Toward a world beyond earning a living: unjobbing, decolonizing time, and cultivating a culture of leisure in an overworked world.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018 

On Doing Nothing: 'Laziness' and the Inner Work of Unjobbing and Dejobbing

by D. JoAnne Swanson

“Standard parenting/teaching/employment involves an external authority telling you to do stuff – and lots of it. Studying, to start with, and then work. Too much of it, and usually of the wrong sort (not your true calling). Laziness is the natural rebellion against that.

“Unjobbing means ignoring that voice, and letting that voice slowly disappear. Eventually you will come to find your true voice. Your true voice will let you do things without having to fight yourself, and it will also know what you really want to do.”

- Sophia Gubb

Many moons ago, as a fledgling young writer inspired by Michael Fogler’s 1996 book Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook, I quit my office assistant job to free up time for what I really wanted to do: writing. My spouse at the time had agreed to cover our bills for a year if I’d handle all household responsibilities. Confident that my frustrating and time-consuming job was the only thing standing between me and a finished book manuscript, I gleefully bid the job farewell. I’d known since childhood that I was a writer; only begrudgingly had I entered the world of wage labor.

At last! Autonomy! No school, no job, and few obligations other than housekeeping and home maintenance. I couldn’t wait to dive in and embrace life as an un-jobber.

But once I took the plunge, things did not go as I’d planned. Six months quickly elapsed with next to no progress on the book. Then seven. Then eight, nine, ten…

I loved being able to shape my days at will. Glorious days of unstructured time stretched before me. Yet I found myself frittering away time, and with each passing month that progress on the manuscript remained sluggish or stalled, my shame mounted. But…I knew I wanted to use my writing skills to contribute to society! I knew I wanted to write books! How could I just waste this fortunate opportunity? There were people who’d give their eye teeth to be in my shoes! I’d yearned for this for years! Was it writer’s block? Lack of self-discipline? I hadn’t a clue, but in any case this writing thing was not taking shape the way I’d intended.

I wish that youthful version of me had known about dejobbing.

Dejobbing is a neologism coined by Sophia Gubb to refer to an intermediate stage or adjustment period between compulsory employment and unjobbing. I’ve adopted it to describe my process of identifying and unlearning coercive habits and self-talk acquired through compulsory employment and schooling. I’ve found dejobbing especially important for unlearning habits that interfere with embodied intelligence and creative flow of the daimonic - the calling or divine spark that is uniquely one’s own. (1)

Before I could embrace daimonic creativity as a writer, I had a hefty share of personal development work to do. For years I’d been spending the bulk of my days in jobs I hated in order to “earn a living.” For years I silenced, shunted aside, or otherwise ran roughshod over the protests of my daimon, because I thought I had no other viable choice. I even tried to squeeze my writing into the straitjacket of a paid job, in the hopes of finding a way to “do what I love” for a living. But I had always found it difficult and painful to sell my labor by the hour for wages to survive, even in jobs I found more tolerable. Ever since my first paid job at a fast food restaurant at age 16, “earning a living” had seemed fundamentally wrong. Jobbing drained me of most of my time and energy, squeezing self-driven work into the outer margins of my life. I loved the word unjobbing, and recognized myself in it immediately. But I did not understand dejobbing until much later.

The first component of a conscious dejobbing process is identifying coercive inner voices and distinguishing them from daimonic promptings. The not-so-subtle voice that ordered me around, shaming me for my laziness if I didn’t comply? Coercive. The voice encouraging me to resist the conscription of my time into the service of capital so I could write books? Daimonic. (One of the tell-tale clues: daimonic voices often spoke through dreams; I’d wake up with a sense of words and ideas spilling over, and an overwhelming urge to get them written down immediately.)

I didn’t understand any of this at the time. All I knew was that I didn’t want a job, and I needed to write. I had no explanation other than laziness for the fact that I couldn’t seem to write the things I wanted to write even without the interference of a day job.

Not until the later stages of dejobbing did I develop the fortitude to embrace the daimonic and write from that place.

Unjobbing is a process that can be defined in many ways, all of them valid. The definition I prefer is “the path away from earning a living.” I use unjobbing and anticareerism more or less interchangeably. The path of unjobbing/anticareerism is unique for everyone; it can’t be codified or generalized into lists of steps to follow. Therein lies its power.

Note, too, that unjobbing does not mean “not working.” It doesn’t even necessarily mean not having a job. Unjobbing means learning how to live and thrive without compulsory wage labor. (2)

This is the focus of The Anticareerist: helping to build a world beyond “earning a living.”

Other ways I define unjobbing include “the path of surrender to golden threads” and “the path toward being the change I wish to see in the world.” The idea here is to get out of one’s own way as much as possible, so as to better perceive and heed the guidance of the daimonic and other larger intelligences.(3)

It took almost a decade of dejobbing for me to prepare for a life of unjobbing and autonomous work. Like most people, I’d grown accustomed to the structure of compulsory wage labor for survival, much as I hated it. I’d long been in the habit of pushing myself past my body’s instinctive objections to it. So when I finally found myself with a surfeit of unstructured time and no idea why I couldn’t make good use of it, I didn’t know what to think.

Here’s the thing, though. Dejobbing is normal. It’s a process. If you struggle with it, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. In fact, it probably means there’s something right. Giving this process a catchy name makes it easier to identify it and talk about it. If you don’t like dejobbing, call it something else. The point is to recognize that it exists, so you don’t get stuck in self-recrimination about “laziness” like I did.

It takes courage to do the inner work necessary to walk the path of dejobbing and unjobbing in earnest. It also takes a healthy respect for golden threads and the wisdom of the daimonic. Navigating these paths well requires access to intelligences that are inaccessible through the intellect. My journey required me to give myself permission to do nothing: to be as lazy and self-indulgent as I wanted, for as long as I needed, no matter what kind of vitriol I might encounter from unsympathetic onlookers. (It’s more difficult than it sounds!)

“Laziness” opened my path to leisure, and true leisure is an ecologically profound form of intelligence. The laziness-to-leisure trajectory also helped me develop a healthy respect for the cyclical nature of my creative process as a writer interested in engaging the daimonic. This includes lengthy fallow periods and regular use of endarkened creative incubation spaces to sink into deep stillness, silence, solitude, and non-doing. (4)

Compassion, too, is important. In a culture that normalizes coercive employment - a colonized culture in which most of us must have jobs to earn our right to live (”earning a living”) - it’s no wonder so many of us habitually hold ourselves at a certain distance from the daimonic, and remain only dimly aware of the deeper truths residing in our bones and flesh. Coercive employment is painful, and all the more so because it’s so thoroughly normalized and so rarely questioned. It is a violation of the spirit. We live in a culture that finds it perfectly reasonable to deny people even the most basic means of life if they don’t or can’t take whatever employment they can find, no matter how exploitative that employment may be. We live in a culture that considers it not only acceptable, but morally justifiable to force people into jobs by withholding what they need to meet their basic survival needs.

