Recommended Reading: Ethan Miller – Occupy, Connect, Create

Victorian bookshelfIt’s been many months since my last update here. I still keep up the Facebook page a bit more frequently, but since I’ve been getting a few e-mail queries lately about the status of this blog, I should be clear about the reason for the lack of updates.  Most of my limited writing time is being devoted to my Pagan blog, The Black Stone Hermitage, and to my current book manuscript on dark ambient music and culture.  Rethinking the Job Culture is NOT going away, though; I’ve only put it on the back burner for awhile.  I’ll continue to post things here once in awhile, and eventually – probably a few years down the road – you will see my focus re-directed to this project.

Since I won’t have any new material from my own hand to post here for awhile, I’ll take the liberty of occasionally sharing things written by others that I appreciate.  On top of that list is the work of Ethan Miller.  He and Charles Eisenstein are the two writers I know about at the moment whose work seems most aligned with my vision for Rethinking the Job Culture.

Ethan Miller’s brilliant and inspiring article Occupy, Connect, Create receives my highest recommendation.  I printed out a copy in 2011, and have come back to it many times for reference ever since.

Here’s a taste:

“Many of us who once relied on the basic economic institutions of our societies–education, employment, healthcare, public infrastructure, retirement, social assistance in times of need–are confronting the brutal reality that such faith is no longer merited. Meanwhile, the “experts” poised to deal with this mess are working in the service of the very institutions that profit from it.

“And what if these experts could “fix” our economy? What if we could convince them to “curb the excesses of Wall Street” and get our economic engine “back on track”? This demand would ignore the fact that the very success of the capitalist market economy–the ways in which it has seemingly provided so many with so much in so short a time–is built on violence and plunder. […]

“The sorcery of capitalist economics is precisely to make its own violence invisible, so that it can appear to be nothing but the miraculous liberator of human potential and the progressive deliverer of ever-abundant goods. And there is a disturbingly good reason for us to give in to this illusion: most of us are dependent on the very economy that has systematically exploited us and undermined the health of our communities and our environments. We have come to rely on the very “job creators” (that new euphemism for exploiters) whose project of profiting at our expense we condemn. We have come to need the very economic growth machine that is eating our world and destabilizing our planetary climate in the name of “progress.”

“We can no longer ignore the immense challenge at the heart of this moment in history: We are trapped in patterns of life on which we have come to depend, but which we must fundamentally transform as a matter of our very survival. How do we acknowledge our dependence, and address the needs that it gives rise to, while also imagining and constructing new forms of freedom? […]

“The economy” is a way of thinking and experiencing the world in which our power and agency is robbed from us…This economy was constructed by processes of enclosure, where people were forcibly separated from their means of subsistence (land, community, tools and skills) and pushed into dependence on wage-jobs and commodity purchases. […]

“It is not a naïve notion of “dropping out” (as if everyone had the privilege to do this, or the privilege to choose otherwise), or a dreamy hope of evading hard work and struggle. It is, rather, about recognizing that the work of breaking out of our dependence is a necessary site for our creative action. […]

“We must shift from simply asking how we might create more (or better) jobs to asking about how we can progressively create the conditions in which we no longer need them.

“…how can we begin to build a world in which the unpaid labor of birthing, parenting, caring for elders, building community, creating art, working for justice, and defending and restoring our ecosystems can be supported as shared social goods? What forms of accounting would make this work and its value publicly visible? […]

“And second, how do we re-common the enclosures that created our dependency on wage-work in the first place? […] Life beyond “jobs” is not for everyone, and nor does it need to be. But it must become an ever-more available option. […]

“Do we know how to make this possible? Not yet.

“But we can say this: It is time to launch the largest explosion of practical experimentation that our society has ever seen.”

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.