I community, do you?
by Jan Lundberg
I propose the word "community" as a verb. When someone communities she or he does service for the greater good. Such activity may be to restore a watershed to prevent erosion. In so doing, the person is helping oneself as well.
Work is a noun and verb that has characterized civilization to a T. This dominant civilization, stretching back to Mesopotamian pre-empires, features lots of work and worse: slavery, basically a worse form of work. Or, working to kill: making armaments or certain industrial toxins.
Money and similar forms of exchange are not limited to civilization, but their domination is found just in civilization. In non-Western civilization and quasi-civilization there are or were other forms of wealth-manifestation, such as how much one shared, as in the native American potlatch.
Back in the day v. today
Villages close to the land have roles differentiating peopleís special functions to a degree, but there arenít whole segments of society in servitude to others. But modern servants are the mass of humanity, and can most often be seen comprising the daily commute.
It ainít voluntary; a worker doesnít have much choice but to do so much work (and commuting) that one can easily have no concept how to build his or her shelter, for example. Day in, day out, we face drudgery in order to bring in the dollarsójust to keep dry, fed, and quiet or distracted. Watching videos can be provided almost universally, as a great control tool or pacifier. People either accept this offer as their "lot in life," or they opt for dominating others or some other means of skillfully bringing in more money than average. The Third Way is supposedly reserved for dreamers or layabouts, but that could include you if youíre unconventional enough.
Rich and poor
Work, Work!Work, Work, Work, Work!
- The Animals: "We gotta get out of this place"(a popular song of 1965)
Working is almost always in service of the rich, in order to make a surplus beyond oneís own needs. It can be claimed that the poor benefit from the work as well, as in the distribution of "crumbs" or services available to one and all, such as prison and the military. What a coincidence: it is the non-rich who are in prison and the armed "services."
Public education, cheap oil, and other dreams
With the end of cheap oil as of the 1970s, the easy entry into the middle class and upper-middle class no longer exists. Work has gotten longer, and few households can afford anymore a stay-at-home spouse or parent. It should be understood that cheap oil cannot be deemed as existing today when so many hidden costs and subsidies mask its real adjusted price.
People were taught a few decades ago that working people would eventually average a 20-hour work week. That bubble of propaganda and sci-fi hooey has been burst, but almost no one has reacted. The reason people increasingly doubt "progress" is that they know resources have been depleted, the land is increasingly all fenced or paved, and people have had to work more and more in order to buy less and less. The gap between the rich and poor has gotten to this: the U.S.ís top executive class earns 450 times the amount an average worker makes. Government is not about to change this relationship, and people arenít going to fight back until they feel hurt badly enough.
But those realities do not mean that there are not ways of cutting back on mind-numbing work thatís inefficient or too favorable to the boss. Nor does the necessary aspect of work today mean that the current system involving work is the only way to have a culture or society. How is it that sometimes there are no bosses, as in todayís affinity groups that, for example, save a stand of trees threatened by industry? Suffice to say that much of what is widely assumed today is questionable.
Community service can become an entire alternative system to capitalism and other unfair schemes that do not lift everyone to a better standard of living. By "standard of living," we should not consider only material measurements such as the proportion of the citizenry hooked up to electricity. And we must include other species, with whom we share the Earth, as the community. A standard of living that values any harm to the rest of lifeóthe environmentóis an unsustainable sham. Poor peoples may have no dishwashing machines, but spend more time with family. This does not benefit the owners of banks, so the International Monetary Fund undertakes to remake local economies to export the wealth or to create the demand and infrastructure to import dishwasher machines.
"Everyone Can Cut Potatoes" is the name of an essay by Solomon DeMontigny, a do-it-yourselfer activist and performing artist in Arcata, California. He started a bicycle-powered delivery service for his baking business. In his essay about everyone being able to help prepare a meal, his point was that we can cooperate and voluntarily have fun, while providing for our common needs.
If that sounds Utopian, he is at least right in keeping with village life where traditions hold sway and the society is healthyóand people act as one for the greater good. Solomon works, but he knows that it is so wasteful, when people are not voluntarily contributing freely if they are not liberated from forced labor. And in his regular job the learning period did not last long. He is now "sacrificing" in Americorps in order to attend Dellí Arte, the renowned theater school in Blue Lake.
A shining example of working for community instead of a wage is an activist in southern California devoting his life to spreading Permaculture and learning about sustainable living. He is taken care of even in this cold, cash-and-carry economy, because of his helpfulness, positive attitude in sharing his skills, and contributions to the community such as putting on seminars for the public.
