Friday, January 27, 2006

Double Lives: The Dilemma of Education and Work under Capitalism

By Matt Dineen

“Whatever you do, just don’t get stuck in a dead-end job.” These words had a powerful effect on me and have occupied my consciousness over the past seven years. It was the summer after my high school graduation and this advice was given to me while I was working in the mechanized bakery of a large grocery store chain. My coworker had been there for over 20 years and now, in the midst of back problems and middle-age, she was unhappy with her life and urged me not to make the same mistake.

I escaped that dead-end job in August to attend an increasingly respectable liberal arts college. Graduating four years later with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, I returned to the workforce with an education that provided me the opportunity to avoid getting “stuck.” But in the past two and a half years I have not succeeded in transcending wage-slavery. Rather, I have struggled with the collective dilemma of life under capitalism: How do we follow our passions while simultaneously survive? It is the challenge of life in the “real world,” in which we often have to neglect the things that are important to us in order to feed ourselves. It’s the reality of the artist who waits tables and the activist working for a big corporation. We are forced to compromise our true interests, what keeps us going, simply to make ends meet. We are resigned to the economic imperatives of survival.

Education is supposed to remedy this dilemma. The mythology of American class mobility is epitomized by the cliché, “I was the first in my family to go to college.” What function does education serve in a capitalist society? Does it really provide people with a chance to freely pursue their passions?

Unlike many of my friends growing up I had the privilege, thanks to financial aid and student loans, to attend college. Perhaps because of this I also experienced social pressure upon graduation to “do something with my education” and “find something in my field.” Being in this position has been difficult for me on two levels: First, like every other college graduate with no connection to the economic-political elite, it is not that simple to land an empowering and lucrative job right after school. Secondly, I have no desire to conform to a social construction of success that values wealth and power over personal wellbeing.

In his autobiography of his early years as writer, Hand to Mouth, Paul Auster articulates this dilemma describing the “double lives” that writers and artists must lead to survive in a capitalist society. “They earn good money at legitimate professions and carve out time for their writing as best they can: early in the morning, late at night, weekends, vacations.” In his personal rejection of this compromise he explains, “My problem was that I had no interest in leading a double life. It’s not that I wasn’t willing to work, but the idea of punching a clock at some nine-to-five job left me cold, utterly devoid of enthusiasm.” Auster continues: “I was in my early twenties, and I felt too young to settle down, too full of other plans to waste my time earning more money than I either wanted or needed. As far as finances went, I just wanted to get by.”

For me, this dilemma has translated into a string of alienating and menial jobs. While leading a “double life” I have been forced to segregate my passions from my work, my means for survival. I have carved out time for writing, music and activism but the sub-living wage jobs have drained my energy and inspiration. Last year I worked at a natural grocery cooperative stocking frozen foods and dairy products. One day I found myself on my knees in the walk-in storage refrigerator cleaning up a jar of pickles that I had dropped right before my shift ended. In that moment I knew that there had to be something more than this. I had to find something more meaningful to do with my life. But I have been unsuccessful in my applications to jobs that are “in my field.” From collectively-run bookstores to independent media organizations there are always a plethora of educated and qualified applicants in the same position as me desperately searching for something better.

This is not simply a “quarter-life crisis.” It is an issue that many people in our society deal with all their lives. My coworker in the bakery who warned me about getting stuck in a dead-end job has spent three decades separating her passions from a stifling 40 hour work week. Unlike me, she did not have the same access to resources that a college education provides. This has been a common story amongst working people throughout US history. So many people spend the majority of their lives at jobs they hate. Some carve out time to pursue higher education deep into middle-age in hope of creating a more rewarding life.

In response to a recent interview on Toward Freedom that I conducted with Pittsburgh activist Andalusia Knoll on “Redefining Work,” an inspired reader described this exact situation:

“I have been in the workforce since 1966, without any wealth to show for it. More importantly, the last few years (advertising encouraging people to buy more of what they don’t need) have been totally unfulfilling. At 55 years old, I went back to school to get a quick degree. I found out what I really missed was learning. So, I am going to grad school next year and will work part-time as necessary and perhaps seek a Ph.D. I also volunteer with Greater Philadelphia Cares and am much happier than I was getting and spending.”

The last job I had was at a coffeehouse in the small New England college town where I currently live. I found the work, ownership, and most of the clientele of the café oppressive and spiritually nauseating but I stuck with it because I needed a job. The other thing that kept me there were my amazing coworkers. They were all in similar places with their lives as I was—mostly college grads struggling to go somewhere bigger in this moment of personal transition. We were not simply baristas, dishwashers or counter help. When we weren’t making sandwiches, steaming lattes or cleaning toilets we were pursuing photography, massage therapy, poetry, radio production, journalism, and music—our true passions. Despite our boss’ contrived efforts to convince us otherwise, these were the things that were most important in our lives and the café was a mere stepping stone to something more.

