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Alienation and Busy Work

March 17, 2011

WORK SUCKS. Objectively. It’s provable. As my father says, “If it was fun it wouldn’t be called ‘work.'” Earlier today when I began conceiving of this post, working things out in my head — using mind power that rightfully belonged to my employer, that had been paid for, which should have been applied to solving the problems of the project on my table, earmarked for getting shit done — I was gazing out the window at the sunlight pressing against the trees and ground, at azure sky dappled with only the occasional non-threatening fluffy cloud. The first really nice day in the waning moments of a Maine winter, an encouraging harbinger of spring.

Point being, I was stuck at work without the sense of freedom to leave early and enjoy the afternoon. Sure, I could have whipped up a plausible reason to abscond with the last few hours of the boss man’s time, but not without a nagging sense of obligation. And no, the absurdity of this sense isn’t lost on me, considering the recent acknowledgment that obligation is FAKE!

I am not a free man! I exist in a state of servitude. And I don’t say these things without a strong sense of how fortunate I am in many respects compared to most of the world’s people, a sense of my own privilege, but the ease and the comforts I was once accustomed to living with, even heedless of, have been in steady, sustained decline over the last few years. Which imparts a rapidly increasing sense of uncertainty. It has come to the point where I now experience life as oppression. This isn’t a call for a Pity Party for Old Montag! But it does get a person to thinking. You know how much human beings hate uncertainty!

There are a couple of aspects of alienation the malcontent must come to terms with here in Post Cold War America that I’d like to discuss. And I imagine this is true, and even more so, anywhere people are put to work in service of The Global Economy. This will tie in with the model of human needs and power we started elaborating here previously.

What does Old Montag need, you know, to keep on keepin’ on?

  1. Oxygen
  2. Shelter
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. A sense that the above will be available for all foreseeable time.
  6. HUGS and time spent with family and friends.
  7. A sense that family and friends value what I have to offer them.
  8. A sense of my own that what I have to offer my family and friends is of value.
  9. Exercise and recreation.
  10. The opportunity to engage in intellectual and/or creative pursuits. (Thinking thoughts, writing shit like this, practicing music, poorly executed collage work…)

So far so good, on numbers one through four. Numbers five and seven and eight? Well there’s where that uncertainty comes into play. Number six: locked down. Numbers nine and ten are fought for constantly in a struggle against what Guy Debord terms pseudo cyclical time, or spectacular time.

Why don’t I have time to cut and paste Godzilla into one of Van Gogh’s wind blown wheat fields? It just doesn’t seem fair, DOES IT?

Alienation. The five days a week going to that sucky job, devoting at least nine and a half hours a day, and the many evenings (when the opportunity presents itself) of ‘working on the side,’ aren’t spent gathering or growing food, nor maintaining my shelter, nor spending quantity time with the family. That time is spent in alienation.

I’m involved in construction projects: Office buildings I don’t work in, schools my kids don’t attend, stores and restaurants that I don’t care to patronize, homes I will never have the means to live in. These aren’t the cathedrals of our times. There is nothing monumental or lasting about them, and so seldom do they have any aesthetic merit whatsoever. They’re kitsch. They’re disposable.

What I do for a living is busy work. I’m the Army recruit told to dig a trench, fill it in, then dig another one. Build a Wal-Mart! Now a bigger one on the other side of town! Now remodel the small one so some other business can move in to it!

Most people are engaged this and other similar busy work. Let’s face it.

When all of that busy work is done at the end of the week, do you get your food and clothes then? NO! You get fake money. Not even that, you might notice the numbers change on a ledger somewhere that your bank takes care of. You trust them to do that. Then it’s off to the marketplace, into the Spectacle, to finally tend more directly to your basic needs.

Why is one’s daily activity so far removed from necessity? From direct attendance to their needs? And why is there so much fucking time involved? How many hours a day did hunter-gatherers spend in toil?

I am embroiled in this alienating system of life, and feeling helpless. With the declining state of national and world affairs, it seems as though the ride is coming to an end. It’s time to own the dread, considering my one greatest skill is busy work. The task of cultivating survival skills for the future is a daunting one. Mean ol’ world is kicking my ass!

