could deem absolutely necessary (paramedics, police, President). We should be looking for objective and highly contextualized, historicized ways to agree that a given job is good, rather than just the feelings and opinions of the person who fills the role. Such counterexamples would need to be carefully parsed for any positive notions about employment or a specific type of job that are just social conditioning, which blinds workers to the actual bargains being struck for their efforts and time (their lives).

In either case of employee or employer, the practice of employment, the institution, is far more questionable than any factor that can alter the qualities and experiences of being employed, or employing others -- after all, there are lethal job sites in both the heartland and in the city, while even good or cushy jobs anywhere often are won through ‘cut-throat’ competition, and demeaning prequalifications. And still, such jobs are considered good or lucky to have (even when ends justify means to obtain them).

Not So Simple

I think the strongest point to make about this issue is that it’s not only a simple situation of Power abusing the unempowered, of people getting conflated with things, objectified, confused with a resource; rather, this is a more complex situation of the populace having been steadily terrified over generations (a continuum could be traced through the Feudal Age to the present day). People have been coerced into accepting self-defeating beliefs about not only Self but also about:

  • work, labor, livelihood
  • existential responsibility
  • how society actually functions
  • the real resources and wealth of this world, 
  • and other things.

It’s an oppressive force exerted upon folks not from the outside (like a blunt, visible, old school form of brutality) but from inside their own minds, so that they cooperate to oppress themselves. It’s Bob Marley's inkling of ‘mental slavery’. It’s like inmates acting as their own wardens (a la the film My Dinner with Andre).

Ultimately, this conditioning and hobbling of people’s very identities, their core beliefs, serves to hoodwink them comprehensively -- and thereby to extract cheap labor from them, as efficiently as possible (on all tiers, but relatively). That’s the bottom line, the rock bottom.

Hijacked ideology is the core problem when it comes to the issue of good jobs for Americans; and to that extent, it is people’s own responsibility to awaken and accept the dire situation, in order to understand it fully.

Where does this path of thinking generally go? What goodness could there be in challenging the hegemonic institution of employment? Where would such disruption lead people, or leave them? And, who would they be in that defiant position, and how then would they know themselves? How might society change when traditional employment implodes?

These are very promising yet difficult questions to ask.

PS -- After drafting this, driving, and stopping at an intersection, I chanced to see a homeless man on the corner who waved smilingly from his squatted position. I read his cardboard sign, which stated, ‘The struggle is real. God Bless.’

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