1- THE PERVERSE CRISIS
2. THE THIRD-CLASS TICKET
The most obvious threat, in this or any other society, is that its "losers" might revolt. Trivial as a truth and shocking as a thought, but we should keep in mind that a good many people in our midst are unsatisfied. It is easy to congratulate ourselves on our performance in the "social justice" file, to become a little cynical, and maybe more than a little complacent. "Yessir! We brought up the kids on freedom and toil! They are not dressed to kill, and they are a little short on pocket money, but they work their way through college and there's always bread on the table...".
Here there be tygers...! True, the labour force is not starving in the WINs; the machines see to that. There is no doubt, however, that when State the Father, disguised as Santa Claus, hands out the free rides to Heaven, there are still a great many "third-class" tickets in the lot. It may be a better train for everybody, thanks to mass production, but it is still a somewhat cozier ride in the head-wagons: the upper fifth of American citizens have 10 times the average income of the lowest fifth.
A ratio which you may call scandalous or well-deserved, depending on
your views about retributive and distributive justice. Fair or unfair, it
is a threat: the threat from "below", from the losers at our society's
game. The danger, as the burden of toil is being lifted from our shoulders,
is that work that disappears does not disappear equally for everybody. This
distorts even more the precarious equilibrium between the Haves and the
Have-nots of our society, as leisure and prestige as well as money are reshuffled
constantly. Before we look at the threat from below though, and see how
it manifests itself in this perverse crisis we face, let's identify the
losers. Who are the losers in our society? The unemployed? Well, yes and
no... There is purgatory... and hell.
Purgatory... and Hell
We may as well start with the unemployed; there were recently about seven million of them in the U.S., so it is quite a good start. There are two wide paths leading to unemployment ... or worse. The first path is for the "Not-quite-made-it" and the "Also-ran" of society, the "fit-but-not-fittest" who may end up without a chair when the music stops, that is whenever a drop in effective demand makes one more job superfluous, or whenever a new entrant on the labour market elbows his way in. The race here is to the swift, the battle to the strong; the process is softened, up to a point, by labour unions' action - seniority and similar schemes - but, in a shrinking labour market, whatever the rules, out will go the "less desirable". The loser may try his luck again, but he had better be on his toes. This is what we might call the "rough-but-fair" access to unemployment.
To add more zest to our society's Musical-Chair-Job- Game, there is another path to unemployment, though, which is pure hard luck; a "Do-not-pass-Go-and-Do-not-collect-$200" type of event that gives everybody, even the best, an equal chance to be a loser. We may refer to this one as the "technological unemployment" path to loser's status. According to this rule of the job game, you will lose your job, whatever your individual skills or talent, the minute a machine makes you redundant. This rule has not changed much since the day the best stone polishers were told that copper and brass were "in" and that they were out, but the tempo has accelerated recently and the number of victims has become dangerously significant. Yesterday it was in Textiles, today in the Steel industry and tomorrow the wave will hit the vast multitude of paper-shufflers.
Whichever way you access unemployment, it is quite an inconvenience. An inconvenience or the beginning of an ordeal. Unemployment, they thought, when Unemployment Insurance and Social Welfare were provided, would become some kind of quasi-leisure, a period during which one would draw an acceptable, although admittedly not perfectly adequate income, a situation in which one would still be considered a full participant in the labour force, and out of which one could reasonably expect to move pretty soon, back to a job in the system. Purgatory.
Purgatory, it may well be..., as long as one manages to keep the relatively high status of "unemployed". Someone has said that there are three types of lies: simple lies, damned lies and statistics. We may be shocked to realize that there are 7 million or so unemployed in the U.S., but this is merely the statistical glare from the tip of a colossal iceberg. Here, as in all WINs, labour statistics are at best half-truths. The definition will vary from one country to another but, roughly speaking, the "unemployed" is someone who has been working, has ceased to work recently, and is actively seeking employment.
Therefore, the unemployment "purgatory", as work disappears, tends to become a club restricted to very proper white, healthy, thirty-ish, males. If the victim is guilty of one or more of the "sins" that are the ways of injustice to make accidental unemployment chronic, there is a serious risk that he or she will fail time and again at re-entry in the work market, will renounce the hopeless search for a job, and that a little statistical push in time will send him or her to a worse but less obtrusive place of suffering.