But our bodies know the truth. As Fabiana Cecin points out:

“Our society has very deeply normalized the abuses of “work” relationships. And they are many. But no matter how much our culture has erased any trace of mental modeling of the abuses of “work,” our bodies still perceive and feel ALL of the abuse.”

The first step toward healing the massive cultural and ecological wounds of normalized compulsory employment is to acknowledge them. Can we acknowledge the massive pain and injustice of requiring people to “earn a living”? Can we collectively imagine a world without that kind of pain?

Often we bypass or repress our awareness of this pain and get caught up in the dominant cultural narrative of shaming each other for “laziness.” Typically this is the first accusation lobbed at those who reject (or can’t find) compulsory employment. But what is this laziness? Why is it so thoroughly maligned?

In the U.S. especially, where work is an unofficial religion, laziness is so thoroughly reviled that anyone with the gumption to admit they don’t want a job - especially if they also speak openly in praise of leisure, and insist that leisure is important enough to fight for - is quickly denounced as “entitled,” “parasite,” or “lazy bum.” (I’ll unpack and critique this rhetoric in future issues.)

Yet “laziness" is often a healthy form of resistance to coercive employment, and an important component of the intelligent process of dejobbing.

As I inquired into the deeper roots of my own “laziness,” I unearthed layer after layer of internalized productivist conditioning, to my chagrin. I was trying to write a book decrying the injustice of compulsory wage labor and championing the importance of leisure! Hadn’t I rooted all that Puritan work ethic stuff out?

I hadn’t. Not even close. I did quit my job to write, and I did it joyfully. But then I morphed into my own boss, habitually shaming myself for my lack of “productivity.”

So I kept unpacking and questioning. Why did I waste so much time instead of writing the book I wanted to write? Why was it so difficult for me to make good use of my free time after I quit my job?

Note, first of all, that the way I framed this question assumes that ”making good use” of my job-free time means writing the book. Why hadn’t I considered “doing nothing” a perfectly good use of my time? And furthermore, why did all the work of managing a household and caring for my health needs get shunted into the background and lumped in with “doing nothing”? Reasonable people would probably agree that tasks like grocery shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, and caring labor are doing something, after all, even if these tasks are unpaid.

What other unexamined productivist assumptions might I be harboring?

Truth be told, I didn’t know how to sort out how much of my so-called “laziness” stemmed from resistance to coercion, how much was a reaction to a chronic unmet need for rest and creative incubation time, and how much was procrastination or self-sabotage. What if I actually am lazy in precisely the way our culture reviles? Would that be so bad?

For that matter, what does it mean to “waste” time, anyway? Why wasn’t my time in compulsory employment considered wasted time? The dominant narrative of job culture seems to be that unemployment means wasting time, unless you’re dutifully and diligently studying or seeking further employment. But from my perspective as a creative writer, it’s time in conventional employment that is wasteful. Every hour I spend doing “bread labor” for money instead of doing the work I’m best at - the work I’m called to do - could and should be considered time wasted by employment. And there are countless others in the same boat. Many people’s best gifts and talents are being wasted while they’re stuck in a job to pay the bills. Why aren’t we collectively outraged about this kind of massive waste?

In the early days of dejobbing, before I had done much of this inner work, I wondered if the problem really was just me. Perhaps I’d been using my job as a socially acceptable excuse for not doing all the things I’d been so certain I’d do if I could quit? Still thoroughly steeped in productivist values, I didn’t like seeing myself as someone who simply frittered away time aimlessly. But that’s who I saw in the mirror once the job no longer occupied most of my time. I knew I couldn’t stop there, though. I had more inner work to do. Quitting my job, it turned out, was just the first step.

Oh no, I thought. I’ve already worked on this stuff. You mean there’s still more? You mean I need to dig even deeper to get to the root of this?

It didn’t help that I had to do this work largely alone, in a completely unsympathetic cultural climate. To outsiders, my dejobbing process did look like unhealthy avoidance or procrastination. It did look like I was just being lazy. Nobody seemed to care about the time and energy it took me to manage a household. Six months of “sloth” might have been acceptable, or even a year if I had a good excuse, but in the end I spent many years in the dejobbing process. My gut instincts told me there was more to the story than “laziness,” but at the time I had neither the insight nor the skills to articulate what my body knew.

Much later I came to understand dejobbing as a form of embodied intelligence trying to teach me how to trust my instincts and live a life of autonomy outside the confines of conventional employment. This meant unlearning all kinds of subtle habits of self-coercion that are widely considered perfectly normal, or even healthy. If I’d known about dejobbing, and had been in a position to allow the process to run its full course without interference, perhaps the full truth would have been revealed sooner.

If this struggle sounds familiar to you, try not to berate yourself. Dejobbing isn’t a failure. You are not a failure. People steeped in job culture will almost certainly dismiss you as a loser or a lazy slacker. You may lose friends, as I did. It takes fortitude to navigate the path of golden threads. Nonetheless, dejobbing is an intelligent process; it harbors a timetable of its own. Daimonic and embodied intelligences don’t respond well to shaming and coercive direction. However, they will often respond to genuine trust, discernment, and respectful negotiation. (5)

If you’re unjobbing, you may be doing things that look like work to an onlooker. Or maybe you’re doing things that look more like leisure. Or maybe you’re fortunate enough that your work and leisure blend together most of the time, and you can’t tell the difference. Maybe you have a job - yes, unjobbers can have jobs - but more likely you’re self-employed. In any case, when you walk the path of unjobbing, you allow your actions to be driven by embodied intelligence. Unjobbing often inspires spontaneous bursts of creativity. Amazing things can happen when creative work is liberated from compulsory employment.(6)

So let’s say you like this idea of unjobbing, and want to try it. What can you do to pay the bills while you go through the process of dejobbing? It depends on your situation. Every path is unique. I can tell you what I’ve done so far, but I can’t tell you what will work for you, since I’m not living your life. (For that matter, I can’t even tell you what will work for me. We all traverse this territory without a map.) Living in a thoroughly colonized capitalist culture that normalizes compulsory employment leaves most of us with little room to live the way we need to during the dejobbing process, so this is a tough question indeed. If there’s an answer that works for you, I’m willing to bet you’ll find it through learning to identify and follow the path of golden threads.

