Response to “In the Name of Love

I stubbled upon this article in Jacobin, and found that it was using an awful lot of over-simplifications. Since there are arguments I had already seen elsewhere, I wanted to address them once and for all. While there could be good arguments when talking about wage labour, unpaid internships, world poverty and rising of the cost of living, this article just misses the point in my opinion.

There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Having the privilege to work in a high-paying job in IT while coming from a workers/farmers family, as a large number of my comrades, I can assure you that there is an elevation. Not as linear and smooth as you would like it to be, not on the scale you would like to see, but you cannot simply dismiss the rise of the middle class that occurred over the past century and pretend that there is no elevation.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise.

Superficially, DWYL is an advice I give, because when you love doing something you will have more chances to succeed in this path than in something you don’t like. Nothing more.

[DWYL] is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.

This literally sounds like “you cannot enjoy it because some poor africans don’t have it”.

According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love.

Strawman 1

If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.

Strawman 2: again, this is about putting odds on your side, not a magical key to success.

Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

Strawman 3: DWYL is trying to do something you like 7 hours a day, instead of something you don’t like 7 hours a day.

[…] This focus on the individual is hardly surprising coming from Jobs, who cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate — all states agreeable with ideal romantic love.

Ad Hominem

But by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

Foxconn is NOT the key to Apple’s success. Before making such a statement, it would be wise to look at the numbers: manufacturing costs are less than a third of the final price of an iPhone 6. How much more if it were built by robots and high-skilled workers on US soil? Certainly more, but not twice the price.

Jobs’ formulation of “do what you love” is the depressing antithesis to Henry David Thoreau’s utopian vision of labor for all.

While I admire the spirit of Thoreau, I would not call upon him for economic analysis…

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for the love of it.

That’s the luxury you can afford once you’ve paid all your bills. Meanwhile, you work for money, because electricity will not pay for itself. Unless you go the full Thoreau-way, live in the woods and write poems about birds.

Thoreau is one of the only anti-capitalists I respect, because he had the consistency to put his criticism to action, and left capitalism. You just don’t.

[DWYL] absolves us of any obligation to or acknowledgment of the wider world, underscoring its fundamental betrayal of all workers, whether they consciously embrace it or not.

I sincerely do not understand that point. Are you saying that finding an enjoyable activity is a betrayal of the working class?

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished).

You are absolutely right. We call it the middle class, and it barely existed a hundred years ago. Back then, there were the bosses, the workers, and a few privileged. A (huge) chunk of the workers rose to become the middle class, I honestly do not see how you can criticize that. We need to go further in this direction, not backwards.

Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

As always, you see “privilege” as something negative, as if it were to be abolished, while we should really ask ourselves “How can we have everyone to benefit from the same quality of life?”

As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

I genuinely dream of the day where no one will have to go down the sewer to fix a pipe, but instead an engineer will pilot a drone down there. Not only it is unlovable as it is, but this is a such an inefficient use of human labor. Someone fixing pipes in the sewer has the brain and the capacities to do so much more than that…

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled.

And at every stage of this process there is room for entrepreneurship, innovation and passion. Mindlessly harvesting coffee beans has no real interest, yet finding new processes to produce better crops with less effort won’t be done by people who want a living wage, but by passionate and creative people.

[…] how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues […]

Like, invasive and ridiculous regulations and immigration restrictions have nothing to do with child care costs maybe?

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?

Are you seriously saying that working needs to be as horrible as possible in order to fulfill your political agenda?

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class.

Economic uplift doesn’t work in a nice, smooth and unified way, that’s acknowledged. Some will enjoy it first, but in the long run I’m willing to bet that those “privileges” will become the standard. It has been the case before, many times, and yet you are still playing that card.

Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and cosign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can self-righteously bestow DWYL as career advice to those covetous of her success.

NY rising costs of housing have nothing to do with zoning and other existing regulations? Are you (again) pointing at a regulatory failure and calling it a failure of DWYL?

what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

That’s why we are creating smarter processes, robots & softwares to do it for cheaper, and allow those workers to pursue happier, more fulfilling and more productive careers.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest-growing occupations projected until 2020 are “Personal Care Aide” and “Home Care Aide,” with average salaries of $19,640 per year and $20,560 per year in 2010, respectively.

