Despite technological increases in productivity, wages have stagnated. This is obvious and can be captured in a graph, but across all types of work there is a pattern of doing more and getting less in return. I haven't had a wage or a salary for almost two years, at the same time I feel like I almost never stop working. Amidst doing all this precarious work I also become aware that the resulting need for cheap commodities and convenience that I share with many other overly busy people is used to justify extraction, cruel working conditions and energy intensive shipping networks around the world.
As for my own work, there's the work of filing and managing your own immigration case, (that one you have to pay for the pleasure of participating in), the uncompensated hours putting together increasingly complicated job applications for the few jobs that still exist, and constantly preparing pitches and grant applications and networking and all the other elements of sleuthing out where a bit of paid work could potentially exist.
When I'm on this hamster wheel, it's hard to think about what I actually value, what I want, the sort of society I'd like to live in... it's hard to even be environmentally friendly at a basic level; I'm tired, I don't have time, I have to get a plastic-encased pot of soup or ready meal for dinner again. Even when I do get a little money back, I feel like so much has been stolen from me, and from everyone, that so much that is beautiful and important has been devalued.
Working more creates the need to consume more, working more creates the demand for ecologically unfriendly conveniences. Working more means commute by car, fly, and make sure you always have new clothes and new gadgets to keep up with your work. Working more withers life at an individual level, it also funnels the productivity of our lives up into the consolidating corporations that make some of the most broadly destructive ecological decisions. Guess what? That means they get to make more and worse decisions, and get to set when and how you work by wielding the threat of eviction and hunger. Needing to work more to satisfy their voracious appetites for exploitation and extraction gives them justification to impose their markets and labor abuses abroad, and makes a convenient disciplinary example for those at home: "Be glad it's not this bad for you! This is the way things have to be!"
Why do they need us to work more? They already have or could easily get anything they need or want. More and more work, as the contract you must engage in, to survive and maybe buy a lottery ticket for a chance at a highly commodified and carbon-intensive vision of rest and relaxation these owners enact when they're not coming up with new ways to skirt labor regulations and squeeze more out of their overworked employees, traps us all in a game of chicken where we see how close we can get to completely exhausting the earth itself.
The decontextualized ideal of "work" is a wholly inadequate representation of value, and nothing proves this more than the idea of Proof-of-Work cryptocurrencies. Many of their boosters correctly identify the arbitrariness of existing currencies, often tied to the authority of a particular state or coalition of states, but assume that there is some real value in the proof that a set amount of work was done, resources used up, scarcity crystallized, in the creation of another currency. But is this work doing anything besides creating a self-perpetuating financial instrument? Why then, does it more convincingly have value than any other?
We don't need any more scarcity, so why are we creating artificial kinds? The things that are most scarce now, when you take away the hurdles capitalist accumulation and exchange put in the way of meeting the basic essentials, is what only a few claim to have as a sort of special or earned luxury, the deep thought, creativity, and sense of autonomy and satisfaction that comes from having time and opportunity for plentiful rest.
Real rest, deep sleep plus an afternoon nap, eating until you're satisfied, staying home until you feel better, contemplating deeply, playing unproductively, exercising your favorite capacities for the sheer joy of it, watching clouds roll by, making something on your own terms at your own pace: all of these things entangle us with the working and resting Earth and create space for others to rest, contemplate and dream with us.
This is a state of affairs that must be made scarce for capitalism to be imposed and enforced across the globe. While capitalism steepens to a peak where only some can be successful, and creates exclusive forms of recreation that only reinforce its class hierarchy, napping under a tree (or any other similar activity appropriate to your locale and present weather conditions) only takes you, the tree, and some time, unlike the sterile fantasies of colonizing mars, yachting, private jets, luxury art freeports, and all the other wasteful baubles those who rely on capitalism convince themselves provide a restorative future.
Transitioning to renewables, phasing out disposable plastics, creating accessible transit networks, public services, and a just society that fights the ecological and human disasters accelerated by extractive, imperialistic capitalism that targets the most delicate ecosystems, marginalized populations and sustainable indigenous ways of life is the biggest task laid before us. To me, that doesn't mean we should just mindlessly work harder, as a sort of self-punishment for a period of productivity run amok that we didn't choose or enjoy, but the opposite: that we shouldn't be wasting our capacity to work.
At the very least, to change our course, we'll obviously need to stop working so much that we feel like we can't stop and think or adjust our trajectory at all. But we should use this necessity as a chance to reconsider our relationship to work, and how much of it really serves us or has a distinct end separate from accruing some sort of capital somewhere. We need to demand to have these conversations collectively, rather than following the whims of the very billionaires causing this crisis, and we need to hold ourselves accountable to distributing rest generously to everyone, rather than simply securing it within borders, or excluding any other out group. Ecosystems themselves don't respect borders and confound categorization, and in this future we are working with them rather than exploiting them as simply an abstracted "resource."
The idea of some huge, super-heroic team struggle to turn the arc of humanity's currently catastrophic course is appealing. "We" messed it up, "we" fix it, everybody's happy. But will that attitude be able to deal with the fact that to really undo what we've done in many cases we just have to scale down, back off, chill out? We can stop actively hurting the most at-risk environments, and set up a foothold for them to begin to restore themselves, but a lot of this will also just take time. If we step back and create the opportunity to observe the processes by which ecosystems can already repair, maintain and change themselves, there will be a lot to learn.
A sustainable way of life will require us to break down our workaholic tendencies, and not only so that we don't individually burn out. Sustainability doesn't just mean we've made enough renewable power sources and changes in how we produce goods that we can be carbon zero or carbon negative (which is great!) It also means creating environments for life where needs are met without running up a tab on the future, or exhausting the ability of the environment to regrow, restore and balance itself. It's living spaces, tools, and everyday objects that are open, simple to maintain and changeable as their inhabitants needs and desires change, rather than cheaply done black boxes or poorly insulated McMansions. This is how things last long, grow with us, and stop the churn of waste and replace, all giving us more time and opportunity to think of what we really want.
Let's collectively disincentivize working hard; like putting hundreds of computers to work recording your art on the blockchain, sending someone an email out of hours, to occupy their circuits with work when they're trying to relax or about to go to sleep, should come across as a bit cringe.
Let's value rest, without putting a value on it. To slow down, repair and recuperate the damage to our environment, culture, and society, we will need more rest than money can buy or that can even be counted. So we may as well get started now.
This isn't the same as the pseudo-friendly device notifications that tell you to get up and stretch, get your 8 hours of sleep, drink however many glasses of water, all in the name of being a subject that work can be extracted from more effectively and for longer.
"Health" is often evaluated and enforced in terms of how well you can live up to the ideally productive capitalist subject. We are not fighting for health; some of us have never had it, some of us don't want it. We are fighting for what makes life good. We are fighting for the enjoyment of life itself, and the perpetuation of a good life on earth!