If my experience is any indication, the more you can reduce the time you spend in wage labor and give yourself permission for “laziness” - and the less time you spend shaming yourself or over-intellectualizing - the better your chances of discovering what lies in wait for you on the other side of the dejobbing process. But don’t take my word for any of this. Find out for yourself. The inner work of dejobbing and unjobbing leads you to a path that’s all your own; all I can do is tell you my story and cheer you on.

Here’s one thing I’ll say emphatically, though: putting a halt to the laziness-shaming is critical to the process. Laziness-shaming is deeply coercive. It’s one of the most insidious and effective ways capitalism colonizes our time. If we internalize cultural norms that insist our lives only have value to the extent that we earn our keep - and then enforce those norms upon ourselves - we’re doing capitalism’s work for it.

Laziness is not a character defect, bad habit, or moral failure that can be overcome by a concentrated effort of the will. Laziness is often what Charles Eisenstein calls “mutiny of the soul” - a form of subterfuge against the endless pressure to sell your time to employers to survive. If you can, put a bit of emotional distance between yourself and the label “lazy.” What else might be going on that’s perceived as laziness? Maybe you’re overwhelmed? Overworked? Chronically stressed and on the verge of burnout? Maybe it’s a reflection of chronic pain sustained in toxic working environments?

That part of you, the part that’s “lazy,” doesn’t like to be shamed. It’s a healthy and intelligent part of you. It’s trying to get you to listen. Human beings need rest and leisure. How would you feel if you were trying to get a loved one’s attention, and they responded with rejection, dismissal, “self-discipline,” and shaming? Would you feel hurt? So does that part of you. If you want it to speak to you, start by giving it some respect and acceptance. Once it learns to trust you, perhaps it’ll speak up more readily. (7)

Work wrought by coercion will never be as powerful as work that emerges through alignment with embodied intelligences, golden threads, and the daimonic. The path of unjobbing can lead us to places we couldn't have imagined from the previous vantage point, because they looked impossible.

In my own case, although I’m happy to be writing full time now, I still earn most of my income through bread labor as a copywriter. This type of writing is wrought by the coercion inherent in the need to “earn a living,” so when I sit down to do it, resistance and “laziness” arise. I no longer shame myself, but it still takes a lot of energy to force myself to do the bread labor against the protests of my daimon. Daimonic writing, such as the piece you’re reading now, is restricted to my off hours.

I wonder what kind of work I could do in a world that freed me to do the work I want to do?

Unconditional basic income could be a key to that world.

I hope I’ll find out one day.

I hope you will, too.


(1) Special thanks to Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, and Matt Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity for insights that marked a major turning point in my life as a writer interested in engaging the daimonic.

(2) Fogler defines unjobbing as: “letting go of the pre-occupation with, and self-inflicted domination and life-consumption by, an “occupation,” while consciously and joyfully reclaiming life.”

(3) The phrase “golden thread” originated with poet William Stafford; I learned about it through Stephen Harrod Buhner’s brilliant books Ensouling Language: On The Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life and Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.

(4) Matt Cardin writes beautifully about the fallow period and about finding out how your daimon wants you to work in A Course In Demonic Creativity, a free ebook I highly recommend.

“The experience of creative diminishment or full-blown creative block often arises from your unwitting attempt to force your genius to deliver through channels or means that it simply doesn't like and refuses to comply with.” (p. 84)

(5) For moral support along the way, I highly recommend David Frayne’s deeply radical book The Refusal of Work and a Contrivers Review interview with Frayne by Luke Thomas Mergner that is among the most lucid critiques of compulsory wage labor I’ve ever read.

“…people who resist work are less shirkers and deviants, than decent people with alternative ethical priorities—priorities which may be worth taking seriously and thinking about.”

(6) Thanks to Scott Santens for calling my attention to the phrase “liberating work from employment,” a beautifully succinct paraphrase of an idea he adopted from the writings of James Robertson.

(7) Buhner’s Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm has a wonderful appendix with helpful instructions on how to approach this kind of inner council work. Peter Gerlach calls these “subselves” or an “inner family.” Buhner talks about the book here.

Dear subscribers: This is the free issue of The Anticareerist for March 2018. The next issue for the free subscriber tier will be published in April. Further issues this month will be released to the paid subscriber tier only. Subscriptions are $5 per month or $50 per year; you can subscribe using the Membership link in the upper right-hand corner on the Substack website, or by clicking the subscribe button at the bottom of your email issue.

Here’s an outline of what’s to come in future issues:

Notes To Self is a personal narrative letter series delivered by my inner council, offering guidance along the path toward being the change I wish to see in the world and the path away from "earning a living." Topics include non-doing, unlearning shame about "laziness," nurturing ancestral connections to motherlands, and more. You can read the first and second letters in this series free.

Get-A-Job Nonsense is a series in which I unpack and critique lazy bums rhetoric, do-what-you-love advice, the notion of financial independence, and other pernicious lies of job culture.

On Doing Nothing is a series of philosophical reflections on decolonizing time, non-doing, building a leisure ethic, leisure as resistance, and envisioning a culture of leisure.

The Deep Sorcery of Colonial Capitalism is a series in which I unpack and make visible the structural violence of “earning a living” and the ways it’s normalized.

Feminist Valuation is a series making visible the unpaid and emotional labor that undergirds "earning a living."

The Anticareerist Bookshelf features book commentary and quotes focusing on unjobbing, dejobbing, and building a culture of leisure that can be accessible to marginalized people.

Slothy Awards is a series recognizing and appreciating writers for their contributions to my anticareerist thinking over the 20+ years I've been studying in this “field” toward a world beyond "earning a living." (Thanks to Heimlich A. Laguz of Elhaz Ablaze for the title Slothy Awards.)

[Image credit: John William Godward, “Leisure Hours” (1905 - public domain)]

[For more on the history of The Anticareerist, originally launched as Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS) at whywork dot org in the 1990s, see A Brief History of The Anticareerist.]

[Comments on this piece or any other issues of The Anticareerist are welcome. Email radical.unjobbing at gmail dot com.]

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 

Why I Switched From Patreon to Substack

by D. JoAnne Swanson

Why are writers so excited about a new online newsletter publishing platform called Substack - to the extent that they're calling it "the future of journalism" and "one of the most exciting publishing products out there"?

It's their business model.

Founded in 2017 by software developer Chris Best and tech journalist Hamish McKenzie, Substack is a startup that offers an integrated "stack" of tech tools to help writers get paid directly by their readers. Substack’s mission: “Make it simple to start a publication that makes money from subscriptions.”

