Oh Christ. IMAGINATIVE EMPATHY FAIL. The imaginative empathy fail button at CT headquarters is turning around and blaring and stuff and I am sick so I don’t have time to deal with this plus it’s an annoying sound. Everyone, please try to imagine you are a poor person for at least 45 seconds at a minimum. Also, if you look at an 80-comment thread and only one commenter with a visibly female handle has said anything, would you please just, go get someone off the street or something, or like maybe the woman next to you at Starbucks, to comment? Don’t tell her it’s about libertarianism!! Don’t be hitting on her either. Unless you’ve got mad game like Kells. Tell her I asked you to. Anyway.
Do you know how becoming a Jesuit differs from taking on a job that is unpleasant? You don’t need to become a Jesuit to get money to buy food and clothes for your family! For real! You’re not even supposed to have a family! So is there an issue there, about whether one can potentially contract oneself to SeaOrg or the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and come out missing your freedom? Yes, and that is what separates cults from churches in most people’s mind. This could be an interesting sidebar discussion but it has nothing to say about the “putting up with awful things to have a job” issue.
We’re not talking about the merely unpleasant “I didn’t particularly feel like looking up all those cases.” We’re talking about the “I have to carefully arrange things so that I’m never in the stock-taking area at the back of the store alone with my boss or he’ll put his hand up my skirt and try to finger fuck me and I can’t get away and when someone finally does come in after time has stretched out to a thousand aeons it’s I who will be hot and red with shame and he who will laugh and wink and even joke about how I can’t stay away from him. And his two or three toadies will laugh along. And even my friends will giggle nervously, looking at me with contrary sympathy, because no one wants to get fired, but it has happened to them. And I can’t quit because my sister-in-law has been unemployed for 15 months and I’m afraid he’ll tell everyone in my small town I’m “difficult” and no one will ever hire me.
That thing, that I just talked about? Is a real thing happening right now. It can even happen to men! (Nigh-invariably because their male boss is hitting on them, of course.) But men can be bullied and verbally tormented on the job, given loads heavier than they can carry and then laughed at when they fail; bullying employers are creative. When you don’t have savings, when your credit cards are maxed out and you are getting calls every day that you have to try and hide from your children, when you are praying that your car doesn’t break down—you are not free to quit. You have to suck it up. For your kids, for your family. Your moms.
And there has been a remarkable elision in the discussion of libertarianism subsequent to my husband’s post and to Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch’s below. The elision is from “refuses to let you leave the room to pee and you have to wear adult diapers to work and sit in your own fucking piss for hours” to “bosses you around.” That’s really smoothing out the rough edges a bit much, I think, and is extraordinarily unhelpful. And it assumes away something important that at bottom we all know perfectly well: the boss who’s got his workers getting UTIs and wearing diapers to work like his call center was the fucking International Space Station isn’t doing it to improve productivity. He’s doing it to be an asshole. He may be dressing it up in his mind a little with the productivity, but he’s in all likelihood just a petty tyrant.
I don’t know why we’re all going around pretending that people only become businessmen to become rich. They do so for lots of reasons (John and I were discussing this the other night). Some want to become rich and then do something else fun with the money (this is, oddly, very, very rare). One reason is just that they want to boss a lot of people around. If they are intelligent enough, they can turn a profit and acquire a large pool of people whom they can order around like dogs. Not my thing, but it’s some people’s thing and I don’t see any reason to pretend it’s not. And now don’t let’s say they can have that kink and willing kinkster subs; of course they can. They want unwilling subs, otherwise it isn’t any fun at all. And in any case this isn’t about sex, this is about taking up almost every waking hour of a person’s life and enacting a miniature puppet show of state tyranny upon it. Snitches, rewards from those favored by the boss, mercurial shifts in which the favorites suddenly become lowly and can be triumphantly trodden on by the ordinary man, a whole world made of rumor, where nothing is certain…the workplace run by an evil boss is like nothing so much as a tiny Soviet satellite state. There is no death of course, only exile. But is there freedom? (Hint: NO! Libertarians, please study harder for the next test.)
UPDATE: I myself have perhaps the less common perspective on this, since I have started a business 3+ years ago; you can see our current offerings here and our main page at likethatone.com. I have employees and everything. I am motivated in part by the desire to make lots of lovely money but more by the excitement of transforming old things into something new that people will want and love and make part of their homes. There is evidence that I would do it for free in the fact that I…am doing it for free just at this moment, for personal business reasons I cannot disclose. I do my best to be a good employer but when I called a meeting with my co-cowner and our main employee she was able to think of occasions on which each of us had made unreasonable demands on her time, and we had to apologize for that and rectify the problem.