This excellent video essay by St. Andrewism got me thinking about anti-work. As I thought about it, considering my own position on anti-work, I began to think: what about anti-work as applied to American polytheism and animism?
What is anti-work? I will take a similar tack to St. Andrewism here, defining first work and then anti-work from that. The common definition, such as that supplied by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary is: “to do something that involves physical or mental effort, especially as part of a job”.
Work, in the context of anti-work is, quoting St. Andrewism:
“Forced labor, that is, economic production enforced by the political and economic elites. The carrot and the stick. Workers are usually wage laborers, as the worker must sell themselves mind and body, for the purpose of production. Thus, work has an inherent dynamic of domination, one that we see elaborated in all industrial societies today -even the ones that claim to be socialist. We are employed to work at things called jobs where we must perform tasks that which, no matter how intrinsically interesting they may be, eventually become dull and monotonous when performed for upwards of 40 hours per week, with no say over when you show up or leave, what you do, how long you do it for, how much you do, who you do it with, or for whom it is done. All for the profit of those who control the means of production. “
While we could probably summarize ‘work’ for our purposes as forced labor, I found his exploration of work here useful. There is a difference in this understanding of work vs productivity. Work exists to make the rich richer and to exploit the working class. It funnels our labor and goods and services from our hands, hearts, and minds into the pockets of employers. Productivity can be disentangled and freed from the bonds of capitalism’s work, benefiting our communities and ourselves rather than the employers and rich.
“The world of work is an experience of suffocating beuracracy. Surveillance, rote work, high pace, quarters, time charts, persistent harassment, paternalistic management, exploitation, subordination, and totalitarian control for the sake of it. Your washroom breaks are often timed and regulated. Your clothing and hair strictly managed, which often has an anti-Black component to it. You are spied on and supervised, and you can be expelled at any time. Work is, therefore, the antithesis of freedom. The prison, the school, the factory, the office, and the store, are all stamped with the discipline of modern despots, and all share common techniques of control in common.”
“The clergy of work fail or don’t care to recognize that we do not work, we don’t sell our time and energy to a boss because we want to. We have to because there is no other way to get the money to get the things we need to survive…Our time and work is never really ours. That time is for our bosses who take the things we produce, or the neat objects like pizzas or housing units, services like cashiering or cooking, or qualities like clean floors or healthy patients and sell them for a profit, paying us only a portion of the value we produce, and using the rest to reinvest in capital and enlarge their own wealth. Our own lives are centered around this work. The money we get from this work sustains us just enough to keep coming back to work. Our time spent away from work is spent getting to or from work. Leisure itself is just non-work for the sake of work. It’s the limited time we spend trying to recover from work and distract ourselves from work. Because of work we are constantly under the tyranny of the clock…Our free time is not even ours. It still belongs to our boss in some capacity. So really, the only thing free about it, is our bosses don’t have to pay us for it.”
The labor that is converted into capital lines the pockets of the owner class. This, especially, has been on my mind lately. I began watching clips of the movie adaptation of The Big Short and then bought the audiobook of the book it is based on. If you cannot see what a leech the upper class is on the lower, then you need to at least watch the movie. The ‘clergy of work’, to use St. Andrewism’s phrase, are often those who most profit from the suffering of those beneath them.
I do not mean to say ‘see the movie’ as though most of my readers have not lived through the times depicted. I mean this in the sense that, with everything currently going on, from the invasion of Ukraine to the ongoing pandemic, it is easy to have forgotten those times or for them simply to have vanished behind the current haze of news. It is easier to forget the rank corruption and inherent destructive potential of the financial sector under the barrage of today’s news headlines. None of the economic landscape since the 2007 financial collapse has fundamentally changed in its operations or maintenance. The very financial tools that precipitated that collapse, the CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations), the MBS (Mortgage Backed Securities), subprime mortgages, and all the rest, are not only with us, they serve to undergird the economic system in a similar way to rusted metal in the bones of a bridge. As with 2007, the current economic system is entirely ready to give way to another catastrophic failure. We, the working class, are breaking our bodies, minds, and spirits for a system that will serve up our suffering again and again on a silver platter to the wealthiest people on this planet for their gain.