Though Substack is in beta as I write this, the platform lured me away from Patreon without hesitation.

Much as I respect Patreon, I find Substack's business model more impressive by orders of magnitude. It’s the first I've seen that shows serious promise of getting lots of independent writers paid well enough to quit their day jobs over the long term. Meanwhile, many professional writers - myself among them - have reached a point of diminishing returns on Patreon, a point driven home by Brent Knepper’s recent essay No One Makes a Living On Patreon.

In response to Knepper, Cory Doctorow writes that the right way to measure Patreon’s success is the amount of revenue Patreon delivers directly into the hands of creators. By that metric Patreon is succeeding brilliantly, he argues, even if only a handful of writers ever make a living there.

They’re both right. Patreon has given many writers a way to bring in a steady income without compromising creative freedom; that’s groundbreaking for sure, however modest that income may be for most. Nonetheless, Knepper's point stands.

When I left Patreon recently after a two-year run, my monthly intake on the site had peaked at about $100. Everyone in my extended networks who was interested and able to become a patron of mine had already signed up. To reach a wider audience and attract more patronage, I knew, I’d need to build a larger following - a “platform,” as they say in book publishing.

Pushing past my instinctive distaste for self-promotion, I had concentrated on expanding my social media presence, keeping my eyes on the prize I’d yearned for all my life: being in a position to write full time, on my own, without sacrificing my editorial independence. Eventually, however, I figured out that even if I’d been successful at building a large social media following, it wouldn’t have been sustainable for someone in my circumstances. Without the support of a spouse, a business partner, or an unconditional basic income, I simply didn’t have it in me to manage a household and juggle three full time jobs: a day job in copywriting, my solo freelance writing business, and frequent interaction on social media. Plagued by exhaustion, always teetering on the edge of burnout, I remained stuck in the Patreon catch-22: can’t attract more patronage without more social media work, but can’t free up time for more social media work without a sufficient income. I’d reached an impasse: a built-in limit to growth.

Despite my best effort, no amount of time management skill-building ever freed me from that catch-22. But the real clincher was the deleterious effect of social media overuse on my writing. Social media typically leaves me with shallow, “choppy” attention, reducing my ability to concentrate. That’s a big problem for writers who work the way I do. Since I rely on cognitive capacity to pay the bills, I need to manage those brain cycles judiciously. The deeper states of consciousness I must inhabit to write well become inaccessible if I fail to set firm limits to the splitting of my attention. And social media is a major splitter of attention. Typically it takes me 20-30 minutes of repetitive physical movement (e.g., dance, yoga, walking) and a brief nap to clear my mind and recover my ability to enter deep creative flow states after using social media, and even then I don’t always succeed.

In addition, it’s never far from my mind that social media capitalizes on unpaid labor. Facebook is the most egregious example. As On Substack puts it, “Facebook is in the business of converting your attention into dollars.” Yet none of that revenue ever makes its way into my pocketbook. Not only does Facebook refuse to compensate me for my time and writing, it’s constantly trying to extract even more money, choking the reach of page posts unless I pay.

Social media can still play a role in alerting readers to a Substack-hosted newsletter, of course, but Substack’s platform offers less labor-intensive ways for new readers to discover a writer’s work. Substack hosts an easy-to-navigate web archive of all previous issues of each newsletter, for example, so new readers who stumble upon a newsletter through a keyword search can quickly scan the entire list of titles and choose back issues to read at their leisure. There’s also a discovery tool, allowing readers to browse the newest public posts from each periodical at a glance, and click through to read more. On Facebook, by contrast, posts typically have a short half-life, and then they vanish into the ether, rarely or never to be seen again (if they’re even seen at all).

Another way Substack minimizes the administrative burden for writers is by simply not requiring a crowdfunding campaign. There are no reward levels to set, no promotional videos to record, and no public comments to manage. The whole setup frees up more time, attention, and energy for writing.

Oh, but there’s more. An unobtrusive, easy-to-locate membership link at the top of each published newsletter takes readers right to the subscription page, while an equally unobtrusive (but convenient!) link waits patiently at the bottom of each newsletter so readers can access all the back issues if they wish. Newcomers don’t even need to bother signing up for an account, presenting one less barrier to payment; they can simply enter their card information at the bottom of the page. Readers can stick with the free subscription tier as long as they like without being subjected to pop-ups or any other such annoyances. They can take time to become more familiar with the writer's voice before they pay for a subscription, or wait until their financial situation improves, or whatever suits them. Or they can just stay with the free tier indefinitely.

A++ design choices, Substack. Would browse again.

Did I mention that there’s no advertising anywhere? That means Substack’s incentives are aligned with both readers and writers. When writers make more money because enthusiastic readers are subscribing in droves, Substack makes more money too.

Substack offers writers what Bandcamp offers musicians: an easy way for audiences to pay artists fairly and directly for their work. They can sample the offerings freely and in one convenient place, too, just as music fans do on Bandcamp.

Everybody wins.

Even a cursory glance at today’s digital publishing landscape suggests that the launch of this new subscription platform is well-timed. Readers have grown weary of listicles and clickbait; the climate is shifting. More of us are prepared to pony up for subscriptions to quality reading material.

Just before I discovered Substack, I commented to a fellow blogger:

"The glory days for independent bloggers are long over. Seems like everyone and their brother is publishing ebooks now. We've passed some kind of saturation point. I’ve experienced this recent shift in the media landscape as a reader also; I myself am less likely to click on links and read than I was even a year or two ago. It's not for lack of interest, though; it's just that there’s such a vast territory of material out there to choose from that I’ve become more selective. Can't blame my readers for doing the same. That said, I think there will always be an audience for good writing that respects readers’ intelligence; it's just more difficult to find. But how do we connect with those devoted readers now that the online publishing landscape has shifted so much? Beats me. If I could answer that, I'd be all set!”

Substack’s answer to that question is to make it easy for those devoted readers to pay a trusted writer to handle curation of content tailored to their interests. That service will become increasingly valuable (and, therefore, increasingly worth paying for) in the coming years, as the volume of reading material continues to expand and it gets even more difficult and time-consuming to locate quality writing targeting niche interests.

There’s a lot of great writing out there that would not interest traditional publishers, but that readers want, and are willing to pay for. So publications that weren't financially viable before - because their market is too small and advertisers see no money in them - may now become viable due to increased reach and appropriate market timing.

Substack is giving these publications a home.

