"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“What good is freedom if the structure of work makes it so there is almost no time in which to be free, that is, no time to pursue your interests, have friends, enjoy a book or movie, or even a hobby…” – Karla Mantilla (writer)
This week, I started a 9-5, 40 hours (at least) per week job. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a regimented gig; five years, to be exact. Last time I had one, I experienced an existential crisis beneath the fluorescent lights of an office after only two weeks on the job. (True story, no hyperbole.) My way out of that existence was to flee toward graduate school.
Barely past Day One at my new gig in downtown San Francisco, I couldn’t help but get hung up on some numbers. You see, I love numbers. I love statistics. Numbers can be legitimate, irrefutable morsels of truth. So here’s the numbers I couldn’t help but bounce around my tinker while I cycled home to my apartment in Oakland last night after my first day at work:
In our Gregorian calendar system, there are:
• 168 total hours per week,
• If we sleep exactly eight hours per night, that amounts to 56 hours per week, which leaves us with 112 total waking hours,
• Each week, a full-time job such as mine stipulates a minimum of 40 hours of work, which amounts to 36% of our waking life per workweek.
But I woke up just before 8 a.m. on Wednesday to ready myself for work. I didn’t begin to work until 9:30 a.m., and since I took a half-hour break for lunch, I didn’t leave the office until 6 p.m. which is why I didn’t arrive home until 7 p.m. so it’s inaccurate to state that only 40 hours of our waking lives is devoted toward working. For me—and I don’t think I have a bad commute—I devote about 11 hours of my waking life, five out of seven days of the week, toward work. That adds up to 55 total waking hours, which leaves me with five hours per day for 5 out of 7 days every week to have to myself. With the weekend figured in, this means that about 49% of my waking hours per week are divided toward generating money (or what I often prefer to call, “earning bananas” to remind me of our place and where we’ve come from).
Is this what we were born for?
Is this what modern civilized life is supposed to be?
Is this why I allowed cytotoxins to be pumped into my veins? For thirty more years of this way of living?
For years, I have felt that a 40-hour workweek is inhumane. The past five years, either working part-time while attending school, or balancing two flexible jobs that amounted to 30-37.5 hours per week only strengthened these beliefs. And worse—not to sound like some fucking well-traveled individual—but everywhere I’ve gone on this vast planet: places like Mexico, Cambodia, Spain, Uruguay, or the Czech Republic—I have never met a person who disagreed with me when we somehow or another spoke about how dandy it would be if we humans didn’t work 40 or more hours per week. Never. And yet, in general, we all go along with it. Or much worse.
Lately, the overriding concept of a 40-hour workweek infuriates me more and more because the older I’ve gotten, the easier it is for me to comprehend how this simple variable pervades our lives, our culture, and political society. The more we bound our waking lives to work, the less time we have to read, to debate and jest with our friends, to inform ourselves on the vast intricacies of modern life, especially the ways in which we lower and middle-class folks are reamed every single day of our lives by the rich and powerful who are running this game: the people who own our television stations, our newspapers, and our political machinery. Our governments do not want us to be educated. They do not want us to figure this shit out. Instead, they want us to be in perpetual debt of some sort or another—to a mortgage, car payments, or student loans—so we will inevitably have to work a shit job(s) for the majority of our lives—mind you, the physically best years of our life—in order to pay off our debts. They want us to watch the news, find satisfaction and justification for our life choices via materialism. And they want us to read the tabloids and give a shit about reality show stars instead of reflect on the systems that contain us.
Our governments do not want us to be educated? What kind of fucking bullshit is this, you might be asking. Well tell me this: if we’re told, ever since elementary-school age that we can be anything we want if we put our hearts and minds to it, why is higher education not free or reasonably affordable for all segments of society to attain without agreeing to accrue a significant to disproportionately large amount of debt? Why are there so many socio-economic barriers for children born in our ghettos and poor communities? Why is the federal minimum wage $7.25? And why have Republicans—the one major political party that overtly caters to the wealthy—opposed raising it, without fail, the past four years?