The Working Dead

I’ve heard those words again. Those words that can only come from the mouths of the ghosts of the dead, of the empty that don’t even know they are empty.

This time it was my father. He said that “It’s summer, so a shift at work just makes your day full.” Of course he meant it in a good way, for him. Like, “It gives you something to do”. What’s saddening is that he still has no clue of the kind of person I am. Not that I care too much by this point. I didn’t even bother replying.

I have first heard the complete version of this concept when watching an introductory video for the same job my father was talking about. This random guy in a sort of motivational section of the video said something like: “Why work for —-? Well, it’s better than staying home and being bored!”

Really?

REALLY?

I had already had some clue that large masses of people in the Western World could think such a horrific thought, but it didn’t strike me quite as hard as this one time. {I need to point out, unlike something like teaching, it’s not the kind of job one could possibly enjoy, or do as a form of passion. It’s just a retail job, or bartending, or cleaning around.}

Intellectual aside
When I read Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism”, I came across this piece of information that really shocked me, for the kind of mentality it implied. This passage compared different ways to motivate the labourers to work more in different cultures. A modern entrepreneur, with a Capitalist mindset, would think people want to earn more, just like he wants to earn more (that’s presumably why he wants them to be more productive). So what does he do? He raises the wage per hour, or per piece, or whatever. More money to earn, more people would try to work more. And in today’s world, it would work. But not in a pre-capitalistic mentality, and in an economic ethic that actually made sense and took the meaningfulness of life into account. In other countries, where the entrepreneurs were Capitalists, but the working class was not, raising the wage produced less work. People would aim to earn enough to provide for themselves, and a bit more, just to be on the safe side, but in general they would stop after earning a certain amount of money, say, what they earned in a normal day of work before the pay-raise. Therefore, they would finish early, and they would spend the extra time with their families and friends, enjoying each other’s company. Which behaviour is the weird one out?
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I just can’t get my head around the fact that people can take this kind of job not because they need the money, nor because they like it, but just because they are bored. And as a poor person who has to work (cf.: Slavery), I almost feel it like an offence to my own dignity as a human being. For one, I cannot understand boredom, unless it’s the kind of boredom coming from having to do something you don’t like. But not boredom as such. I can’t conceive it. And even if I could, what do you do? To fight boredom you get an easy, repetitive job.

Well, here’s what I think. That this kind of job is alienating, I don’t think is up for discussion. Despite the fact that there a slight chance of knowing new people, the main characteristic about doing the same thing over and over again with a fake smile on your lips is alienation. And there’s not much one can do about it. It is necessary that someone shuts their brain down and fills the shelves of a supermarket when they’re empty. (It’d actually be easy to make a machine that would do it more efficiently, but let’s leave this aside.) But if you’re alive and self-aware enough, you can save yourself from alienation.

So, someone like that person (or someone like my father), average western citizens with internet access and the ordinary commodities of (low, in my case) middle class, what do they do? They want a job. They would want it even if they had enough money to live until they die of old age. And they don’t want it so they may have more money. Ambition/Greed is not the problem here. Some people who work with me can afford pretty much whatever they want, and they still work.

The only thing I can conclude is that they want something to do. For two strictly-related reasons: 1) They don’t know what to do with themselves when alone and 2) they don’t know how to deal with themselves in the event they should come to think about themselves. So they alienate themselves in a meaningless job. And may they never have a moment to think and peer at the emptiness in their lives. These people want nothing. They have no dreams, they have no wishes for the future, they don’t strive to improve themselves or to reach something. They are self-content in a very unsatisfied – and unsatisfying – way. (Cf.: Nietzsche’s Last Man)

For months now I have been dying to meet someone like that guy, look at him in his eyes and ask him if he’s so disgusted with himself, and why. What brought a person to have no dreams, no interests, no curiosity, nothing at all, so that even regular entertainment is just not enough and they need a job as the ultimate form of mass distraction.

I’m not like them. Even when I “have nothing to do”, 24 hours are never enough for me to do half of what I’d like to do. But I’m not saying everyone should have artistic aspirations (although, as a human being with a brain and a heart, you must have at least something to say, a story to tell, a point to make…?) But, even without active, endless pursuits, like writing, is there really nothing else? Watch films, read books, read newspapers and get involved in local politics to change your area for the better. Do volunteering to help people who are in need. There’s enough to do and to think about for several lifetimes, just in these few things.

What I don’t understand is how could these people lose what made them human beings. A heart, a brain and some curiosity would be enough. What do these people live for? I don’t understand, how do they go through each day?

I have grown up without an inspiring model that would make me wish for greatness. That model came several years later, way too late perhaps. But I was relatively proud to see how much my father had read and how many films he had seen. When I grew up though, I realized there was a lot of consumption lit and cinema in the lot. But there were some gems. He made me read “The Old Man and The Sea”. What saddened me the most, though, was to realize my father couldn’t go any deeper than the simple plot, in the understanding of this kind of thing. More than 40 years reading books and watching films, and never really understanding one. It makes me sad just to think about it. And it scares me that that could have been me.

How can a human being living in this world stop wanting to improve either themselves or the world, lose the will to both tell and listen to stories and sell the time of their life away for lack of a better way to use it? To me these people are just walking, working dead.

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I’m Scared of Writing

I’m terrified.
Every time I think I could write, my mind tries to find excuses. “I’m tired, I should do this first, why don’t I play the guitar instead?” And I’m scared of writing because it’s the thing I want to do the most. I’m not scared of playing videogames, I don’t really care if I’m good or bad at it.

But I do care about how good a writer I am. And my fear of writing serves the purpose of not making me try to become a better writer. I know that to be an at least decent writer, it takes a lot of hard work. And I’m not scared of the hard work in itself, I have proved it every year, at school and university, for the last 5 years at least. I’m scared that I may fail. That even with all the hard work I may find there’s no way for me to become the kind of person I want to be.

But this is stupid. For fear of finding myself empty, after all, I let myself be empty without even trying. I’m not. I’m not empty. That was my past, not me. If I was, I wouldn’t be here by now. I wouldn’t be thinking about how terrible it would be if I was empty. Because empty people just can’t feel it. Like most fears, this is totally irrational. But fear has quite an effect on me. It acts on the inside, before me. I can’t simply keep it away, I have to find it and fight it. And it’s tiring, and stressing.

I’ve had a block for almost an entire year. I haven’t written a single word for months and months and months, for the only reason that I was scared that I had nothing to write about, that I wasn’t good enough. And I stressed over it, which made it harder to write, and so on. It was a vicious circle, and I was only able to break it because a very special person kept believing in me and reminding me that I had more in me.

The way things are now, writing is still very stressful and tiring for me. It’s like studying a subject I don’t really like, in order to get to the part I actually like. Writing could be enjoyable (at least a part of it), and it could be liberating, and I know I have this desperate need to express myself, or I just end up being locked inside myself. But right now, all I see is the effort and the fear that I have to overcome. It’s a lot better than when I couldn’t write at all, but I still have to “make myself write”. And I know I want to. And I need to, to a certain extent. Feeling the need to write is still rare, but I do feel bad when I don’t. I’d just… want to want it. But, how do you defeat your fear? All I’m doing right now is facing it. Holding on to my motivation and keeping facing it in the hope that it will slowly disappear, every time I prove it is a fear that has no reason to exist.