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.

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.


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Here’s an outline of what I write about:

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. The first and second letters in this series are all-access issues.

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.)

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