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Charles Bukowski: The Slavery of the 9 to 5 (medium.com/personal-growth)
309 points by DiabloD3 on Jan 23, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 224 comments



I strongly suspect that while Bukowski might have been depressed at his job, he probably had some cheerful as fuck coworkers annoying the crap out of him.

I have a friend who became a barista out of university. For most people that would be a depressing failure to get a "real job", but she got enthused, became hugely knowledgable about coffee, and seems to enjoy it. Her company keeps shipping her out to various coffee related events, so they clearly like her.

Sometimes people fit snugly into a crack in the world that fits their shape, and sometimes no such crack exists.


This is profound:

"Sometimes people fit snugly into a crack in the world that fits their shape, and sometimes no such crack exists."

Kudos for creativity if that's original. Kudos of sharing if it's not.


Can't help thinking about Amigara Fault -- but more seriously, yes, nice zen/taoist perspective.


Sometimes you shape your own crack.

Sometimes your crack shapes you.


The lost may add to their suffering by worrying if they aren't looking or working hard enough to produce their niche.


A big part of the problem in the US is indentured servitude to financial aide.


Exactly. All this narrative talks as if working in a company is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Surely a lot of works are indeed like slavery, but you can't broadly dismiss everything in one single stroke. Sometimes there are indeed jobs that suit both the employer and the employee very well; sometimes striking out on your own inopportunely, oblivious to any context, can be an absolute nightmare to not only yourself, but many around you. It's more nuanced than that.


It's not slavery if you'd do it for free.


We'll see how you feel about that after doing more or less the same thing for 10 years straight.


Bukowski is absolutely right here, and Taleb also hits this topic pretty hard in his drafts.

The worst years I've had working for myself have still been better than the best years I've had as an employee, and that was justice! It's like with all of the problems in the world, I'm going to spend my days being a lackey to make more money for someone who already has plenty so I can ride the status/consumption bandwagon even harder.

My slave mentality deserved slave results. Praise God I accidentally broke free!


The Taleb draft you linked really hit home, thank you for that. Time to profoundly rethink some things.


It's one of those things that we all kind-of already knew, but it takes a Nassim Taleb or a Charles Bukowski to lay it out there in black-and-white.


Could you point me in the direction of where Taleb has written on this topic?


Here's the relevant draft from SITG: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/employee.pdf

He also has the same idea peppered throughout Antifragile.


And here [1] (Reddit AMA) "The point is that if you want to be a writer, an artist, or a researcher in something solitary, better have a job that is steady and not taxing intellectually. Think of Spinoza, Einstein, Bayes..." It is not what initiated this thread but it is related in the sense that you can find a job to cover your basic expenses but not being demanding intelectually to pursue other interests.

I read the same from the artist Leon Ferrari [2] [3] he was an engineer and the son of an artist. His father told him to have a career and just then be an artist. This was an anti-fragile advice.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/options/comments/38onec/i_am_nassim...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le%C3%B3n_Ferrari

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Ferrari-Leon-Prologo-Andrea-Giunta/dp...


I've long told my recording clients, "real musicians have a day job" because it described so much of the best talent to come through the studio.


In Black Swan doesn't he talk about how terrible it is to be an entrepreneur and how much better it is to be an employee?


“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” - taleb


I would have replaced carbohydrates by ego, but that would have been a bit too rich for him to say.


It hardly seems accurate to say the average software development job is in any way analogous to what Bukowski describes. We're well compensated professionals who, relative to the other professions, tend to have reasonable hours and a lot of latitude in what we work on and when. Yet, we have a supremely weird tendency to identify as some sort of labor slaves.


We're well-compensated commensurate with the skill required (not everyone can write code) and the ebb and flow of the markets (need I remind you of the late 90s?). The work, more often than not, is not interesting, not valuable (in an intrinsic, not financial, sense of the word), and forgettable.

I would say that we are the prototypical "company men" of the new millennium: non-essential cogs in a machine that are easily replaced. I think that's Bukowski's point and I wholeheartedly agree. With all this talk of culture, and paid time off, and personal development, the world hasn't changed that much in the past 50 years. At least I have the good sense of knowing what I am.

We all would like to think we're Steve Wozniaks. But we're not. Because if we were, we would've co-founded Apple. And this is precisely why I'll be leaving my cushy 6-figure job soon. As Nassim Taleb put it, "Risk takers can be socially unpredictable people. Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it led to it or came from it. You take risks, you feel part of history."


Not all people have talent in music, also not all people have talent in founding companies or working on their own. Some prefer onvenience of working a known routine and having liveable amount of money given to them. Doing something for themselves would mean leaving their zone of comfort and they just don't want to do it for fear of failing. It's basic risk-aversion. Why risk being homeless when you can just go to work doing what you already know and get paid.


> Why risk being homeless when you can just go to work doing what you already know and get paid.

That's incredibly hyperbolic. You don't risk financial ruin by trying to take a start-up off the ground for 6 months (~0.6% of your lifespan), especially if you're single in your 20s or 30s. I'd also argue it's probably a lot less talent than you think, but then again, I am a Malcolm Gladwell fan.


Yeah, and when after 6 moths your startup doesn't work, no one wanted to invest in it and you got some debt to pay, what can you do? You work 9-5 trying to pay off the debt (which is not massive, but needs to be paid), but you failed, and you don't want to take such risks again. You underestimate risk-aversion of common people. Also, when you don't have your own home (owned, not on mortgage), you MUST work to pay for it. How do you get money for it otherwise?

For most people, one failed startup is enough to make them homeless. They don't have enough resources to be safe when their idea doesn't work. Also most of them just don't have viable ideas which can be used to make a good business.


Yes, but this can also be put as "not all people have talent for freedom".


I think this actually IS the case, but it isn't polliticaly correct. From my observation most people are not "in constant search of freedom to do anything they want" and just don't bother actively searching for being free from 9-5. There are even people with talent for slavery. There are people on every end of any spectrum you might choose, just look at BDSM scene as an exmple. According to "normal people": "Who in their right mind would choose to be a sex slave and get beaten?". Yet such people exist, I've met them and understand them.


> Yet, we have a supremely weird tendency to identify as some sort of labor slaves.

Depends where on earth you live.

I can assure you that while some of my Asian friends doing offshore consulting do have a much better life than many of their country fellows, the way they are seen by the western companies hiring them is not much different from the old colonial days.

Also those of us that are lucky to live in countries that have working IT unions, e.g. in Germany, do see the difference.


What benefits do you get from your union, and what are the fees/responsibilities that go with it? I've heard this before, never really heard what the details are though.


In addition to what soperj has answered.

Any overtime gets paid either in money or free time.

Working beyond 10 hours on a day requires authorization and is extra paid.

If doing crushes over lengthy time periods happens due to bad management, it can be reported to the government activities overseeing labor laws.

Any expat temporarily working in local projects gets the same work rights as anyone else, regardless of what international companies "think" about labor laws. Failure to comply can be reported to respective authorities.

Working over weekends requires special approvals and is properly compensated.

Support for fighting against management, when they "think" they know better than what labor laws state about worker rights.


> Any overtime gets paid either in money or free time.

> Working beyond 10 hours on a day requires authorization and is extra paid.

> Working over weekends requires special approvals and is properly compensated.

I'm amazed that you believe you require a union to ensure proper compensation in a country like Germany?

Is it because you're a contractor rather than an employee or some similar sillyness?

Why isn't being paid for your time the default?



Because what the law says and what many employers think that they can get away with, isn't the same thing.


I thought unions were a form of collective bargaining to benefit the employee.

Surely they're not required to get an employer to follow the law. Isn't there a better way?


> Isn't there a better way?

Sadly not that I am aware of.

Either you go alone with a lawyer, or get some muscle beyond you.

For example, even for simple matters like vacations, many people are actually unaware what are their rights, benefits, obligations and how much control the employer has over them.

Many just take the simple route and believe whatever their boss tells them, instead of checking what the law actually says.


