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#8 Unlearning Total Work
I recently watched 11.11, a documentary which follows delivery guys and warehouse workers of JD.com on Singles Day (China’s equivalent of Black Friday, but MUCH bigger in transactions). If there is one place where the catholic work ethos of “work is suffering and you can’t do without it” still thrives, it is likely in the daily lives of gig workers and retail workers.
The catholicism has been replaced by rituals such as the wearing the jd.com jacket, monastic life in a 200 Sq foot apartment and fatalism about not being able to spend time with the family. But unlike religion it does not offer a sanctuary of any kind. The workers are also competing against machines. The documentary was shot pre-covid so I’m assuming the current conditions have accelerated their competition with machines that are likely to replace them.
What happens when they get replaced?
Its hard to visualize and live with the uncertainty that they are living in. “Work” essentially guarantees stability and it is hard to come to terms with that stability going away. It was interesting to observe that the delivery guys of JD.com expressed the same sentiments as gig workers everywhere - denial that their work will go away because machines can’t do it. I think corporations and governments have the ethical responsibility to train people on the idea that their jobs are likely to go away and gig work that is dependent on physical capacity does not have any permeance. That should be part of this organizational religion. This will help worker’s build the internal capability to act on it and not just be in denial.
Integrating workers into a post-work world
The delivery guys of JD.com sometimes lived with their families which Im assuming provided some other meaning beyond work. In a lot of cases, they even had close Communist party affiliations. The scenario in the US is more acute - most of the sense making institutions have disappeared or been decimated - government, family, church et al.
Our society is designed around work but we seem to be stepping into a time where work being our only identity may severely affect our mental heath. There are 35 million people who have filed for unemployment in the US and I’m guessing many more who have not for various reasons. There is a real chance we may go into the medieval era of working half a year and having the rest of the year to ourselves. Economic constrains now withstanding, a lot of people may need to be trained out of the conditioning of their identity and social life being based around work.