The Manly Mythology of Work - Part II - The Division Effect
by C.A. L'Hirondelle, June 12, 2011


"even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world."
—Lera Boroditsky, How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?

In The Manly Mythology of Work Part 1 , I describe the problems of the traditional idealized views of work and how the boxes of 'work'/'not work' and 'good worker'/'bad shirker' are based on definitions of work that exclude most of humanity.

Traditional ideas about what is work, also perpetuate an outdated vision of full employment that is "dependent on an endless cycle of production and consumption". (J.S. Larochelle, GLI and the Golden Rule).


But there is also the effect of how it divides 'the common people'.

In Canada, income data shows that most people are on the bottom of the income pyramid (or in the biggest part of the income pie chart). And of course this is true worldwide as well.

"Nothing is more surprising than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few"
—David Hume

Organized labour often uses the rhetoric of 'hard working' or 'working families' or 'working people' (see the Public Service Alliance of Canada press release ).

Labour unions want to evoke a positive image of 'the workers', but raising the image of 'hard work', lowers the image of 'non-workers'. The unions might think this strategy sticks it to the bosses and the leisure class, but in effect it adds to the already negative association society has towards the unemployed, those on benefits, those doing unpaid or non-standard work - in other words, those with the lowest incomes.


I've witnessed many examples of animosity between the clashing classes. Construction workers yelling "get a job" at welfare protesters; a person on disability benefits saying "anyone can get a job at McDonalds"; a unionized worker at a rally saying he'd like to beat up the homeless hippies; a newly unemployed mother in a welfare line-up outraged that she has to stand with "those people". It is an equation with infinite divisions all born of the sentiment: "I'm not like them".

It is natural for people to be frustrated with what they see as obvious flaws in other people. But scapegoating those with lower status often translates into support for self-defeating ideologies and policies, and opposition to your own self-interest.


Focusing on individual flaws eclipses seeing what we have in common: that we all need food, shelter, clean water, health care etc. It is easier to demonize those perceived as violating social norms than it is to admit the commonality of our human vulnerability, weakness and dependence.

People don't need to love their neighbors, or even their family members, but when it comes to supporting ideologies that drive economic policies targeting the economically vulnerable, it is essential to see what we have in common because most people, whether they want to admit it or not, are on economically shaky ground.

The 'good hard worker' and 'bad lazy shirker' boxes play on how we want to imagine ourselves but they are not based on reality.

The union worker making $60,000 a year has more in common with the homeless alcoholic sitting on the sidewalk than he does with the those at the very pointy end of the income pyramid, who are the only ones to derive benefit (economically) from divisions based on prejudice.


In the 1800s, robber baron Jay Gould said "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

Photo J.S. Larochelle 2002 - Victoria BC

Today, world society is marching towards an economy where half the 'working class' is being hired to police and jail (or kill) the 'unworking' half of the 'working class'. (A vile, miserable and costly job creation scheme. See also Paying People for War or Paying for Peace)

That is, until robots can take over most of the work in security and other areas of the service sector. ("The software would speak to the employees individually and tell each one exactly what to do. For example, 'Bob, we need to load more patties. Please walk toward the freezer.'")


As U.S. futurist James Hughes said in 2004, "Embrace the End of Work: Unless we send humanity on a permanent paid vacation, the future could get very bleak. ... Without an expanded social wage (benefits and income from the government) in general, and a guaranteed basic income in particular, we face widespread immiseration, economic contraction and polarization between the wealthy, the shrinking working class and the structurally redundant."

Or, if a permanent paid vacation sounds boring, as one GLI* speaker said in 2007 when asked by high school students "But what would we do with our free time?": "Join the circus".

See "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" Episode 3 (documentary)
for an extreme example of Divide and Rule

See Children Full of Life documentary for an extreme example of teaching empathy, compassion and caring for others.

See related articles here.

*Along with guaranteed livable income (GLI), other terms for this policy include:
basic income guarantee, basic income grant, citizen's income, citizen's basic income,
minimum income guarantee, national dividend, citizen's dividend, guaranteed annual income, LIFE grants (Livable Income For Everyone), Participation Income, and Buckminster Fuller's Lifetime Fellowship.

Thank you to Matt, Megan, JSL, Eric, Peter and Ann for sharing insights on the Manly Work theme.

C.A. L'Hirondelle has been researching and writing about guaranteed livable income from a grassroots perspective since 1998.


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