I pay about 1200 a year. I have full health benefits, defined benefit pension, and 7 hour work day. If I want (and I do) I can work an extra 49 minutes per day, and take every second Friday off. I start with 15 days holiday, but after working there for 8 years now, I'm up to 22 days holiday (plus 13 stat holidays, and 26 extra days in lieu of those 49 minutes). Any overtime has to be pre-approved, and is paid out at time and a half. If it's over a stat holiday it's at 2.5. Never need to negotiate pay raises because pay is set for the position. Union negotiates the pay raises for cost of living increases. There are benefits and drawbacks, I wouldn't trade the time off though for more money.


> If I want (and I do) I can work an extra 49 minutes per day, and take every second Friday off

God. That would change my life so thoroughly it makes me want to shout.


For me it can be summed up to actually having a work/life balance and feeling respected as a professional compared to when I was doing about a minimum of 2h extra unpaid work per day with non existing holidays and sick leave in $SOUTHERN_EUROPEAN_COUNTRY.

It's easy to drink the valley kool-aid and laugh at unions when your economy is booming.


I pay £18/mo to be a member of Prospect, a non-party-affiliated union. The main benefits to me are legal representation in case I were to get entangled with my employer (not particularly likely). However I mainly do it to support their aims and campaigns.


One of the primary functions of unions in the Netherlands is collective bargaining. Every sector has sort of a "base contract", and the union negotiates basic raises and job perks for everyone employed in that sector.


But what are your earnings? Serious question, not trying to antagonize. There is still a tradeoff, right? Those in the valley work like dogs but there's also a lot of money out there.


Unions.. please.


Basically, nothing is analogous to what Bukowski describes. This is the basis of his enduring appeal. In terms of art, he was a small-prize lottery winner whom we remember because he kept playing and cashing in small prizes--and screaming he was a born loser. And he was. I'm not sure why he became a hipster icon, but among fellow failing and failed poets/philosophers/novelists, he was our FU unicorn.


It's not weird that someone who must stay in an assigned location for at least 8 hours a day doing the same tasks for decades questions the nature of their servitude.


House slaves are still slaves.


I definitely feel like a slave. I have very little freedom of thought (I'm always thinking about work), very little freedom of speech (the range of topics that I can discuss while at work is very limited). No means of making a difference; all software companies these days are huge corporations that treat you like a number - They don't even bother looking at your past work to understand your potential; they just care about labels. Also, there are no means of escape; I can't even start my own business in this industry unless I win the VC lottery (and I've tried).

Software workers are among lowest class of people in society. Those few engineers who happen to have any business leverage tend to be the most compliant ones and don't use that leverage for the benefit of their own kind; instead they are fully subservient to their corporate masters.

The corporates made sure that only the most docile engineers rose to the top. The problem is that as engineers we spend too much time working on our IQ and not enough on our EQ (which is unlike most other professions where some degree of hustling and social scheming is the norm) - As a result, others take advantage of us.

As I'm writing this, I understand that there will be repercussions some day for making inflammatory comments like this online. As big data get more effective, this comment will probably come up next to my profile picture somewhere with a big red cross next to it.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to write this because this point of view needs to be expressed more often even if it sounds a bit extreme.


I find this somewhat widespread lazy, defeatist attitude among engineers both sad and disturbing. It shows quite a lack of empathy and perspective.

In general, software workers are in an extremely fortunate position:

Their services are in high demand and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Even when taking AI into account software creation will probably be among the very last jobs to be automated.

Software workers can create value out of thin air. Founding a business in the software industry is ridiculously easy. In almost any other industry high up-front investment is required. If you fail in any other industry you likely have to pay off a huge amount of debt. In the software industry the default worst case scenario is you've learned something along the way and just start over.

The idea that one can't found a business if one doesn't score in the VC lottery just seems like the feeling of being entitled to having everything handed to you for free. Not every software company has to be a unique snowflake. Not every software company has to be Facebook or Google. There's plenty of exciting software work to be done by bootstrapped software companies in down-to-earth industries (which are often often terribly underserved by the software development community at large).

This feeling of entitlement in my opinion is the root cause of the problem. As a software developer you can't expect business people to respect you and provide you with business leverage if all you want to do is sit at a desk all day and write code.

Communication is key. You need to present your work in terms non-developers can both understand and relate to, i.e. talk about the business value you provide.

If you don't want to be commoditised first of all don't commoditise yourself! You're not a bunch of TLAs. I find it offensive that people are commonly hired based on a set of acronyms as well as that people often identify with these acronyms. If you're a Java / PHP / JavaScript / whatever developer you're essentially a fungible commodity. If you present yourself as a skillful business problem solver that's an entirely different matter and more business-minded, less tech-savvy people will much more readily pay you the respect you deserve.


Is it so hard to imagine that many software engineers are taken advantage of? And that they can't leave due to life circumstances?

I guess your post makes some sense if you add a big fat asterisk: in some parts of the US and Europe.


> Communication is key. You need to present your work in terms non-developers can both understand and relate to

The problem is: One is permanently surrounded by stupid people. If the business people were really smart (and those exist - they are just as rare as smart people in most other areas), I could accept the argument. Unluckily this is not the case. So presenting the work to "typical" other people (including non-developers) is like explaining Grothendieck-style algebraic geometry to a monkey.


I chose a tech degree and job because I like it. It's my hobby still, even though I do it full time for work. I live a comfortable life, I'm well paid, I have paid parental leave, long paid holidays, I have a large amount of influence over tech decisions. I have actively rejected offers to do more management as I want to do 100% tech. This means my pay has probably plateaued after 10-15 years now if I don't change jobs. I work from home if I want (and currently from a sunny island). I leave my kids at 8.30 and I make them dinner at 5. Every day. I fill in those lost hours here and there when I feel like it. I have never had to work overtime.

> the range of topics that I can discuss while at work is very limited

If you aren't allowed to talk politics, sports, or whatever you want at the coffee machine, switch jobs.

> all software companies these days are huge corporations that treat you like a number

Change jobs. You might find it's better to do software in a non-software company. I do.

> I definitely feel like a slave. [..] there are no means of escape

Is your value on the job market that bad? Demand for software developers has never been higher. If you have fingers, chances are there is somewhere that will hire you. If you have no formal training, and no possibility to leave a geographical area (e.g. divorced with kids in that small town) then that might be a kind of geographical prison.


The problem is telling the good jobs from the bad ones.


> Software workers are among lowest class of people in society.

I don't know where you live, who your friends are, but I feel bad for you. I feel that I'm respected as a developer, people think I'm sort of wizard doing this (which I certainly don't agree with) but I rarely experienced looked down upon. Try to re-evaluate where are you at the food chain, because you are certainly not the lowest building block.


> I feel that I'm respected as a developer

Respected slave. Software developers are very fortunate to be on the frontier of the tech word. But that does not mean we are free from slavery. We are respected slaves who are in high demand. The only solution is Universal Basic Income. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income. And the best thing about being a software developer is we are the closest people to make the UBI come true. Every minute put in to developing the skill will not go waste. Whenever i find and report a bug to the Free or Opensource project i feel like i am contributing to making the UBI come true.


If you think you are a salve then you clearly haven't experienced real slavery. Having a job that sucks with a demanding job and boring project does not equal slavery. You are free to quit, you are free to start a company you are free to learn more to upgrade your career.

UBI won't change much for people who already have a job they love. It's designed for people who need to close a gap between gaining knowledge and employments; coping with stress to not finding suitable jobs. I'd love to see it happen but I don't see the use to over-dramatize the misery of developers.


> If you think you are a salve then you clearly haven't experienced real slavery.

Any one who is not financially independent is a modern slave.

> It's designed for people who need to close a gap between gaining knowledge and employments; coping with stress to not finding suitable jobs.

No. You can do anything or remain idle. That UBI.


> I definitely feel like a slave.

In no other area it's that easy to break free. You on your own or with a couple of friends/colleagues. As a side-project if you have that much energy, or full-time if you saved some money.

