Anarchism in Interesting Times
Demon: I’m not Regan.
Father Damien Karras: Well, then let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Damien Karras.
Demon: And I’m the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps.
Father Damien Karras: If you’re the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?
Demon: That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.
Everyone expects it, everyone believes it and no one believes it can be stopped. The one hope, the only hope is a sick cert. Every day we are possessed by a higher power, a demonic entity we call “work”. In a trance like state we arise in the morning, compelled by some invisible force to sleepily hurry around the house getting ready to be someone else. This mysterious entity, draws us towards the same location as it did the day before and takes control of our bodies. It speaks through us, it orchestrates our movements, all for it’s own nefarious ends and, like the demon in The Exorcist, it balks at vulgar displays of power.
There is no need to physically force us to go to work. There are no chains, no armed men to watch over us, no dogs, no barbed wire fences or perimeter walls. These things are necessary in the case of slave or prison labour, but slaves run away and prisoners escape; We don’t even attempt to make a dash for freedom. If we did, no one would stop us. If work could speak directly to us it would simply shrug it’s shoulders and say “fine, see how long you’ll last”.
The combined wealth of societies, in which capitalism is the ruling economic mode of production, distribution and exchange (and today, that is pretty much the entire world*) is and has been produced by a global workforce. The individual worker is the basic atomic particle of this collective entity. When I say “is and has been”, I mean that the accumulated wealth of society is the product of the labour of generations, each building upon the work of the last.
When we walk into a McDonald’s, we don’t think about how our being there is only possible because of thousands of years of work. The establishment, and all it entails involves accumulation of the product of surplus labour of generations of workers, not only in the employment of the chain itself, but the workers thousands of years ago who cleared the forests to create pasture land for agriculture, those who built the roads that allowed the produce of that land to be transported from A to B and those who drove the product to market, so it could be sold to begin the process of accumulation. Later, other workers built new forms of agricultural technology and modes of transport that made agriculture and trade more efficient. Today people work on farms rearing cattle, transport workers move cattle from the farm to the slaughterhouse to the factory and factory workers process the meat. The person in the kitchen flipping burgers barely gets a thought and similarly they hardly think of the process outlined above, nor does the person behind the counter who takes your money as payment think of the time you spent in the office or factory or retail unit and the work you carried out there in order to be able to hand them that note in order to receive your burger. Each person’s part of the process is a mystery to the other.
Each day, billions of people engage in waged labour. Every day as you walk, cycle, drive or bus it to work, you pass hundreds, maybe thousands of others doing the same thing. As you are going home from work, others in other parts of the world and shift-workers in yours, are beginning their work day. Someone is always working. In their homes, others are feeding children, getting them ready for school, cleaning the house, washing clothes and making dinners, ensuring that the workforce is cared for, so that it is able to carry out paid work, so that future generations are prepared for demonic possession when the current crop of vessels are worn out.
Each of these atomic particles spends the best part of the day as a vessel for the demon work. When the worker in the fast food restaurant asks us if we want fries, they don’t really want to know if we want fries. When they tell us to have a nice day, they don’t really care that much if we do, or we don’t. When the person in the back flips a burger, it is not because they want to flip a burger, as they won’t be eating it. The worker who sits at a desk all day crunching numbers, filling spreadsheets or making phone calls aren’t furthering their own interests. Their pay may be better than the fast food worker, their job may be significantly different, but they are still possessed in the same way. Today, I spent hours asking people things I didn’t want to know, telling them things that I really have no interest in, carrying out repetitive tasks, some involving maths (the subject I hated most at school), filing paperwork and all the time had to listen to a pounding sound from the building site next door that was reminiscent of Godzilla’s footsteps. I’d rather have been at home, writing, or out walking enjoying my city, spending time with my girlfriend and my friends. But like the majority of the human race, I was compelled to work.
It is this compulsion, this demonic possession that unites 90% of the human race. At work, none of us are ourselves, none of us can be. We are united in alienation, united in being vessels who carry out the whim of a higher power. Work, may be a demon, but like it’s counterpart in The Exorcist, it is not the devil. Work, in and of itself does not compel us to give up the use of our brains and of our bodies from morning to evening. There is a higher power. The power of capital compels us; The ownership of the means of production and distribution by a tiny fraction of humanity, the monopolisation of real wealth through the money system, the logic of this system which says profit is paramount, that drives for endless growth, and structures the world according to this grand plan, is why we work.
From early childhood we are conditioned to answer the question, “what do you want to do when you grow up?” with the name of some job that serves the devil capital, rather than “I want to play video games every day and have ice cream for dinner”. In secondary school we have “guidance counselling”, not in order to help us find our real talents, to seek out the lives we desire, but to help us maximise our usefulness to capital. As adults, we continue to get asked questions like, “where do you see yourself in five years time?” The acceptable answer is career related, despite the fact that you might see yourself sitting outside a beach hut reading, and drinking wine. All Billy Elliot wanted to do was dance, but to validate his desire, he had to make a career out of it. He couldn’t just be himself, if being himself wasn’t a saleable attribute.
We are united then, when we are not ourselves, in being prevented from being ourselves. In our lives outside of work, we are all different beings with different personalities, cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual preferences, abilities, talents and general interests (though even there, work still haunts our thoughts and our actions). To be ourselves, this unity must be turned against the demon work and against capital itself. Unlike in The Exorcist, there is no priest to save us with prayer. No individual, or small group of individuals can change our lives. Our only hope, as individuals may be a sick cert, but that is only a temporary solution. Our only hope of exorcising our demon and destroying the devil it serves, is to collectively stop believing in it and refuse to do it’s bidding. The greatest trick that capital ever pulled was convincing us that we need it. We don’t, it needs us.