Reading from the fringes of dissent

Real wealth consists in things of utility and beauty, in things that help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in. But if man is doomed to wind cotton around a spool, or dig coal, or build roads for thirty years of his life, there can be no talk of wealth. What he gives to the world is only gray and hideous things, reflecting a dull and hideous existence,–too weak to live, too cowardly to die. Strange to say, there are people who extol this deadening method of centralized production as the proudest achievement of our age. They fail utterly to realize that if we are to continue in machine subserviency, our slavery is more complete than was our bondage to the King. They do not want to know that centralization is not only the death-knell of liberty, but also of health and beauty, of art and science, all these being impossible in a clock-like, mechanical atmosphere.

Emma Goldman

Lucas likes to tease that I’m a commie (or alternately, a freedom-hating terrorist–HI NSA), but this week I’m reading anarchists. Anarchism and Other Essays (available in a convenient iPod format) is pretty interesting so far. I get the feeling this is going to be one of those things where I agree with a lot of the premise but a small part of the conclusion, though.

The idea that the things produced of drudgery, coercion, or slavery should be considered tainted by this use of labor makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t seem to have much real weight in practice. Otherwise there would be no demand for diamonds, or cheap sweatshop clothing, or any number of things whose origins involve exploitation. I think almost everyone is so disconnected from where things come from that it’s hard to see this as sufficiently relevant unless it’s right in front of your face. So in most cases, only the workers and those in direct contact with them protest (and a few commies like me, of course).

The other thing I started thinking about when I read the quote at the top is how remarkable it is that people who endure bad work (on any level, from just jobs they dislike to really abusive situations) resist having the life squashed out of them. People resist drudgery any way they can. It’s how we cope and protest.

Tags: , ,

One response to “Reading from the fringes of dissent