Don't want to take the risk and effort? Work on projects of other people/companies. Even less risk? Take a part-time job, that will still get you a decent income and heaps of spare time.

> As a result, others take advantage of us

Do you have a family, debt and ill parents nearby that make it impossible to look for something else, or why do you allow that somebody takes advantage of you?

I think that you (we) are in one of the most comfortable, luxurious and free positions that ever existed.


> Software workers are among lowest class of people in society

Only in the very general sense of being part of the class of "workers" rather than those who live off capital. Which puts you on the same rung as rather a lot of people.

I'd say the people on zero-hour or unpredictable schedules are treated as the lowest rung of workers: extreme economic uncertainty. If you don't know how many hours you're going to work, you can't know if you'll make rent at the end of the month. If you don't know when you'll work, you can't make other plans.

The people who are really treated as the lowest class are those unable to work, who are forever under suspicion.


"Software workers are among lowest class of people in society"

That might depend on where you are, but in my experience it seems like one of the more solidly middle-class professions around. Doctors and lawyers (if employed) enjoy more prestige, but cleaners, salespeople, etc. appear to enjoy less. Do you have a source re: lowest class?

Note that I refer to prestige and societal reputation, rather than remuneration.


Yeah, I think engineers have decent prestige, what we lack is business leverage. Which to me is the real indicator of class.

In terms of leverage, we are on par with administrative office workers, construction workers and labourers - It didn't have to be that way, but companies have managed to turn us into replaceable commodities.

I think that even sales people and HR recruiters these days have more leverage than we do.


I completely disagree. I was a software engineer, and I started a business alone, with no capital. It was pretty easy and I can't imagine how a business or HR person could have anywhere near the leverage I had by just knowing how to automate computers.


> Software workers are among lowest class of people in society.

Spoken like someone who has never had to do manual labor. First-world problems, much?


> As I'm writing this, I understand that there will be repercussions some day for making inflammatory comments like this online. As big data get more effective, this comment will probably come up next to my profile picture somewhere with a big red cross next to it.

I found this really hilarious to the point of tears.

Are you for real or is this whole post for lulz?


Yeah, I thought this was funny too. Why wait for "big data" when you can do a Google search on a candidate's name today.


I think the problem of many engineers is that they think that they do not need to take part in low or dirty practices of business. They think: "I'm smarter, and if I just do my job, I don't need to play dirty games to be successful." However, reality does not agree, unfortunately. On the other hand, many engineers get to have very intellectually fulfilling jobs.


> many engineers get to have very intellectually fulfilling jobs.

As long as it is a job it is a form of slavery.


> As long as it is a job it is a form of slavery

How is it a form of slavery if you're earning a decent wage and can leave any time you want?

Pull your head out of your arse and grow up.


> can leave any time you want?

Leave one master to serve another master.

> Pull your head out of your arse and grow up

This is the worst thing about modern slavery. People are not even aware of it. Wake up.


Well, I'd say, by and large, they don't have to. They can probably earn enough without doing so. It probably does cost not to, however, quite a lot, which some engineers can afford.


Why don't you get a new job? Last time I heard, software engineers are in high demand everywhere.


The places that are different from what the author wrote can be counted on the left hand of a blind butcher.


But, but, if I find a job I'm happy at, how can I rant on HN about how my life, with it's flexible hours, unlimited vacation, catered lunches, air conditioning et al. is the same as slavery?

/s


Dude, just find a remote work, travel, enjoy life. It's never been easier.


Please be elaborate satire.


How is this inflammatory? Also, welcome to capitalism.


Really, I just want a 9-to-5, instead of a 9-to-8 + "oh hey quick question" notification from Slack at 11.


Seriously, 9-5 is the dream. This article is so filled with naive melodrama. Does this person realize how much effort it takes to kill, pluck, and dress a single chicken? to grow a single ear of corn? Things you might eat in a single meal? Someone has to "slave" themselves away to grow that for you. They can't just quit and become a poet, if they did the author would starve. That attitude is the definition of childish because it always assumes that someone is going to be there to provide for you, whether it is the state, some rich patron, or your actual parents.


You do realize that efficiencies in agriculture means our country alone has more than the capacity to feed the entire world?

Second consideration, no one opts in to capitalism. You are simply born into a situation with scarce access to natural resources (fenced off by the rich and powerful). Now, it only seems fair to me that a person has to ability to opt out, if we wanted to level the playing field between workers and owners. That is the price of civilization.


You can absolutely opt out of capitalism, and many have: you can get some likeminded people together and start a commune, or you can go sleep on a park bench and panhandle, or you can just leave and move to Cuba or North Korea. Nobody will stop you or hinder you in any way.

However, you cannot opt out of socialism. "Not having a job" is illegal in socialist countries. Don't like the job that was assigned to you by some bureaucrat? Want to start a mini-free market with your friends? Too bad, the alternative is the labor camps.

The border guards in capitalist countries are there to prevent illegal immigration into the country. The border guards in socialist countries are there to keep people from escaping.


FYI, there's nothing inherently socialist about what you describe. It's an artifact of countries that tried to implement communism in one way specifically.

Socialism at its core is simply the social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

It's pretty common to consider social democracy a form or derivative of socialism, and personally I think its the form of government that has come closest to the socialist ideals, even though they didn't fully implement it the way classical socialists or communists imagined.

Communism just replaced the capitalists with a political elite. There's no difference between communism in practice, and simply one big corporation running everything. The people didn't gain social ownership, and certainly not democratic control.

Planned economy was naive. But having a democratic state have majority ownership in large, key corporations that compete in an otherwise free market gets to the social ownership/democratic control part, but without the oppressive government part that inevitably results from the naive approach to achieving socialist ideals.

> you can get some likeminded people together and start a commune

You still have to buy the land. Probably you wouldn't have too much trouble finding relatively cheap and fertile land still, but it might be getting harder. It's not like you can just settle down wherever and live off the land.

I think the main problem here is that if you'd like to grow a non-capitalist economy, you have absolutely no state support. All laws are written with capitalism assumed. So non-capitalist approaches have little chance to grow beyond a single commune. In fact, even if you tried to grow a new capitalist economy (in the sense of doing trade, not in the sense of Marx' definition), which isn't the state sanctioned variety of capitalism, you'd probably get jailed. Try starting a set of communes that trade goods with your own gold-standard currency, see what happens.

So no, you can't opt out. You, personally, if you have enough money, can perhaps do a big one-time purchase which will let you partly opt out for just you and maybe a few other people. But you don't really get to have any economic activity with more than a handful of people.

> or you can go sleep on a park bench and panhandle

I don't think that's what the parent post had in mind. That's not really opting out at all. You're completely dependent on capitalism for surviving that way, even if you don't have a job yourself.


> You can absolutely opt out of capitalism, and many have: you can get some likeminded people together and start a commune... Nobody will stop you or hinder you in any way.

This is patently false. If I go find a nearby piece of unused arable land to farm the police will arrest me and throw me in jail. If I try to trade milk for bread with my neighbor the police will arrest me and throw me in jail. If I build a house using indigenous materials the police will arrest me and throw me in jail.

Not immediately, but if I stick to my guns in any of these practices the legal path ends with me in jail. Maybe I can avoid enforcement through secrecy, but that doesn't make it any less illegal.

Many counties in the U.S. have made it illegal to live outside the capitalist system.

And your suggestion that no one will hassle you for sleeping on a park bench is completely absurd. People sleeping on park benches are perhaps the biggest target of police harassment of anyone.


> start a commune,

That does not mean you are not part of the capitalist society anymore. You have to get enough capital to get land and you will have to continue paying taxes.


I would say the most offensive/dishonest aspect of this loaded statement is basically the implied isolation of "you guys go over there, leave the world to us" -- as if only the capitalists can claim the inherited knowledge of humanity (fenced off with copyright laws etc). As if only the capitalists, who have taken so many (all) natural resources, have a right to the land we are born on and we must slave to pay for small parcel of land just to exist. How exactly is that "opting out" of capitalism again?