Roughly the italian median wage. Check your american privileges.

Elevating certain types of professions to something worthy of love necessarily denigrates the labor of those who do unglamorous work that keeps society functioning, especially the crucial work of caregivers.

Having one person better off is bad because not everyone had the same chance? You do realize that what you ask for is literally impossible to achieve?

If DWYL denigrates or makes dangerously invisible vast swaths of labor that allow many of us to live in comfort and to do what we love […]

Side comment, technological progress made our lives better, not cheap labor. Labor was very very cheap back in the 1800s, but I don’t remember people having such a great standard of living. Even when we had slaves (you can’t have cheaper) life wasn’t that great.

Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia. The average PhD student of the mid 2000s forwent the easy money of finance and law (now slightly less easy) to live on a meager stipend in order to pursue their passion for Norse mythology or the history of Afro-Cuban music.

Strawman 4: I don’t need a PhD in economics to know that Afro-Cuban music isn’t a safe career path. DWYL isn’t about ignoring common sense, it’s (again) about finding a compromise between the things you like and the things that pay.

The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.

Econ 1–0–1: low prices usually means a surplus in the offer. The problem here is that professors commit academic incest: they only teach kids to become professors. So, are you saying that because of Jobs’ ideology professors mislead students and give them poor career advices?

There are many factors that keep PhDs providing such high-skilled labor for such extremely low wages, including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a PhD, but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia.

“Do What You Like” <> “Academic Incest” Professors cannot teach what they don’t know. Problem is, their knowledge is limited to the academic world.

Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers.

Are you saying that left-leaning universities are hypocrites? I never saw that coming…

Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

Again, econ 1–0–1: with fewer academicians price would be higher.

Also, I do happen to like more than one thing, and if at some point IT doesn’t pay off I’ll do something else.

Many academics like to think they have avoided a corporate work environment […]

You cannot complain about low pay and then point out the fact that they don’t want to fit in a productive workflow, that’s inconsistent.

How to emulate the academic workplace and get people to work at a high level of intellectual and emotional intensity for fifty or sixty hours a week for bartenders’ wages or less?

Convince them to graduate in an other field that might still interest them and reduce the probability to finish bartender. Again, no shame in graduating in your second or third favorite activity.

Is there any way we can get our employees to swoon over their desks, murmuring “I love what I do” in response to greater workloads and smaller paychecks?

Wage stagnation and mass unemployment are real problems, but you can’t blame DWYL, it’s mostly due to the current economic and demographic situation.

How can we get our workers to be like faculty and deny that they work at all? How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?

You do realize that the “campus culture” only exists because of the exact same privileged situation you criticized a few paragraphs earlier?

Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46 percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days.

Then, do something else. You better get used to it, a lot of jobs will appear and disappear over the course of this century.

Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL era has seen the rise of the adjunct professor and the unpaid intern — people persuaded to work for cheap or free, or even for a net loss of wealth.

You’re trying to take everything you don’t like in modern society and stick it to one single cause, even if it won’t fit. Unpaid interns are the direct consequence of professors’ obsession to get everyone a higher degree, while not understanding the economic role of degrees. This is a public policy failure, stop blaming DWYL for every social issue.

At this stage, you could blame DWYL for Ebola…

It should be no surprise that unpaid interns abound in fields that are highly socially desirable, including fashion, media, and the arts.

Again, econ 1–0–1, offer, demand…

And it’s no coincidence that the industries that rely heavily on interns — fashion, media, and the arts — just happen to be the feminized ones, as Madeleine Schwartz wrote in Dissent.

So DWYL has, as a consequence, many girls to go in liberal arts and boys to go to STEM. Either letting girls decide provides sexists results, or your analysis is flawed. I’d prefer not to believe that there is a “girl’s gene” that pushes one gender to one sector.

Yet another damaging consequence of DWYL is how ruthlessly it works to extract female labor for little or no compensation.

Because they’re being told for years that STEM is not for them. Conditioning young girls to like “girls stuff” is everything but DWYL.

Historian Mario Liverani reminds us that “ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.”

By studying STEM I oppressed people. Sorry, but I missed a step in this logic.

In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism.

If you try to do what you like, you’re helping capitalism? Doesn’t sound like “If you listen to rock music you’re supporting Satan” at this stage?

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