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Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857
"I might have been a gleaner."

I am most emphatically NOT a Worker. I haven't punched a time clock since I was in my teens, and even then, I found that experience to be anything but uplifting, demeaning. I can't seem to count my efforts by the widely-recognized Hours Metric. I do not quote anybody an hourly rate. Back at The Insurance Company, as a young professional, the accountants drooled over the prospect of collecting activity-based data and received instead, carefully crafted fiction, for few could perform tasks without forfeiting awareness of time passing, not without abandoning the possibility of experiencing the elusive flow. I'd go down to the employee cafeteria each Friday morning, carrying my agenda which I'd once again failed to maintain in scrupulous detail, and create my fictional record of my work week just passing, careful to avoid any appearance of idleness or overage. My job demanded that I always attend to about fifteen different things at once, never once single-tasking, so any notion of activity-based accounting seemed absurd, but only because it genuinely was.

Austrian Political Economist Joseph Schumpeter explained how economists gather their data. He said that watchmen report it and that they report whatever they damned well please.
We calculate our GNPs from these reports, and also muster our understanding of efficiencies. Most of these reports seem as though they were written to please someone, portraits of patrons crafted to look more beautiful on canvas than they ever were in life. The term Worker conjures up Social Realist images of faceless overall-clad men shuffling into some factory with a lunch bucket under one arm. Almost nobody works like that anymore. Almost every job these days amounts to an executive position requiring extraordinary amounts of personal decision-making, fundamentally unsupervise-able. Nobody looking over any so-called worker's shoulder could even see anything happening or make much sense of what was actually going on. The fabric of society, though, seems to need to presume that it's comprised of supervise-able workers, their erstwhile supervisors, and owners, when it most decidedly ain't.

We create false dichotomies, segregating leaders from followers, presuming spurious superpowers in those we believe in charge. We see owners and chattel, managers and so-called worker bees, toiling in tenuous harmony for the benefit of our holy economy. We seem in increasingly desperate need of discovering some different way of parsing our activities, some more responsible characterization of whatever in the hell we're actually doing. Right now, some significant portion of us apparently aren't doing anything, suddenly no longer hard working or upstanding, laid off and indigent due to our Damned Pandemic. When those paychecks stop, so does everything surrounding them. People suddenly can't pay for groceries or rent and we create another Tragedy of the Commons in reverse. Our once wealthy country lays waste to itself, all for the want of a lousy paycheck or two. What's a self-respecting economy to do?

I am most emphatically NOT a worker because my snowflake self esteem cannot seem to take to the demeaning identity that label implies. A worker might engage in work for roughly a third of each day, what identity does he assume in between? Economically, he's apparently seen as living to work more than working to live, though both characterizations seem equally absurd. If not working, I suppose he's supposed to be fulfilling the all-important role of consumer, for we've crafted a consumer economy. If the worker is pawn, the consumer is king here. Where are the husbands, wives, mothers, and parents? Back at The Insurance Company, I struggled to switch between my home self and my work self, my first wife often asking me who I had become under the influence. I desperately desired to be recognized as a good worker, as a decent provider, desires that too often drove me to work long hours and weekends, even through family vacations, prioritizing work life above all other endeavors. I lived terrified that I might stumble and get trampled in the rush to survive. I sort of, kind of trampled myself instead.

I eventually became essentially unemployable, surviving on The Muse's patronage and a richer sense of self. I do my work without ever accounting for it. I still sometimes struggle with properly classifying myself. Exempt or non-exempt? Hourly or salaried? Neither or both? My identity seems unclassifiable even to me. The last proposal I submitted, the client's purchasing agent ended up coaching me on how to complete the requisite forms, explaining how to characterize what I'd proposed so that none of the auditors noses would get out of joint. The paperwork shunned the truth so it could pass through the scrutiny of a half dozen overseers, none of whom had the least interest in what I would actually do. Rules required me to sign near the bottom of every form, attesting to the accuracy of the above information, though everyone involved understood that the above statements were carefully crafted fiction. I spent more time creating the spurious justification than I spent actually working under the resulting contract. I wasn't a Worker then, either. I might have been a gleaner.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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