Hell Is Not Working

From JJ’s Culture Kitchen blog, 2006:


In a newly posted essay
, Mac co-inventor Paul Graham writes:

By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. . .

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. . .If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.

These are the staples in my idea pantry. Learning is fun, not work. Schooling is work, not education. Our 15-year-old has never been to school, precisely because I believe school screws up such lessons as these, and all the hapless folks who receive them.

Right this minute, thousands of auto workers are being paid to languish in a sort of no-fun, school-busywork holding pattern, literally assigned to sit in a big room that sounds for all the world like study hall or detention. There they doze with their mouths open and read the papers, drink coffee, engage in dispirited bull sessions about sports and television, and step outside to smoke.

They are going nowhere, doing nothing — trapped by work-a-day reality in their uncertain present waiting for their uncertain future, caught in some sort of wicked (laid-off, laid up, on the shelf yet on the job) purgatory being preached by their peers-in-control as all that stands between them and Hell.

Under the oh-so-clever contract, they may languish in this dubious state of not-working work for years.

Officially it is still work, but they are auto workers in name only and it’s not working, not for anybody – not the corporations and managers, the stockholders and Wall Street, not for the purgatory-bound “employees” and their families.

Work and change may be hell, but the lesson of the day seems to be there’s nothing heavenly about not working and not changing, either.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, the same lesson is being taught at School — striking grad students at NYU seem to view university life as a grinding sort of hellwork anything would be better than, a sort of not-fun factory work for your head, just a demeaning paycheck job one can’t get shed of soon enough.

Since it’s not a story I’ve followed closely from my own sunny southern college town, where I am not being paid and do not consider reading, writing and collaborating on intellectual work to be work, I have no details and don’t want them in this lesson. Suffice it to say their working conditions, whatever they were, got bad enough to compel action, so now they’re in a not-fun, not-work holding pattern just like the factory workers. (Once you’re in hell, it matters little how you put yourself there.)

Apparently it’s going on three months now, no resolution near, no one thought it would go on so long, this hellish business of being paid for not working or studying while having no fun either, and like the car not-building, not-graduate-assisting is not working for anybody. No institutional savings, no educational transformation, no new paradigm or personal empowerment or enlightenment. And no fun.

No, no, no. Not, not, not.

It’s sure not working for NYU’s not-striking students who are there to do schoolwork, who find themselves enrolled in a full-service university but nevertheless on their own without teachers, out-of-work against their will like the factory workers but with no contract protection, because they were never considered workers by anyone in the first place.

What to do? How about an anti-strike strike, where no one teaches or studies or works and everyone goes to hell in one big not-academic lunchbucket?

A handful of anti-strike groups have formed on facebook.com, as well, with titles such as . . .”If I Had Free Tuition I’d Be Dancing In the Streets” and “Strike Against the Strike”. . .

Undergraduate Elizabeth R. Webber was in a Spanish class taught by a graduate assistant, but the instructor went on strike and ceased teaching altogether.

Not-fun not-working rather than not-fun working. Hell?

But here’s the kicker: it seems not *all* the not-working auto factory fellows are not working. Some chose instead to turn not working into fun, by going off to work, meaningful work they personally love — in a school no less! — where no one else is having fun, but they do, because they really did have the choice to just sit and do nothing, back in that pay-for-no-play pen. These “workers” actively choose every morning not to not work as work, but instead to go have big fun in school and think of it as heaven.

Free tuition sounds heavenly to me here in my second half-century of learning; maybe ivy assistantships are wasted on the young? Helping schoolkids make music all day absent the relentless percussion of accountability hammers beating on one’s head, sounds heavenly, too, and unschooling with my own children is priceless.

Are these work lessons only Life can teach, or could the schools and culture do more to help the young learn about work as heaven rather than hell?

Listen to the story and you might start shaking your head in rhythm with me.

Defining heaven as Reach that exceeds one’s grasp wasn’t really about reaching for ever-better-paying contract clauses — was it? My response to this story is more along the lines of people turning Heaven into Hell no matter what their circumstances or working conditions, because that’s all they know, because that’s what they’ve been taught by their parents and school and life and society, because they can’t believe in anything else:

“If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.”

I can’t help but juxtapose the not-working brain builders with the not-working car builders, all being paid for work that has become not-work yet still is no good, with nothing better to do than nothing — and not liking it, wherever they think they have to be.

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