I am reminded of Hakim Beyís quote. Work is the single most oppressive reality we face. Far more than legislative politics and the evils of the Bush regime, it is work which makes us miserable. It is work that corrupts our daily lives. It is work which exhuasts us, drains us of creativity, and lobotomizes us with boredom.
This is, in fact, the big elephant in the living room. Its the subject no politician-- Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green, will address. They all speak of employment as a positive-- as a boon to humanity- as a solution to our problems. But for most of us, employment is the problem.
Barnes & Noble: Everyday I stood for eight, nine, ten hours. By the end of a shift my back screamed in pain, my knees hurt, and my ankles ached. I asked the manager for a stool to sit on but he said ìchairs and stools are against company policyî. Other employees, usually older than me, suffered substantially more.
But the physical discomfort was mild compared to the mental agony of motony. For most of my day I stood and repeated the same simple tasks... scan books, flash a fake smile, collect cash. Company literature assured me that I was a valuable ìassociateî. Yet ìassociatesî were not allowed to make any decision. For every customer question, for every customer complaint, for every returned item, we had to call a manager. Irritated customers fidgeted as we waited for a supervisor to put their signature to even the most straightforward return.
Overhead, cameras monitored our every move. But the music was perhaps the worst aspect of the job. The same music repeated day after day. Employees were not allowed to bring music or suggest selections. Each song at Barnes & Noble was a piece of revenue- music companies paid the company to play their songs in hopes of boosting sales. From California to Georgia, the same banal tripe pipes from the chainís stores. But it could be worse. At Senor Wraps, in Greenville, SC, hidden microphones record every employee conversation. This is done, according to the company, for ìquality controlî.
Monotony, standardization, efficiency, low pay, obedience, surveillance. These are the hallmarks of the American job market. Alan Watts wrote, ìmost people are paid to put up with monotonyî. He was right.