Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Selling Ourselves

I have been job hunting, for over a year. If there is anything that has come to my notice, during this time, it is that people seem to be morphing into products. (I can't call this evolving.)

Erich Fromm wrote this prescient statement in an essay, published in 1955, entitled "The Present Human Condition":

Man has transformed himself into a commodity, and experiences his life as capital to be invested profitably; if he succeeds in this he is "successful" and his life has meaning; if not, "he is a failure." His "value" lies in his salability, not in his human qualities of love and reason nor in his artistic capacities. Hence his sense of his own value depends on extraneous factorshis success, on the judgment of others. Hence he is dependent on these others, and his security lies in conformity, in never being more than two feet away from the herd.

Fromm goes on to suggest that we herded humans have become alienated "automatons." Albert Camus, along these lines, said, "Without work, all life goes rotten; but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies."

Is that what we want from the work of "making a living"? That certainly not what I want. I would venture to say that it must be true for everyone that we want to have work that is meaningful, either creative or useful.

I have seen friends turn themselves into consultants because they think that will free them from the rigors of office hours and give them "more time". Instead of freedom, they find that they are forced to work all the time, and that they have to pay the overhead that any office must pay, with regard to equipment. There is so much more to self-employment than anyone ever realizes. And sometimes the service we sell is something that could, maybe should, be given away for free, as a public service, neighbor helping neighbor.

The internet has become the perfect place marketplace for selling oneself. Well, not perfect. In fact, it is rather ugly and sick, this marketplace, with messages popping up all over, video messages yammering at you, while you are trying to find information on pages that are chock full of attention-getting blurbs that are not at all helpful to your purpose. Selling "old secrets",  rackets and scams, this sham marketplace is all hustle and no substance.

Modern life seems to be a cycle consisting of consumers who are, in turn, being consumed.

In his all but forgotten book, Good Work, E.F. Shumacher saw this cycle as a modern metaphysics he defines as "materialistic scientism."

"The world of work," as seen and indeed created by this modern metaphysics is—alas!—a dreary place. Can higher education prepare people for it? How do you prepare people for a kind of serfdom? What human qualities are required for becoming efficient servants, machines, "systems," and bureaucracies? The world of work of today is the product of a hundred years of "de-skilling"—why take the trouble and incur the cost of letting people acquire the skills of a craftsman, when what is wanted is a machine winder? The only skills worth acquiring are those which the system demands, and they are worthless outside the system. They have no survival value outside the system and therefore do not even confer the spirit of self-reliance. What does a machine winder do when (let us say) energy shortage stops his machine? Or a computer programmer without a computer?
The traditional workplace has been downsized, both of meaning and dignity. I see people now working as grocery clerks who I discern have been pushed out of professions that live by the "free market capitalism" credo of profit, profit, no matter what.

Who knows, perhaps I will soon be a grocery clerk.

These are things I have been thinking about, while I look for work.

Fromm, Erich. "The Present Human Condition," The American Scholar (Winter, 1955-56, Vol. 25, No. 1).
Shumacher, E.F. Good Work. Harper Colophon, 1979, p. 123.

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