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The Abolition Of Work


BOB BLACK

THE DEGRADATION WHICH MOST [WORKERS] experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as "discipline." Foucault has "complexified" this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace—surveillance, rote-work, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching-in and -out, etc.

Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions, they just didn't have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.

Such is work. play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it's forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the "suspension of consequences." This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. This is to demean play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct.

They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that's why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga [Homo Ludens], define it as game-playing or following rules.

I respect Huizinga's erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel—these practices aren't rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played withat least as readily as anything else.


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Text ©Bob Black : PO Box 1342, Albany, NY 12203-0142 | Graphics by GSIS