It's more akin to playing socialism than actually living in it.


Just to further your point:

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.ZS

Employment in agriculture (% of total employment) of the USA: %2.

If we could provide shelter and clothing with similar efficencies, the question of having to work just to survive ends up in a very different place than it has done historically.


I mean, what's stopping you? Just pool some money, buy some plots of land, and then 2% of you at a time can rotate into doing the farm work - the rest of you can just do poetry. Utopian society in an instant. Wow, modern technology!

Also: shameless plug for my blog post https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13467783


So who's going to grow your food while you "opt out"?


The people who labeled the earth we were given as their property, and who deny us access to it?

I'm a staunch free market supporter, but OP is right: you're lucky if you like this competitive society we were born in. If you don't like our rules, we screw you. You can't just up and move to a fertile plot of land without anyone bothering you, anymore. The least we can do is recognize that.


But the technology IS approaching that can make a basement a place to grow food. How much longer until we can literally grow food anywhere that has electricity?


There is a cost to the existing world order. Right now it costs on average over $40,000 a year to put someone in jail in America -- for breaking the social contract. It seems fair to me that the rich, in return for being the few who own so much, pay for someone to live and not die in the streets if they do not want to work (a pittance).

We have the resources as a society, so scarcity is not a compelling retort. Secondly, the resources are being used anyway (welfare, prison, police), arguably inefficiently and can be done without needless suffering and waste of human potential.

If the owner class is going to close access to resources we need to live, it is the right of the worker class to break the social order. Your assertion that people who recognize this hierarchy of power as "childish" seems unfair. And the real reason why basic income is untenable for the rich is that it gives too much negotiating power to those who work for a living, because they would not die in the streets if they were to opt out. That reality greatly undermines any notion of freedom in the economic sense. Time is money and it seems the rich get to take both from the poor with impunity.

edit since I can't reply: Did you read my comment? Somehow you are under the strange perception that the rich people, who own literally almost everything are at the worse end of the deal wrt to subsidizing sustenance living for the poor. To answer your question: anyone can grow the food, but no one will be forced to.

Does it occur to you that the owners are actually doing nothing (if they choose) while everyone else grows THEIR food and provides an endless list of goods and services? I see you don't have a problem with this system, which is strange since you are so insistent that everyone must work for their food.


>it is the right of the worker class to break the social order

This line of reasoning isn't very useful, since it doesn't matter what is "right" or "just", only what's realistic or at least possible. The "worker class" can't break the social order, or at least not in a way that improves their situation.



The "worker class" can't break the social order, or at least not in a way that improves their situation.

It's far too soon to say how Brexit and Trump will ultimately play out. Scrapping the TPP for example (the TTIP already having been killed by the same forces).


It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the rest of what I wrote, specifically why owners are exempt from working for what they consume while consuming so much.


Sure they can.

Torches, gasoline, and guns do wonders to motivate social change.


And then everyone's quality of life will drop, including the people who initiated the changes.


you seem to be making the assumption that there have to be crap jobs, and that somebody has to do them. the only reason there are crap jobs is because there are people to do those jobs who don't have any choice.

suppose for a moment that everybody has fulfilling work in their lives, or they are independently wealthy. suddenly, nobody wants to be garbage men, or work the counter at mcdonalds, and so on. in the case of the garbage men, local communities won't have much choice: they will either have to pay more, or make the job more attractive somehow: better trucks, better working hours, and so on. and maybe fast food places just won't be economically viable anymore, if you can't get high school kids to work for you for practically nothing. no big loss. and if it turns out that some people do perceive that as a big loss, then prices are going to go up, instead.

there doesn't have to be soul-crushing jobs. that's just a consequence of the societal rules we live under right now.


> you seem to be making the assumption that there have to be crap jobs, and that somebody has to do them. the only reason there are crap jobs is because there are people to do those jobs who don't have any choice.

Actually, the only reason that there are crap jobs is that someone needs to do the crap job. If that wasn't the case, no one would pay you to do it. The whole point of money is to make people do things they wouldn't normally want to do - like farm, clean toilets, kill a cow, or build buildings in the rain. And it's a good thing that money does that, it keeps us fed. It keeps society moving.


Is that why the people that do the crap jobs get paid the least? Or maybe there are systemic power imbalances and threatened violence for the poor.


> This article is so filled with naive melodrama.

Well, of course it has to be full of complexities and life melodrama; this is Bukowski after all. It is his trademark.

But his life story has a beautiful twist, which unfortunately is not covered in OP's piece. From the interview[1] with John Martin, his longtime friend and editor, and the guy who paid the $100 per month:

"We sat down with a little piece of paper. I sat there with a pen, and he listed out all of his monthly expenses—and you've got to remember, this was 1965, when his rent was $35 a month. He had $15 in child support, $3 for cigarettes, $10 for liquor, and another $15 for food. And yet, even though that sounds pitifully small, at the time he was feeding himself and had nice clothes, drove a very old car, and lived in this completely or partially destroyed unit in East Hollywood. He could get along on $100 a month. I was only earning $400 a month, so I was giving him 25 percent of my income. But as soon as the thing took off we did much better.

At the very end, I paid him a retainer so I wouldn't owe him some horrible amount of money. Eventually I paid him $10,000 every two weeks. So he went from $100 every month to $10,000 every two weeks, and then, at the end of the year, I'd make up whatever I still owed him. Later, the really big money came in when we started to sell his books for movies and stuff like that."

[1] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bukowskis-longtime-publis...


To put the initial amount in context: $100 in 1965 equals ~$760 in 2016. (http://www.saving.org/inflation/inflation.php?amount=100&yea...)


I read Bukowski in the '80s but I never read ABOUT Bukowski - so I found this very interesting


No, you just lack breadth in your understanding of life. People have different personalities, Bukowski clearly had a personality that caused him to despise the 9-5 work environment. He grww up with people telling him if he didn't work 9-5 he would be a dirty bum hippie. That explains his hatred for the 9-5.


Well he was kind of a dirty bum.


And a dirty old man


Turns out that if you create an excuse to leave on time (kids, gym class, whatever), people will generally let you leave on time and won't question it.

If you disable notifications you won't feel the urge to reply to messages. You can't reply to what you can't see.

If anyone questions your loyalty, explain that jobs come and go, but you [and your family etc] are forever. If they keep pushing, explain that you will gladly behave like a cofounder in exchange for a paltry 20% stake in the company.

They usually leave you alone after that.

Caveat: this only works if you're good at what you do and difficult to replace.


> Caveat: this only works if you're good at what you do and difficult to replace.

So it only works for a minority of people then. I'd also say "or difficult to replace", the ones that are good at what they do tend to make themselves replaceable.


You'd be surprised. Just knowing how the org works and knowing the internal lingo makes you really annoying to replace. Onboarding people takes a lot of time and effort. Finding ones you're even willing to onboard is even harder.

But if you're just stacking boxes, you might not have enough leverage.

Everyone who reads HN probably has enough leverage to set boundaries.


"Everyone who reads HN probably has enough leverage to set boundaries."

I'm reading this at work while installing windows updates on a desktop PC for a client, don't be so sure.


I bet the client is terrified of doing it themselves and is paying oodless of money for the assurance that the computer will now and forever Just Work. And if it doesn't it's your fault and not theirs.

Being a scapegoat can be very profitable.

How does the saying go again? Nobody ever got fired fot buying IBM? Something like that.

Being the scapegoat is a valuable service if you do it well.


I managed to do it when I was a lowly Geek Squad employee during college. I always had an excuse prepared ahead of time in case someone asked me to stay late, and I was just generally prepared to say no to ridiculous requests.


I realize it really depends on individual situations, but let me just say this: I have no problems managing a 9-5:30 work-life at Amazon.

