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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Attn: Wage Slaves! (book review)

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Most ‘work’ in this age is stupid, monotonous, brain-rotting, irritating,
usually pointless … Marx was quite right in calling it ‘wage slavery.’

Robert Anton Wilson, 1986 intro to ‘Undoing Yourself’, 3rd ed.

The Good Life for Wage Slaves

If I could go back in time to deliver a handful of ‘near future’ books to my 1987 self, Robert Wringham’s brilliantly entertaining new book, The Good Life for Wage Slaves, would probably be one of them. My younger persona wouldn’t understand his references to COVID-19 or to office workers distracting themselves with the internet – or even to the idea of “Quiet Rooms” (it would take years before such New Age type notions made it into British workplaces without a sneer) – but the deeper messages about contemporary Wage Slavery, and the information on how to cope, would have transformed my outlook.

Back then, I was starting in office work hell with no end in sight. Apart from a few Bertrand Russell and Robert Anton Wilson quotes and an anarchist essay by Bob Black, there seemed little in the way of intellectual self-defence against the onslaught of modern work culture. Politics of ‘right’ and ‘left’ seemed dogmatically agreed on the heroic virtue of jobs to deliver us from social and economic evil; insidious forms of corporate behaviourism and institutional emotional blackmail were rife. The Idler magazine (founded in 1993) was still a few years away; David Graeber’s essay and book on Bullshit Jobs (2013/2018) were still a few decades in the future.

Around 1990, a few dissidents, here and there, scraped together primitive desktop publishing resources to create various anti-work zines, stickers and graphic propaganda. I recall creating and printing ‘Crap Job Watch UK’ stickers, etc, making ironic use of business clip-art – and, by 1995, DIY-published my first issue of Anxiety Culture. Basically pre-internet, zine culture back then seemed a desperate (but fun) attempt to create and find others of similar creative mind.

To me, Robert Wringham’s book is like a flowering of that subversive spirit against the soul-crushing forces of modern bureaucratic Wage Slavery! I also found it an entertaining read. After once making the great escape (and sharing his insights in his New Escapologist project), circumstances had then conspired to force Wringham back into Wage Slavery (via a visa-related requirement under Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy).

In a funny, wisdom-laced narrative, the book describes his adventures returning to a daily reality of office Wage Slavery for two and a half years. Throughout, Rob refers to his Scottish workplace as “Concrete Island” (after the J.G. Ballard novel), and assigns his work colleagues cartoonish cat names (eg ‘Prince Chunk’ and ‘Tibs the Great’).

In this and other ways the book acquires a strangely surreal vibe, with Rob as some modern-day Bartleby (albeit with a better sense of humour). So even though it’s anchored in a persistent and deeply unpleasant economic reality, there seems – to me at least – a dreamlike novelistic flavour pervading. It also remains effortlessly engaging while providing useful tips and strategies, for not only surviving the situation, but living “the good life” (a notion which goes back – not to the suburban BBC sitcom – but to philosophers of ancient Greece).

Here, to give you a flavour (and with the author’s permission) is a brief excerpt, on ‘the art of the shrug’. I like the idea of gently subverting the ‘friendly’ psychology ‘They’ try to coerce you with.

[The art of the shrug]

There was a rather annoying little motivational poster pinned up behind the reception desk on Concrete Island, which said “Smile! lt’ll make you Happy [sic].” It made us all extremely unhappy. Motivational posters are, as every Wage Slave knows, only put there to make our lives more closely resemble Hell.

One day, after seeing the poster for the one-hundred-and-eighth time, I thought to myself: That bears some scrutiny, surely. Someone with too much time on their hands ought to look into that. Smiling makes you happy indeed. They’re confusing cause with effect. Motivational poster-writing bastards.

And then I realised that I had a lot of time on my hands. I was petty enough to look into a clearly apocryphal claim. Once I found out it was bollocks, I could tell Mademoiselle Fifi, the receptionist, about it (“That poster? It’s bollocks, you know.”) and then she’d say “I knew it!” and we could tear it off the wall together and feed it into the shredder in the name of truth.

Unfortunately, Google put an end to my reverie, by pointing out that smiling in fact does make people feel happier. Apparently it goes back to Darwin who observed that facial expressions don’t merely represent emotions but can in fact cause them, an observation which has been confirmed by numerous scientific studies in the meantime. How annoying.

But if smiling can make you happy, it stands to reason that shrugging might make you feel more nonchalant and consequently less negatively affected by your sterile and irritating surroundings. I asked a scientist using a research service online and once she stopped laughing at me and consulted the literature, she said that yes, a shrug may well make us feel more indifferent about something.

When we’re feeling irritated by the working environment, humiliated and depressed by the fact we have to go there at all, it’s apparently possible to shrug it off. If this seems unhelpful, we might want to look more closely at the ancient art of Stoicism, which is essentially a way of becoming a human shrug.

[Excerpt from Robert Wringham’s book, The Good Life for Wage Slaves]

 

Incidentally, Rob’s depiction of “Concrete Island”, as an office on wasteland surrounded by motorway and dual carriageway, reminded me of the fictional setting for a film made in 2001 and inspired by Melville’s Bartleby (and also called ‘Bartleby’), from which the following still is taken:

 

Written by NewsFrames

September 14, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Antiwork, Jobs, Wage slaves

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