Getting it backwards on a right to work

I started reading a book by Beverly Ryle, Ground of Your Own Choosing. It was suggested to me by one of the career counselors I contacted looking for someone who would break a job hunt paradigm of chasing thunderstorms and hoping to be struck by lightning. She offers compelling arguments for why the old way of job hunting is futile and argues for an entrepreneurial approach to one’s career.

It won’t work for me.

The key is in the word entrepreneurship. I have not only spent my entire life being burnt by capitalism, but I have come to understand it as deeply and fundamentally immoral. Any system of exchange privileges parties most able to say no, that is, those most able to decline potential deals. This exacerbates rather than diminishes differences in wealth.

But Ryle is advocating different ways to fit in as a cog in the corporate wheel. She dismisses the enormous advantage that the wealthy have in this game, writing instead that the times call for us to return to an old workplace ethic of craftspeople who retain their independence as vendors and service providers. Without explanation, she sees this as equalizing.

But it does not equalize. Moreover, by converting people into so-called “free agents,” it enslaves them to a nightmarish burden of operating a small business. You still work for others and you are still subordinate to them, but now you must juggle this with business licensing and taxation requirements that no so-called independent business person would describe as liberating.

Worse, it requires people to market themselves even more intensely than they would in the process of begging for a job. Not only am I not a marketing person, but I deeply despise marketing. Ars Technica’s argument that ad blocking devastates the revenue streams of web sites people visit does not move me. I am unwilling even to be subject to marketing, let alone to be a participant in it, even on my own behalf.

The idea that I should have to market myself is so profoundly revolting that it evokes, unfairly perhaps, a sensation of rape. I am being compelled to do that which I despise. And just as surely as anti-abortion advocates would compel a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, taking her body for their own purposes for a protracted length of time, the concept of marketing myself, even for my own benefit, amounts to a profound betrayal of my own values that obscures a benefit which, in any event, never seems to materialize–and I’ve been butting my head against this economic system for over thirty years.

No matter how Ryle seeks to dress it up, any system of exchange is an exploitation of the poor that makes us poorer. I am not a capitalist. I do not wish to become one. Nor do I wish to participate in any fantasy of equality of opportunity.

In an odd way, I am reminded of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Alinsky uses an example of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document which omitted the benefits of British colonization, to argue that movements for change must deceive by omission in order to keep their messages simple. Ryle instead seeks to uphold the status quo not merely by omitting a description of its injustice, but by criticizing those who, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, insist that they “deserve” a job. In fact, under the Declaration,

Article 23.

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

As I described last year how politicians would have it,

We are not entitled to those rights enshrined beginning with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that the United States ratified under a constitution whose Article 6 enshrines treaties with the highest law in the land and whose ninth amendment states that “[t]he enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” like perhaps those rights our politicians agreed to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Am I entitled? Damn right, I am. But for insisting on my rights, Ryle casts me as evading responsibility. And she immunizes those who not only have the ability to fulfill their obligations but have acknowledged their obligations. Ryle thus gets it entirely backwards.

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