I have abhorred work for as long as I can remember. I don’t mean that I’m against exerting myself. I do that all the time, but my exertions, it has always been made abundantly clear, do not qualify as “work.” Work, as an American institution—work with capital “W”—is something foreign to my nature.
It isn’t just that I find it unpleasant and unfulfilling. It is also that I’ve never been able to force myself to respect it, even way back when I still felt ashamed for that failure. Even when I felt that I was genuinely in the wrong, and that I was in some way sinning through my work-aversion, I couldn’t bring myself to see work as a worthwhile endeavor, much less could I see a “career” as anything other than a veritable hell that awaited me.
Since then experience and maturity have not done much to alter my childhood intuitions. I have been employed by no fewer than twenty companies since I came of “working age” those fourteen years ago. Each one of them sapped my humanity in a different way. Each and every one, without exception and without exaggeration.
Work is America’s collective demon and it kidnaps the nation’s children when they are still in the cradle. By the time they’re ten years old they’ve developed Stockholm syndrome and in my experience they rarely grow out of it, because unlike the victims of kidnapping they are never set loose. Therefore they never obtain to an alternative arrangement, which undermines one’s ability to identify his attachment as perverse.
And there are no policemen or parents out searching the streets for these work-captive youths. The parents are the ones who delivered them over to the captor, and the parents are captives too.
Work has been presented to me as a sacrament. It is the religion that surrounds me and that has drowned out all the others. But it isn’t mine. I don’t believe in it, and the more I see it worshiped it, the more repulsive and blasphemous it becomes.
It is the very opposite of my religion, which is the religion of creative activity. Through all the jobs I have had, and all the jobs I’ve not had but only seen, insofar as the work was “work,” it was anti-human. It was the reverse of creative activity.
God created because to create is divine. He didn’t create because he needed employment or because work was good in itself. God does not have a job. The Divine Artist, like just about every artist, is unemployed, and in his unemployment he gives perpetual birth to the cosmos.
But the world worships work, and America worships with unsurpassed devotion. So great and recognized is this devotion that America acts as the world-priest of the religion of work and productivity. Any refusal to worship at the altar of work is punished by death. But death is better. Starvation is better.
The greatest trick that the cult of work has played on humanity has been to convince people that it is better to work than to starve. It is far better to starve.
I believe this, even if I’ve really never been strong enough to live by it, or die by it. I believe it because the only part of me that “employment” has ever had any interest in employing has been the lowest part of me, the most useless part of me. I would say it was the “animal” part of me, but working on a production line for twelve hours at a time, pushing boxes through a taping machine, has less nobility than animal life. Animal life is far more beautiful than anything I saw in that sanitary asylum for the human soul.
In order to actually give anything to the world I have had to engage in a life-long battle to escape work. To be anything of value, to make anything of value, to be a creator in the image of the Creator, I have had to defeat work and break its hold. I have had to be lazy in the eyes of man, which is worse than being a fool.
The part of me that plays the good worker, showing up on time and providing excellent customer service, that part of me is an abomination and an affront to my person. I’ll be happy to see it off to hell someday when I finally make it to purgatory’s fires.
It has been clear to me for years now that if I ever wanted to become myself and not be doomed to an existence as a mere shade of myself, I would have to surrender my status as a normal, functional member of society. But society will not suffer the secessionist. The southern states learned this the hard way and they were an example on a collective level of what happens on the individual level when a person chooses not to make the required sacrifices in the public temple.
Once you’re in, whatever may be the talk of freedom and independence and self-determination, you are never free to opt-out. The only rule of the game of American freedom is that you cannot stop playing the game, and the game turns on work. The Statue of Liberty is a violent mother, and she’ll kill all her children before she lets them abandon the great productive project.
I finally understand why Americans are so insistent about “taking pride in your work,” about promoting a “good work-ethic” as the height of virtue, and about labor of any kind as an unconditional good. By forcefully injecting artificial dignity into their empty pursuits they effectively immunize themselves from ever having to question the value of what they’ve given their whole lives to.
But this work-morality is proof against itself. Meaningful labor doesn’t need some ridiculous morality attached to it to ensure that it gets done. It doesn’t need the power of ostracism to ensure that everyone sees its value. Everyone understands the value of creative, human, personal labor intuitively, and every healthy human being does it automatically, craves it naturally. But “work” is different. Work requires a cult.