When the victim ceases to look for work, he or she ceases to "participate" in the labour force. Therefore he or she is not "unemployed" anymore ... and thus ceases to be such a headache for all those who worry about unemployment figures. The victim will have moved from Purgatory to Hell, joining the 43 % of the population over 16 years of age who do not even bother to try and work at all
If you are too young or too old to work, if you are a woman satisfied - or profoundly dissatisfied! - with housekeeping, if you have never worked before, or have been so long out of work that you don't bother to seek anymore... then, chances are that you are not "unemployed", but that you simply do not "participate" in the labour force. This means an awful lot of non-participants. There is a lot of "Do-not's" around.
Thus, it is not perfectly candid to discuss the fate of the "unemployed" as if it were the end of the matter. Amongst non-workers, the unemployed are the top of the barrel, the happy few who are still left with a voice to draw attention. Who are the losers? Begin right now to think in terms of "non-participation" rather than unemployment, and you will be closer to the tragic reality, below unemployment, of the 140,000,000 and some who do not work in the U.S.A., and who depend on the pleasure of the "winners". On the whim of those who have won at the Musical-Chair-Job-Game that allocates work to the "fittest".
The traditional distinction between the "Haves" and the "Have-nots" has given way today to a new, more meaningful dichotomy. We now live in a three-tiered society in which, below the "Rich" - whose power becomes more and more mythical - the great social cleavage is between the "Do's" and "Do-not's": the workers and non-workers. The "Do's" may act, work, take decisions, participate, and they are responsible for themselves and others; the "Do-not's" are idle, passive, irresponsible, maintained, unimportant, taken care of, provided for by the "Do's", for the convenience and gratification of whom they seem to exist. Who are the losers in our society? It is the non-participants, the "Do-not's", who are the real losers, the holders of third-class tickets.
In our society of affluence, now that the immediate concern is not anymore so much to "have", as to "be" something and, in order really to be something, to belong and to participate, it is not so much money which separates the men from the boys; what more than anything else, now, keeps the Jones apart from their inferior neighbors is work. Significant, purposeful work.
Therefore, we are not dealing anymore mainly with a lack of income but with a lack of social acceptance, the absence of purpose in life and a breach of self-dignity. We may let the private Do's feed this socially destitute leisure class of Do-not's, or have the State intervene with Welfare money, but with or without money the losers will not accept to be left aside. They will revolt. The non-participants are the threat from below.
The workers as "winners"? A leisure class of losers? How did
we manage to fit ourselves into such a perverse situation? We may stop pretending
that it just occurred; former decision-makers were not all nincompoops.
For the first time here - but it will not be the last - we will go back
in time to try to understand what happened, and why.
The birth of the destitute leisure class
The strange shape of the present crisis is the logical consequence of a long series of decisions, most of which were reasonably well-intentioned if not pure, and rather shrewd, if not downright devious. In the days of yore, remember, the leisure class stood at the top, not at the bottom of the social ladder; most everybody worked most of the time, and usually much more than they bargained for. In the Mid-Nineteenth Century, though, society had to deal with a new large urban labour force, part of which at times might be temporarily out of work, following the sharp ups and downs of production. When workers were not working those days, they had no Social Welfare then to provide for them, so they became hungry... and violent.
Rulers of the time solved their problem, rather elegantly, creating buffers of "in-and-out" workers, who could join and leave the industrial labour force without perishing in the process. Farm hands, brought to the city as common laborers when there was a demand but free to move back to the farm when not needed, were such a buffer. Who else could be sent home to be provided for, when the initial demand for work would begin to stabilize and decline? Children, of course. When a surplus of good strong men became available on the labour market, everyone suddenly realized that there was something unpleasant about nine-year old kids working 14 hours a-day, seven days a-week, in textile mills, and about youngsters barely older actually living down the mines' shafts.
The working week of children was reduced, as well as the scope of activities in which they could participate, and, little by little, they were completely removed from the labour force. Whether it was done out of kindness or for sheer efficiency is a moot point to argue. It was right, it was generous, and it went well with the implementation of an education system to promote the values of industrial society, so everyone agreed.
It was certainly right, but it created a precedent that would have tremendous consequences on the future. As periods of unemployment became more severe and more frequent, more "leisure" had to be granted to the labour force. Leisure, though, was not granted equally to all, but was used to correct the most obvious abuses. Coincidentally, we may believe, it was also more practical, for the rather primitive placement systems of the time, to have groups of in-and-out workers as additional buffers than to tackle the problems of a reduced work-week for all.
