16.8 Million Americans File For Unemployment: The Fragility of Gainful Employment & The Lie We Call Meaningful Work

There are three things we should notice, right here and now, about our post-World War II model of “full employment.” (I criticized this model already in 2018.)

  1. Meaningful work is an illusion. Work cannot answer the question, “What is meaning? What a meaningful life?” Therefore, this illusion should be seen through right now and dropped. Dropped immediately. Just forget about it.
  2. Our model of full employment is fragile. Are not witnessing this awful system right now? 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment only weeks after social distancing and home quarantine began. So many people having jobs in service, hospitality, and retail industries are living paycheck to paycheck that how can we not question the model itself?
  3. Our model of gainful employment has become hegemonic and thus ubiquitous at our peril. How could we ever be so foolish as to believe that most, if not, all people could mold themselves, discipline themselves with a view of becoming jobbers?

The great ideological lie, of course, is that we can justify a fragile (Nassim Taleb) and ubiquitous system by appealing to Careers, to Callings, and to Meaningful Work. How wrong is this! Can’t we see that now? Can’t we see how much people are suffering this ideological lie? (For more on this lie, see here.)

But now we see, don’t we?, that what people, once the scales have been removed from their eyes, really care about, apropos work, is having a decent, reliable livelihood. What they, what we care about, apropos work, is first of all being able to support our lives as well as those of dependents.

This is so obvious!

Let’s be open, then, to a plurality of models with respect to decent livelihoods for all.

  • What can we learn from digital nomads, solopreneurs, and freelancers who have been successful in their endeavors?
  • Are there models of passive income that are worth exploring today?
  • What about communities experimenting with, say, a Local Exchange Trading System?
  • What can we learn from viable eco-villages and vibrant intentional communities? Or isn’t it now time to begin thinking seriously with friends (hopefully those with a rigorous spiritual practice and with a wide array of skills) about starting an intentional community?
  • Are there good “forged family” models of the kind discussed by David Brooks in a recent Atlantic article?
  • Can a gift economy, of the kind I’ve been living in since 2011, be replicable elsewhere?

Now is not the time to lie on our backs and simply hope that things will “get back to normal” so that people can have “good jobs again.” That’s crap. Now is the time to start thinking seriously about alternative models for livelihoods so that more and more people can live without being anxious about insecurity. We owe each other this.