We Deserve to Live Well

As I write this, a wriggling 8 month old is trying to see how far my bottom lip stretches. The 3yo has a cape on. My son is shooting nerf arrows onto the roof. I see no reason to interfere.

In this time of global crisis, the school-aged children are home for the foreseeable future.  They’ve turned to me, I who am disheveled, pajamaed and anxious, to run their school day. Ha! This is what streaming content is for. Don’t want to do your math today? Fine.

Productivity. I define myself in terms of my creative output. Being an artist and a writer is like being a sponge: I am either wrung out or brimming. I can’t expect my children to work diligently if I myself cannot even muster the will to plan a project.

I’ve realized that I need to think differently. What is productivity, right now? Closures of schools and workplaces, cancellations of events: it all feels dark and very scary. But, what is happening is a collective social sacrifice. Solidarity. We are coming together in our isolation from one another, oddly, in order to give our medical workers and institutions a fighting chance. We are saving the lives of our fellow citizens.

That is worth doing.

Why does that feel strange? I don’t think we like working, but we’re afraid not to. Capitalism is not amenable to a collective slowdown. I make money for no one when I decide to bake bread and paint or read a story to my children. Previously I’ve had to decide whether or not I deserved those activities. Did I get enough done in any given day to justify slowing down at the end of it?

What I hope we all realize is this: we’ve always deserved to rest, to eat well, and to enrich ourselves with the development of domestic skills. We are owed this, to be treated with dignity and to live well. Currently the necessities of life are acquired through wage slavery: I cannot eat, live, or receive medical care unless I work. If I cannot work, I suffer. Is it foolish to wonder if this crisis will force us to re-imagine the way we live?

I will continue to let my children play whenever they want. The guilt I feel has been planted there by the greed of a collapsing system, and I will instead try to live in a way that upends it.

HuffPo Is Proud to Use Slave Labor

PAPERWell golly gee guys, isn’t this great? HuffPo wants you all to know that they are profitable as a company… and they’re PROUD they don’t pay their writers!

HuffPo UK editor Stephen Hull

“I love this question, because I’m proud to say that what we do is that we have 13,000 contributors in the UK, bloggers… we don’t pay them, but you know if I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pay, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Oh you know, just a company that makes a profit on words people read that just doesn’t pay the people who write the actual words. AWESOME. MAKES SENSE.

I could rant and rave about how we should all boycott HuffPo, but I know it won’t happen. For me, this is just another part of a disturbing trend in the arts. We don’t value intellectual work; we value the profit we can make off of the intellectual work by presenting it to the public at a carefully packaged price set by an industry that reassures its artists that it’s their privilege to be published at all.

We all expect to have novels and newspapers and magazines and concerts and gallery shows, but we turn our noses down at the artist who makes those things possible. As if giving them some sort of payment for their work cheapens them. Newsflash: it’s you who are cheapening us.

This happens in academia too: if you go for a PHD in the science field, your worth is tied to how much money your research brings into the institution where you work.  So it doesn’t matter if you’re an awesome teacher, kindling the fire of inspiration for a noble subject in the hearts of your students and encouraging the next generation, if you screw up a grant then SEE YA. If you are in the humanities? Forget it.

People who do very tiring, difficult, intellectual work are vital to our development as moral and intelligent creatures, and yet we perpetually and increasingly devalue them since we can’t correlate what they do into a nice, tidy Excel sheet.

When we measure a person’s worth by their ability to produce capital for someone else, we create a terrible system where poor people feel as if they cannot say “no” to bad work. (Or a raw deal.)This of course engenders the scurrilous notion that certain classes of people (like you artists and intellectuals) are not really valuable anyway. It doesn’t take much of an intellectual leap to equate monetary “value” to “human dignity” overall, and I’m afraid HuffPo’s policy is just one part of this destructive and inhumane trend.