On hypocrisy and being a ‘faker’

Over the years, many criticisms and insults have been directed at me as someone who writes openly about her principled opposition to the work ethic and the job culture.

Among these is the puerile accusation that I’m a “faker” because I am looking for a job, and have been actively doing so for the past year and a half.

Apparently, according to this critic’s worldview, no one who objects to the job culture for principled reasons should ever take a job, regardless of the particulars of their life or the context of their specific situation.  So if I am actually job-hunting now (horror of horrors!), then I must not have meant what I said about any of those radical ideas I espoused on the whywork.org site since 1998.  I must not be serious about anything I write about on this blog.  Never mind that I have devoted huge amounts of time, research, and effort to this project, at great personal cost.  Never mind that I started and moderated a well-respected e-mail list on these topics for years.  Never mind that I have repeatedly stated the paradoxical truth that it’s possible  – and sometimes even preferable – to be engaged in radical unjobbing while still holding a conventional job.  I must have just been leading everyone on.  Because I’m looking for a job now, I must necessarily be a “faker” – in other words, a hypocrite.

Just for the record, I will state once again that I would, indeed, prefer not to have a job ever again.  What I want is to work in a self-directed manner (although not as an “entrepreneur”).  I would prefer to continue working for myself, for my loved ones, for the land, and for the good of my local community.  There are countless projects I’d love to do.  I would prefer to spend my time focusing on writing, learning, research, dancing, spiritual pursuits, organising gift circles, and learning the skills necessary to building a more sustainable life (healthy cooking, nutrition, fermentation, foraging, gardening, rainwater catchment, composting, building tiny houses, etc.).  I already have three baccalaureate-level academic credentials; clearly I love reading and learning, but I am an autodidact at heart and prefer to direct my own education.

Unfortunately, however, my life situation at the moment is such that I simply cannot live like this and still meet my financial needs, meager though they are.

I live simply, in a tiny urban apartment, by choice.  I don’t drive (also by choice).  I don’t drink or smoke.  I have no kids or pets.  I take care of my health and am relatively healthy for a middle-aged American woman of middle-class background.  Money is simply a means to a more important end for me: a life worth living.  I have done everything I can to simplify my life greatly and reduce the amount of income I need, in order that I might avoid jobs as much as possible and focus all my attention on writing and other underappreciated work that doesn’t pay much but is essential to a fulfilling and meaningful life for me.

However, I am also single, I lack health insurance, and I live in the USA.  In this country, people who do not have health care coverage through a spouse or employer are pretty much left to fend for themselves.  I’m eligible for my state’s low-income plan, but I’ve been on the waiting list a long time, and there isn’t enough funding for everyone who needs it, so I’m out of luck for the time being.  Fortunately, I haven’t had any urgent, severe health crises ever since I lost access to health insurance through a divorce.

Even if I continue to go without health insurance – which I have done for two years now; I go to community clinics for the low-income and homeless whenever I have medical needs – I can’t stay free of jobs and the need for money all by myself.  None of us really can, no matter how simply we live.  Even monks and nuns who live in monasteries and take vows of poverty accept alms, donations and patronage from the lay community.

Finding a way to live indefinitely without a job if you are single – especially in a country with an ailing economy, and in which you have a high chance of facing bankruptcy if you ever contract a serious illness –  is not at all an easy task.  At the moment, my circumstances are such that I do not have the wherewithal to pull it off.  Divorce and economic recession have wreaked havoc in my life.  I have no financial assets left; my assets are my education, skills, relationships, and the belongings in my home.  Under these circumstances, it doesn’t matter whether or not I want a job; I must continue to look for one.  And I am hardly the only highly educated person my age from a culturally middle-class background who is dealing with a situation like this.  In fact, my situation is still quite fortunate compared to that of some of my friends.  The middle class is collapsing.

Does this make me a hypocrite?  Perhaps, if your worldview doesn’t allow room for the various complexities and nuances of individual lives that resist easy categorisation, or if you are blind to the way social and economic systems shape individuals’ behaviour in ways they cannot control.

But so what?  So what if I’m a hypocrite, and can’t maintain pristine ideological purity?  Does that mean what I write about has no value, and can therefore be easily dismissed?

A reminder: This isn’t about me.  My critiques are not meant to call attention to me, except to the extent that I can use my own life experiences as a window onto larger and more important issues.  My critiques are intended to call attention to the toxic job culture and work ethic, as well as the money system.  These are interdependent complex systems.  I criticise these systems even as I am forced to work within them to provide for my basic necessities in life.  And I am not perfect.  Maintaining a critical awareness in the face of ongoing resistance and lack of support is a far bigger challenge than it may seem to onlookers.  Sometimes I, too, fall into traps such as rationalising.  After all, it’s far easier to rationalise than it is to fully accept the reality that I am not truly free to work in the way I wish to (free of jobs, and within a gift culture as much as possible).  This is painful, but nonetheless, my task of the moment appears to be: learn to live with the contradictions inherent in this way of life.  I live in two worlds at once: I rely on the “old” systems even as I faithfully envision and promote “new” ones.