I turned 18 in 2004. Three years into college, and I watched as entire industries collapsed overnight. I watched as neighborhoods collapsed around me. I took on an immense amount of college debt and could not find work during my time there, or after college for some time. The landscape has not shifted too much in the intervening years, except for cost of living and inflation to rise, at 7% so far this year. Those of us who have thrived during this time are lucky, so far as our relative futures are concerned. It is less common for a person to work a single job. I do not. This writing is part of my work. It is not unusual for folks to have two or three jobs, including a side hustle on top of it.
When folks say they have a hard time keeping a spiritual discipline I am hardly surprised. After all, whatever time we have between shifts is time we have to devote to anything else in our lives. Shop? Cook? Clean? Take care of the kids? Relax? Maybe sleep? All of it has to be done in that window of opportunity between when you get off work and when you go back. Likewise, when folks say they have a hard time feeling the Presence of the Ginnreginn I am hardly surprised. It is hard to develop a relationship with yourself, let alone with the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir when you are ready to collapse at the end of the work day and you still need to make dinner or help the kids with homework. It is hard to do things that take time away from relaxing or recovering when you have busted your ass for someone who will never live in your home, eat your food, fuck you, or care for you after working for them during your most wakeful, productive hours. This is not about making excuses for us not to fulfill our obligations to the Ginnreginn, our communities, or ourselves. However, it is far too easy in this capitalist hyper-individualistic culture which daily makes excuses for the upper class and the systems of control they wield, to beat those of us workers down for ‘not doing enough’ with what little time is left to us. It is far too easy to inspire the working class to beat themselves down for the failures of a system that eats every minute of time not devoted directly to it.
Let us take a realistic look at the hours we have in a day, what they are devoted to (I use this language intentionally) and what hours are left to us to figure out what we live the rest of our lives with. I will use myself as an example. I work full-time, at least 80 hours biweekly. I work five days with two days off each week. I work about six days of overtime at 8 hours each in a biweekly period. So, I will work about 48 hours overtime biweekly. 128/336 hours out of the total of each biweekly. Almost 40% of my life in that period spent working. If we assume (and I sometimes do not) that I get a solid 8 hours of sleep each day, that is another 112 hours devoted to sleep. 240/336 hours, 71% of my life, in every two weeks of my life is accounted for. I could get hit for yet more overtime at work which would be another 32 hours if I got hit all five days. 276/336 hours gone. 82% of my life. This has happened for multiple weeks at a stretch in the past. When I have overtime I work sixteen straight hours, come home, sleep for about 6, 7 hours if I am lucky, and head back into another 16 hour shift. It can sometimes take me awhile to get comfortable enough to sleep. In those 1 to 2 hours between shifts I take time, sacrificing my sleep, to see my kids and partners, maybe eat, and maybe take a shower. I am lucky that I live close to work. Some folks I work with have a half hour to an hour drive.
Almost 3/4 to 4/5 of my life is oriented around work in an average 2 week period. I only have 60-96 hours, the last 17%-29% of my life, to do any living of my own. I devote it to those I love and doing what I love or enjoy wherever I can. I devote it to cooking, doing dishes, taking care of and having time with my kids, and spending time with my partners. I devote it to writing, doing divination, spiritual consultations, podcasting, and producing videos. I devote it to leading on the Board of Directors and volunteering at Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, working with the Cavanaughs and our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir and the landvaettir Themselves to make a beautiful sacred space even better. I devote it to cleansing, grounding, centering, journeying, divining for myself, working magic, connecting with the Ginnreginn, praying, and making offerings. Let no one tell you that sitting with your Ginnreginn, even in silence, is an unworthy offering. My time is intensely precious to me. I have so little of it to give to anything. If I give you my attention, if I block out time for you in my life for you, that is a truly precious gift to me.