Employers, customers, and coworkers tend to overestimate the importance of their issue. Employees tend to underestimate how much they can push back, prioritize, or say "no". The answer is not long working hours.

If everyone is accustomed to your 9-8 work hours, it might take time to roll back... but it can be done.

And if your company refuses to give you a reasonable work-life balance? Leave.


Don't answer.


I've taken to signing out of Slack on my mobile phone every evening and signing back in in the morning.

Works like a charm.


I simply don't have slack on my personal mobile phone. Works even better.


That does work even better.

In my case, my personal and work mobile phones are one the same (company pays for data), so I'm expected to be at least Slack-responsive during business hours.


Same in my case, but 99% when I'm able to respond during business hours, I'm sitting in front of a computer. If it's an emergency, a phone call is more suitable anyways. Sure there was this one time when I had to use Slack from my phone browser (set to desktop mode), but it's a small sacrifice.


Hell, I love my 9-5 dev job in government sector. Almost never overtime, decent pay, great colleagues and I get enough say and time to shape my work a little.


I'm making enough money to live on from apps I released last year. I don't know what to do with my time. Freedom is of course wonderful but I don't _feel_ it, I often long for the office context of a good Swedish workplace. You need to feel you accomplish something every day, and (good) work does that.


> You need to feel you accomplish something every day, and (good) work does that.

Work (good or bad) is a crutch many people rely on to feel as though they're accomplishing something.

I didn't work for 2 years (by choice) and never felt as if I lacked purpose and never felt the need to "accomplish something everyday."

Instead I exercised, read, watched TV, relaxed. I was constantly amazed by the number of people who said they'd hate that sort of routine.


> I exercised, read, watched TV, relaxed. I was constantly amazed by the number of people who said they'd hate that sort of routine.

I'd be board out of my mind. You'll never pull me away from computer(s), programming, terminals, and all the lot. I know many people in computer science like me. Computers are not a job, they are a way of life so much so that I find ways to fill my free time with more of them.

I know many people like me. One such (retired) person, who I will not name, has actually spent money to work for my current employer. He's done construction/demolition, data processing, data agregation, and goes to the north pole for us sometimes. He's a great guy who loves what he does and I don't think he'll be able to stop... ever.

I'm very much the same way. I love the work I get to do and I've done a lot of it for free just because I enjoy doing it. I also do freelance work with computers and I'm trying to break into other fields like machining, welding, and electronics. When I retire I'll keep doing that. Making things is just fun for me.


I'm a welder by trade, spent two years in ISP tech support and then two years in a data centre.

I love making things. My current day job is operating a 4kw laser cutter in a metal fabrication shop.


Is it CNC or do you do this by hand? I've always thought those things were cool but I'll never in my life be able to afford one because of all of the ansilary safety gear you need. I'm assuming you need serious HVAC, power, optics gear, and know how.

Good for you man, keep making cool stuff.


Then after a while you get interested in how TV is made, how books are written, how a screenplay is constructed. Or how a surfboard is made, or how to paint.

Then suddenly you have too many things to do. Kites to fly, surfboards to wax, opensource to patch.

Free time is lovely.

Boredom is great. Get bored. Go for a walk. End up running home to set up another AWS project that you just thought of.


I agree. I probably still wouldn't get myself to exercise much, but I know I'd spend a lot of time reading books, coding random stuff and learning new off-line skills.

It seems to me like there are different kinds of personality. I'm having a hard time treating my job as anything but a sacrifice of my time better spent elsewhere, that I need to do to afford the necessities. On the other hand, I know people who like having a job - among other reasons, because it creates a rhytm in their lives, much like a clock signal in digital electronics.


Been 3.5 year for me. I hate it. I hate being isolated. I hate going for days without seeing anyone (they're at work and have families after work). I have done many personal projects but they are not as fulfilling for me as team projects done physically together.

That said I left my last job because it didn't provide those things. No teamwork (project so big none was needed)


I left work just over a year ago because it just wasn't going anywhere (and it didn't leave any time to travel), and rarely done team work etc, but after a few months travelling I started to miss work, having people to chat with each day and help out. Now I'm finding it hard to find another employer as good or better as my previous one. I think it's allot about the people you work with, and less so the company.


Maybe it's a personality thing (based on the wide variety of contributions here), because I'm totally with you, and the others who say they prefer freedom and no "work." I like my area of specialization (data science), and I have a great employer, but I always crave freedom. I will hopefully eventually do my own thing with enough success that I can have lots of time to read, spend with family, explore the world, sleep, eat, relax, write, design board games, and basically just march to the beat of my own drum.


“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal

I think a lot of people crave work or spend all their "alone" time having a relationship with a computer because they are not comfortable in their own skin.[0]

[0] I say that because it applies 100% to me.


> Work (good or bad) is a crutch many people rely on to feel as though they're accomplishing something.

That seems unfair, since "crutch" in that context usually refers to something used to overcome an injury or disorder. But wanting regular structured work isn't a bad thing, just like your exercise/reading/TV/relaxation isn't a "crutch." Different people like different stuff.


> I didn't work for 2 years (by choice)

I'd love to know how you managed that. Somehow built up an enormous savings and then blew it over 2 years? You are very fortunate to have been able to do that!


You don't need an enormous savings.Just live on less.

Make 100k for 2 years, spending 25k to live per year. So you have 150k in savings - taxes, lets round down to 100k.

You can now go 4 years without working.

I know people that do similar things... can use it to fund an indy game, or just play videogames for a few years.


I guess you don't plan on retiring early in that case.


Very true. But it has some benefits. I.e. you could potentially have 6 or 10 years in your 20s and 30s without work. Vs working til day 50 and only having older less active years to be off.


2 years off in my 20s felt pretty much like retirement. Loved it.


Yep, I worked for 4 years at ~$45k/y, spending nothing, and just had a year off, started by travelling for a few months and chilling for the last few, had the best time of my life, even started doing some side projects which I hadn't done since Uni, and really missed. Sadly I've run out of $$$ now and looking for some work.

I know it can be risky taking such a break from a career but I think it was worth it, I gained some great travel experience and better understand what I want out of life.


Make 100k for 2 years?? I scrape together 25k as junior dev. I really wonder how you manage that in your 20s.


Depending on where you are you are dramatically underpaid.


Western Europe. I feel the same as you do.


My example assumed US reasonable size city salaries.


Yeah, I made much less than that ~$40K (2007-2010) and ended up saving around $50k during that time. Just have to have not many expenses.

Now I earn more and spend more, too, lol. Enjoy it just the same though.


yeah, basically lived frugally for a few years, saved up about $50K USD, didn't spend much beyond rent ($550/month for a studio apartment in Portland, OR in 2010), food, utilities.

Ended up rejoining the working world when I saw a job ad for something that was "perfect" based on skills I had, interviewed and got it.


Well, in Sweeden you can't go out and enjoy your country in Winter, it is just so cold and dark to do anything but stay indoors, read a book,play and instrument, play computers...all artificial things, specially after working in front of a computer for hours.

This will make you go out of balance or you will burn out.

My advice is for you to take a month or so and travel in Winter to other countries if you are young. Go to Argentina, it is now summer there, or Indonesia, or Morocco.

Making apps means you are free to travel and even continue working. Your money is worth 20x more or so in Argentina than Sweden.

Usually you could stay out of your country 6 months or so without fiscal problems. If you try it odds are you won't believe how you could live without it, but start small taking one month out at first.

I did it myself because I also started creating software. Now traveling the world is routine and for me staying in places like Boston, Chicago or Sweden in winter does not make lots of sense.


Thus frustrates me very much. As someone who has too many things they want to do to possibly fit them all in, I can't even imagine the thought of wanting to go back to 9 - 5 just to kill time. I could name twenty things off the top of my head I'd do if I was you.

Working 9 - 5 is a sad necessity so I can pay for rent, bills, my car to drive to my 9 - 5, my dentist, etc. And I have to give up on my dreams because of it. Please please use your time wisely.