In her book, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, Joanne B. Ciulla describes her similar experience with this transitional moment as she was advancing her education in pursuit of what she loved to do. She worked part-time in a restaurant when she wasn’t studying or teaching undergraduate courses in philosophy:

“I worked alongside a ballet dancer and a model. We all had great ambitions. The manager took sadistic delight in making fun of our aspirations and verbally abusing us. I don’t know what happened to the manager, but the dancer eventually went on to become a prima ballerina, the model ended up on the cover of Italian Vogue, and I landed a fellowship at the Harvard Business School.” Ciulla continues, “This experience helped me understand the relationship between hope and work. We can endure the worst of jobs, if it is reasonable to hope that the job will get us where we want to go or at least feed us along the way.”

This passage resonates so deeply with our collective experience of working at the aforementioned café. One day, one of my coworkers stood next to me as I washed dishes at the industrial sink in the back. She looked at me and stated, in a tone of disbelief and wonderment, “This is our life, Matt. This is what we are doing.” This seemingly simple statement contained enough meaning for me to fill volumes and volumes of books on the human condition.

This is our life. This is what we are doing.

Her relationship with work and hope was shaped by her passion for photography. In her double life outside of baking pastries she was creating a portfolio from photos developed in the dark room she built in her apartment. Along with another coworker, she was applying to graduate school for photography in hopes of escaping this job that was slowing us all down. This is an example of how education has the potential to liberate us from “dead-end” situations in which we are forced to compromise the pursuit of our passions.

Despite all of this, it is important to reiterate that it is still a privilege in this society to acquire such an education. Throughout history the power of the ruling, educated classes has depended on depriving the majority of the population such an education; hence the phrase: “Knowledge is power.” The social movements of the 20th Century were integral in democratizing education in the United States but this structural inequality is still in place today. Furthermore, we need to recognize and criticize the limitations and failures of existing educational institutions and their role in perpetuating these unequal power structures.

In my personal struggle to follow my passions in this complex society, I will forever remember the advice of my coworker that summer before I began my college education. I want to be conscious of my opportunities and privileges of which she was denied. In this struggle I will also be inspired by the words of Boris Pasternak:

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune.”
Matt Dineen is a freelance writer living in Northampton, MA.


caddy jeanne said...


keep it up.

let me know if you need help with the show...

Anonymous said...

All I can say AWESOME blog! The other half and I just got back from Home Depot and I needed a huge break. I am working on a project right now that is based on massage spa therapy. I have literally been on-line for 4-5 hours doing research. Even though your blog really isn�t on the same page as massage spa therapy I am certainly glad I came across your blog. There are a ton of great view points on this blog. Well I think I can here the kids calling in the background. I put you in my web favorites and I will certainly come back and visit. If you want to take a peek at my site you can find me here at massage spa therapy. I update my site very frequently.(as time permits!) Again, awesome job blogging and I will be back again soon!

daniel said...

Hi my friend! This is a good blog. I just got back home from shopping with the wife and decided to log in and do some internet surfing.(needed some time to myself if you know what I mean) I came across your blog and really enjoyed it. Not many people keep their blogs up to date and most of the blogs I do fine are not even relevant to the blog topic. I bookmarked your blog for future use.
Anyways keep up the awesome work and if you don�t mind I will forward your blog off to a few of my buddies. Thanks a bunch!massage therapy college

Stan said...

Welcome to the "Massage Article" Site. On this site we address many topics about massage that will
help you learn about the different types of massages and how they effect your body.Welcome to the "Massage" Site. On this site we address many topics that will
help you learn about the different types of massages and how they effect your body.

bleeder said...

Personally I agree with the last comment.Need to finish my article on massage therapy chair.Virgin Blogger,massage therapy chair.

woofer said...

I somewhat agree, but the question is why.Back to researching equine massage therapy.Keep up the good blog,equine massage therapy.

Anonymous said...

Classifieds for our community. Buy, sell, trade, date, events... post anything. Adquity Classifieds.

Anonymous said...

Classifieds for our community. Buy, sell, trade, date, events... post anything. Adquity Classifieds.

Anonymous said...

Great site about
unique home based business opportunity. I am bookmarking it.
Please also visit my site aboutunique home based business opportunity

viagra said...