This makes for what may be a minor gripe at first blush: so many video games requiring me to put immense amounts of hours into them in order to get enjoyment from them. If the barrier to entry is time wasting, I am far less likely to play it. If my video games, and by extension other activities, become another chore I am likely not to do it. MMOs have incorporated busy work rather than anything that brings me pleasure, so it is worth less of my time to look at, let alone play. “I have 60-96 hours when I am awake and not at work. Is this worth my time?”
If so much of our lives ceased to be about jobs how would our relationships with our Gods change? Our Ancestors? Our vaettir?
We have good ideas of how that would look, since even for European-descended folks you do not have to look fairly far back in our history. What many of our Ancestors gave up for whiteness, and the capitalism tied into its advantages, were good ties with the landvættir, the húsvaettir, Ancestors, and the ways of living well with Them all. They gave up language, folklore, Ancestral ways of life. They gave up Their stories, Their magic, and Their Gods. A cursory look through either The Tradition of Household Spirits or Demons and Spirits of the Land by Claude Lacouteax amply shows this.
The beauty of living here and now is that we do not have to repeat our Ancestors’ mistakes -or our own. We can embrace our Ginnreginn, our magic, our religions. With them we can forge a new way through. While we still live within this ever-hungering and shambling system of capitalism, it is no small act to learn about and to execute magic. In this capitalist regime, it is no small act to learn about our religions and, especially, to live them!
It is no small thing to spend time with the Ginnreginn, or our communities. It is no small thing to lay down an offering, to sacrifice time, effort, and good things for Them. Lighting a candle, burning incense, or laying down a small cup of water is, in and of itself, powerful, connective, and revolutionary. It is no small thing to dedicate time and/or effort to our communities. Prioritizing our communities in the face of the pressure to atomize and compartmentalize our lives is powerful and revolutionary. It is no small thing to take time for oneself, our peace of mind or joy, whether through solitary or communal acts. Being kind, empowering, and healing with ourselves is powerful and necessary to live well individually and communally.
What would our Gods look like if They were without ‘jobs’? Odin ‘God of War’, or Loki ‘God of Mischief’ like an occupation?
We might see, as many polytheists have been for quite a while, that a single God, let alone a family of Them, are complex, wide-ranging Beings unto Themselves. Absent of a square hole for a round peg, we have to approach our Gods as full Beings, with understanding, motivation, and desires of Their own. We can never fully know another person, whatever we are to them and they to us. How much more so with the Gods. If we approach each as being even more full of Mystery than our fellow human beings we would likely have a healthier approach to both. Absent of ‘jobs’ our Gods are enmeshed in complex relationships with one another -and to us. Is Freyr only a God of fertility? While refering to Him as a God of fertiltiy is accurate in many ways, only relating to Freyr as a ‘God of fertility’ limits Him. Freyr also brings the good rains, and historically was well-tied into kingship. As many heiti as Odin has, I believe He still has more to show us just as surely as any of our Gods do.
What would ‘Gods of prosperity’ look like if we took out our relationships with current financial instruments, banks, and the like?
Putting aside the issues I have already written on with regards to ‘God of’, prosperity takes on a whole different meaning absent capitalism’s profit motive. What does prosperity look like in a permaculture setting? How about an indigenous-led rehabilitation of the land and/or rivers? To my mind, and given the writings of indigenous people such as Robin Wall Kimmerer and Vine Deloria Jr., it is abundance of connections, life, and thriving. Gebo, and the giving of gifts, and the idea of a gifting economy itself, contrasts starkly with that of capitalism. There is ‘enough’ and ‘too much’ in such a system to the point that giving of certain gifts to folks who did not have as much was taboo because the ‘owing’ of one to another would have been too out of balance. If we take off modern capitalist notions of prosperity we see a world in which ‘enough’ is not a tool of privation, but of plenty.