How do we uncouple ourselves from these toxic systems?  How do we free ourselves from wage slavery?  The answer: Partially.  One step at a time.  Cooperatively.  With the help of one another, the land, and our communities.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We cannot do this in isolation.  We do not make our task any easier when we spend our energy criticising others’ hypocrisy instead of strengthening our alliances and helping one another.

New blog title: Rethinking the Job Culture

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll note that it is no longer called Radical Unjobbing.  The URL will remain the same, as will the What is Radical Unjobbing? page.  But hereafter, I will refer to this blog by its new name:

Rethinking the Job Culture.**

The change came about after I spent some time pondering the range of responses I have received whenever new acquaintances find out that I’m a writer, and ask what I write about.

I noticed something interesting about these conversations: most often, I would feel very hesitant to tell my querents right off the bat that one of my main projects is a blog entitled “Radical Unjobbing” and a book manuscript with a similar theme (working title: On the Leisure Track: Creating Radical Alternatives to Conventional Employment.)  Usually, I would just respond that I am working on a long-term book project about “philosophy of work and leisure.”  That description provided enough information about the subject matter to answer the question, and did so in a way that rarely resulted in further questioning, except perhaps by other hardcore philosophy nerds whose interest had been piqued.

But why, I asked myself, did I always hesitate to mention that my blog was called Radical Unjobbing, and why did I so often describe my work in a way that discouraged further questions?  After all, this is a project that is very close to my heart; it’s a labour of love in every conceivable sense.  I believe in it.  Why shouldn’t I be singing its praises, so to speak, whenever I have a chance?

That line of questioning helped me realize that it was time for Radical Unjobbing to adopt a new name.

Why?  Because inviting further questioning is exactly what I want to do.  Yet the old name was somehow working at cross-purposes.

I want to create a space for deeper questions and ongoing respectful dialogue.  I want to encourage critical thinking of the sort that is rigorous, heart-centered, and spiritually motivated.  I want to do my part to encourage our culture to get past our initial resistance to the notion of a way of life that isn’t centered around jobs and earning money.  I want to explore as fully as possible the terrain that lies beyond our job-centered ways of thinking and living.

But I don’t want to preach only to the choir.  I don’t want to shout into an echo chamber.  And I really don’t want to get sidetracked into fractious political arguments about anarchism and libertarianism and capitalism and socialism and objectivism and The System and The Man and left vs. right and corporate greed and who’s greener than whom.  After many years on the Internet, I have concluded that a good number of these “discussions” are mostly a waste of valuable time, especially as they tend to degenerate into name-calling with astonishing rapidity.

There are all sorts of erroneous and half-baked ideas floating around out there about what a “radical” is, and these ideas bear little resemblance to the heart of what I am writing about.  Too often, I noticed that people’s knee-jerk responses to the idea of a blog called Radical Unjobbing would simply reinforce their existing biases – whether for or against – about the word “radical.”  The name came across to most people as challenging and confrontational in tone.  This worked against my larger purpose of creating more opportunities for productive, respectful dialogue in which no one is trying to change anyone’s mind or convince them of anything – rather, we are simply telling each other our stories, and using these stories to critically examine the job culture in all its manifestations.

Biases are a simple fact of life; we all have them.  However, I wanted to minimise the chances of having those pre-existing biases dissuade anyone from reading my blog – or from at least giving it a chance.  So the blog now has a new title.  It’s a title that better reflects my deeper intentions, and it’s one that I will not hesitate to discuss openly, even in casual conversations.  Yay!

Thanks, readers, for your support!

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**Bibliophile corner:

Readers who are familiar with Claire Wolfe’s work will note that the phrase “job culture” is also used with similar intent in her fascinating 2005 book How to Kill the Job Culture Before it Kills You: Living a Life of Autonomy in a Wage-Slave Society.  While I don’t agree with everything she writes, this is a courageous and thought-provoking book, and I am very grateful to her for writing it.  (I also loved the way she autographed my copy with “To D.J. – May your life always belong to you.  Claire Wolfe.”)

I am also grateful to Michael Fogler for writing another book I love, and one that happened to come into my life just when I needed it most – Un-Jobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook.  I bought the first edition of this book in 1996 just after its release, and I vividly recall how it affected me at the time.  In 1994, I had read Your Money or Your Life – a personal finance book that would later become very influential – and while I found it impressive and inspiring in many ways, I also felt some nebulous misgivings about many aspects of the investment-oriented approach, as well as the entire concept of “financial independence”.  (I would argue that there is no such thing as “financial independence” or “self-sufficiency.”  Those are simply concepts, with no real substance. We are all interdependent. I will have more to say on this topic in later entries.)

After devouring Fogler’s visionary book voraciously, however, I shouted enthusiastically to no one in particular: “YES!  Sane people live!”  I don’t agree with everything Fogler writes, either, but I found his book very cogent, and it put into words something deeply radical – something I myself had been struggling to articulate for a long time.  A couple of years later, in 1998, I founded Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (a/k/a whywork dot org).  Then, in 2010, I named this blog Radical Unjobbing, partly in honour of Fogler’s work.

These authors’ influence on my own work is most gratefully acknowledged.