If you are an erectile dysfunction patient and the disorder is wreaking havoc in your sex life then discuss your problem with a doctor as soon as possible. Once you approach a physician, the doctor is likely to provide you Viagra prescription which further entitles you to obtain Viagra from viagra stores. If you administer Viagra in accordance with medical instructions, bearing in mind all the essential Viagra side-effects and precaution details, you would find yourself considerably relieved from the shackles of impotency.

Anonymous said...

Generic Viagra
Online Generic Viagra
buy generic viagra cialis
Buy generic viagra cialis propecia
Buy generic cialis tadalafil
Generic cialis
Buy generic viagra sildenafil
Generic viagra
generic levitra
Buy generic levitra

sandra said...

Male erection problem is every where nowadays.So don't worry and simply follow a healthy lifestyle. If you still face performance blues ask your doctor for a buy viagra prescription.

SundayRose said...

Propecia is a one-a-day, FDA-approved, treatment for male pattern hair loss at the crown or in the middle of the scalp (androgenetic alopecia).

Anonymous said...

[url=]mexitil cheapest price[/url]

mollyabraham said...

Levitra (Vardenafil HCl) is an approved oral prescription medication for the treatment of Erectile Dysfunction, generally known as impotence, in men.

mollyabraham said...

Generic Cialis is the only drug which is not only fast acting (works in 30 minutes) but is also know to be effective for as long as 36 hours,

johnnysmith said...

Generic Cialis is consumed orally and has quickly become one of the most prescribed medications. Generic Levitra has been clinically proven to improve erectile function, even in men who had other health factors, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes

Anonymous said...

Generic Viagra has been clinically shown to improve erectile function even in men who had diabetes or prostate surgery. The pill contains this component that helps increase blood flow to the penis and may help men with ED get and keep an erection satisfactory for sexual activity.

Anonymous said...

generic viagra
generic viagra
online pharmacy
buy viagra
buy viagra online
generic viagra
generic cialis
generic viagra
buy cialis

Anonymous said...

Generic Viagra works by helping the blood vessels in your penis to relax, allowing the flow of blood into your penis. The result of this is improved erectile function. Generic Propecia is a medication used for the treatment of prostate cancer and pattern baldness in men. It is the main ingredient in two drugs – Proscar for prostate cancer and Propecia for pattern baldness. Viagra has been clinically shown to improve erectile function even in men who had diabetes or prostate surgery. The pill contains this component that helps increase blood flow to the penis and may help men with ED get and keep an erection satisfactory for sexual activity.

Anonymous said...

酒店經紀 酒店打工 酒店工作 酒店上班 酒店兼差 酒店兼職 打工兼差 打工兼職 台北酒店 酒店應徵 禮服酒店 酒店 經紀 打工 兼差

gaohui said...

The holidays are a time ed hardy of getting together with friends ed hardy shoes and family, attending elaborate ed hardy clothing parties, and other exciting events ed hardy clothes that involves dressing up in stunning ed hardy store wardrobes. If you ed hardy Bikini are pregnant during ed hardy swimsuits the holidays, it does not ed hardy Caps mean that you are unable buy ed hardy to look fabulous and ed hardy swimwear stylish. Now, an expectant ed hardy sale mother has many styles of chic ed hardy glasses maternity clothing that allows cheap ed hardy her to show off her baby bump Christian audigier while looking spectacular.

Anonymous said...

Cheap Viagra[url=]viagra [/url]
Generic Cialis[url=]Generic Cialis[/url]
Order Viagra[url=]Order Viagra[/url]
Viagra Alternative[url=]Viagra Alternative[/url]

Anonymous said...

viagra[url=]Buy Viagra Online [/url]

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

viagra[url=] viagra[/url]
Xanax [url=]Xanax [/url]
Valium [url=]Valium [/url]
Generic Cialis[url=]Generic Cialis[/url]

Anonymous said...

&&& Viagra Online Without Prescription %%% [url=]Viagra Online Without Prescription[/url] 778856 ((()0
Cialis &&&& [url=]Cialis[/url] %%% (()) Viagra **&& [url=]Viagra[/url] %%%
(()) viagra online without prescription **** [url=]viagra online without prescription[/url] %%%
$$%% Cialis Online (()) [url=]Cialis Online[/url] +++

Anonymous said...

phentermine, [url=]phentermine[/url],

phentermine, [url=]phentermine[/url],

phentermine, [url=]phentermine[/url],

phentermine, [url=]phentermine[/url],

phentermine, [url=]phentermine[/url],

Anonymous said...

Viagra Online Without Prescription[url=]Viagra Online Without Prescription[/url]
Cialis Online [url=]Cialis Online[/url]
Cialis [url=]Cialis [/url]

Ethan Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.