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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 09/01/2003
Volume 2, #92
The Trouble with Jobs
Recently, I described the rediscovery of my many missing cousins after an interval of some four or five decades. As I said, it was quite an emotional experience. But I don't intend to go through all that again. I just want to talk about what happened to one particular cousin. He's a couple of years older than me which would make him about eighty-eight. During his active years, he acquired his schooling and up until retirement, he was a social worker. Very specifically, that was his job. The way my cousin tells it, he reached retirement age, and suddenly he had no job to go to. In fact, he had absolutely nothing to do. I remember him as being quite smart.
In that respect, he doesn't seem to be very different from the young boy I remember. And yet, as he told me himself, what he did in the ensuing twenty-three years since his retirement-that's what astounded me.
He did nothing-absolutely nothing. He lived, he breathed, he drove his car-which he still does-watched his family grow, his wife age, and managed, while the world continued to spin around him in its various ways, while he proceeded to do-nothing.
Was he bored? Not really. Maybe now-in the late eighties, just a little. Did he ever want to do anything else? Not really. He was just retired. Living out his time, you might say.
To me-all this business of just being retired is kind of amazing. I didn't know it could be done. But apparently, not everybody finds something to do after retirement. They just live it out. Maybe travel a little bit. No hobbies, no special interests. Of course there's some reading and TV watching and keeping up with events. But after long reflection, I decided that what my cousin is really doing is-getting even. That's right, he's getting even with the job he had to deal with all his mature life. By doing-nothing.
I don't think it's my cousin's fault. It's because of that job thing. In itself, not a bad job, as jobs go. Social worker? You get to deal with a lot of other people's problems, and if you're good at it, you actually help a lot of people, and I suspect my cousin was good at it. So-why should he be getting even with his job?
Try to understand this. When you have a job, it isn't really yours. That's right-you're working for somebody else, on somebody else's rules and somebody else's time schedule. Maybe it's an interesting job, but it's still not yours. If you're thoughtful and sensitive, it can begin to bother you. In fact, I get the feeling sometimes that almost everybody hates their jobs.
Take myself. I had quite a few jobs in my time. Some were interesting. Some were ghastly. In some, I was inordinately successful and was recognized and rewarded for my efforts. But I started my life without a job, because I had a vocation. I was a writer by the time I was seven. I was twelve when I published my first story. And then the depression came and I had to quit school and go to work to help the family. So I had my first job. And I didn't like it. It was underpaid slavery, for one thing. But later on, when I had prestigious and well-paying jobs, I still felt like a slave. It was a job-so it wasn't mine.
Of course, I was lucky. I spent more years writing as a free agent than I spent on jobs. I made more money on a number of my jobs, but I much preferred to be writing. Most people, I've learned, never discover such a preference. The only options they have-are one job or another job. Of course, there are those who start their own businesses. They may work a lot harder and longer, maybe even make less money, but they prefer self-employment (I prefer to call it self-engagement) to working at a job.
Before the industrial revolution and urbanization, the job as such didn't exist. Even a hired man on a farm was freer than a man with a job after everybody moved to cities and jobs got invented. And as soon as jobs got invented, unemployment was invented. That was supposed to be the worst thing that could happen to anybody. And it was. Because when you live in a city and you don't have a job, what the hell are you when you're unemployed?
Remember, even Superman had a job. How could he have a normal human persona like Clark Kent and not have a job without everybody considering him a ne'er-do-well? So Clark Kent worked as a reporter for the Daily Planet. Even the villains had jobs. How could you write about any kind of comics character without also giving him a job? Or at least a profession or a business-like the Penguin who was in the umbrella business. Or the Joker-who, by profession, was a clown-right?
Wait a minute-did I say profession? Isn't that different than a job? Not really-unless you made your profession a business. Architects and doctors can do that. But most of them work for someone else, an architectural firm, or a Health Care Organization-or a university.
Now there is teaching. Before the Industrial Revolution, teaching was not really a job. It was a calling. Today, it's a job. And often among the worst. Or nursing-once a calling, now-a job and not exactly one of the best.
Now I'll tell you what I'm working on. Mostly on the side. I'm trying to find a way to eliminate jobs. I'm trying to find a way for people to have callings. Is it possible?
The truth is-it's very possible. So much so that here in Canada, some years ago, back during the Trudeau administration, I prepared a special report based on introducing certain changes to our economic system that would completely eliminate jobs. I'm serious. Remember, I wasn't eliminating work-just that modern incubus called the job. I wasn't even advocating a kind of socialism-"from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"-nothing quite so radical. But I worked it out in such a way that the government ministers took it quite seriously. They had actually moved to start a re-examination of the tax code to make it possible. The whole idea was that persuasive. Everybody worked at their own vocation. And, as I recall, it wasn't very complicated to set up. In fact, they were all kind of amazed at it. But--in the end, they chickened out. It never happened. Somehow, it sounded too good to make it believable to the voters.
But somewhere among my voluminous papers, I have a copy of the report I did that started the whole thing. One of these days, I'm going to find it. And I'll release all the details right here on this site. Maybe while I'm still around, as people go on hating their jobs more and more, the idea may catch fire. In fact, I'm going to start doing some real looking tomorrow. I had some great ideas in that report. Just wait till I find it.
For more on "the job" check out the following from the Tom Paine site: http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/8750
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