I am writing this post to try to sort out, in my own mind, an issue involving people and work. Perhaps putting down in black and white my evolving thoughts will help me come to grips with the issue.
Specifically, I am writing this post in an attempt to understand why so many of us…the vast majority of us… in this country and, quite possibly, worldwide seem to believe we have to be hired by someone else if we are going to work. Our culture assumes people who want or need the ability to buy goods and services will go out and find a job. We don’t assume they will go out and create products or services that people want to buy.
Of course, we educate our young people so they can exchange their capabilities and knowledge for regular infusions of money and the label “employee.” But that’s by no means preparing them to go out and create their own futures. It appears we’re preparing them to go in search of the best, most lucrative caregiver. It’s as if society’s role is to prepare people to go in search of someone else upon whom to depend for their livelihoods. Why is that?
Why isn’t it the other way around? Why doesn’t our culture assume the people we educate and prepare for the world of work will work for themselves, creating products or services of value that others want to buy? Could the reason be, quite simply, that our culture inculcates in us a belief that we couldn’t possibly be successful in earning our way without depending on being “on the dole” from an employer of one kind or another?
Wait, I think I know what you’re thinking. Your first reaction to these questions and inferences is to label my thought process right-wing and bathed in regressive, deeply conservative values. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my questions emerge from my left-of-center political perspectives and my growing distrust of the foundations of capitalism. You see, I think society DOES push us toward being “worker bees” who do the bidding of our employers, the majority of whom benefit financially from their employees’ efforts far more than do the employees themselves. I think society has reached that point over a long period of time because a relatively small and, in today’s world, increasingly powerful “production elite” has deliberately (over a very long period of time) manipulated it in that direction.
The success of this scheme depends heavily on the vast majority of people unwittingly reinforcing it. Parents tell their children to finish school so they can get a good job. Teachers discuss career choices with their students from the perspective of finding employment. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting parents and teachers or, for that matter, employers are part of a vast conspiracy to intentionally “serve the capitalist monster.” What I am suggesting is that the capitalist monster does nothing to dispel the idea that the right thing to do for most people is to go find a “job” so that golden ring of the worklife, stability, can be achieved. “Normal” has been manipulated to mean “find someone to pay you, for you are not equipped to figure it out on your own.” We continue to accept that “normal,” even as the imaginary economic wonder-world disintegrates around us.
As stability in employment has become increasingly ephemeral, it is harder to understand how the average working person can continue to fully and unquestioningly accept the idea that his or her future is completely tied to one or two or, more likely, a string of employers, rather than his or her own willingness and ability to take risks, accept defeat, and pick oneself up and move on toward self-reliance.
Over time humanity has either succumbed to subtle economic blackmail that led to what amounts to de facto servitude or simply stumbled into today’s normalcy. Whatever the route to get here, most of us, in fact, rely on others to give us money that allows us to find shelter and put food on the table. How many among us would be able to continue to eat if we were suddenly faced with joblessness and no prospects for employment? How many of us have been “educated” into the position of being utterly, completely, irrevocably dependent on being allowed to keep the highly limited, almost robotic role of “employee” simply to be able to live.
We, most of us, can’t grow our own food and we can’t create the tools and implements we would need to build our own shelter. Most of us either are employees or just one step away from it. We need the economic structure we created. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t need us, at least not all of us.
Do we all need employers? Until we decide we don’t, we do.
None of this is meant to downplay the importance of employees. Even the most aggressive entrepreneurial spirit cannot overcome the simple fact that entrepreneurs cannot do it all alone. Employees are necessary, they are important, and they matter. But I think there are many people who, absent the socialization that minimizes the expectation of productive risk\, would be far less dependent on capitalist machinery.