So, the "kids-at-school" type of rationale was applied to women. Women would stay at home and bring back some of the stability of the Pre-industrial Age. In accordance with the "in-and-out" buffer principle, they might contribute to War efforts and be invited to join the labour force for the duration; but they would be escorted home afterward to become, said Galbraith, the "Administrators of Consumption". After the "woman-at-home" campaign, came the time to remove from the labour force older and older young men and younger and younger old men. Education was lengthened to have "children" remain at school until they were sixteen, eighteen, twenty, twenty-five... and pension plans could have workers retire at sixty-five, sixty, fifty-five...
If a reduced labour force was needed, was it not better to keep at work the best elements, the most productive workers? Let the others become the non-participants, the Do-not's, the sightseers of production; let them move aside unobtrusively, and cheer Man the Provider: the adult male in the age bracket when he is presumed to be too old to play and too young to be wise.
Trimming down the labour force to the core, rather than distributing leisure more equally as the demand for work decreased, brought a whole gamut of interesting results. First of all, it broke the traditional association that linked work with the "poor" and leisure with the "rich". It was the strong and able, now, who would work. So, even though work might lose some of its economic importance with growing affluence, its social value would increase as it was equated with virility, power and prestige to become the symbol of success. The less work to do, the more work would become a privilege and would become desirable, quite apart from the income it would bring.
Another consequence of trimming down the labour force was to delay the disruptive impact of the industrial way of life on the nuclear family of father, mother and children. Children would leave and pursue their own career later in life, while women, being mostly without income of their own, would not feel so acutely the urge to go their own way and to do their own thing. A one-salary family would have more chances of remaining a family, and although this approach could not guarantee happiness, of course, for social planners it is stability that is paramount, not happiness.
Conversely - and this was by far the most important social result - the heavy responsibility for the wife and children that a "work-for-less-workers" approach was placing on the shoulders of the adult male "provider" made sure that work, for him, would remain a full-time commitment. Our society might have evolved quite differently if the "less-work-for-all" alternative had been chosen, for who knows what troubling ideas may be born in the head of a "23 hours a-week" worker? With most of the worker's energy focused on his work and the worker himself safely under control of the power structure from which he got a "job", the "Faber" in the soul of each adult male would keep him out of mischief and adventures, interested in work and money only, and properly respectful of rulers and bosses.
Work became a privilege, and as such was fought for. As the demand for work decreased, the labour market was cornered by the stronger group - which happened to be that of the White Young Male Providers - and became gradually more selective, not solely on the basis of sensible criteria, but finally branding as "the best" those who survived exclusion by prejudice. So it came to pass that Do-not's multiplied, and came to occupy a not-so-cosy niche of "leisure" somewhere below the working class. The Do-not's are the losers.
How does one end up in the third-class wagon? One way that will always
work, against all odds for success, is to really try hard. Don't show your
ticket, argue that Heaven is in the opposite direction, spit in the Conductor's
face, and say you'd rather be here with the bums than with the stinkers
up front. This is the way of the drop-out and it has some charm. There are
other ways, though, that are not charming at all. Losing is a very human
habit, and it's not so much the loss that hurts, as the way it's being dealt
to you. There are seven "sins" that increase drastically your
chances to end up, sometimes for life, in the hell of non-participation:
these are the ways of injustice.
The 7 ways of injustice
The first sin is called Youth. We say "youth", not "childhood", but a word about children. In old agrarian societies, children were expected to be of some help from the moment they could walk and understand instructions; from age ten, they were usually fully integrated in the labour force. Now, people under sixteen are not expected to work; yet, sixteen is half of a lifetime in some underdeveloped countries, and, until recently, it was about one-third the life expectancy for half the people of the world. For us, children are nothing but consumers.
Unequal consumers, entirely dependent for their consumption patterns on the income of their providers, so that their station in life and self-esteem are established long before they even have a chance to play an active role in society and to shape their own destiny. They go to unequal schools, and play unequal games that match the social status of their parents, thus making sure that classes, in our classless society, remain basically hereditary. The consequences of the total "marginalization" of children would require a lifetime of study. Children before sixteen cannot even be said to be "non-participants" in the labour force: they are non-existent.
