Monday, July 02, 2007


In Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the sharp decrease in holidays (days off) between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution.

[T]he repression of festivities was, in a sense, a by-product of the emergence of capitalism. The middle classes had to learn to calculate, save, and "defer gratification"' the lower classes had to be transformed into a disciplined, factory-ready, working class -- meaning fewer holidays and the new necessity of showing up for work sober and on time, six days a week. Peasants had worked hard, too, of course, but in seasonally determined bursts; the new industrialism required ceaseless labor, all year round.

. . .

In part, [the appeal of Protestantism] was probably similar to that of much evangelical Christianity today; it offered people the self-discipline demanded by a harsher economic order. Curb your drinking, learn to rise before the sun, work until dark, and be grateful for whatever you're paid. . . . Protestantism, serving as the ideological handmaiden of the new capitalism, "descended like a frost on the life of 'Merrie Old England,'" as Weber put it, destroying in its icy grip the usual Christmans festivities, the maypole, the games, and all traditional forms of group pleasure.

Today, of course, it's worse. It's worse because even when we do get a holiday, we're checking e-mails, answering cell phone calls, watching the "news," worrying about work. Why? Why do we allow this?

The Furious Spinner notes that we have all been coopted by the corporatists:

Today I was moved by the words of Robert Shetterly. He is writing about the social activist Eva Peterson. He is also writing about us.

He writes in "When Does Drowning Mean Drowning," "We are now up to our necks in a culture of programmed complicity. Just as the Hutus in Rwanda made sure that all the men killed someone so all would be complicit, the corporate culture here teaches consumption rather than citizenship, isolation rather than community, teaches that predatory capitalism is democracy. If there is an answer, it must be climbing out together, giving a hand up to the weakest and most vulnerable, reinforcing our virtues, denying the culture that preaches making virtue of vice, heroism of spectacular, unsustainable greed.

"Eva Paterson, when she did complete the quote for her portrait, included this sentence: 'Drowning in silence, we are brothers and sisters drowning each other.' We are drowning, my friends, suffocating in complicity and lies. As surely as trees give life sustaining oxygen to our atmosphere, truth and accountability, fairness and compassion provide the social oxygen for our culture. I’m sure that the epidemic of asthma in our children is attributable in equal parts to environmental and cultural causes. A culture living on lies leaves everyone gasping. The oxygen has gone out of America. The waters are rolling down, but they are not the waters of justice."

I want my holidays back. I want the leisure to stop and think, the time to grow flowers, an end to capitalism-induced Koyanaskatsi.


Interrobang said...

Ooh. I get this all the time. I work for The Man (as opposed to working for myself) three days a week. I make twenty-two dollars an hour, which, working 3/5 time where I live, gives me enough money to not only make expenses, but have quite a bit left over at the end of the month. I just came off a stint where they asked me to work full-time for two weeks, and I hated it. Hated it. I even started hating my job, which is bullshit, because I actually like my job. (I'm a technical writer and software tester; I work for a company that provides electronic data transactions and service to a niche industry. It's a nice life.)

Almost everyone I've mentioned this to keeps saying, "Well, maybe they'll hire you on full-time long-term," and when I say I don't really want to do that, they say, "Why not? Think of the money!" When I tell them I basically have enough money, they look at me like I'm crazy and make some kind of disparaging comment that implies I'm lazy.

I'm the last thing to lazy -- in the last three years, I've started a company and turned it into something that makes a profit and makes me a living, written two books and a bunch of articles, essays, and short stories, gotten a book accepted for publication, gotten an article accepted for publication, and taken a consulting executive position with another startup company run by a friend of mine. Not all of that has actually made me any money yet, but...*shrug*

I'm also frigging disabled, people!! I may be only thirty-mumble years old, but in terms of what I can get done in a day, I'm about fifty-five. Most people are getting ready to retire by then, or at least thinking about it...

I do have a few friends who get that I'm perfectly happy to work "part-time" and don't want to work full-time (for someone else)...and they're all other disabled people. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

A bar I used to frequent (with the interesting name of the "Halfway Inn" due to its location between towns) had a plaque on the wall:

"When the red man ran this country men spent their time hunting, fishing or just sitting around, and women did all the work.

The white man thought he could improve on this arrangement."

not exactly pc but has a definite point... :)