The Unemployed Self by Alvin W. Goulder
The last essay in an antholgy called "Work 2"
edited by Ronald Fraser,
Penguin Books, 1969
"...work, as many know it, is nothing less than the wasting of life."
If a person's skill is not needed then the person is not needed. If a person's function can be performed more economically by a machine, the person is replaced.
In order to gain admission to [the industrial sector] and the rewards it brings -- people must submit to an education and to a socialization that early validates and cultivates only selected parts of themselves, that is, those that are expect to have subsequent utility... dividing people into two pools, those useful and those not useful to industrial society.
"...the system rewards and fosters those skills deemed useful and suppresses the expression of talents and factulties deemed useless, and thereby structures and imprints itself upon the individual personality and self... vast parts of any personality must be suppressed or repressed in the course of playing a role in industrial society."
" Thus, just as there are unemployed people, there is also the unemployed self. Here then in the exclusions of self, fostered by an industrial system oriented towards utility, is a fundamental source of the sense of life wasted which is so pervasive, even if muffled in an industrial society. For the excluded self, while muffled, is not voiceless and makes it protest heard. "
"A central problem confronting a society organized around utilitarian values is the disposal and control of 'useless' people and of their useless traits."
"A transition to a welfare state implies a greater involvement of the state in the planning for and in the management of disposal strategies... Increasingly, the welfare state's disposal strategies seek to transform the sick, the deviant, and the unskilled into 'useful citizens', and to return them to 'society' after periods of hospitalization, treatment, counseling, training or retraining. "
"One problem with this strategy however, is that it is a treadmill operation: it is continually striving to keep abreast of continuing increases in mechanization and automation, with their tendency to generate at least temporary unemployment and continual obsolescence of skills. In one part, the welfare state constitutes an effort to use the state to dispose of the uselessness created by the private sector's own familiar disposal strategies which are, fundamentally, mechanization and automation. "
Disturbing though it is, the sense of a life wasted is commonly expressed... with cloudy pathos rather than sharp polemic. When verbalized at all, it is voiced with an almost shy diffidence. One reason for this is that many are afraid to see the full dimensions of the problem clearly. They may glimpse it but are not sure that they can believe what they see. Moreover, there is no institutional or organizational framework within which people can openly communicate this view of the industrial world to one another, and might thereby validate their sense of its reality. For unions, after all, limit and confine the range of the freely discussable, even among their own members, to that which is contractually relevant. To this extent they are participants in the repressive process."
"The wasted life is the big secret that everyone suspects but that all are embarrassed to discuss and may, therefore, remain thankfully uncertain about. Central to the repression of this problem is that first, people often feel it was ever thus, that not very much can be done about it now or in the future, that it is best not to dwell on the insoluble and, secondly, the further sense that the utilitarian arrangements that stunt their lives are somehow fundamentally legitimate. People today can often no more imagine that it is possible that things might be otherwise than could the greatest philosophers of antiquity imagine a world without slaves. In other words, most workers believe in the validity of the very arrangements that waste their lives."
"...what people will tolerate or reject in the present - depends greatly upon the alternatives that they have. If the alternatives presented are vague, or are seen as only doubtfully and marginally better than the social world they already know, people will not devote themselves to the pursuit of these alternatives."
"Western socialists have much to learn from others about the tactics and strategies of winning power; they also have an obligation to develop and deepen our understanding of what this power is for."
Back to Buried Treasures