We say "youth". At sixteen, children either remain at school or are born into the labour force with the original sin: youth. This is their birthright and, in most of the WINs, young people who join the labour force are not even considered to be unemployed until they have managed to get, to hold for some time, and to lose their first job. Their chances of getting that first job - all things being equal and though the job for which they apply could not, by any stretch of the imagination, call for "experience" - are considerably less than those of an adult.
Exclusion by prejudice. Original laws that kept children at school were made to protect them, but now it is not proper to take a crack at work before eighteen, better twenty, and the purpose is painfully clear: to keep work for the "providers". The youth who leaves school a little too soon is chastised with some sadism, since he is told that he should work, although he is not really expected to do so. Haven't we learned from psychology that there is no surer way to destroy self-esteem than to set unattainable goals?
Youth is an illness cured with time, and the ray of sunshine in the life of the young non-worker is the hope that time will solve the problem. Actually, if he has tried too soon, his situation may not improve that much with time; the reason for his exclusion will simply adapt to fit another prejudice. The prejudice against those who commit the sin of not being formally "educated" by the system.
The second sin is to be unschooled. If energy, lust for life, necessity, or plain boredom with book-learning, bring an individual to the labour market too early in life, his chances to secure employment are not only bad from the start; they remain permanently worse than if he had remained longer at school. In our relentless fight to keep the race for the fittest, we have made it an unwritten rule that the later one tries for employment, the better his chances. We call it education and it is a sin not to have it.
It is not know-how or even knowledge, but schooling per se that obviously makes the difference, since years of schooling at anything at all will help one to fare much better on the labour market... whereas the school drop-out may gain knowledge from experience, night-school, part-time education or through any other means, but will seldom be absolved from the initial blunder of having left school too early.
The third sin is being a woman. Women are not really supposed to work yet; they constitute the largest single block of adults who are not fully integrated into the labour force. In pre-industrial societies, when work was still a curse, women being physically weaker were naturally burdened with more work. Women had to pick as many berries as the men, AND to give birth and educate children in the fine craft of berry-picking.
With industrialization, when the "job" appeared, raising children - although it is the single most important function in society - did not fit the definition of a job; women, therefore, were expected to raise children and to work, like they always had before, and so they did at the beginning of the Industrial Age. It is only with the maturing of industrialization, when more jobs were needed than were available, that women were removed, along with children, to make room for Man the Provider.
Then, it became convenient also to discover that raising children is a very complex affair, by no means to be left in the hands of unqualified personnel. The logical thing to do would have been to train mothers to do it and, if our society had taken this course, the social importance and status of women would have remained paramount. Social planners though, wanted more jobs for providers.
Since there was nothing to show that, after nursing, women were endowed with some kind of mysterious God-given talent that made them better than men at educating children, planners, rather than train mothers to be child educators, created a group of "professionals" in whose care children were to be entrusted as early in life as possible.
So, the education of the child, which had been originally the prime rationale for keeping women at home, was entrusted to an education system that took charge of the kids as early as age four, while technology was reducing the "womanly" house chores to trivia. Then, the traditional family succumbed to the thrust of modern industrial life, and another excuse for the exclusion of women from the labour force - apart from child bearing and housekeeping - lost all credibility, as an ever increasing number of women ended up living alone and NOT being provided for.
As could be expected, women tried to rejoin the labour force as soon as they were deprived of their traditional functions and sources of income. They were not welcome - and those who had to earn a living met with insidious, often vexatious obstacles - but, in the long run, good sense has a tendency to prevail and women did join the labour force: 16 million of them over the last two decades, outnumbering men more than 3 to 2 as new entrants in the labour force! When unemployment figures go up, though, women remain a choice target for a quick little push that will turn them into Do-not's and improve statistics.
The fourth sin is to belong to a minority. Here, meet all those who are excluded "for race or creed"... or so many other reasons. We used to think of that in terms of "prejudice", and prejudice it is, of course; but, in most cases, it is not the KKK type of prejudice that comes with hatred and violence; to look at it that way is an easy escape, since it puts all the responsibility on the naughty behavior of some individuals from whom it is easy to disassociate.