But perhaps the most promising aspect of Substack, from a social justice perspective, is its potential to bring greater financial ease to the lives of struggling writers on the margins. As one of those writers myself, I’m well aware that there are few paths open to me that are likely to result in a sustainable livable income. Most of my options involve an endless future of hard work doing things I don't want to do to earn money. Patreon marked an encouraging step in the right direction, as it brought me a small income that allowed me to take on more work I want to do. Building a larger social media audience remained out of my reach, however, which limited my patronage. Patreon’s search tool also plays a role in limiting income growth, since it displays only the top 20 earners with the highest patron counts in each category. This contributed to keeping struggling writers hidden from view, and keeping interested patrons from locating less popular writers whose work they might enjoy. (Graphtreon maintains a full list.)

Skeptics may be asking: “But isn’t there a risk that most writers won’t be able to attract enough readers to make a living on Substack either?” Of course. There are many more factors involved in determining that besides the company’s business model - including structural factors, some of which I write about in my newsletter. I’ve been a supporter of unconditional basic income for over 20 years; it isn’t my intention to imply that any writer can or should launch a newsletter with the hope of making a living that way. But for my own case, I’ll put it this way. My newsletter, The Anticareerist, features topics I’d be writing about in this format even if I never earned a dime from the effort. That’s one reason I know this is the right path for me. Writing about the structural injustices of earning a living and championing the importance of leisure is not exactly a lucrative venture, to put it mildly. It’s cost me dearly to continue with this project, in fact - financially, emotionally, and socially. Until Patreon came along, enabling me to bring in a bit of income directly from my readers, I funded this project out of my own pocket and sustained it entirely with my unpaid labor. For 20 years.

With Substack’s direct subscription model, it would take about 300 paying readers for me to reach “critical mass,” enabling me to work on The Anticareerist and other self-driven creative projects full time. That feels like it’s within my reach, while with Patreon I remained stuck in a catch-22. The psychological value of that potential should not be underestimated, especially considering my limited options elsewhere. In any case, there’s nothing for me to lose by trying, and a great deal to gain if I succeed.

Sounds like a good risk to me.

Substack’s model sets in motion a positive feedback loop that benefits both writers and readers, and that’s the heart of why it lured me away from Patreon. Whether I have one subscriber or thousands, I’ll be doing the same amount of work. My task is straightforward, if not easy: to consistently deliver high quality writing that respects my readers’ time and intelligence - writing they appreciate so much that they’re willing to pay.

There’s still no guarantee that I’ll make a living by publishing issues of The Anticareerist at Substack, of course. Much depends on other factors, such as how many new readers discover my publication, and how much those readers care about the topics I address. Nonetheless, I believe I’ve got a much better shot at it on Substack than I ever would on Patreon. Even if it isn't possible soon, it’s likely to become more possible as the online media landscape continues to expand and curation services increase in value. Substack takes a 10% cut of writers’ revenues; if it works to support the work of independent writers as well as I hope it will, it will be worth every penny.

If a platform like Substack had been around when I was younger, it might have changed the entire course of my writing career.

Despite its limitations, Patreon earned my respect for its success at achieving something long overdue: getting more money directly into creators’ pockets. So I didn’t leave on bad terms. Substack simply offers me a better chance of building a sustainable subscription publication over the long term, and that’s the main reason I switched.

To sum up, then, here are a few of the things I appreciate about Substack:

* A streamlined, uncluttered, easy to read interface.

* No advertising anywhere. No affiliate links, no pop-ups soliciting my email address before I’ve even read a single word, no autoplay videos, no sponsored content, nothing.

* A no-obligation, guilt-free way to sign up for either free versions or paid ones, according to what suits the reader’s budget and interest level.

* A no-rush way for free subscribers to convert to paid ones.

* Set-it-and-forget-it: once readers have subscribed, the publication shows up in their inbox indefinitely, unless and until they cancel.

* An easily accessible, at-a-glance list of archived material for each publication.

* Fosters a direct relationship of mutual trust and appreciation between readers and writers.

* Facilitates engagement: readers get to demonstrate their appreciation by paying the writer directly.

* Variety. Periodicals hosted on Substack include link collections, quotes with analysis and commentary, personal narratives, mixtapes with liner notes, long-format essays, and much more. They may be released daily, weekly, monthly, or sporadically. The attraction they share? Careful curation by a knowledgeable, trustworthy specialist who writes with skill and passion.

* No crowdfunding campaigns, cluttered comment sections, or intensive social media work for writers to manage = more time for writing.

* Nothing to distract readers' attention from what they're there for: the writing.

Thank you, Substack. Writers have been left holding the short end of the financial stick for so long, and so much valuable writing time goes to waste when we’re forced to chase our pay. Thank you for what you’re doing for writers and readers alike.

I hope this direct subscription model spreads like wildfire, and changes the future of online publishing forever.

Monday, February 26, 2018 

Note to Self: You Don't Have To Do It All Yourself

Inner Council Letter #2

Dear One,

You’ve always known, at some level, that you’re here on this earth for purposes that aren’t evident in the standard path choices on offer by your culture. Many well-intentioned people tried to steer you into jobs and other roles that weren’t for you. That strong will you have? We knew you’d need it to resist the onslaught of pressures you’d face. That’s why you’ve got it. We could never allow you to remain silent for long about your conscientious objection to this structural violence and injustice called “earning a living.” We know it cost you dearly to speak out. But it’s part of why you’re here. We need you. We need the person you are. The work you do matters.

It took a long time for you to make sense of those early visions you received, and to shape them into something solid - something your full self could get behind. It took even longer for you to learn to trust and consistently follow the path led by what the poet William Stafford called “the golden thread that all writers must follow for their work to be real.”

We’re proud of you.

We know what it cost you to stick to this path with tenacity, even as your marriage ended, your ex absconded with your half of the funds from the sale of the house, and the legal system failed you in your time of need despite your best efforts.

We know what it cost you as your former life was burned to the ground, relationships with people you’d called friends for 20 years were severed, and you were cast adrift in a country with a woefully inadequate social safety net.

We know what it cost you as you graduated with your post-bac in accounting at the height of the great recession, set out to get a job when next to no one was hiring, endured round after round of being told you weren’t trying hard enough, and then started a house cleaning business.

We know what it cost you when you spent years embracing your nerd roots and diligently studying web development - making your long-departed techie father so proud of you! - only to give up job-hunting in the field when you crashed headlong into ageism and sexism in tech.

We know what it cost you to abandon your hopes for graduate school in philosophy when you discovered that 1) nobody cared about philosophy of leisure or even took it seriously, and 2) there was no university, program, or mentor anywhere in the U.S. under which you could study the “field” you yearned to study: liberating work from employment.

