Friday, 1 July 2016

Power Relations Messages

I recently read a self-improvement book that said that one should never say to one's family or to oneself "I have to go to work". Instead the book said everyone should say "I get to go to work", and to feel proud about it. The intent of the message is help people feel better about their situation of needing to sell their labour to get by. This may seem well-intended, but the message unfortunately has a dark side to it.

In the current job system, people can be generally lumped into two categories, labour sellers (workers), and labour purchasers (owners). The labour sellers do so because they are ultimately poor. They don't have wealth to generate the income or goodwill needed to furnish them with sustenance. If they don't go to work, they will not be able to pay their rent or mortgage or buy food. To try to obfuscate this situation by calling working a privilege is to take from the workers the desire to improve their situation of needing to sell their labour. Own way to alleviate the situation would be to improve wealth equality, especially including providing people access to or ownership of their own land. The situation of wealth inequality will not be alleviated if people are not aware of their relative wealth, or what it means to be truly wealthy.

So why tell people not to think they need to work when really they do? Anyone buying labour or benefiting from the labour of others would benefit from having happy complacent workers free of resentment about their predicament. And who is it that benefits from all the labour going on, all the extracting of resources and the adding of value to them? It is of course the wealthy elite, who do not themselves sell their own labour, but simply use their rent derived money to get the service and labour of the workers. The wealthy elite benefit from their position at the top, and will freely send out power relations messages to maintain the hierarchy.

Another message designed to maintain the wealth hierarchy is to tell workers who ask for more pay or less working hours to "be grateful for what they have," and compare their lot with those in terrible situations. This insistence on having workers compare themselves with the lowest common denominator, instead of aspiring to greater heights is simply a message to maintain the status quo. Also watch out for the rags-riches-stories that are constantly paraded out on the media. The power relation message being given there is "If you aren't a self-made millionaire, it's not the fault of a system that constantly increases wealth inequality, no, it's rather your own personal fault for not having enough initiative or hard work." Using endless rags-to-riches tales to get the wage-labourer victims blame themselves rather than work to better their class position is an effective yet psychotic way to maintain wealth hierarchy.

I recommend taking the self-improvement book author's message and those like it with a grain of salt.

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