Dull Days at Work
Posted by _k
I forget precisely what it was that prompted the line of thought, which is irritating because it would have made a bit more sense of the whole thing, but I found myself wondering idly about counterfactuals yesterday, whilst at work. It was likely overhearing another conversation around me, but could be just as much a result of the larger milieu – centenary of the October Rev, Remembrance Day, these ultra-Nationalist marches in Poland – that had me thinking on these lines. Perhaps my memory will be jogged through writing this all out.
Because I’m in a rather tedious spell at the moment with the admin I’m doing, data entry not really occupying the mind very thoroughly, I have little games that I play to stave off boredom. Planning pieces to write, figuring out what to make for supper, playing out dialogues – common things that most everyone likely turns to, in one version or another. Feels a bit precious to even mention it, really, and certainly to think the fruits are worthy of attention, but, in this instance, there might be something instrumental in all the fluff.
Any rate, from what I recall, the thrust of the whole thing went something like this – I know, with a fair degree of assurance, where I’d be if it were 100 years back. Assuming I was living a similar life as my ancestors, I’d be stuck on the farm, or down a mine shaft. Furthermore, if I held the beliefs I do now (which is more of a stretch – though there is a definite chain of left-leaning attitudes in my family, my own positions are inextricably linked to the information I’ve had access to and the life I’ve led. Almost like they’re based in the material circumstances of my existence or something…), I’d probably already be dead, or banged up in jail for treason. I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, so I developed both possibilities a bit further.
With the first, I was struck by the qualitative difference between my life today, and that of the hypothetical me a century ago. Thinking about the difficulty in trying to eke out a robust artistic life when you got home, dog-tired, from 8 hours of smashing rocks, or trying to form fructive networks when living a life of rural idiocy in a colonial hinterland, really brings home how fortunate I am now, and how petty my concerns can be at times. As much as I might feel a bit drained when I get home, shirking the work that I’d prefer to be doing for something mindless like FB or vidya games, it stands in stark contrast to the fatigue of physical, manual labour, with little hope that circumstances will change the next day or the next month. It’s true that the devices we’ve built for ourselves are being used to squeeze more labour time from us, whether white collar or part of the patchwork economy (a much more apt moniker than ‘gig economy’), where people are expected to be accessible at all hours through their mobiles, or actively internalise the pressure to grab every shift possible to them, but there are hard-won laws in place now (though they are being eroded) and these same devices have changed the jobs we all do.
Cutting back to the point, I’m aware that it’s a bit cheap to have to reach back to an imagined past for this sort of thing. There are literal billions of people alive right now with neither the material security nor the leisure time to pursue the things they wish, so it doesn’t really require a fantastical re-imagining of one’s place to know that you’re very fortunate to even whinge about the whole affair. Still, you draw strength from where you can, and perhaps the more tangible connection, that hypothetical genetic link, plays with the sense of self in a way that mere empathy does not.
Regarding the second hypothetical, it’s, in part, down to the aforementioned hard-won laws, the struggle of previous generations once again, that my situation is different now. We have a (circumscribed) political freedom in many Western countries, and conscientious objection is a more well-understood and societally acceptable position. On the other hand, the fact that I’m able to self-describe in the way that I do, to have conversations and espouse anti-national sentiments without fear of reprisal is also in a big way due to the relative weakness of my position. In the ‘teens and the ‘twenties, international socialism was a force to be reckoned with – labour was organised or organising, and had a sense of the power it could bring to bear. There was no baggage of Stalinist atrocity to live down when it came to branding. And, accordingly, communist groups were treated as the threat they were, deemed illegal across Europe and North America at various points, members and organisers jailed and killed. If ever there were a groundswell of true hard-left support (as opposed to this soc-dem stuff we’re seeing a la Corbyn/Sanders), it’s almost assured that this would happen again. Even now, weak as we are, any self-describing Communist is barred from political office throughout much of the US, whether it be at the highest or most local level – even though this is unconstitutional. In many countries there have been recent denunciations and vilifications of the ideology, wrongfully attributing the crimes committed by individuals to the idea as a whole, and we are seeing calls for more. Obviously, the dredging up of cold war rhetoric is a cynical move to rally the rubes, or, in the case of Canada, a sop to the quasi-fascist pressure groups the government is cosying up to, but it is clear that this is an environment hostile to the possibility of an anti-capitalist way of life.
So, yeah, that’s what I think about when I’m at work. Same as you, I’m sure.
I guess I’ll take what strength I can from thoughts about how my life could have been, while still keeping a clear head about the limitations of the actual affair. Also, still haven’t figured out what prompted the whole thing…