Happy Labor Day?
Work in This Pandemic Year of 2020
by Frederic Lowen
Work. The need to work and the right to work is ingrained in our psyche and being. It is biological in the fact that survival is dependent on work. It is cultural, as evidenced by the work ethic we measure ourselves by. And it is political in the structure of the vocational choices we have. Our natural motivations to work, produce, enhance, and survive must be adapted to the cultural and political demands and limitations imposed. The rare few who are fully rewarded to work at what they love, are considered genius by Carl Jung. Most of the rest of us find adapting to the rules of the workplace to be a compromise at best, and often acceptance and submission out of necessity.
The current pandemic has forced huge changes in our work: psychotherapists and health workers moved online; business travelers stopped traveling; office workers work from home; many low-income workers became “essential,” forced to assume huge risks at their low paid jobs; and that is if they were lucky enough to work at all. Hospitality, restaurant, entertainment, travel, and leisure workers largely had no work. In America, if you lose your job, you also lose your health insurance, no less during the Covid-19 health crisis. Amongst people, the degree of change and disruption varies from catastrophic to beneficial, but for most it is harder, and for all, completely abnormal.
Just as the impotent American response to national health needs has been exposed as insufficient, incompetent, and negligent the Covid pandemic has exposed the inadequate and predatory nature of American labor markets within the economy. It is condemnation of the leadership and structure of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.
The pandemic highlights inequality, injustice, and illusion. Covid has affected people in accord with the inequality structured into our relationships and economy. Imposing hardship on the many as it enriches the few, it creates unprecedented uncertainty for all. It has been a grand opportunity for the leadership of the US federal government to give trillions of taxpayer dollars to the least needful or deserving. Meanwhile, the most desperate get very little, if any at all.
It is yet another glaring example of the symbiotic relationship in which self-serving/-enriching/-empowering criminals disguised as politicians offer special legislative and regulatory favors in exchange for financial/political support. Wealthy owners and managers of private industrial interests need special favors to avoid liability and enhance profits for their toxic products and activities. They are thereby dependent on governmental support and special favors. It empowers the very few at great cost to the very many, including you and me. It is catastrophically destructive. Although such symbiosis has been operating forever and is normalized, it has become much worse than ever before as it approaches its limits and a breaking point where events will spiral out of anyone’s control.
We humans are like frogs in a tub of warming water, becoming too warm to support life. As warming is incremental, it is normalized and we do nothing about it until it is too late. Why do we warm the water? Only to enable a few frogs to become insanely rich! Is it sane? Hardly. Yet this is precisely what we humans do. Although the frogs may know what is happening, as we humans certainly do, they cannot feel the danger, the fear, or the anger and outrage that could force a stoppage of the warming. Knowing without feeling, and the inability to express those feelings in a straight, focused manner, grounded and connected, dooms us. Ungrounded and disconnected feeling is only counter-productive. It is dangerous in itself.
Fake news, delusion and insanity, is clearly at work. Obviously, fake news obscures truth with “alternative facts,” a term coined by former Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway. The most effectively confusing fake news and illusion contains a kernel of truth, around which a lie and falsehood is derived and constructed. While the American Dream has in my opinion served a healthy motivating function, it has been hijacked along with the government itself. Along with so many industries, the internet, and the government, the American Dream exacerbates inequality, enabling enrichment of the few at the expense of the population. It is socially, economically, and environmentally destructive in its promotion of hyperactive commercialism. Mindless hyperactive commercialism is dependent on personality degradation. Enhanced insecurities and fears, narcissism, and “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) with false promises of fulfillment and gratification that are too often the economic motivator for economic activity. In my opinion, personality degradation has become the 21st Century’s engine for commercial growth. Obviously, it is not an absolute condition. There are many worthwhile products and services available, and systems of economic exchange are desirable and necessary. However, the general trend, or net balance and critical mass of American and global commercialism is more insidious, and stimulative of/dependent on the fears and insecurity of people than ever before.
The illusions and delusions that support the insanity are myriad and grand. Hitler’s minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels stated that people believe a Big Lie easier than a small lie. Referring to the creation of a delusion, a Big Lie is an entire framework of belief and worldview as an alternate reality.
American delusions about our economy include ideas, ideologies, and portrayals of the American Dream, the Free Market, Capitalism, Socialism, Trickle-Down Economics, economic growth, the power of private enterprise, inflation, free choice, government and corporate benevolence, product/service quality, work ethic, to mention only the most significant of many. For brevity, we will discuss only a few that pertain most directly to workers for the Labor Day essay.
