The Abolition of Work

I’ve already briefly talked about creativity as social progress, but I think there is more to be said on this topic.

I said I would come back to Bob Black’s The Abolition of Work. In his essay, Black also discusses the contradiction between capitalist work, which he sees as uncreative, and any pretense of freedom:

The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other’s control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called “insubordination,” just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation.

…People who are regimented all their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.

Creativity is undesirable in our capital-democratic societies, because their good functioning is predicated on class subservience, and creative action is at best a nuisance in that regard (if only insofar as it gives people the idea that they’re actually able to accomplish something of their own). But creativity is necessary for the survival of a free society, because without it there can be no development of our capacity to relate with each other and the world as a whole. In a capital-democratic society, progress is the realm of technocrats, who in their wisdom or grant money determine the optimal means to accelerate production, produce new weapons, or justify their existence. In a free society, progress is an evolutionary tree of possibilities.

Although there may not be any apparent connection, the concept of the true self is very relevant here, since it is mainly through our social roles that our free will is bent or occluded. They instill in us routines of thoughts and actions, indoctrinate us with numerous norms and rules, all of which force us to converge in singular directions and to conform to a specific model (to be normalized for the reigning institutions and systems). The role of creativity in such a society is to break out of these social roles and try to make people realize that there are other ways to live.

Unfortunately such attempts are vastly unsuccessful because most people are too personally aberrated to seriously consider social change of such magnitude. One example of this is the movement for homosexual relationships. Michel Foucault pointed out the problem with simply expanding the norm:

[I]f you ask people to reproduce the marriage bond for their personal relationship to be recognized, the progress made is slight. We live in a relational world that institutions have considerably impoverished. Society and the institutions which frame it have limited the possibility of relationships because a rich relational world would be very complex to manage. We should fight against the impoverishment of the relational fabric.

The Social Triumph of the Sexual Will, p38

His point applies not only to the relational world, but also to the economic world, the political world, the religious world, the emotional world, and any other world of interactions within the individual, between individuals, or between individuals and the rest of the world. The necessary consequence of the imposition of social roles is a general impoverishment of all dynamics of society. We should fight against it, but we can’t, because our capital-democratic blinders prohibit us from even being able to imagine a pluralistic society.

Anarchists and other radicals also have a tradition of publicly breaking social roles and showing some of the possibilities that exist under the “solid ground” of shared models. They are therefore well familiar with creativity as a tool of deconstruction. But in this necessary deconstruction we are also made to see the possibilities.

The Diggers, just to take one example, were deconstructing consumeurism and the social roles associated with it, but at the same time their Free Stores and their other radical “theatrical” actions showed the viable possibilities that lie beyond capitalism, because they were actually implementing these ideas and integrating them to the larger social context. Radical revolutions (such as the Spanish Revolution or the ‘68 Revolution) have provided living instances of whole societies, with all the facets that this implies, exploring the alternatives, pushing beyond the margins of discourse and actually creating a better world.

It does not surprise anyone that creative people tend to be non-conformists. Since creativity can only exist when people are open to possibilities and open to themselves, it’s natural for creative people to reject that which seeks to stamp out those possibilities and stamp out self-awareness. And of course the exploration of the vast margins of mainstream thought is always bound to offend.

In the courageous individual, creativity manifests itself as heroism, taking action against legitimized oppression and exploitation. We rightly say that people like Oskar Schindler, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are heroes because they dared to stand up to widely accepted injustice, because they dared to stand up against mainstream conformity and complicity with the crimes of the power elite and its elaborate mechanisms of compliance. Heroism is highly creative because it requires one to not only imagine an ideal, but to create ways to bring it about.

Any organization, movement or society which seeks to improve the lives of its members, but suppresses creativity, is bound to failure. Any organization, movement or society which seeks to control people must ruthlessly suppress creativity at all levels in order to survive. It must ruthlessly suppress it in the infant, in the student, in the worker, in the believer, in the mainstream, in the marginalized. It must ruthlessly suppress any new center of creativity wherever it finds them, whenever possible, and whatever survives must be co-opted and absorbed in the existing system.

The concept of creativity has wide-ranging social importance, affecting areas like work (obviously), education, public spaces, child-raising, relationships, religion, self-criticism, polycentric norms, attire and attitude, and so on. So the natural question is, what would a society based on creativity look like? What principles should it be based on?

It’s really hard to tell what such a society would be like, because we really have no idea what being free would be like in the first place. As I’ve pointed out before, our points of reference are so aberrated that we can have no more a definite concept of freedom than an ant can have a definite concept of “human being.” All they can do is point in its direction (”up”). The same is true for us. We can give basic principles that can lead us closer to it, but anything more is pure speculation at best, and self-serving utopianism at worse.

If we started by raising an entirely new group of children, with no hierarchical parenting or normalizing indoctrination, what would the resulting society, a whole society composed of people who have no aberrations and are innately loving and compassionate, look like? Probably very much different from our own. For instance, it’s hard to imagine that a whole society made of people whose instincts have been nurtured instead of suppressed, and have naturally learned to detect honesty and dishonesty, would put up with the politics game. So their discourse on social issues would be most likely far more pragmatic and down-to-earth than our own.

As Eric Hoffer points out in his book The True Believer, it is when a totalitarian regime starts to loosen up its grip that rebellion is its most fierce. A little bit of freedom to be creative, just feeling free to imagine new possibilities, is enough to engender more of itself. The more creativity that already exists and is nurtured, the more there will be.

From a state of linear logic, creativity is encouraged by breaking up normality, and giving everyone some power over a given area. The Internet is a good example of both, since it gives people a power of communication which they never had before, and also breaks down the normal logic by which we relate to each other.

The principle of distributing power is also applicable to any new society, obviously. The general principle of giving everyone an area of influence and giving everyone a say in the general workings of the society as a whole are no-brainers. The mutualist agenda is very much in line with this principle: by abolishing the profit motive as well as the land and money monopolies, mutualists want to make it possible for everyone to participate in the economy (or to isolate themselves from it, if they so choose) in the way they desire, creating new possibilities beyond the immoral, single-minded profit-making optimization paradigm.

I think we have to go away from ideologies which define freedom as a passive idea of “non-coercion,” and realize that freedom is an active process of creation, whether it be the creation of ways to fight the current capital-democratic system or the creation of new ways to live. Without this process of creation, any pretense of freedom is akin to a cult’s brainwashed believers claiming they are free to leave at any time: a claim that can only be true because one has been indoctrinated to believe it is true.

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