Better than work
One can easily confirm that there was no equivalent of "work" in languages separated from the dominant civilization of work. It is true that being a hunter and gatherer is not possible almost everywhere due to trashed ecosystems and too many humans. But this does not mean we should just keep on doing what we are doing in order to shop. There is work but there is the alternative form of it which could prevail again: community service (not the court-imposed community service). People can also maximize personal relationships for sharing and needs; regimented service would not necessarily be in service of the community if itís a concentration camp. The IRS wishes to tax bartering, but itís hard to track. Not shopping so much is a threat to the economy as dominated by the rich.
So, when some service to the community is necessary, especially in order to secure food from damaged land that must first be depaved, for example, we need not call that work. It is rather "getting food together"ócommunitying!
Editorís note: In Daniel Quninnís My Ishmael, it is explained that a vast labor surpluses resulted many decades ago when young people went right into the job market. So, after society observed persistent and growing unemployment in a rising population, what formerly sufficed as compulsory education no longer lasted long enough. Therefore the age was moved to keep the youth in school and away from competing for too few jobs. Then once again the time was extended, leaving us with 12 grades. For a few decades now the youth have been told that in order to get a decent job, still more school is necessary, although the university-level training is seldom directly applicable to jobs.
In reality, the amount learned in 12-years plus at school can be learned in a much shorter time period, but the youth are being kept away from their homes (why?), kept off the streets (one can guess why), and out of the employment line. The latest statistics reveal why.
From Culture Change editorial board members:
The latin word tripallium - Trabajo, in Spanish, or Work, has an awful origin: it means the stick or wood that united the oxen while plow. Work, I think has a slave meaning. The modern workmania established by militaristic industrial societies serves to create pride for a slave work. In the early XIX century, in England, started the idea of employment: the idea of work as a commodity that can be bought: the third great step toward modern industrial society. Price of money - interest - was the first step to the Apocalipsis, in the Middle ages, in Lombardy; fence or walls in the country revolution in the XVII century, in England, was the second step towards exterminium. Work as abstract unity controlled the XX Century. "Arbeit Macht Frei" was the motto at the entrance in Dachau. Work ethics is a target for deconstruction in Culture Change.
- Miguel Valencia
Tough work before the dawn
Conway, NH, the town I grew up in and live next to, has one of the highest child poverty rates in NH and the lowest wages. Most people need to work two, even three jobs to make it, and if youíre a single parent even that isnít enough. These are the people most likely to agree with you (with us) about the slave nature of jobs these days, yet we have no solutions for them. They donít have the time for the kind of communitying work you mentioned. Those that do often actually like their jobs and many do volunteer at local community efforts and events. What is needed are alternative ways to make a living, ways to pay the rent and utilities, buy food - the basicsófor the "slave wagers." This is something Iíve struggled with for years.
Economic alternatives are great but by their very community-based nature they are smaller and canít hire, say, the number of folks Wal-Mart can, or all the restaurants around here, you know? Itís easy for me to say, well, thatís the way it goes, some people will be hurt. And in my heart itís what I believe, because to me, Earth does come first. But it doesnít cut it with most folks and itís a pretty callous way to be. Plus those who get hurt wonít be the rich and powerful, it will be our allies, or potential allies. Stop consuming is a good suggestion, but most poor folks donít consume much beyond the bare necessities. Of course when they do, they arenít likely to buy organic or locally made (unless itís cheaper). They go to Wal-Mart or wherever and buy the cheapest possible because itís all they can afford. This only perpetuates inequities, continues exploiting the environment and Third World workers, etc. But honestly, who can afford 100% organic cotton sheets (not me!) and clothes. And while thrift shops are great, they donít always have what you need, at least not around here.
Just being the devilís advocate because Iíd love to see some concrete suggestions for how to actually help the "wage slaves" break the chains while still being able to care for their families. We just arenít at the place where people are so community-minded that they take care of each other. If you lose your job and canít make it, well you move on and the best of luck to you. There are examples, especially in the intentional communities, but itís still considered "fringe" by most folks and if we want change, itís most folks we need to convince.I know itís all possible. I just donít know if we have time.
But - the hope of birth at hand
So, perhaps we are in transition. Just as with giving birth, thereís
no guarantee everything will come out okay. Itís still dangerous, but
the time is close and soon it will be over, one way or another.