Thursday, March 7, 2013

I have to admit that there are times when I think there might have been something to Marx's critique of the way our economy is set up.

I think about it when I wait in line at 7.34 am to get on the bus with a whole line of people.  Everyone seriously stands in a line as if they were about to be reprimanded by their kindergarten teacher.  Or maybe they do it for a reason worse than social reprimand, maybe they do it because it's easier.

And the whole scene reminds me of the issues with capitalism.  The bus-lady cog picks up the line of other cogs to take them off to the factories to make widgets.  But before that, we sit in a line on 405 with all the other coggy-cogs heading off too.  And some cogs are more important than others, but a lot of cogs just seem interchangeable.

I think about it on days (like today) when I feel like saying, "You seriously expect me to reply to emails and put a smile on and update the schedule and create another excel spreadsheet and make copies and just go about business when I should really be a. under my desk crying or b. at a therapists?" 

I think about this whole 8 - 5 thing.  We spend - at a minimum! - 40 of 168 hours per week (only 167 this week - thanks a lot Ben Franklin!) working to pay for the rest of it.  That's 24%!! An approximate 29% is then spent on sleeping.  So once you add the "time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet"* and the commute... we get to spend about 40% of our time on life. Real life.  And that's when capitalism does feel like a contract saying "I will be your cog for a quarter of my life so that you can give me paper that I can then trade to fulfill my needs."  [Josiah, if you're reading this right now, you probably hate me... Sorry.]

Then we went and made the whole thing worse.  Someone had the brilliant idea to make a machine to make the work faster.  Let's build a computer.  First binary computer - 1936. Fabulous. Then in 1982 - the world wide web.  Why web? Something a spider uses to catch its prey.  The Internet with a capital I (until Apple made it lower case).  Great - we can email.  Do away away with memos.  And, they seriously thought, people will spend less time working.  Perfect.
But then it got really messed up when someone thought - lets make it portable. So circa the year of my birth we got "lap-tops." But they wouldn't stop there.  Now, 2013, you're expected to put Outlook on your iPhone and you get to never really stop working.  [Ugh... now my secret luddite sympathies are coming out too.] 

I say all of that to intentionally mis-quote Churchill -
[Capitalism] is the worst form of [economy] - except for all those other forms that have been tried.**
Sorry for the rant... I'm getting "back to work" now.  But I can't wait for an economic revolution. Even if it was just a group that would stand for Monday - Thursday 10 hour days with a 3-day weekend.  Even if it was startup who's motto was "we're artists, not cogs."  Even if it was a group who danced to Billie Holiday while waiting for the bus.  Life is too short to accept the monotony!  It's too precious to spend it as a coggy-cog!!  God made us for more than settling a paycheck so we can accumulate more stuff that will tie us down to a system we never agreed to.

Join me in the revolution!  #refusetobeacog

*taken from TS Eliot's "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" - which is a stunning piece on the "cog-ness" of modernism
**Originally "Democracy is the worst form of government  - except for all those other forms that have been tried."


  1. PS - I really do love my job, and I am not a Marxist. :)

  2. This is really interesting!
    And you should be a writer. ;)

  3. I'll join that revolution :)

  4. Well written!
    I sometimes feel this way about our education system - especially now that I'm in college. Why am I a cog in a system, taking classes that seem mediocre, classes that cover what I learned in high school but way more expensive? Why is education getting easier? Why can't high school graduates write a thesis statement or a passionate opinion paper? I know I'm in community college and in 101 classes- but I don't want to be shuffled into mediocrity and pay so much money for it.

  5. Samara! LOL, I'll join in your crusade!! You should ask Meg about my rant a few nights back - take some time to add up how many hours you spend "not working" in order to work those 8 hours each day - I leave every day around 7:45 and get back around 5:45pm, with a mandatory one hour "lunch" - I am gone roughly 10 hours a day to earn 8 hours worth of work. That is 2 hours 'wasted' in my mind each day - 10 a week. 52 hours thrown away each year. And really, I've slightly adjusted those hours to make them easier to multiply, there's usually 30 more minutes a day lost. And that is my shortest commute to date. The system is off. There is sooo much waste in every regard of economy and lives. * deep breath *

  6. I just wanted to add my brother's comment to the mix:

    Samara, your essay was insightful and revealing. Revealing because I did not know you viewed yourself as a cog sometimes. Not that this is altogether surprising. I would submit that most people view themselves as cogs at some point.

    I too wonder when I graduate whether I will succumb to the spirit of being a cog. But I think that the idea of being a cog spawns mainly from seeing money as the goal. This is something that God has been talking to me about lately. It is not about what I do or how much money I make while doing it, as much as it is about am I doing what God wants me to do right now. Any money I get, I get from him. He is my provider not my job and not the capitalist system.

    Your essay was insightful because it identified some of the flaws with capitalism. These flaws include, the idea that people are just part of the system and the whole goal of the system is to make it go faster and faster and make more things more quickly which equates to a cheaper price.

    But Marx would not have been so happy that you pointed out that certain cogs are more important than others. This begins to destroy his whole theory of the repressed worker. It does this by identifying the fact that goods cannot be identified as being valuable purely because of how much labor has been put into the object. If different value can be put on different skills than workers cannot be repressed as Marx supposes that they could be. This is the argument that Joseph Schumpter makes in is book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

    But that is probably more than you wanted to know. Capitalism is flawed but it is also amazing too. You have to remember socialism would most likely never have created an industrial revolution. That is not to say that capitalism created the industrial revolution, it was more the enlightenment and mercantilism. But capitalism at least could have fostered an environment in which the industrial revolution could have occurred.

    But getting back to you. You are so much more than just a cog. Life is not just a machine. God has a wonderful journey for you to live out. You may not see where that adventure is taking you right now, but you will. This sickness will not last forever. There will be brighter days beyond feeling sick. Your life is not a series of transactions of time for paper. You are valuable for who you are.

    P.S. Marx cannot and should not be hated for wanting something better than what existed when he was alive. But I will always hate, till the day I die how his ideas ruined the lives of so very many people. His ideas are deplorable and dangerous and they cannot be the solution. Utopia is great, but man cannot simply design utopia by fiddling with economic principles.

    - Josiah

  7. PS - I think school is important and it can only go up from here :)
    It is so true and quite sad that it does all come down to money...for many people. I hope we can rise above that and accomplish good because it is right and not for the pay. Amazingly put, Josiah!