Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How to Disappoint Kathi Weeks

Kathi Weeks's The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2011) is a well-written, insightful text that caused me to critically examine my position on productivity and the Protestant (and laborist) work ethic; it provoked me--just as Weeks intends--into reflecting on and questioning my own post-capitalism vision. Never had it occurred to me that there would come a day after the fall of capitalism during which we could simply not work. Don't mistake me: I understand the refusal of work as a political strategy under capital to display the power of the working class,* but I had always conceived these displays as having the end goal of less or better work, not no work

Weeks accurately highlights that Marxian post-capitalism is heavy on pull-your-own weight rhetoric, even though I suspect one would be substantially less alienated from that weight under socialism than one is under capitalism. Although I would likely gain great personal satisfaction from a full rejection of the Protestant work ethic, I'm not prepared to entirely disavow the necessity of work, as a practice or as a concept. The concept of "work" allows us to appeal to a wide swath of the population, a swath that takes great pride in its work ethic, whether as the long-suffering earthly worker awaiting that heavenly reward or as the blue collar laborer who pulled him/herself up by the bootstraps. In other words, organizing around the axiom of "work" allows a wide sampling of individuals to relate to our struggle for control of the means of production, for only when we control those can we begin to truly allocate work equitably, resulting in far less and better work for all.

The value of Weeks's text as an effective challenge to one's worldview aside, upon finishing it, I had the distinct feeling that someone with an illogical vested interest in me had been deeply disappointed: I felt as though I had just visited my father. Weeks chastises the reader for failing to imagine a  satisfactory post-work, post-capitalism future. When her admonishments are not quite adequate, she invokes Jameson to further chide us (212). Weeks reminds us--as the reader reaches an unprecedented level of self-loathing for our utter failure to envision a proper post-capitalism utopia--that it is much more important that we imagine than what we imagine (207).

Despite her condescending tone, Weeks's point is well taken: Marxists have not been imaginative enough, and we should spend more time thinking about the potential of a post-work world, not limiting ourselves to imagining one that involves different, better or less work. After all, I frequently daydream about winning the lottery, and the starting point for those musings is always quitting my job. Admittedly, my post-work fantasy isn't very exciting: beach house on the West Coast, condo in Caracas, apartment in Paris, travel to Laos with the Wolfe, buying off a bunch of folks' student debt via Rolling Jubilee. Yawn.

Kathi Weeks is right: my revolution and my socialism involve work. But not some uncritical, blindly accepted glorification of work, but necessary drudgery based on material conditions. Who will do the cleaning? Robots can only do so much. Maybe we should all become slobs and shake off the shackles of bourgeois notions of cleanliness. After all, we undeniably clean and groom more than is necessary for health and hygiene, some of us shouldering more of the burden than others. It is interesting to watch even the brightest men make arguments about creased slacks and ironed collars, but can I speak for everyone I know? Of course we won't be ironing under socialism. But the tubs will still need scrubbing. Sure, if someone devises a better way to take out the trash, re-shelve the books, unload the dishwasher, de-ice the streets, and weed the garden, I'll take it. In the meantime, there is much work to be done to overthrow capitalism, as well as to install a society based on full equality. Let's get busy.

*Which on BAMF always includes domestic laborers

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