What is Radical Unjobbing?

“…a person who is radical is one who examines the roots of issues. And a radical solution to a problem is one that arises from that examination, addressing what we sometimes call the root cause, rather than the more superficial symptoms.”
– Wendy Priesnitz, “On the Meaning of Radical

D. JoAnne Swanson here, freelance writer and radical unjobber.

Wondering what radical unjobbing is all about?  Then please read on!  I hope to inspire you to explore this question in depth. I put this site together in order to share resources and support with folks who are seeking radical alternatives to conventional employment.

Why would we need such alternatives, and why are they radical?  Well, for starters, I believe that our culture is in the early stages of a systemic shift – we might even call it a recession that may never end – in which jobs as we know them are “going away,” and we, collectively, need to figure out how we are going to navigate this change.  Jobs are already very scarce and are likely to become even more scarce as global financial and ecological crises continue apace.

I also believe that “job creation,” often touted as THE answer to widespread unemployment, has some fundamental flaws that are far too often overlooked.  There is a lot of talk exhorting people to just GET A JOB – any job! – and be grateful for it, regardless of what it involves or how destructive the work may be.  But while having a job within an extractive economy that is parasitic on our land base might provide money that helps us survive, it also costs us a great deal – not just financially (though that is definitely a factor) but ecologically, socially, spiritually, and psychologically.  I have often asked myself: What is wrong with our model of work such that the costs of having a job are so often overlooked, minimised, or outright denied?  (And why is it that when this model is questioned, one of the first barriers we face is accusations that we are “just lazy”?)

My research has led me to the inescapable conclusion that the entire model of having a job – in the sense of supporting ourselves solely by working for an employer in the wage economy – is ripe for reconsideration.  As more and more of us are set adrift from having a job in the officially sanctioned formal economy, it behooves us to start thinking seriously about how we are going to provide for ourselves outside the bounds of conventional jobs.  We need to start forming alliances within our local communities – radical unjobbing networks, if you will – in order to reconnect with the land and develop alternative, interdependent ways of sustaining ourselves, as we are rapidly heading into a world where many of us who have grown accustomed to bringing home a paycheck may never find a “good” job again.

Must this be reason for despair?  Not in my book.  While I certainly don’t wish unemployment-related suffering upon anyone, I also see no reason to shame anyone who yearns for freedom from jobs and a life driven by the demands they make. In fact, I have been a principled “job-avoider” for much of my life for positive, spiritual, ecologically driven and life-affirming reasons.  I prefer to think of myself as “job-free,” rather than unemployed.  For much of my life I have done the vast majority of the work that supports me outside the confines of a 9-to-5 paid job, and I invite you to join me.

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RADICAL UNJOBBING is a process of deeply, critically, and systematically rethinking the job culture, the money system, and the entire concept of conventional employment in which “having a job” means working for an employer in the wage economy.

RADICAL UNJOBBERS are people from all walks of life who work together to envision, develop, and promote practical alternatives to the way of life in which people are expected to support themselves by selling their time to an employer for money.

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Radical unjobbing is about much more than a lifestyle change in which you quit your job or retire early.  It’s about much more than sustainable living or business opportunities outside the 9-to-5 grind.  It can be approached in these ways (and many others), but it isn’t limited to a set of specific behaviours.  It’s an ongoing process of commitment to change, and it usually starts with asking questions like “Why work? or “What is leisure?”

Lots of radical unjobbers quit their jobs, start their own businesses, or otherwise leave behind the world of formal employment…but paradoxically, it’s also possible  – and sometimes even preferable – to be engaged in radical unjobbing while still holding a conventional job.  At heart, radical unjobbing is a perspective – a way of re-examining assumptions and ideas about work, jobs, leisure, money, social justice, and other interrelated subjects.  My specialty, as a thinker and writer, is helping you find ways to dig deeper, such as:

  • Questioning our culture’s norms and fundamental assumptions about jobs and work
  • Exploring the dynamic interactions between the job culture and you as an individual
  • Understanding how your own beliefs and attitudes about work affect your life
  • Preparing for a future in which more and more of our work is done largely outside of the framework of the wage economy

Radical unjobbing is also a kind of ecologically inspired conceptual framework, or a “lens” through which I have come to view the world.  It is informed by, among other things, my North American middle-class academic upbringing, my age (mid-40s), my personal and family job history, and my European (Swedish and German) ancestry.  It’s also heavily informed by what I have learned from:

I make no claims to completeness, relevance of my ideas for your specific situation, or ideological purity of any kind.  As always, I encourage readers to use their critical thinking skills in order to evaluate the material here and draw their own conclusions.  I am being up-front about my worldview in detail because, like my feminist foremothers, I believe that:

1)     There is no such thing as a completely objective or neutral point of view.  Or, as Derrick Jensen puts it: “All writers are propagandists.”

