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Michael Bettencourt

It’s Off To Work I Go

Last January, I wrote a piece about “branding” myself as part of a job search that I had to undertake.

Well, my job search is over - I have found a new position.  I guess I’m pleased with the result.  But, to be honest, only, say, a third of me is pleased, the part that will find the additional income and the security of the benefits helpful.

But I discovered a lot of useful information about myself in the branding process — more specifically, about how I have “constructed” myself professionally over the years and how much of that construction was governed by fear, failure of nerve, and a too-thin imagination.  The degree to which I have not been bold, progressive, and inventive in piecing my life together is both sobering and saddening.

Of course, life is not over and, barring being knocked off my pins by the newly discovered gravitational waves, I still have time to make a decent walkabout of my life. That is another insight of my self-branding: regret has no nutritional content and should be flushed out of the system.

Looking for work has made me think, of course, about working and the nature of work itself.  I have always admired John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” where he proposes the notion that work itself may be obsolete, given the incredible productivity of the capitalist system.  This notion has been raised several times recently — The Atlantic, in July/August 2015, had “A World Without Work” by Derek Thompson, and the February issue of PC Magazine had a piece titled “Will Robots Make Humans Unnecessary?”, dealing, in part, with the shape of a world in which much human labor could be done by non-human labor.

At the risk of sounding thin-brained, I am all for a transformation like this, all for anything that could relieve human beings of the drudgery of work.  I know, I know - but this is not about not working at all but about doing a different kind of work.  Humans as a species do seem to thrive when shaping the world around them - Marx, in Capital, is so very good at describing these transformative energies.  We need to continue to do that - we just need to do it under a whole new set of rules, expectations, vocabularies, technologies.

In other words, since all politics is local and the universe does revolve around me, the species needs to do what I did not sufficiently do in my own life: be more bold, progressive, and inventive in piecing together its living. 

And the species needs to do it soon.  Paul Mason’s new book, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, explains why, and we owe it to those who have been sacrificed to the capitalist regime to move forward.  It won’t happen, but if Bernie Sanders ever solicited my opinion for his campaign, I’d urge him to go all-in/all-out on stretching his vision of democratic socialism (which right now is pretty tepid, not much more than what Harry Truman proposed) to these outer limits.  Ignore Hillary, ignore the limited-vision politicking of the campaign, and instead use the megaphone he now has to ignite the revolution he says he wants.

Let’s actually do this.  Let’s actually do this now.  That’s work I wouldn’t mind doing.

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Michael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt September 2014 |



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