We know how much you struggled under such intense pressure from your culture. Especially when all you were hearing from us the entire time was:

“You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital. You must resist the colonization of your time. You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your work. You have books to write. You are the only person that can deliver them the way they’re needed. You must trust that the world needs to read these books just as much as you need to write them.”

We know.

We also know you are listening deeply, heeding the visions fully, and trusting the golden threads now. Finally the timing is right. Even as you tremble in your boots, you step forth into the unknown, emboldened by clarity of purpose. You can feel the difference, can’t you?

This is the path toward “being the change you wish to see in the world.”

This is the path away from “earning a living.”

You’ve always known the truth of this in your bones and flesh, even if you couldn’t yet express it, and even if most of your culture doesn’t recognize those embodied epistemologies as legitimate. Now you’re realizing something else you’ve always known:

You don’t have to do it all yourself.

In fact it’s just the opposite. You must defy productivist values, resist “earning a living,” and do nothing.

When you do nothing - which is a very active state of being, despite the tarnishing of its reputation by Puritans - you give the larger intelligence room to speak to you and through you, and reveal the next step. Help is available. You’re not alone. As Nan Wishner writes:

“…something larger will move through you if you invite it. Glimpsing this experience is tremendously freeing and invigorating.”

As you know, you can help create the conditions for that larger intelligence to speak through the practice of incubation. Solitude. Silence. Endarkenment.

But there’s no map you can study in advance. That’s not how this process works. That’s why you need courage and a strong will. The next step along this path only becomes apparent after you’ve boldly gone forth and taken the previous one. When you act on those golden threads - and sometimes, paradoxically, acting on them means doing nothing - then you step onto a path unique to you. You step onto a path that remained imperceptible from where you once stood.

Yet the path has always been there to guide the steps of those who are willing to ask, listen, and trust their inner guidance.

Welcome! We’ve been waiting for you. We knew you’d make it.

The time will soon come for you to take even bolder steps. You’ll be ready, even if you don’t feel you are. You are up to the task. We believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself.

We’ll guide you all the way.

We Love You,
Your Inner Council

Friday, February 23, 2018 

"Earning a Living" and the Dilemma of Unpaid Work

On The Injustice of a World Without Unconditional Basic Income

[This piece was originally published in October 2017 on the blog and Patreon. Kate McFarland of Basic Income News and The Useless Life interviewed me in response to this piece, and my answers to her questions will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Anticareerist. You can now subscribe here at Substack (there are two tiers, free or paid) to ensure you don’t miss future issues. ~ D. JoAnne Swanson]

[Stylistic note: It’s customary at The Anticareerist to always put the phrase “earning a living” in quotes to emphasize its injustice and to encourage critical thinking about it.]

All of us have basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, rest, and health care. But all of those things cost money, and for most of us the only way to get money is to "earn a living" through employment. We're expected to sell our time to employers in order to earn money to pay for these things.

This confronts us with an inescapable dilemma. It puts those of us who do valuable but unpaid work - caring labor or art, for example - in an especially difficult position. Our choices are:

1. Find another type of work that earns money.

2. Find ways to monetize work we do that is currently unpaid.

3. Sacrifice or neglect our own needs so that we can continue doing unpaid work.

4. Rely on support from friends, partners, family, charity, and/or community.

Note that "receive adequate food, shelter, and health care to meet our basic needs regardless of our employment or relationship status" is not on the list. This is a fundamental injustice that causes a great deal of unnecessary coercion and suffering. It is an immense source of pressure to enter into, and stay in, jobs and relationships we might never accept if we could survive without them.

Even those of us who accept gainful employment often find that it is precarious, exhausting, and poorly paid, with no benefits such as health care or vacation time. Add in the many forms of invisible and devalued labor we do, such as the disproportionate burden of emotional labor shouldered by women and marginalized people in relationships, and it's not difficult to understand why leisure time is so scarce for us. Between paid and unpaid work combined, we are overloaded. Yet our dilemma often goes unnoticed, because creative work, care work, and housekeeping are not considered "real" work.

We are expected to pay for our own basic needs, lest we become a financial burden to others. The need to "earn a living," then, acts as a structurally coercive force that pushes those of us who do unpaid work into one of two economic arrangements. We can be

1. ...economically bound to relationships, or

2. ...economically bound to employers (or clients who pay us).

If neither of those arrangements are available to us, or if they are for a while but we lose them and have an inadequate safety net, we'll likely end up living in poverty. Opting out of marriage or employment altogether, so we can do valuable unpaid work (and enjoy leisure!) on our own terms, yet still meet our basic needs? That's not even on the menu.

In the absence of an unconditional basic income, unpaid workers cannot truly and fully consent to employment. Nor can we truly and fully consent to relationships. The coercive force exerted upon us by the need to "earn a living" renders our true consent irrelevant. In order to give meaningful consent, we must be free to say no.

What message are we sending when we frame paid employment as "independence" or "free choice" or "being self-supporting" while those of us who do unpaid work are structurally coerced into accessing capital through relationships or employment?

What message are we sending if we tell people "if you don't like your job, just get another one" when we cannot meaningfully opt out of "earning a living" altogether, and choose for ourselves how to spend our time?

In a world where we must "earn a living" under threat of poverty if we don't, how can we ever know for sure which employees are taking jobs because they truly want to? How do we know they aren't just doing the emotional labor required to convincingly perform enthusiasm for their jobs, when actually they'd rather be elsewhere?

We pay an enormous price, individually and collectively, when valuable unpaid work is neglected or not done because we are forced into full-time paid work to "earn a living". When the bulk of our time and energy is consumed by compulsory paid employment, our families and communities are deprived of the benefits that could otherwise be gained through our art, our care, and our service. We often end up too busy, distracted, and exhausted to develop our talents and gifts outside the context of employment. We are deprived of leisure and rest. We are deprived of the joy of offering our work to those who need it without regard to their ability to pay. We are even told, directly and indirectly, that if we don't or can't serve capitalism we become expendable - that our lives have little or no value aside from our ability to be productive on employers' terms.

This is fundamental moral injustice.

Every single day that passes without unconditional basic income is a day we suffer great losses, as most of us are forced to prioritize work that "earns a living" over valuable unpaid work, regardless of our true will.

We pay a price for this in relationship neglect and estrangement.

We pay a price for this in shame and blame heaped upon us by people who dismiss us as lazy or treat us as useless if we can't or don't work "real" jobs, while the work we do every day remains largely invisible or devalued.

We pay a price for this in structural pressure to marry, or to stay in unhealthy relationships.

