Slavemaster Mentality Or Work Ethic?

This post originally appeared at Open Left.
A blogging experiment.

In America people won’t work. They are lazy. You have to make them work. If you don’t make them, they just want to sit around.
If you just give people money or pay people too much it makes them dependent. They get used to it. They demand more. It never stops.
Enlightened managers provide incentives (carrot) instead of just punishing them but really it’s still the same thing, you have to make them work or they won’t. You have to keep on them.

My students are good kids. I know they get into trouble sometimes but they mean well. Most of them don’t have the kind of background that let me go to college. I was lucky and I want to give back what I can.
I don’t get paid a lot. And now I have to work extra hours since the budget cuts, and I don’t know how I will make up for the loss in pay. Especially lately, since I have been buying the materials for the class projects myself. The school couldn’t pay for them anymore.
They say I am a good teacher, so they put me with the worst students because they need the most. But that means these students test worse than the other students, and that is how teachers are rated now. It is too bad that I don’t get raises anymore, but it us so important what I am doing. I know I am doing a good job with them. Some of them will go on to college.

I got another “average” review this year. That stupid boss really resents me for making him look bad.
It’s hard getting around my boss and his stupid ideas. He just wants what will make him look good so he can climb the ladder.
When I did the Peterson project my own way I knew he was wrong. I did get the sale, so the department met its goals again. He hated that because everyone knew it was me. But the company needs to get through this and I knew how to get it done.

At 75 I could be taking it easy. But I don’t know what I would do with myself. I have been at this desk for fifty years now and I hope I’ll be here showing them how it’s done for another fifty.
They think I don’t know anything and then I keep being there for them when they have messed up again. I have seen it over and over, new ones come in and make the same mistakes, and I just let them do it because the only way they are going to learn is to see what they did wrong. Then they won’t do that again. And I’ll be here and show them how it has been done for fifty years.

You can fill in each of these sketches with stories from people you know. You have heard them or stories like them. You can especially fill in the “people are lazy” narrative by going to any conservative source.
I learned privately of some rather strong reaction to a post I wrote the other day here at Open Left, in which I developed the idea of people getting a national dividend, like people get in Alaska as payment for the state’s oil that is taken out of the ground. The reaction was that if people just get money they won’t work and the economy will fail. (Never mind that the economy has failed under its present model.)
I have been thinking a lot lately about this idea that you have to make people work. Of course, they claim that if you tax the super-rich they’ll stop “working” and that would be a disaster for the country. Heh.
This idea that people won’t work if they don’t have to is pervasive in America. We aren’t really set up with a system that lets people work – we make them work. And we treat workers like criminals who will “steal” the wages, using time cards and rules preventing them from making calls or looking at web pages. This isthe manager mentality that many of us encounter in many job situations.
We also treat people who need help like they are suspects in a crime, forcing public humiliations on them. Now in California they are going to start fingerprinting people who get public assistance. You can only get unemployment pay for a very limited time, even when everyone knows there are no jobs. “Welfare reform” meant that assistance runs out after a limited time and some rules say you can’t ever get it again. This is because conservatives say people “become dependent” — as if they are nothing more than squirrels.
But everyone I know wants to work or at least be contributing to something and leaving something behind, and most people are more than conscientious, they feel that they are contributing to a greater goal and make sacrifices for the team. How many people choose to work in non-profits for little pay?
Some people hate their jobs, but everybody wants to be occupied. When they find things they like to do they get involved, work hard at it. We might call it a hobby, but it is work and contribution. Many jobs are meaningless and would be hated by almost anyone. Bit that’s the job, not the people.
“Work” often has connotations of unpleasantness, of being forced to do something that you don’t want to do. When you show up at work they “own” your time. You sell your labor to another, they are the boss and tell you what to do. They own you for the time you are at work. The mentality is little different from slaveholding days.
Who was it that said that at least slaves had value to the owners and had to be fed and cared for to some extent, but wage workers can just be tossed away?
In many if not most other “developed” countries the society has a very different perspective on work and life. There is respect for people. In Europe they have shorter workweeks, several weeks mandated vacations, generous pensions and of course people receive great medical care often completely covered by the government. The society exists for and respects the people. Here, not so much.
American society now seems to exist to serve the few who “own” the companies and resources. (I put “own” in quotes because the concept of ownership needs to be thought out more than it has been.) Making as much money as one can is seen to be the purpose of our economy, and of life these days. Gaining knowledge for the sake of it is considered a frivolous waste, as in getting a degree in poetry or history or anthropology. You go to college to get a job. You get a job to get money, climb the ladder, etc.
I have been wondering if these attitudes are a relic of America as a country that had slavery? I don’t know the answer, I am exploring the question. Could this be a reason for America’s modern corporate work environment, and the relationship we have seen here between workers and companies? I haven’t explored this very far yet and I thought maybe I would try an experiment here with it, and see if we can bounce the idea around in the comments.
What are your thoughts? And I on the right track?

1 thought on “Slavemaster Mentality Or Work Ethic?

  1. These attitudes are a relic of our founding fathers who came from a society where what family you were born into became your destiny. Gaining knowledge in any field is a worthy goal, however asking someone to pay for knowledge that they have no use for is not. How many anthropologiest can society reasonable employ? Even in Europe?
    People work to eat and support the life style that they desire. While you believe that Europe holds a great economic model for work, you do not understand that up until it ‘freed’ it’s labor market, it maintained a 15% permanet unemployment. Currently minorities and teenagers are experiencing a 25%-50% unemployment. Employers can get around all the employment mandates by creating jobs that are considered ‘temporary’.
    Over the last 10 years those are the only jobs that have been created and in this recession they were the first laid off. Which means that Europe is creating a permanet cycle of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ it is just different than ours.
    They are going to experience generational warfare as the youth can no longer even start on the ladder, while in this country we are experiencing class warfare.
    The solution is that you must build your own destiny – buy a used hot dog stand and you may discover the inner beauty of wealth and capitalism. For the motivated it’s that simple – of course it lacks the stigma of being considered an intellectual.

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