Francis Weller on the obscenity of having to “earn a living”

Recently I made my first “meme,” inspired by a podcast conversation between two of my favorite writers – Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, and Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.

I wanted to share it here, along with an announcement that I am working on a new essay for this blog.  It’s a response to critics who shame artists on the Patreon crowdfunding platform and tell them to “stop asking for charity and get a real job.”  I’m also in the midst of revising an old essay that has been a reader favorite – the new title is: “Is Nothing Sacred?  On ‘Doing Nothing’ and Leisure as Resistance.” Stay tuned for news!

Image credits: Photo by Sam Grant, used with permission. Text added by me, D. JoAnne Swanson.

You have to earn a living - Francis Weller

Charles Eisenstein on work, leisure, and ‘not-doing’

Full desk clip art (PD)I’ve just finished reading Charles Eisenstein‘s inspiring new book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.  It is every bit as brilliant as 2011’s Sacred Economics, and I recommend it just as highly.  In lieu of a new blog post from me – I’m working on several, but none are ready yet – I’d like to share an extended series of quotes from the new book that are particularly relevant for rethinking the job culture.  Enjoy!

“Immersed in a system that never lets us rest, that condemns laziness and pushes us toward ever-increasing busyness through economic pressure, we…tell ourselves we must always be doing something.  Time’s a-wastin’!

“The primary habit that arises from it [existential scarcity] is the habit of always doing.  Here and now is never enough.  You might protest that most people in the Western world spend vast amounts of time doing nothing productive at all, watching TV and playing video games, but those are displacements of doing, and not nondoing.

“I am not saying that it is bad to do.  I am saying that there is a time to do, and a time not to do, and that when we are a slave to the habit of doing we are unable to distinguish between them.

“A good time to do nothing is any time you feel stuck.  I have done a lot of nothing in the writing of this book.  For several days I was trying to write the conclusion, spinning my wheels, turning out tawdry rehashes of earlier material.  The more I did, the worse it got.  So I finally gave up the effort and just sat there on the couch…with no agenda whatever of figuring out what to write.  It was from that empty place that the conclusion arose, unbidden.

“…do you find yourself contracting a case of the fuck-its?  The procrastination, the laziness, the halfhearted attempts, the going through the motions – all indicate that the old story isn’t motivating you anymore.  What once made sense, makes sense no longer.  You are beginning to withdraw from that world.  Society does its best to persuade you to resist that withdrawal, which, when resisted, is called depression.  Increasingly potent motivational and chemical means are required to keep us focused on what we don’t want to focus on, to keep us motivated to do that which we don’t care about.  If fear of poverty doesn’t work, then maybe psychiatric medication will.  Anything to keep you participating in business as usual.

“You can’t just do whatever you feel like.”  “You can’t just do anything you want.”  “You have to learn self-restraint.”  “You’re only interested in gratifying your desires.”  “You don’t care about anything but your own pleasure.”  Can you hear the judgmentality in these admonitions?  Can you see how they reproduce the mentality of domination that runs our civilization?  Goodness comes through conquest.  Health comes through conquering bacteria.  Agriculture is improved by eliminating pests.  Society is made safe by winning the war on crime.  On my walk today, students accosted me, asking if I wanted to join the “fight” against pediatric cancer.  There are so many fights, crusades, campaigns, so many calls to overcome the enemy by force.  No wonder we apply the same strategy to ourselves.  Thus it is that the inner devastation of the Western psyche matches exactly the outer devastation it has wreaked on the planet. […]

“…it is scary to not do, or rather, to not impose doing.  Most of us have grown up in a society that trains us, from kindergarten or even earlier, to do things we don’t really want to do, and to refrain from things we do want to.  This is called discipline, the work ethic, self-control.  Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution at least, it has been seen as a cardinal virtue.  After all, most of the tasks of industry were not anything a sane human being would willingly do.  To this day, most of the tasks that keep society as we know it running are the same.  Lured by future rewards, chastened by punishment, we face the grim necessity of work.  This would all be defensible, perhaps, if this were were truly necessary, if it were contributing to the well-being of people and planet.  But at least 90 percent of it is not.  Part of our revolution is the reunion of work and play, work and art, work and leisure, of have to and want to.

