Thursday, July 12, 2007

Time Without Work Revisited

By Matt Dineen

For the past four months I have been unemployed. During this time I have intimately revisited the dilemma of time without work in a work-obsessed culture. Part of this obsession is the survival piece--under capitalism we are obligated to sell our labor in order to meet our needs, to "make a living." This makes it difficult and often impossible to live without a job. We need to earn money in order to pay for food, housing, and the less essential items that help us get through each day. Without a wage job one needs to be creative about fulfilling these needs, often relying on the kindness and generosity of others, or by carving out non-capitalist forms of cooperatively sharing resources.

The other dominant aspect of this phenomenon is the way this culture defines people by their jobs. What you do to make money may not be the most important thing in your life but it serves as a reflection of your social status when you inform people "what you do." You are defined by your work. So what does this mean for those of us who are unemployed? Because of the economic challenges of not working it is rare that people can joyously revel in this moment. Even if we are enjoying this time without work it is socially unacceptable to admit this. Rather, we have to defensively explain that this is a transitional period in our life and that we are vigorously looking for work--even if we are not.

Unemployment is also associated with laziness and irresponsibility. Many of us who are not working paid jobs, however, still stay busy with things that we are passionate about. Of course these things are devalued in a culture that emphasizes profit and power over happiness. I could spend a day writing articles, producing a radio show, going for a bike ride, interviewing a friend, cooking food, playing music, and dancing. None of these are contributing much to the GNP, but they make me feel alive.
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