Such a change in mindset does not stop famines from happening. However, it does eliminate famines whose existance is due to artificially inflating the price of wheat or intentionally under-harvesting a crop. By eliminating the profit motive prosperity is not bound only to the abundance of the amount of a crop. This abundance can then extend to relationships that crop has, allowing them to flourish as well. Only since the advent of modern monocropping has the sheer size and scale allowed us to act as we have with regards to farming. Arguably, all we have done is super-size the next Dust Bowl. An abundance mindset would conserve water and soil, rather than merely viewing them as resources to be used in service of profit. If we put down this idea of profit and begin to understand our Gods tied to prosperity, money, and wealth, these relationships can suddenly flourish in countless new ways.
Unmoored by capitalist ideas of work, productivity, leisure, and profit, our relationships can buoy a whole host of powerful new relationships within ourselves and with our Ginnreginn. In a mindset of cycles and relationships it cannot be productive to constantly do work. Rest is part of the natural cycles whether we understand this through the seasons or our own bodies’ rhythms. In thinking on this, Freyr readily comes to my mind. I think of this understanding within and of Freyr. His are the times of culling, whether the animal or the field, and of planting. The times of waiting for the field to grow, for caring for the animals, and of being mindful. Among the ways I approach work with Him in this understanding is doing the work until it is done, not work at any cost. The rains fall, and those rains exist within their own cycles relative to the climate and weather. Rather than being like a boss at Amazon that constantly monitors the bathroom breaks and output of a worker, Freyr is in a right, healthy, and gifting relationship with the rain, to do what it is going to do: to collect, rise, and fall. He helps, working with the rain and all its vaettir. He is not absent the process. Indeed, being a God, in many respects He is the Being and the process through which it works. This also works in relationship with Thor, who, also being a God who embodies many of the same characteristics and relationships, does not eliminate Freyr from them or vice versa. They also exist in relationship with and to us. Rather than turning our Gods into mere processes or archetypes, we come to understand and know Them through the cycles we live, encountering our Gods through systems, living and not, that we ourselves are in.
What would our relationships with moneyvaettir look like without work and the economic systems that exploit our labor?
Understanding money in animism is not some huge leap. Whether we look at it through the coins and paper money that we can hold in our hands or the electronic forms most of our money takes, moneyvaettir are alive and part of our living systems. Indeed, They are the Being and process through which potential work translates into active work in our modern economy. Whether we understand the moneyvaettir in a physical form, coins made from metals and paper money made a pulped then processed fiber respectively, or electronic and made from fire crossing countless metals and silica, They do end up taking up and being part of the physical world as much as the imaginal. Put simply money as a concept is a claim on labor, the physical or electronic tokens being representative of that claim. Without the idea of work, that is, enforced labor, and the economic systems that exploit it, moneyvaettir can be understood through relationship building rather than merely transactions of money being exchanged for a good or service. Money holds value in our system as a fiat currency by being the way that value is held, calculated, and used.
We say in this system that a loaf of bread costs so much, salt that much, and gas this much. That is, these tokens represent how much work you have to do in order to afford this or that thing. They are ways of transacting relationships to the goods and services we need to live in this society. What is belied by this token system is that without a job to assess how much work I need to do in order to afford that item it does not tell me how much work I actually need to do to afford something. A billionaire’s value with a dollar is not my own. I have to put in physical time at a job in order to afford a gallon of gas. Billionaires put in next to no actual physical effort at their jobs. Their bank accounts expand with money merely by existing in certain relationships with financial instruments and institutions. Once you get to a certain point of wealth money is generated in autonomous ways rather than any effort on the part of the individual. The rules of money as commonly understood break down once a person is wealthy because they no longer have to participate in a lived, physical economy like those beneath them. If money were the actual value and time a worker produced then Jeff Bezos would be a pauper in comparison to physical laborers. Money, then, in our modern system, does not measure the work itself, only arbitrary time unmoored from the actual constraints, pain, and processes by which the labor is extracted and distilled.
