You’ve all heard about the r/antiwork subreddit? The following SMS exchange by one of the contributors goes to the heart of what may be an actual work-culture rebellion:
I’d like to say the employer in this example is next-tier asshole, but sadly this is normal for untold millions of workers. Great to see somebody take a stand, but it’s also a good example of the JADE principle: don’t justify, argue, defend or explain yourself — just say no. It would have ended the conversation, job intact. Self-respect is important, but so is paying the bills.
The subreddit received a boost with Farhad Manjoo’s column in the NYT last Friday, in which he opines that workers have (finally) had enough, and come to the realisation that “sometimes no job is better than a bad job“. Nice theory Farhad but, you know, what about the bills?
Having enjoyed that song by an artist who doesn’t exactly look malnourished, I gotta ask: just more theatrical wailing by work-shy First Worlders? I don’t see them knocking back jobs in Mumbai, Sarajevo or Ouagadougou. Of course, no American wants to work for a Burkinabe slumlord; easier/safer jobs, shorter days, higher wages and immoderate praise is what they want.
Given the choice, don’t we all?
Farhad’s conclusion: “I hope to keep this gig for a long time. It’s just that I now have space in my mind for a truth that my prepandemic workaholism never allowed me to consider — that even a dream job is still a job, and in America’s relentless hustle culture, we have turned our jobs into prisons for our minds and souls. It’s time to break free.“
Break free and do what? The utopian promise of automation replacing unnecessary human toil, leaving our species free to do anything it likes? Is that freedom? If humans can do anything they like, how many will do nothing at all except join subreddits to bitch about the next thing?
I’ll keep working, thanks. Not because I’m a stooge or a drone. I’ve always separated private from public, family from work, so I slipped Farhad’s prison decades ago. My wife laughs at how little I work, but I think she’s jealous. I never work overtime. I never volunteer for ‘career development’ opportunities. I’ll never stand with the hollow men telling stories about how I was somebody back when.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes optimistically predicted we’d be working four hour days by century’s end. In 2013, David Graeber noted the four hour days was possible, except for the unexpected rise of bullshit jobs: “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working.“
Keeping us all working — maybe that’s what r/antiwork has latched onto? Did somebody redpill their water-cooler? Because if “they” don’t keep us busy doing pointless bullshit jobs, then what great mischief might our idle minds make?
If this is the birth of something new, I hope those leading the charge remember it’s also the death of something ancient. Old, but not so old that it won’t rage violently against the dying of it’s light. We need the subreddit to coalesce all that inchoate rage and futile whimpering into something useful: We need a manifesto.