Do you have kids/elderly parents to take care of/etc.? I can imagine that lifestyle working really well for people with caregiving obligations.


You could try volunteering, or otherwise finding a cause and working on it?


You still have the freedom to do that though. You can go back and work in a "good old Swedish workplace" if you want. While I don't necessarily agree with the idea that 9 to 5 is slavery (or that there isn't a way to live within your means and save enough to keep quitting on the table as an option), the message of this article is for those of us who do not have the freedom to choose to do something entirely different that may not actually generate income.


Volunteer for stuff and/or teach people. Feeding the poor for a couple of weeks can be really enlightening and rewarding. Teching app development to some kids as extra curricula activity is also quite a lot of fun.

If you're just missing the office I suppose the only real alternative is getting a job again. At least you can apply for the "craziest things you've always wanted to do" given your situation :)


You need to feel you accomplish something every day, and (good) work does that.

That's great for you, but of course Bukowski wasn't thinking of the "have your cake and eat it, too" world of tech workers in 2017 (who are generally overpaid and/or get to do what they love most of the time -- and quite often, subject to both fates).

But rather, you know, regular people.


Tech workers are not overpaid.


He probably wanted to say they're paid above average. In the same way doctors are not overpaid.


In America at least there is an artificial scarcity of doctors, so that that comparison isn't fair.


*some


I don't like doing tech work, it's really repetitive and you don't get to work on what you want.


Then go work in a Swedish workplace part time. :)


hey this got me curious on your life because it sounds like my dreamlife! ^^ do you have a website or anything?


I was also curious! I dug through his comments and found this:

https://medium.com/@thyselius

and

https://itunes.apple.com/us/developer/inlovewith-ab/id666807...

I think these are his.


A little bit of comment digging brought me this:

https://itunes.apple.com/se/developer/inlovewith-ab/id666807...


Learn an instrument or craft?


Travel.


I would read the fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper.


Bukowski the postal worker was offered a basic income and he took it, and in the process became Bukowski the writer.

Currently in France there is a big debate about a universal, unconditional basic income, that one of the candidates to the left primaries defends, against the mockery and outrage of everyone else, right, left and center. (He arrived first at the first round with 35% of the vote, and looks like he will win next week, so all is not lost).

Still, it's surprising that so many people are against this idea. They're not just saying it's impractical, impossible, too expensive, etc. (although they are saying that as well) -- they're opposed to it on principle. But what principle?

For lack of a better explanation and at the risk of being polemical, I think the reason is, people hate other people's freedom.

People want other people to be not free, even at the cost of their own freedom. Thinking that we could actually be able to choose a life without work or bosses or a schedule drives many people mad.


>they're opposed to it on principle. But what principle?

They apparently also believe that Earth came prepackaged into real estate belonging to specific people, as opposed to the resources available being there for all.


I am living in France and here are the arguments I heard against the Universal income so far that has nothing to do with cost or impossibility to set up.

Some say this is a patch to hide misery. The idea is that they think we should not give people charity, keeping them alive but still poor, and instead focus on the real problem: the lack of jobs and the disparity of incomes. I even heard from some that the Universal Income is a Silicon Valley idea to keep getting richer while giving the poor just enough to keep consuming, thus maintaining the capitalistic economy alive.

An other argument I have heard beside cost is that it encourages/rewards laziness and inactivity.


>Some say this is a patch to hide misery. The idea is that they think we should not give people charity, keeping them alive in misery, but instead focus on the real problem: the lack of jobs and the disparity of incomes.

The "lack of jobs" would be the real problem is jobs were premised to be available. But jobs are there to accomplish things (and a number of them could be enough for doing those things) not to give people a paycheck.


>But jobs are there to accomplish things (and a number of them could be enough for doing those things) not to give people a paycheck.

I agree with this view but you also need to realize that if you follow that logic the only reason society exists is because cooperation worked better than alternatives, specialization and jobs came out of that. Now if that's no longer true the core premise of the society disappears, and all the arguments against that is essentially people feeling uncomfortable with this outcome - that a huge part of people will have no role in society and will be dead weight at the mercy of those in power - it's not hard to see why this view makes them uncomfortable.


> An other argument I have heard beside cost is that it encourages/rewards laziness and inactivity.

If you filter some people and reward others, you encourage laziness and inactivity on people near the threshold but if you don't filter anybody the problem disappears. Humans are naturally active.


Bukowski was not only offered a salary for his work, but ownership in the enterprise itself, in the form of the copyright he had as an author.

I am against UBI on the basis of practicality and the principles of equality, democracy, and human rights.

For practicality, the impossibility of setting the level of this income. Should it cover job loss for you and a family of 4 living on Manhattan or the Bay Area, or should it cover the needs of a single 25 year old with no health complications living in Detroit? You cannot even answer this simple question and regardless of your answer, your camp will not agree with you because it is impossible to set.

As for equality, a subsistence income which is the only type that is practically feasible, will create a captured class, living in slums and unable to manage their own lives, plan for the future, raise a family. They will forever be stuck in a location with awful schooling, health care, no jobs and no access to higher education. And they will only ever vote for modest increases in their income as it will be their only means of bettering their lot in life - hence being captured in a dreadful reality and a dreadful political ideology.

It would be a society not seen since Rome, and it would cause enormous social unrest. Thankfully it will never happen because you cannot even decide on the level of this income.


> I think the reason is, people hate other people's freedom.

Most people, even if they don't like the actual system, are 'invested' in it and don't want any change. Changing rules in the middle of the game would take any meaning (already residual) from their past life strategy. All would have been just a big waste of time.


> I think the reason is, people hate other people's freedom

What kind of freedom is it to live off unearned money, paid in by other people? It's as freedom as begging is.

If everybody would live off UBI, what would happen? It'd collapse flat out. It's not freedom if everybody can't enjoy it together.


> What kind of freedom is it to live off unearned money, paid in by other people?

Ask the 1%.


I might have read a bunch of books and articles about work, but the biggest lessons I've learned are from Bukowski.

The Post Office and Factotum are two of my favorite books. Here are a few quotes from Factotum that I really liked:

~~

“Look,” I said, “these books aren’t worth reading let alone arguing about.”

“All right,” one of the women said, “we know you think you’re too good for this job.”

“Too good?”

“Yes, your attitude. You think we didn’t notice it?”

That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.

~~

“You knew we were going to let you go?”

“Bosses are never hard to fathom.”

“Chinaski, you haven’t been pulling your weight for a month and you know it.”

“A guy busts his damned ass and you don’t appreciate it.”

“You haven’t been busting your ass, Chinaski.”

I stared down at my shoes for some time. I didn’t know what to say. Then I looked at him. “I’ve given you my time. It’s all I’ve got to give—it’s all any man has. And for a pitiful buck and a quarter an hour.”

“Remember you begged for this job. You said your job was your second home.”

“…my time so that you can live in your big house on the hill and have all the things that go with it. If anybody has lost anything on this deal, on this arrangement…I’ve been the loser. Do you understand?”

“All right, Chinaski.”

“All right?”

“Yes. Just go.”

~~

It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?

~~~

I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave me a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.

~~~

Here are the one I liked from Women: http://www.p1x3l.com/story/171/bukovsky-women


To oversimplify, there's two ways of pricing things: what the market will pay, or taking the cost to produce and adding a markup.

We price hours of work by the first method, but I started wondering what it would look like if we used the second.

For both a CEO and a janitor the cost of one hour of employment is one hour of their life. So from that perspective, we should be paying everyone the same.

I can't think of how to make an economic system work based on that, but it was a curious thought.


The answer to al your questions is: in a perfectly competitive market, the two pricing strategies lead to the same price.

However an hour of one person's life does not have the same market value as an hour of another person's life.


What do you do with overqualified people =)


Please quote with italics (asterisk before and after the text) rather than indenting, as the line wrapping is lost when you indent and it's much harder to read.


Factotum is one of my favs Bukowski's book to. I bought as a gift for my friends when she throws somewhere I find myself to read.


