Many people can’t fathom why I voluntarily spent my adult life in college.
Let me tell you why.
I was standing in line at the drug store the other day. While I’m in line, a drug-store employee walks in the front door.
The cashier behind the counter turns to the employee who just walked in and asked, “Are you back yet?”
The other one says, “No, I’m still on my ten.”
As in, ten minute break. Ah, yes. I remember them well. The twenty-minute lunch for a six-hour shift. Thirty-minute lunch–unpaid–for an eight hour shift. I remember what it was like to work all day, really work, not the reading and writing and talking shit that I do now, for $40. That’s what eight hours of my labor was worth. Blogging at this job absolutely would not have been possible. And I had to ask the manager when I needed to use the bathroom. I had to wear a name tag, so complete strangers could address me by my Christian name. The humiliation of the American worker is something that I still can’t wrap my head around. It’s demoralizing enough to work in a job that doesn’t even pay you enough money to live–why do we have workplace policies, like name tags and permission-only bathroom breaks, which are insulting and serve no practical purpose? We are workers, not prisoners.
Really, where did this shit come from? It’s an honest question. Are these humiliating, control-freak policies relics from Progressive Era management theory, which operated under the paternalistic assumption that the average person was a shirking idiot whose job performance could only be optimized through the benevolent intervention of his superior, enlightened overlords? Scientific management, baby. The science of exploitation.
UGH. It’s enough to make you a communist. I don’t know how so many people handle it their whole lives without getting radical, killing themselves, or turning violent. I guess having kids makes people docile–your children become your hostage to fortune.
(Wait–didn’t Bacon say something like that? Let me go look it up….OH YEAH!!! Who knows Bacon? Margo knows Bacon! Francis Bacon: “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” BAM!)
Anyway, where was I…? Oh yes: most jobs mostly suck. I understood right away that if I had any hope of getting out, I’d need a lot of school.
I wonder if most jobs have been awful throughout history. I’d expect so, though contemporaneous accounts suggest that gratuitous workplace suffering intensified with the Industrial Revolution and stayed that way for a long time. Once capitalism outgrew its quaint Adam Smith phase, it got really nasty. Yikes.
There is an awesome TV series I enjoy called The Worst Jobs in History. The tremendously affable and entertaining host, Tony Robinson, runs around the UK presenting sucky jobs and trying his hand at them, with predictably funny results. Middle-ages iron miner. Chimney sweeper. Leather tanner. That poor loser who had to make golf balls by hand when they were first invented.
Check out this one: Tudor Age Executioner. Starts about three minutes into the clip. Beheadings are not funny, but this still cracked me up.
You can find all the videos on YouTube if you’re interested.