We pay a price for this in creative talents that remain undeveloped or unharnessed - lost opportunities, and artistic work that might have otherwise existed if artists weren't coerced into day jobs to pay the bills.

We pay a price for this in sorrow, anger, and grief, as we consider the lives we've lost and the lives we and our loved ones might have lived without this fundamental injustice in place.

We pay a price for this ecologically. In many cases, we could do a great deal more to contribute to the health and resilience of ecosystems by not having jobs than we could by having them.

And that's just for starters.

Unconditional basic income would provide a financial foundation to support valuable unpaid work that benefits our communities, without requiring us to monetize our work or sacrifice our own needs to do it. However, even though the movement for UBI has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, I suspect we're still years away from actually having it widely implemented.

Crowdfunding has provided some artists with funding for their work. Patreon, in particular, provides ongoing funding for creators in a way that has enabled some of them to quit their day jobs and create full-time. But it's a far cry from UBI.

As much as I have wanted to believe that Patreon can provide something like a basic income - or at least a sufficient financial foundation for many of us who want to do unpaid creative work - the sobering reality is that Patreon is not at all like a basic income. It's more like a form of #2 above: monetizing our unpaid work.

Success on Patreon is a full-time job that requires popularity, marketing skills, and media visibility. In order to succeed at the quit-your-day-job level, most of us must first monetize our social networks, develop our "branding," and make ourselves into public figures. That's difficult to do, for all kinds of reasons, and monetizing unpaid work comes with costs of its own. The more time we must spend on self-promotion and social media work, the less time we have for creativity. Only a small group of highly skilled and visible people are receiving enough patronage to permit them to live without another means of financial support, and I'm willing to bet most of them got there with the aid of behind-the-scenes support or fall-back options that give them an advantage (e.g., spouses, savings accounts, etc.) For the rest of us, I'm afraid, Patreon is mostly "hope labor" for the time being. It's got potential to be liberating for some people. The platform is growing quickly, and for good reason. But there's a catch-22.

Here's how that played out in my own situation as a writer on Patreon.

In order to bring in more Patreon support, I knew I'd need to spend more time releasing work, handling media and publicity matters, and interacting on social media. But in order to release more work and spend more time on publicity and social media, I need an income that is sufficient to free up that time. I've been working on The Anticareerist and its predecessor projects for over 20 years now. I've got an audience that would like to read more of my work. I'd love to deliver more work! But until I have more free time and energy to write what is in me to write (which means I must first have more money, or some other means of support), my unpaid writing is pushed to the margins of my life. So, unless something major changes in my life, I'll be keeping my day job.

There are many things I like about my day job. But the creative work I want to do most - the work I have long felt is my calling - is all unpaid, and there are good reasons why it should probably remain unpaid. Yet I still have bills to pay, of course. That's why I structured my Patreon campaign for The Anticareerist on a gift model. I do not want to write for the money. I just want to write. Period.

I hasten to add that I'm not implying that my self-motivated creative work, or anyone else's, is unworthy of monetary support. I'm delighted to accept financial support from people who appreciate my work! I can accept funds - gift patronage - when the work is completed, but I cannot tether those funds conditionally to the release of the work without compromising the spirit of the work in some way.

As a writer, a great deal of the most important unpaid creative work I do is thinking. Pondering. Contemplation. Reflection. Introspection. Synthesizing and reframing ideas. Thought experiments. Critiquing. Detecting and teasing out deeply embedded patterns in seemingly disparate areas. Sorting out. Classifying. Organizing. Mucking around in the dark muddy waters of the imaginal realm, and shaping what I find there into something worthy of being called art. This work - and it is work, despite its invisibility - requires deep leisure. It requires unstructured, uninterrupted stretches of time, usually in silence and solitude. The invisible labor of deep thinking comes before the visible labor of writing. If I have insufficient leisure time, silence, or solitude - say, because I'm spending the bulk of my time in wage labor - the quality and feeling tone of my writing suffers. When writers say we're working while we gaze out the window over a cup of tea, we mean it. We're giving our deep mind the necessary space for good writing to emerge.

Deep leisure is not optional for a writer like me. It's a necessary stage of my creative process - a prerequisite for my best writing. In a world without unconditional basic income - a world in which wage labor is compulsory for basic survival - access to deep leisure is severely restricted, because people who do unpaid work do not have sovereignty over our own time. Because we must "earn a living", our time belongs to whoever has money: employers, spouses, wealthier family members, sponsors, and/or clients. We are forced to find ways to buy back our own time from the people or employers who own it by default.

The people who own our time.

That's one of the ways the structural violence of "earning a living" functions: it colonizes our time and our labor. If we want the "luxury" of doing unpaid work, we must figure out some way to buy back our time.

It's maddening, isn't it? As things stand now, we can't help but perpetuate this structural violence, regardless of how much we may object to it. Why? Simply because we happened to be born into an extractive capitalist economy in which everyone must have money to live. The need to ''earn a living" forces us to directly participate in our own oppression. Our consent is rendered irrelevant, and there's no opting out for anyone. We're expected to shoehorn ourselves into paid jobs - any jobs - or, for those of us who rely on government benefits, prove that we're trying to (which is a job of its own).

Why is it so widely and uncritically accepted that people don't even deserve basic food, shelter, and health care if they don't or can't "earn a living"? Do those of us who do unpaid labor, and those of us who can't work at all, not even deserve to live? Or, as the late Kellia Ramares-Watson put it, "Why must we pay to live on the planet we're born on?"

The bitter truth is that if we and our communities suffer because so many of us are consigned to life-long drudgery doing "bullshit jobs" (as David Graeber aptly puts it) and work that is ecologically destructive, well, that's no problem for capitalism. In fact, it's far better for capitalism if we do suffer, because there's a great deal of money to be made from suffering.

"Doing what you love" is not an adequate solution to the dilemma posed by the need to "earn a living". Not everyone can find paid work they love, and some of those who do find paid jobs doing work they love discover that doing it for money drains the joy from it - especially if they must do it for 40+ hours per week, endure grueling daily commutes, and suffer the never-ending anxiety of knowing that market forces, divorce, ill health, or other factors beyond their control could leave them unemployed and without an adequate safety net. (Particularly in the US, which exerts powerful coercive force through tying health insurance to employers and spouses). Having a job we love can be great for those of us in that fortunate position, but it does not address the fundamental injustice and vast losses we suffer every day by requiring every able-bodied adult to earn a living or pay a heavy price for not doing so.

For most of us whose true callings involve unpaid work, the best we can hope for is to minimize our participation in wage labor, which means we must make sacrifices somewhere so we can carve out as much time as possible for the work we really want to do. But there's a price to be paid for that as well.