It is not so much that capitalism only produces false relationships, whether that is with money, labor, or their effects. Rather, it only allows for certain viabilities of relationships. Certain kinds of relationships stop being viable should people wish to live even moderately well or within a communal setting. The zoning laws alone in this country do not allow for the breadth of relationships to our jobs and communities that we could have. The history of the mall in America, especially look at the intent of malls vs the execution of them, is a clear example of this. Staying at home to parent a child or be a homemaker is not viable under the system beneath a certain income level. Hell, educating children in general has become so prohibitively expensive to the educator that many K-12 teachers in this country have completely given up the field. Money did not do this to any of us. Rather, it is the systems that govern money, and accordingly, the systems that moneyvaettir are bound in with work, that does this to us.
Our modern economy alienates us from our labor and each other. It has to, because atomizing us from our relationships is a profitable thing. Restorative justice and wholistic health management in such a system is a non-starter because profit can be extracted at higher rates under a punitive justice system and a fractured medical system. The rise of private adoption services, private prisons, private hospitals, and medical insurance are just a few industries that benefit from this extractive exploitative arrangement. As if that is not bad enough, these private prisons are then able to turn around, literally offerings cents on the dollar, hiring out their prison laborers to companies that also serve to depress the wages of other laborers.
Taking moneyvaettir outside of these systems of control that serve to hurt and oppress both Them and us would allow us to have radically different ways of relating. We can begin this work right now even within the systems we are caught up in.We can partner with Them to truly build up things we value, whether that is the things we produce by our hands, or collectively in our communities. We can give money to indigenous landback movements, to places that exemplify our values such as Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, and to any number of people and services in our community that serve the needs of the community. We can partner with the moneyvaettir to budget in ways that allow us to live in better concert with Them, asking Them and ourselves what ways are best for us to live better in this world together, and then, to invest the money accordingly.
What would our Gods and our relationship with Them, whose sacred places, animals, and plants are currently exploited by industries, look like?
If we could understand that our relationships with moneyvaettir would be drastically changed by this shift then our relationships with our Gods, and the sacred places, animals, and plants would be no less drastically changed. Consider any animal held sacred to one of our Gods, such as the boar and pig to Freyr. Consider that without the economic system we have we could actually treat these animals in a sacred way rather than a resource that, like ourselves, is squeezed for profit. Without our economic systems that encourage profit at all cost there would be no need for the massive CAFOs that poison rivers and lakes, that encourage immense amounts of dumping of poisons on land to produce the feed that is given to the animals on those CAFOs, or the extraction of chemicals and minerals to feed the soils for the land their feed is grown on. It is a simple premise with powerful, long-lasting, radical results. All the knock-on effects from just this one aspect of a highly pollutant industry, and all the suffering that results from it, could be prevented. By removing the profit motive from the equation these things no longer make any sense to continue.
By removing work from our lives we could restructure how we are to live, and what it means to live well. While we may not be able to untangle the many knots capitalism has us wrapped up in right now, we can we can remove work, enforced labor and its effects, from many aspects of our lives, and relationships. Doing so allows us to live more fully in those relationships without the intercession of exploitation. Doing so allows us to develop new ways of relating to ourselves, to one another, and to our Ginnreginn, and maintain the good and healthy ways we have now. Over time, as polytheists and animists, we could bring the values we carry with us into lived relationships where how we labor, spend money, and live our lives have powerful material and spiritual impact on ourselves, our communities, and the relationships we hold with our Ginnreginn. By adopting an anti-work stance and removing the ideas that come with work under a capitalist system, by taking off jobs as we have learned them under this system from ourselves and our Ginnreginn, we can find and reclaim ways of life that better serve us both, and enrich ourselves, our communities, and all the relationships we hold.