I've never really seen breakfast the same way since I read Bukowski describe it as 'force-feeding'...


"It's 5 AM. What are you doing?

""I want to watch the sun come up. I love sunrises!"

"No wonder you don't drink."

"I'll be back. We can have breakfast together."

"I haven't been able to eat breakfast for 40 years."


Working without a calling, especially in an unskilled job, is horrifying. It's main use is to convince yourself that you never want to be in that position again and motivate studying or a career change.


I don't know if you consider factory work "unskilled work" or not, but as I mentioned above, my dad was a factory worker for 30 years before he retired at 55, my mom was a high school math teacher, before she retired.

My mom came home, graded papers, took phone calls from parents and teachers (these days teachers do the same and respond to emails after hours), had to attend after school functions, and had to deal with politics, paper work, parents of spoiled children etc. and never got paid extra for it.

My dad went to work at 8, came home at 5 and left the job at work. If he did have to work extra he got paid for it. He has a degree in accounting but said he couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk all day.

I on the other hand, besides a few stints at contracting, have mostly been in the same boat - not getting paid overtime. I'm not complaining, I also get paid well, can work from home when needed/wanted and get paid to do work I would be doing as a hobby any way.


The recent movie 'Paterson' is perhaps an interesting illustration of a character who is apparently content in an unskilled job. The title character is a bus driver whose passion is for poetry which he writes during breaks, partly inspired by the people he sees while driving around (so perhaps the job is somewhat aligned with his passion, there). Also blessed with an extremely stable home life, Paterson radiates a zen-like modesty, acceptance and contentment.

Of course it's just a movie, but then Bukowski was a poet whose works are 'just' books (and movies) themselves. Not disagreeing with you - I would hate to feel stuck in an unskilled job also - just throwing this out because I think it's interesting.


I find it a bit tasteless to use the term slavery or wage slavery for essentially a job that you don't like but feel compelled to do to survive when there's still real slavery going on in the world. The outcome of disobedience is (assumed) unemployment which in most countries where this term is used doesn't even mean you starve or suffer severely. The outcome for real slaves is a bit more dramatic.


> The outcome of disobedience is (assumed) unemployment which in most countries where this term is used doesn't even mean you starve or suffer severely.

Yes it does. I live in the Netherlands, one of the most developed countries in the world and one with what is considered excellent social security.

If I would 'disobey' and decide to stop working, I would get nothing at all. Zero Euros. I would be out on the streets in no time flat. If I quit my job, I would be 'at fault' for being unemployed and would not qualify for unemployment. Even if I get fired, I couldn't decide to stay unemployed. Pretty much every type of social security benefit comes with the requirement to apply for jobs (which as a Software engineer means that I'd be back in the 9-to-5 grind within days), failure to apply for jobs means no money.

It has come to the point that even if you are disabled you get no social security if you have 'the capacity to work', which means that if some civil servant can dream up a job you could possibly do (regardless of if that job actually exist or if someone is hiring people for such a position), you get nothing. No arms and no legs ? Your tongue works so you could be a stamp-licker, no social security for you.

Of course, if you do have a job they take a huge chunk out of your monthly salary to pay for 'social security'.


Bukowski, a truly insightful individual. Sometimes reading his thoughts and ideas can bring a tear to my eye, simply because of their pithy practicality and clarity (and possibly because I'm reminded of my grandfather, who was similarly gifted in the art of brevity and honest observation).


Reminds me of F.I.R.E. (financial independence and retire early) from:

www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence

Really interesting stuff on that sub.


Putting it with other words:

Society doesn't allow most to be a genius and most of these potential geniuses will fade eventually.

'I think we have an ideology about talent that says that talent is a tangible, resilient, hardened, shiny thing. It will always rise to the top. To find and encourage talent, all you have to do as a society, is to make sure the right doors are open. Free campus visits, free tuition, letters to the kids with high score. You raise your hand and say, «over here!» and the talent will come running, but that's not true. It’s not resilient and shiny, talent is really, really fragile.' -- Malcolm Gladwell


I have this notion that they invented work to keep adolescent boys from getting up to trouble. Then work turned into this thing that became respectable. Then they pasted capitalism on top of it. After a while, women felt left out and wanted in on it. Now we're all working and stressed out and it feels awful and absurd. Yet we gotta do it or left to our own devices might get up to trouble.


Am I the only person here who thinks his "slavery" analogy is written in poor taste?


Actual slavery was worse because of beatings, and being torn from your family at a whim, and being raped, forced to breed, and a bunch of other things.

Having said all that, the main tenant of slavery is being forced to work. It's not the same, but it's similar. Slaves that were treated relatively well were still slaves. Now, you can quit, but you can't stop working.


You're not "forced" to work by other people though, you're forced to work by thermodynamics.

Our cousins the plants can photosynthesise, but we poor sods in Kingdom Animalia have to work for our food one way or another. While my hunter/gatherer and subsistence farmer ancestors had to work all day every day to get enough food to eat, I'm sure they'd be pretty envious of the fact that I could reliably eat for a week on the back of one hour's work in an air-conditioned office.


I do and don't. Obviously real slavery was a lot worse, yet this is the direction I see us heading towards more and more. Things like social media policies and drug testing are limiting what we do on our time off, not just our time on.


I haven't read the article yet, and I like Bukowski when in the right mood, but I just feel I should point out that "taste" is probably not one of his highest priorities.


You must not have encountered much Bukowski.


One of my all time entrepreneurial quotes:

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary."

— Nassim Taleb


After failing at taking my startup off the ground, I just started working for a "normal" company (read: startup that actually raised serious series A, has nice and lofty offices, a good tech team etc). I always have this feeling in my gut that I want to escape from it, even if everything is going great. I wonder if this will leave eventually.


Read also: The Lucky Ones[1]

Everytime I read it I can't stop myself to compare it with the popular The Crazy Ones Apple ad.

[1]: https://bukowski.net/poems/the_lucky_ones.php


Depends who you are and what fits I suppose. I worked from a super young age and got to a point in my 20s where the idea of working for someone would drive me crazy. I also hated the concept of someone being able to fire me or make a bad decision above me. I like having no one to blame but me, it allows me to sleep well at night.

Some people love their 9-5 and I find nothing wrong with that at all, Its not a one size fits all solution. What I will say though is you learn a heck of a lot about yourself when you are responsible for "everything". I love the challenge of it.


The top comment on Medium is hilarious. It contains "Get off the plantation and build your own." I remember quite well what Taleb said, that to be truly free, you need to be neither a slave nor a slave owner. What good is "building your own plantation"? That literally makes you nowhere better than a slave/the people who originally kept you in the first place.


Not sure why people expect a lifetime of gratitude for a menial job. You enter a contract the be paid right now and if the terms of the contract grossly differ from what has been agreed either side can (and should) break it.



this thread is dope.

kanye said it.

"we are the new slaves."

we all started out as gardeners. but pretty soon gardening is too much effort. they sit on their ass to long and before they know it they become part of the garden. we are all shrubbery. but we are happy. shrubs don't know that there shrubs. Once in a while the gardener swings by, feeds us, waters us, tells us we are doing a good job, then he goes to jerk off.


But yet it was also Bukowskis tenure as a 9-5 proletariat that gave him fodder for his first novel "Post Office" and his nom de gare "Chinaski" the mail carrier. It's hard for me to imagine Bukowski producing the work he did without having experienced the tension expressed in that medium blog post.

The story I heard is that John Martin agreed to pay Bukowski his Post Office salary for the rest of his life if he would quit and write full time.


"Better ten dead men than one live slave." Don Juan, GB Shaw's Man and Superman


Even Egyptian slaves weren't at the bottom of the ladder (eg. they had subservient wives). Not advocating "sexism" here but it's worth mentioning subservience. Software engineers often really are at the bottom of the ladder, however. Food for thought.


You're kidding me if you think software engineers are at the bottom of the ladder.