2)     Being aware of and explicitly identifying one’s point of view is an important component of intellectual honesty and respect for one’s readers.

I make no secret of the fact that I believe radical unjobbing is not a path for the faint of heart.  There are no quick fixes here.  It’s not just about quitting your job or attaining “financial independence.”  (I don’t believe in “financial independence” at all, actually, and I don’t believe that everyone can find a job they love.)  I believe that the desire for freedom from the job culture has very deep structural, ecological, social, and psychological roots – much deeper, in fact, than most of us imagine when we first start asking  “Why work?” and answering that question with “Because I need the money.”

If you set out to explore this path in earnest, and stick with it over time, it will call for fortitude, patience and courage.  You may be taken into some deep places inside yourself and into the dark heart of our culture as you unravel, layer by layer, just how deep the job culture conditioning goes, and just how thoroughly entrenched are the forces of the status quo.  Quitting a job and figuring out how to get by without a salary can be just the beginning!  Radical unjobbing is a transformative, lengthy and challenging process; there are no quick fixes, and I would be doing you a disservice if I were to put forth false promises that make this sound easier than it actually is.  The job culture is a complex system with many dimensions:

  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Socio-cultural
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Practical
  • Ecological
  • Mental

Furthermore, there are tenacious social, political and economic forces working against those of us who decide to walk the path of radical unjobbing in a deep and committed way.  Sometimes the magnitude of the changes necessary can feel overwhelming, and at those times it’s all one can do just to keep it together and maintain a basic level of awareness.  This is part of the process, and not a reason to give up.

None of this is meant to scare you off or discourage you from taking steps toward quitting your job or working toward freedom from the job culture.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  It is my hope that an awareness of the hazards and demands of this quest will better equip you to deal with the inevitable ebb-and-flow process of leaving behind beliefs and habits that keep us stuck, and adopting healthier, more ecologically sound ways of life.

As someone who appreciates the mystical, the scholarly, and the creative in equal measure, I do my best to integrate all these dimensions into my work as a radical unjobber.  Here is the prayer I say, whenever I sit down to write:

May the words I write serve the greatest good of all who read them, and may they help us build a beautiful and thriving culture of joyful leisure, work, and sustenance within a context of community interdependence and deep ecological wisdom.

Accordingly, if I’ve done my work well, I hope that it will speak to the best in you – heart, mind, body and soul alike.  I write not to provide facile answers, but to inspire principled resistance to the job culture on all fronts, to encourage deeper questioning of the status quo, and to support stronger, more resilient relationships and interdependent land-based community alliances.

I appreciate your interest, attention and support.  Please remember that I cannot adequately answer questions about how to survive, make money, or support your family after you quit your job.  Keep in mind that I have spent a good deal of my own life experimenting with various ways to survive outside the confines of jobs and the money economy, and although I live quite simply by North American middle-class standards, I have not succeeded.  I have also come to believe that only partial withdrawal is possible for most people at this time.  What I can do is offer my thoughts, ideas, and experiences through my writing, in the hopes that you will find them useful or inspiring.  But you are the only one who can answer questions about what to do for yourself.  I’m here to share ideas; that is my role.  Let’s build a culture of radical unjobbing networks together, as interdependent communities, one day at a time.  My best advice to people who want to know how to survive without a job?  Learn how to listen to the land, and let it guide you.

If these words resonate with you, you can offer your support by spreading the word: linking to this blog, quoting excerpts from it on other sites, or referring to it in conversations.  My work may be re-posted elsewhere according to the terms of my Creative Commons license; please attribute it to me, “D. JoAnne Swanson,” and provide a link back to this site.

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Thanks for reading this, and thank you for visiting my site!

One Response

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