“Our discomfort with a teaching like “You don’t have to do anything” comes in part from our thorough indoctrination into the work ethic, which holds that without the discipline of doing, nothing gets done.  If there were no grades hanging over their heads, no paycheck at the end of the week, and no internalized habit of work such devices have created, then most people wouldn’t keep doing what they do.  Only those who work for the love of it would continue – only those whose work gave them a palpable sense of service, of contribution, or of meaning.  In preparation for such a world, and to prepare such a world, let us cultivate the corresponding habit: in whatever way makes sense, let us practice trusting the impulse to work, and when it is not present, let us hold each other through the panic, uncertainty, and guilt that may arise.  […]

“You don’t have to do anything – why?  Not because nothing needs to be done.  It is that you don’t have to, because you will do.  The unstoppable compulsion to act, in bigger and wiser ways than you knew possible, has already been set in motion.  I am urging you to trust in that.  You needn’t contrive to motivate yourself, guilt yourself, or goad yourself into actions.  Actions taken from that place will be less powerful than ones that arise unbidden.  Trust yourself that you will know what to do, and that you will know when to do it.  […]

“When somebody is showing signs of distress and tiredness in organizing a specific activity we always ask – do you feel connected with what you are doing?  Does it make you happy or do you feel that you need to sacrifice for it?  If this feels like ‘work,’ stop it!”

“Doing only what makes them feel good, only what makes them feel connected, only what doesn’t feel like work…does that mean they get less done than when they were driven by urgency and seeking to be more efficient?  No, they get more done.  […]

“Not that there is anything wrong with work.  Work and play, work and leisure…it is time to question these polarities.  That doesn’t mean indolence.  When I worked in construction, the labor was sometimes very strenuous, but it was rarely an ordeal.  I didn’t have the feeling of fighting myself or forcing myself.  There is a time to make great efforts, a time to push one’s capacities to the limit.  We have after all been given those capacities for a reason.  But struggle is not supposed to be the default state of life.”

~ pp. 106 – 138

On “Financial Independence”: A Rant

seedlingI don’t believe in “financial independence.”  Ultimately there is no such thing, much as some people might like to believe there is.

There is a narrative of “independence” in our culture that goes something like this: being needy is a bad thing.  I am also reminded of the saying “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  I can see why this was a useful idea in the feminist movement, and of course I think it’s perfectly fine to be single…but on a larger scale, I don’t buy it.  To my mind, this kind of “independence” is not a virtue – it’s an illusion, and it’s high time we give it up.  Our culture is so myopic that we often refuse to acknowledge our own need for other people.  But the reality is that we need each other, and the Earth, to survive.  Period.  Relationships are our sustenance.  We need all kinds of relationships – social, cultural, and ecological – not just romantic ones.  It’s true that in the modern world some people can get jobs and provide for their needs with their earnings, and they may be perceived in the public eye as “independent” if they do this, but nonetheless, they are still dependent on their employers, a steady income, and the infrastructure (maintained by other people) that makes it possible for them to do their jobs.  Why is it so difficult for so many in our culture to acknowledge this?

People who have money often think of themselves as beholden to no one – “self-sufficient” and “independent.”  On the surface this seems true enough.  Look a little deeper, though, and the reality is different.  We are all just as interdependent as we’ve always been.  Sometimes we can use money to hide from ourselves the reality of whom we are relying on and which farmers provide our food, but the ultimate fact of reliance on others, and on the Earth that sustains us, remains.

If I seem “independent,” it’s not because I actually am.  No one is!  It’s because of a pervasive cultural narrative that tends to highlight only individual effort, and discount the effects of others’ support in making me who I am.  I’m here because other people empowered me, made sacrifices for me, gave me opportunities to learn skills, supported me, and encouraged me.  OTHER PEOPLE.  For the most part, these people didn’t balk when I needed them, or shame me for being “dependent.”  They just supported me and believed in me.  That is why I’m still here today to write this.

I am so fed up with people being shamed for “dependency” because they don’t have jobs or “financial independence”.  News flash, folks: There are never going to be enough jobs for everyone who’s capable of having one.  Unemployment is here to stay.  Get used to it.

Once again, for emphasis, because I think many people in our culture just aren’t getting this: Human beings NEED one other to survive.  NEED.  Let me say that yet again: We NEED each other.  And there is nothing wrong with this neediness.  Nothing at all!  You need me, I need you, and we both need the support of our community and social systems TO SURVIVE.

Repeat after me: There is nothing wrong with being “needy.”  We are born that way, for gods’ sake!  There is no shame in needing support.  We all need support, even those of us who use money to insulate ourselves and distance ourselves psychologically from that fundamental reality.  We are interdependent as a species, and we are ultimately dependent on the Earth and ecological systems for our sustenance.

It’s great that people want to take “personal responsibility” and help themselves.  But they still need social, cultural, and institutional support in order to do that.  We need a social structure that will support and reward these self-help efforts, instead of shaming needy people because they don’t have jobs.