They are highly respected, well compensated, and get paid to work on interesting and challenging problems. In certain labour markets, money and perks are thrown at them.

I live very far from SV, and my job is certainly not as enjoyable as software development, and I can tell you with 100% conviction that there are much, much worse options out there.

I'm struggling to understand your viewpoint. You must have led a very [charmed/sheltered] life if you honestly believe that software engineers are lower than Egyptian slaves on the totem pole. I don't mean that as a personal dig at you, but comments like that rub me the wrong way when I would drag myself through broken glass and barbed wire to have the life of a Silicon Valley software dev.


I struggle really hard to understand this. Relative to many other professions, software engineering (IMHO) is a respected and very well-paid profession, with a fairly positive outlook. I'm somewhat surprised to see so many comments here about software engineers being 'at the bottom of the ladder'.


It's hard to feel free if you have never been non-free.


To say that work is like "slavery" shows little understanding of what slavery was. If I don't go to work, I'm not going to have my feet cut off, be chased down by dogs or hung.

I've quit plenty of jobs over the years. My livelihood is not based on my job. My livelihood is based on my having marketable skills so if I do get laid off, I can walk to my car, call a bunch of recruiters and have another job in two weeks tops. It's been that way for 20 years.

Also, a factory job only "enslaves" you for 35 years if you don't live below your means and make life choices that allows you to save and get out of the rat race. My dad knew he couldn't work in a factory until he was 65 or 70. He saved, and lived below his means for 20 years and both of my parents retired at 55, young and healthy enough to enjoy life.

I won't be able to retire that young because of stupid mistakes I made in the past, but that's okay. I can honestly say that I enjoy my job and have enjoyed my jobs for 20 years. Once I don't enjoy my job any more, I find another one. I could easily do this for another 20 years.


It was a dramatic metaphor, and a lazy one at that.

However, there is a grain of truth in the idea of freedom.

A slave could not choose who they worked for or what they did with their lives.

The metaphor points out that those of us who think we do may be deluding ourselves to a certain extent. There are very few people - proportional to the population - who get to do anything they want all day long without consequence.

Freedom vs. slavery may be a scale rather than a "vs.", and in that, I think there is a point.

And yes, you're right, if you are being paid but not saving, you are in essence enslaved to another master, that of consumerism and desire. If you can avoid being "on trend", it's possible true freedom is yours a decade or two earlier than the next chap.

But it tells you a lot about society that this is hard to achieve for many people.


> My dad knew he couldn't work in a factory until he was 65 or 70. He saved, and lived below his means for 20 years and both of my parents retired at 55, young and healthy enough to enjoy life.

That's nice for him, but that doesn't apply to the younger generations.

My retirement age is currently set at 70.7 (it will go up before I reach that age). I have to pay into a pension plan, but if I were to quit before my pension age that would mean a HUGE penalty on my pension payout, and I'm not talking about quitting at 55, I'm talking about quitting at 68.

Furthermore, many older generations had really nice pension plans, a common one was 70% of your last salary. If you stop at 55 and spend 10 years living off savings and then can get a pension at 70% of your last income, that would be amazing. Doesn't work like that anymore. The 70% of last income changed to 70% of your median income and then was replaced by a system where you basically save up for for your pension with no guarantees as to the payout.

When I turn 70 I have to buy a pension from the money i've saved (minus the fees for the pension fund and devalued by inflation, so maybe 70% of what I put in). The money can only be used for buying a pension from an insurance company who will base the monthly payout I can buy based on the life expectancy figures they have at that time (and of course, I have to spend my money with them so I'm sure to get screwed anyway). Right now, I don't expect every to be able to stop working, the pension I'm saving for is just a way of getting more money in the hands of the finance industry.

Your parents were born at the exact right time, pensions never were about enjoying yourself in your later years, they were an insurance just in case you didn't die before you were too old to work. We're returning to that attitude towards pensions.


My mom has a pension - she is a teacher. But my dad doesn't. True enough he had profit sharing but in reality that's no different than a 401K plan. He had a vesting schedule similar to a traditional retirement plan


No, the use of the term is appropriate: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/slavery


It is true, there is no real freedom except for the independently wealthy. (And if you "work for yourself" you trade having 1 boss for having n bosses.) This is the world we live in. There is a saying, "life sucks and then you die"- it is certainly always possible to be more specific than that, but that's pretty much what it boils down to. Our challenge is to be happy despite it.

What really bugs me is that we can't just admit to each other that having a job is shitty, even if it's a good one. We all have to be "doing what we love" and so forth.


I haven't done it in a while, but when working for yourself exclusively, you feel more in control of your destiny. Even if you have n bosses and 1 fires you, you still have n-1 paychecks. If you have 1 boss and he fires you, you have 0 paychecks until you find another boss.


I like having a predictable schedule and not having to manage people. All the money in the world isn't worth the stress and misery that comes from running your own company.


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This place is 100% ideology. Pretty stinky sctb.


The truth will set you free. Unfortunately it's a different truth for everyone, and so it's hard to find, sometimes impossible.


The truth, by definition, is one and the same for everyone.


Kafka wrote many of his works by night, while by day he was an employee of the insurance company Assicurazioni Generali (and a good one at that, judging by the latest studies written about his life). If Bukowski wasn't capable of being a good writer while also holding a busy job that does not mean that it's not doable, it just means that the task was too much for Bukowski.


His point was that he didn't want to.


Kafka wasn't that capable of being a good writer in that situation either. He finished a handful of short stories, never finished a novel, and most of his writing lay unfinished and unpublished at his death.


You're being unfair to Kafka here by reducing literary accomplishment to mere quantity. Yes, his works were all short, but all of them far surpass the majority of "novels" pumped out daily by the modern publishing industry and all its hacks, idiots who compose at a 6th grade level, for the indisputably puerile audiences they pander to.

The metamorphosis is apparently 20k words or so, and hell, it could be less. But those are 20k words of tight, well crafted prose and artistic execution. Far better than the 50-100k plus words of complete and utter doggerel the majority of us consume on a daily basis.

This is another issue of capitalism--reduction of human experience to mere quantity. You begin to ignore quality and humanity fades. You become content consuming the most infantile garbage so long as the industry keeps it flowing, so long as the magnitude of crap is great and undisrupted. Few are those possessing the willingness or mental fortitude to devote a few hours to care about humanity and its progression, we'd rather spend our hours playing video games or watching movies or tv to "relax" or "unwind"; surprise, surprise, this constant availability of mindless entertainment is another one of capitalism's traps designed to keep you content with a life unlived.

I realize I sort of got off topic from what you stated about Kafka, and none of this is aimed at you specifically boomboomsubban, you just got me on a roooolllll.

I understand your point about Kafka was probably more so that he could've produced more as a writer had his situation been different, not that what he didn't manage to produce wasn't necessarily good, but we don't know that -- we can't argue counterfactuals. It may well have been the case that Kafka simply spent more time on a given piece than most authors, and thus even had he more time to write his output may not have increased too significantly.


Yes, because they held the same job and had similar strengths and weaknesses.

...


Judging by Kafka's journal his job was at least as mentally taxing as Bukowski's job at the post office (or at least his recollection of it). And yes, I agree with you, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, people like Bukowski seem to be weak when it comes to keeping a 9-to-5 job while still managing to write something down. I'm sure though that he also had his strengths (his writing doesn't seem bad, even though I'm only judging him by the words written in this letter).

Bukowski also seems to be a bad reader of characters in asking himself why do people choose to keep those 9-to-5 jobs. Answer: they do it in order to pay rent/mortgage and to have money for food and to buy clothes for their kids (if they can afford to have kids).


I mean, I don't even know what "weak" means. Maybe Bukowski just found the job too draining to write, whereas Kafka found it was inspiring. You can't write people off into categories of strength and weakness without understanding them—weakness in one area does not imply a weak person.

In fact, I'd say a decent short-hand to finding unempathetic people are people who use words like "lazy", "weak", and "undeserving".




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