The truth is that unfair job opportunities for racial or religious minorities is just the most blatant example of a general principle that we may call the "one life-saver approach." Negroes, Indians, Puerto Ricans, etc. do not account for more unemployment and non-participation because most people seriously believe that they are less apt to work, but because, as long as jobs are in short supply and we look to jobs as something desirable, most people, having but one life-saver to throw for many about to drown, will rather throw it to one of their own. There are less Negroes, Indians and Puerto Ricans amongst employers, so there is a tendency towards greater unemployment in each minority group, in rough proportion to the smaller number of them amongst the employers. No law is likely to be very efficient in changing this situation. We might discuss why there are less employers among certain minority groups, but this is definitely another problem and there is no lack of research going into it.
The point we want to make here is not that some groups are victimized more than some others by unemployment and non-participation - a fact which statistics make evident - but that a society that would consider work a duty rather than a privilege would show no lack of work for members of minority groups. Participation in the Armed Forces leaves absolutely no doubt about that, and it is well known that, when the production system moves towards full employment, the difference in unemployment rates is progressively reduced between minority groups and the population as a whole.
We usually think in terms of racial and religious minorities, but the same principle applies to all those who deviate from the common norm in any respect. "Marginality", in fact, is the fourth sin, whether "marginal" means deviant, different, wearing long hair or having an incredible I.Q. For the purpose of employment, all those whom society's main core consider marginal become, in fact, the members of minority groups. Given a scarcity of jobs, this is not going to help their case unless their group develops into a micro-society within which enough employment is generated, or into a pressure group that will get more than its share.
Some groups may indeed achieve a positive balance in certain sectors or areas, by economic control or sheer political power, but this compounds the problem rather than solve it, since if a group gets more than its due somewhere for a while, the majority will suffer only through the sufferings of its other minorities, which then will get even less of their share of jobs.
The fifth sin is for the real sinners. Playing musical chair with an eye on screening the players makes the job-game tough on the two-timers, the one-timers, or even anybody who looks like he might be tripping. Our employment policies must bear a large part of the responsibility for the failure of rehabilitation policies.
Quite understandably, employers may have some qualms about hiring a former con man as financial adviser; unfortunately, it is also hard for anybody convicted of anything more serious than a traffic offence to be hired at any job at all. The basic principle remains the same: to have a job is a privilege and it should be given to the fittest. So employment is a tightrope, and one mistake may end it all. There are exceptions to this rule, but so noteworthy as to make news, and the few who receive a second chance are accepted only after years of prayers and penance.
All real sinners are not ex-convicts either. Sinners may be debtors; if payments are missed on a car for a while, it may jeopardize the life career of a book-keeper. Even "thought-deviation" may be a sin; the older amongst us still have in mind the times when to hold certain political views was a very efficient way to resign from the employment market. Political views may change, we may be through with the black plague of Mc Carthyism, and the exclusion may not always strike at the same individuals, but if your pet theory happens to be in the dog-house, out you go from the labour market.
It is not necessary to do anything notoriously wrong to diminish one's chances of employment; it is enough to draw excess attention or to move too much in almost any field of human activity. What about Employment Agencies that will not recommend as a salesman a person who has divorced in the last two years? There may be good psychological reasons for the advice, but the basic question is: would this rule apply if there was a shortage rather than a surplus of manpower? Our society is looking for reasons and excuses to exclude people from the labour force, even if their "sins" have absolutely nothing to do with their competence to do a job. Any anomaly drastically reduces chances of employment.
One step lower into desperation, we find those who are too old. Old age is the sixth sin. Youth receives unfair treatment on the labour market, but it is much worse at the other end of the line. Young people may dream that things are going to shape up; old people may entertain no such illusions.
I know a white-haired cab driver, honest and courteous, who used to run the mile quite fast; he still runs it faster than me, and probably than you. He used to be a store-keeper, but had to retire, years ago, because he was considered "too old" to handle requisition forms; now he drives a cab, which is physically much more demanding. This man is cheating; the rules of the games are that he should have faded away smoothly, spending the rest of his life on reduced income, as a "non-participant".