The American ideology of “Free Market Capitalism” is possibly the most pernicious and destructive delusion. Historic inequality and unprecedented inability to recognize or solve severe and intractable problems of injustice, healthcare, education, and environmental degradation is evidence of the failure of the current economic system as promoted and celebrated by fake American political leaders, who are in essence pirates posing as competent, concerned citizen leaders. The truth and reality is that we do not have a free market, except insofar as the rich freely take what they wish.
The self-serving symbiotic relationship creates a playing field that is so out-of-level that money falls out of the pockets of the have-nots into the palms of the richest humans on the planet. Population and environment are exploited and damaged by wealthy and powerful politicians and industrialists trading favors for support and obstruction of competition. Merit is no competition against wealth, power, and the status quo.
Our economic system is more accurately described as one in which profits are privatized by the very few, while costs, expenses, and risks are socialized, borne by the very many.
Similarly, the narrative about socialism is delusional, it is not just dis-information. Contrary to the definition and description supplied by politicians representing the status quo, socialism does not involve large government programs and participation in our lives. Quite the contrary. Socialist philosophies speak nothing of government involvement in the economic system. This reality may be why it is so denigrated by those who benefit from government’s symbiotic relationship with corporate and wealthy elite. Socialism refers to an idea in which workers participate and enjoy greater shares of the benefits of production and profit along with the wealthy and powerful financiers. In socialism, workers are not just production costs to be minimized for greater profits to the suppliers of capital and money. Instead, they are respected and valued as real people and partners in a mutual effort. Yet the very word “socialist” pushes people’s emotional ‘hot buttons.’ It is thereby delusional; it is not just disinformation.
The myth of the free market hides the extent of social engineering designed to serve crony capitalism and the status quo. Every commercial legislation, regulation, and enforcement incentivizes some people while it obstructs others. The American economy has for many decades subsidized oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy when a true free market would have shut nuclear down completely in the last century; coal has been nonsensical for 15 years; and the growth of oil and natural gas industries is over even with massive political support and government subsidy. This reality is affirmed by the removal of Exxon Mobil from the Dow Industrial Average last week on August 31, 2020. Yet, autocratic leaders around the world derive huge benefits for themselves by continuing their mis-guided and destructive support of these industrial dinosaurs and Dodo birds.
Government funding with taxpayer money of the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration providing airline security is just one of thousands of massive subsidies hidden in plain sight. While security of the airlines is indeed a national interest, the for-profit airlines cover less than 20% of the massive cost of TSA, with taxpayers funding over 80%. This has an enormous effect of keeping commercial air travel artificially cheap, creating an artificially high demand for fossil fuel-based jet fuel. If we enjoyed a free market, the cost of TSA assuring commercial travel safety would be borne by airlines and travelers. It should not be paid by taxpayers, many of whom cannot afford such luxury. Yet they must endure the resulting environmental degradation.
Environmental degradation itself is massive with greenhouse gas emissions; production, transportation, and refinery leaks and spills contaminating ground, water, air, and atmosphere. These are costs the corporate profiteers are permitted to ignore, in their symbiotic relationship with government politicians.
This is only one example of thousands within the energy industry. Other industries, notably health and pharmaceuticals, defense, finance, transportation, agriculture and food, education and incarceration to name a few that are equally subsidized by the pirates and criminals we dignify as “politicians.”
Private interests produce better value for the consumer/citizen. With regards to many social services, this nonsensical political delusion has been disproven over and over again for decades, yet it remains the major thrust and objective of current American political leadership. It is as absurd, unworkable, and disconnected from reality as “trickle-down economics,” which, as official policy, last led directly to the worldwide recession of 2007-2009. Because of the Great Recession, one rarely hears of this policy anymore; however, Trickle-Down is still the guiding and under-lying principle in government policy-making decisions. It is one of the surest ways to exacerbate inequality. Judging by their behavior rather than their rhetoric, inequality is itself sadly, their goal.
Private ownership is clearly a worthwhile and important social benefit that requires protection. It is an important aspect of freedom. Certain social functions however, education, penal incarceration, healthcare, childcare and eldercare do not lend themselves to private ownership as the exclusive access. The over-riding goal of maximizing profit is antithetical to providing quality and caring service. Examples of cost-cutting, poor quality, and deception abound; while few examples of long-term beneficial value may be demonstrated.
