Opinion: Why Work Doesn’t Work, Or Industrious Insanity

August 10, 2020

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So a few years back, Leonardo DiCaprio interviewed Elon Musk in his movie Before The Flood, and Musk said just 100 of his clean-energy factories could power the planet. THE PLANET. I was so excited by the news, but now I realise South Africa would be one of the last places to get those factories because dirty, polluting coal-burning stations and their suppliers create jobs – stuck-down-a-coal-mine-for-half-your-life jobs. And that is government.

They assume you’ll be “happy” with any job as long as you can pay your basics and a bit of entertainment to distract you from the hole in your soul. And they’ll just continue to recreate a horrible world because their success is based on how many jobs they create, not what quality of life their citizens have.

And we too, have that in-built fear of, “if a robot takes over my job (that I hate), what will become of me?” We also, for some reason, believe that we need to earn the right to live. Yes, that is what lies beneath the idea that we have to work to get money to buy food. We need a job.

But these notions need interrogating – deeply.

We believe slavery was abolished, but it wasn’t really. It just disguised itself. People bought and bred other people because of their worth as workers. People were liabilities because of the food and housing they required. They were housed and fed on the plantations and their life force was used to make a profit for the master. They were batteries that powered a business.

After slavery – now – because we don’t have our survival expenses covered, we have to sell our energy to businesses for survival. We are paid, yes, but instead of businesses supplying our necessities, we acquire them and call ourselves successful. Once expenses are paid, we force ourselves to stay working at that business because we need to survive. We are slaves with outsourced housing, off the plantation.

However, to a business, we are still liabilities, an expense. And so they continue to get humans as cheaply as possible in order for them to make as big a profit as possible. Your rewards get smaller, unpaid overtime abounds, the filter coffee in the tea room turns to Ricoffy. And still they want more. Some companies pay so little per hour that people need to take several jobs with the same finite life force and same finite hours in a week.

I was present at a speech at a banking conglomerate once where people were asked to give their “discretionary energy” to the company – that 10% energy reserved for time with family and weekend activities that made you happy – that happy willingness to do things. “You take it all and still want that?” I thought to myself through my nausea.

But the thing is, you’re still a number to a big business. A replaceable cog. A battery that expects medical aid and a pension, that will retire or die so another battery can take your place. And yes. We’re still slaves – feeling free as long as we can pay our rent and food.

And then we’re made to believe that work is the “measure of a man”. That if you’re poor you haven’t worked hard enough. That if you beg on the streets, you’re lazy. That being on welfare is shameful. That being paid over the minimal wage is not an economically sound practice. That doing creative, soul-fulfilling work is frivolous and not respectable. We perpetuate the system set up to make others wealthy, especially when we make the leap to become bosses ourselves. “This is how business is done,” we say, as we peruse the balance sheet.

And then we fight against the machines taking over our jobs. “Use my unrechargeable life force to power your business. Look how I can work, Master! Use me up instead!” And we get our unions to stop the advance of technology, to petition governments – to fight for the jobs we hate but we’re “lucky to have”.

It is the world’s biggest con.

But I hear you say, “Well, if we had all we wanted, who would work in a coal mine or a cubicle?” Which is basically another way of perpetuating the idea that we need desperation to force us into labour. And who created that desperation? The same people who convinced us that daydreaming and being idle is a sin…

This world has been functioning on a broken and corrupt idea – to keep us enslaved to a system of wealth that affords freedom, health and creative joy to only a few. It’s no coincidence that government went with a pay-to-use electricity system when Tesla’s system was free. No coincidence that money refused to flow to or support clean energy ideas for the longest time. If necessities were freely available, who could be controlled through desperation?

I always thought it strange that teachers would be kept abreast of “needed professionals” and encourage students to learn accordingly. Surely we should be moving with our creative talents, our vocational leanings? Work should be part of our lives – an enhancement, an avenue for our gifts to thrive – be it in design, accounting, or entrepreneurship? Doing what we do best reduces stress, keeps us doing meaningful work, and inspires innovation that moves society forward. Joy replenishes our battery and life forces, boosts our immunity, creates quality of life, and makes us better people for our family and community.

And yet, we are made to believe this is not to be our lot in life. That it is meant to be a lifelong, dull suffering till we, drained of physical strength can salvage a quality of life we’ve dreamed of, in retirement. We have to earn our right to do nothing. How devastatingly sad.

We’ve been a part of this insanity for far too long. Can it be changed? Yes. But it’ll be hard for a bit. Now that businesses have taken a knock, they’ll make us fight for the few jobs there are – the ones with fewer and fewer perks. It’ll be like Hunger Games, but we just need to remember our power, our right to life, to be heard, to be happy – and not let meetings in secret keep us fighting each other to be the Master’s favourites.

There’s hope. Even in times of despair. Remind yourself of who you are, why you’re here, what you want to be a part of, where you want to go, and what you want to create. We don’t have to let the sins of the world be visited on our children. We can stop this cycle.

Choose each other.
Choose humanity.
Choose sustainability and connection.
Choose life.


Chantal Herman is an actress, singer, author and transformation coach.

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