November 08, 2005


Typically thoughtful post from Eoghan at Scrabbling at the Lock in response to my remarks on unemployment. 'Work was something you were doomed to, a return to the miseries of school life with its uniforms, meaningless activity and arbitrary rules, and I did my best to delay its onset, to sabotage my suitability for employment,' he observes, concluding, ' If unemployment is no longer a viable option, then let me at least be underemployed.'

Nothing defines the Right so thoroughly as their detestation of welfare. The spurious economic rationale for this denigration does little to conceal its real libidinal basis: namely, the sense that They - the scroungers, the 'bogus asylum seekers', the immigrants - have stolen 'our' enjoyment. Work is deemed to have an absolute value: routinized exertion of whatever kind, no matter how useless, demeaning or even malevolent, must be thought of intrinsically good (this superstition, sadly, is widespread in the working class, as it would have to be). In this respect, it is interesting to reflect that part of the back story of Blunkett's second 'resignation' is the Labour Party's plans to 'reform' incapacity benefit, memorably described by the Independent last week as akin to the ravings of a demented Emperor. Blair wants to cut benefit by twenty pounds a week and, ludicrously, 'name and shame' doctors who write sick notes.

Weber famously speculated on the links between the Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Whatever the causal linkage, capitalism clearly cannot operate without an 'ethic' of quantitative increase that is literally pointless.

Traditionally, the Left has been insufficiently critical of this fetishization of labour. It is the likes of Andre Gorz (Critique of Economic Reason, Pathways to Paradise: On the Liberation from Work) and the Situatonists ('Never work') who have made underemployment a goal.

Posted by mark at November 8, 2005 10:53 PM | TrackBack