Once we realize that requiring people to "earn a living" in a world without UBI is fundamentally unjust, and that we cannot truly opt out even if we find a job we love, many of us become depressed. Our souls resist this non-consensual conscription of our time - our only true wealth - into the service of job culture and capitalism. As well they should! Charles Eisenstein calls this mutiny of the soul.

If you dare to speak out publicly about the fundamental injustice of "earning a living", you may become a target of the ire that is routinely directed at people who resist. Accusations of "laziness" are usually the first that are leveled at us. Aside from its use as a rhetorical device or a reflexive defense mechanism, however, I would argue that if we inquire more deeply into this "laziness," we're likely to find rebellion - not against work per se, but against the injustice of being coerced by monetary need into jobs we don't want just to "earn a living."

As long as the injustice of "earning a living" remains in place, even those among us who have found some measure of success by doing work we love - say, by reaching critical mass on Patreon - still live under the threat of being forced back into a position of financial struggle. If our patrons (or employers, spouses, etc.) have to tighten their belts and can’t afford to support us anymore, or if we become too ill to deliver our creative work to our patrons anymore, or if Patreon changes their policies in ways that hurt our bottom line, we'll have to figure out another way to "earn a living", or face the harsh consequences of not doing so. So our time must still be bought from those who own it by default.

This doesn't sound too hopeful, does it? It's a far cry from "Why I Love Patreon," an enthusiastic piece I wrote in 2016. However, I want to be clear that it isn't my intention to disparage Patreon as a platform. What I wrote in that essay still stands. I do still love Patreon, for all the reasons I mentioned. In  a world without UBI, it's the best alternative available for many of us. It's still the only platform that offers the possibility of gift-model crowdfunding. Nonetheless, I've come to realize that for most of us, it's unlikely to become a long-term solution for supporting unpaid creative work at the quit-your-day-job level.

I wrote this to express solidarity with everyone who yearns for a world beyond "earning a living"- a world in which all of us who do unpaid labor could be free to devote ourselves to our work wholeheartedly, without having our time conscripted against our will into the service of capitalism.

It's deeply ironic that one of the most common objections to UBI is a fear that people wouldn't work. Only a culture deeply invested in the notion that remunerative work must entail suffering would entertain such a preposterous idea so widely and seriously. The truth is just the opposite: UBI enables work. It's an investment in human potential. It's a vote for a world where work is done by true consent, rather than by coercion born of the need to "earn a living" and the struggle to survive. It frees us up to do things we enjoy, instead of just taking any job to pay the bills. It enables us to do valuable unpaid creative work, domestic work, or caring labor without having to go hungry or stay in unhealthy relationships for financial reasons. Not having UBI is in fact preventing a lot of us - myself included - from working to our full potential.

It's helpful to acknowledge that there's a difference between jobs and work. Upon receiving UBI, undoubtedly many people would quit jobs they hate, or jobs they've taken mostly for a paycheck. But very few would stop working altogether.

With UBI, jobs would be freed up for people who actually want them, and those of us who do unpaid work wouldn't be forced to compete with them for those jobs.

If I had a UBI, I would definitely continue working. It would be difficult to stop me from working, in fact. I particularly love to write, and if I had the means, I'd spend the bulk of the rest of my days doing exactly that. I would also enjoy ample leisure time, and would gladly do what I could to help build a culture of leisure that could be accessible to all. But I wouldn't seek wage labor. I'd accept financial support for my finished work, certainly...but in order to preserve full creative freedom, I wouldn't try to monetize the creative process. Since my basic needs would already be covered by UBI, much of my time would be freed up, and my creativity would flourish.

One of the deepest satisfactions I can imagine is using my gifts to be of service. I'm confident that I could contribute a great deal more to society by not having a day job than I can by having one, since it would free up my time for the work I do best. Every day my unpaid writing work is neglected or compromised because the bulk of my time and energy is consumed by "earning a living" is a day of joyful service that I cannot give, and that the world will therefore never have.

Friday, February 23, 2018 

The Anticareerist - On the 'Lazy Bums Who Refuse to Work' Rhetoric

A draft from On The Leisure Track

“Do What You Love, Lazy Bums Who Refuse to Work, and Other Lies of Job Culture” is a chapter from my in-progress book manuscript On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture. This short extract from the first draft of the book was originally shared on my blog and Patreon, where it has been a reader favorite. In an upcoming issue of The Anticareerist (“USA: Land of Suffering With a Smile”), I’ll go into more depth to unpack and critique the rhetoric denouncing benefits recipients as “lazy bums who refuse to work,” and address some of the ways that U.S. job culture resembles a normalized abusive relationship writ large.

[Note: I’ll be migrating a few more reader favorites from my previous work over to Substack, so subscribers will see more emails this week. My next new in-depth piece, “Why I Switched From Patreon to Substack,” will be published shortly afterward.]

You must suffer to earn money.

You are expected to “earn a living.” “Earning a living” means enduring your job and paying your dues like everyone else, in order to prove you’re worthy of subsistence in the eyes of capital, and in the eyes of those among your fellow hapless wage laborers who have internalized the Protestant work ethic.

And you must suffer in the proper way: silently, while performing “positivity.” It’s not enough to be structurally exploited by the need to sell your hours to employers so you can survive. It’s not enough to conceal your misery about it, either. You must also express gratitude for your job. After all, it could be worse. You’re lucky to have a job at all! If you speak up about your suffering, you risk being branded as “difficult” or “entitled” – a complainer who deserves their fate.

This is what passes for a work ethic in the USA: the logic of the abuser, writ large.

This is one of the reasons people on benefits are so frequently denounced as “lazy” or ”mooching off the system”: they have managed to escape the suffering of the wage laborer, or so the story goes. The message behind this rhetoric is: You should suffer, like everyone else.

The vitriol directed at “laziness” reveals how much most Americans hate their own jobs.

The expectation that we paste on a smile and present as “positive” is just one of the many insidious ways affective labor is extracted from Americans in service of capital – while preventable suffering and structural violence continues on, largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. This pattern can be seen everywhere – from stressed-out (but smiling!) retail workers to the way strangers ask us a perfunctory “how are you?” and the only socially acceptable answer is some variation on “good” or “fine…”

Perhaps all this is not too surprising for a country in denial about the fact that it was founded on settler colonialism and genocide, but still.

Laying the blame on individuals for structural problems is a time-honored ideological tradition in the USA.

Toward a world beyond earning a living: unjobbing, decolonizing time, and cultivating a culture of leisure in an overworked world.

$5/month or $50/year