Gardening advice and strategies for holding on to my family’s domicile after the economy blows up are welcome!

[Just a couple of extra closing thoughts after the jump.]

To go along with the dichotomy JR Boyd has brilliantly laid out, (here and here,) you could say this post has dealt, in the main, with the alienation experienced at work, while a future re-working of an old, embarrassingly bad post about invented needs will cover the alienation experienced in the market place. Boyd has used the term “at home” for the latter category, but I’d rather figure out how people can carve out a third category which could more aptly called “at home”: basically the moments one can eke out for the really good stuff, (number six and up on the list of needs,) in between time spent toiling for the boss man, and time spent in the marketplace, traversing the spectacle, converting wages into, you know, something of actual value.

And lastly, to elaborate on what I mean by fake money, I’ll plagiarize one of my own comments left with BDR:

…gold and off-shore accounts? FAKE. if you can’t eat it, filter drinkable water through it, make clothes, build a house or kill a motherfucker with it, it has no value. though you could prolly fashion some basic tools out of the gold if it came down to it.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Crow permalink
    March 17, 2011 10:18 PM

    Pardon my Mohawk, Montag, but fuck the fuck yeah! This is worth reading over and over again. I don’t mean to celebrate your alienation – but you have rendered it into art.

  2. March 18, 2011 9:51 AM

    Great. Now that you didn’t advance our GNP 0.0000000000000000007, the Libyans will surely win the future. And if you have a brick of gold, you could probably kill a motherfucker with it if you clock him or her on the skull real hard.

  3. March 18, 2011 11:08 AM

    Incredible post, Montag. I love your suggested redefinition of “at home.”

    I also like your willingness to point to old writings of yours that you now find embarrassing–the ability to see the evolution of viewpoints over time is one of the (potential) strengths of the blug form.

  4. March 18, 2011 12:00 PM

    I liked how you said it at IOZ’s — something about the money being fake and thus the people who shill (Woody Mattchuck) also should be fake. I think realizing the scope of fakeness makes the transition to reality easier. Not less painful, but easier.

  5. BDR permalink
    March 18, 2011 12:41 PM

    Also, when talking about fake, don’t forget kayfabe. Would anyone ever expect Yglesias to break it?

    Bmpthnx too.

    • March 18, 2011 1:13 PM

      fascinating. hadn’t heard that term before, but a quick perusal of the wikipedia page has got the wheels turning. will work it into the lexicon.

      i do wonder if Yglesias is actually in on the joke though.

  6. March 18, 2011 1:35 PM

    I’ve enjoyed your comments on other blogs but I think this is the first time I’ve actually checked out your own blog. (Justin’s sidebar linked here today.)

    I really enjoyed reading this — again, not enjoying your discomfort, but sympathizing. Right on. My old magazine “Processed World” focused strongly on the themes of alienation and fakery in the workplace. I really wish those themes would stop being relevant, someday.

    Meanwhile, you ask where to pick up survival and living skills for after the crash. Head on over to
    First of all he has very keen political/cultural analysis, even though I have quibbled with his actual mathematics sometimes.
    But more to the point, he often posts about how suburbanites can be more self-sufficient and in harmony with nature. Check out his posts two or three weeks ago about home insulation.

    The archdruid started or participates in a “wiki” called “Green Wizards” which is devoted to this topic.
    I haven’t really perused it much… (having done a lot of camping as a kid, I already have a few of these skills…) but I really intend to explore it in-depth, at some point before the economy crashes. (The big crash is scheduled for Thursday after next, right? I still have a couple of weeks.) ;)

    • March 20, 2011 12:32 PM

      thanks for visiting and for the links. difficult stuff to read and think about. depressing. i reckon got to be done though.

  7. March 20, 2011 2:22 PM

    You’re not alone, that’s for sure. And rolling with idea of the supreme importance of our relationships and our purpose within them, you have inspired and will continue to do so – in spite of all our obstacles in life.

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