Studies of workers clearly show higher satisfaction amongst those whose work is a “calling,” rather than just a means of earning a living. If work has meaning, and is associated to a purpose higher than earning more and more corporate profit, it has a value that transcends the mere value of money. Privatizing these human services industries demeans these non-monetary values. Of course, the choice is not binary. Private entrepreneurial activity may co-exist with government programs, but ‘private-only’ works only for the owners, other stakeholders are left out.
What does this have to do with Labor Day? On this Labor Day of 2020, the year of the Covid pandemic, work has changed and will continue to change. It is an opportunity to examine our individual relationship with work, and our national relationship with work, that is, how our labor markets work.
Although people spend most of their time and most of their lives working, for most people it is unsatisfying, and often seemingly meaningless beyond the money needed to live. I suggest it is the nature of the dysfunctional economic structure, an unlevel playing field that is slanted to exploit workers, families, and natural resources. It is difficult to find meaning in work when it is manipulated towards the single-minded goal of maximizing efficiency, productivity, and financial return; especially so when it involves deception and exploitation.
The exploitation occurs in production and consumption. Marginal wages and benefits for most workers, the ‘bottom 70%,’ keeps them desperate, dependent, tired, scared, and compliant. Most workers cannot afford a comfortable and secure living in the richest nation in history. For immigrants and marginalized groups it is much more harsh and difficult. The cost of living is ridiculous and unnecessary to all but the Billionaires it creates.
Wasteful consumption is marketed and fueled by stimulating desires and fears, supported by high levels of insecurity, anxiety, and stress, with empty and deceptive promises of relief, satisfaction, and quality. Like a drug addict or alcoholic, greater use and greater stimulation leads to more deadening, requiring even more stimulation. It is a dangerous vicious cycle that has been interrupted by the pandemic.
Our work is political and personal. The lack of meaning in our work is a result of this socially engineered dysfunctional economic structure that exacerbates inequality and exploits people and the natural resources of our environment. This exploitation is condoned by government at all levels: municipal, State, and most especially at the national level. It results in a degradation of both the environment and personality.
In addition to ungrounded fears and desires, the pervasive mind-body split, the disconnect between what we think and how we feel, precludes our ability to see and understand reality for what it is. Our mind and thinking, disconnected from our feeling senses, can neither accurately perceive and/or conceive what we sense, nor, appropriately engage in relationships within the reality of our world. For a mind disconnected from the reality of a person’s feelings, the truth is obscured. The ability to distinguish and evaluate any truth is thereby compromised and vulnerable to manipulation. In this way we believe in absurd ideologies and delusions that are offered as alternatives to reality. This is the mechanism that creates unsustainability in economic and social structures.
In my travels, I judge this condition is worst in America. However, trends in America find their way throughout the world. Much of what is described here is true for many countries. It is my thesis that these trends are a result of emotional disturbances created in all of us in childhood. Insecurities and fears pre-dispose us to compliance and self-doubt. We are afraid of ours and others feelings, and mistakenly believe we can somehow ‘figure it out,’ and gain control of the situation. Feeling helpless, we are content like sheep to let the adults handle the situation.
Unfortunately, not only do we not have any adults in charge, the madhouse is run by kindergartners. Actually, most kindergartners would do a better job at governing. At least they would make the attempt. What we have are like the bad kids, the bullies in kindergarten running the show. Unfortunately, we have no one capable of expelling the criminals we recognize as political leaders, false as they are in their intentions and rhetoric. While the American Republican political party is likely the most dangerous organization in the world, the sad fact is that Democrats are no better.
The expression of feelings is the key to positive change. There is no lack of argument, analyses, journalistic and academic critiques of the current dysfunction. What we in Bioenergetics understand is that it is the feeling of anger, and the inability to express our outrage that is missing and necessary. No government can stand if the majority is outraged and expresses itself in a grounded and directed manner. In America however, we citizens are afraid of the government, and also afraid of our own feelings. We do not realize that talking heads and knowing the truth is insufficient without appropriate expressions of anger and outrage, whether on the street or in conversation. People must show their anger, or “show their teeth”, if they wish for transformative change.
This is not a call for violence, quite the opposite. In the current climate of division and ideological conflict, anything that exacerbates division works in favor of those who despise freedom for anyone other than themselves. Focused and grounded anger recognizes that reality, and grounds itself in truth, reality, and clear vision, unclouded by emotional insecurity and trauma. It energizes itself in purpose, intention, and intensity.
We wish good luck to all freedom loving citizens of the world.