It is doubtful whether the work efficiency of older people in most jobs is significantly lower than that of younger workers. In many situations the contrary is true. If, however, for the sake of argument, we admit that there is a productivity differential that grows with age, is it really sound policy to exclude from the labour force all except the most efficient? This in itself might not be conducive to overall efficiency. In the days when jobs were not scarce, differences in productivity led to differences in salary that equalized opportunities for all. Nobody is so enthusiastic about the pre-affluence days when "market laws" did apply to work compensation, but, in this particular instance, we should find a way to deal, if need be, with this hypothetical differential. Because, considering the knowledge and experience lost to the community, exclusion of senior citizens offers the worst and saddest case of incompetent planning.
The senior citizen pushed aside cannot expect things to improve, but just to get worse. Not only is there no law to protect him, but there may even be rules to force retirement upon him and bar him from work. If he happens to have spent his life in a job that requires some physical work, the tendency is to get rid of him as soon as he turns forty; in other activities, lightning will begin to strike around his feet a little later, but not much. You have to be very smart indeed to be wanted in the labour force after fifty.
The un-kindest cut of all, for old workers, is the absence of group solidarity. In other groups, there is a tendency to follow the "one life-saver approach": if he has a chance to give a break to somebody, a member of a minority group will try to help somebody from the same group. Not so with senior people; rich old people who give jobs do not give jobs to poor old people. The old and the young both hire the young
It is difficult to find a case more tragic than old people removed without cause from active life, but there is one. Guilty of the seventh sin, at the complete bottom of hell, are those who, through no fault of their own, are handicapped or disabled. There are some cases when a person is invalidated completely, and it should then be the responsibility of society to care for this person. In the vast majority of cases, however, a disability will prevent the individual from doing something; the underlying principle that seems to apply now, is that if someone is not physically able to do everything, he should be presumed to be unable to do anything at all... The economic loss is great, the social cost is horrendous.
If the policy would be to integrate handicapped people in the labour force, we would find that most of them are capable of doing some of the existing jobs, more so if a minimum of ingenuity was shown to adapt certain jobs to fit the capabilities of the handicapped. Presently, initiatives in this field are left almost entirely to charitable organizations.
The problem with the handicapped is the same as with old workers; their employment may raise the point of a differential in productivity for which the employer should be compensated, but this compensation must take place without deflating the work/price of all services. To find a proper compensation system would not be hard; what is missing is the will to employ the handicapped. Time and again, we hear that the main problem is to find employment for the normal, average, healthy male adult. Work is still a privilege.
Aside from the seven great ways of injustice, which may be redefined and expanded to accommodate all those which our production system considers expandable, extending "youth" to a riper age or having people retire younger for instance, we prepare for new injustices for the future. "Emotional instability" may be the most promising way to cook the goose. It is a good indicator of our tendency to trim the labour force to the bone, that not only serious mental disorders but even a visit to a psychiatrist, sometime in one's life, may become a cause for rejection. Who cares today to admit to his employer that he sees a psychiatrist? But how then will any therapy be effective, if preventive measures are construed as proof of the disease? What if it means social stigma or, in time of scarce job opportunities, exclusion from the labour force?
It is possible to sin in various ways at the same time, and thus to be excluded from the labour force on the grounds that best fit the whims of the employers. From the individual's point of view, these do not appear as distinct paths to hell but as one damning profile. It is possible, for instance, to be branded a "young Puerto Rican with a police record"... or an "old Black woman with arthritis". Chances for employment in these cases, needless to say, become so remote that the individual is, for all practical purposes, divorced from the labour force until death makes it official.
And yet, if an earthquake would strike New York tomorrow, would not these
people be welcome to participate in any little way they could? How dare
we exclude people from the labour force!
Daggers and Ahimsa from the unbelievers
Whether we call it unemployment or non-participation, it is hell... and a threat. What kind of a threat? Sinners and self-made Do-not's are a colorful bunch. They are the "world", literally, the extremes, each much closer to the main core than to his own fellows in third class. How can they be a serious menace to our society? They are not, if one expects a purposeful offensive from the "Losers" to take over control of society. A destitute Working Class could raise up in arms; the new crowd at the bottom cannot, and this is what makes the system feel secure. A false security.
Do-not's appear as a serious threat, the moment one gives up the myth that civilizations die in combat and realizes that they mostly fall victim to some sabotage, gross or subtle, and disintegrate. Our Do-not's are powerless, uninteresting, anonymous. They do not really belong to our society, and have little reason to believe in its values or to condone with a blind eye its often absurd and sometimes objectionable behavior. Thus, many non-participant, more or less consciously, become saboteurs of our society's values.
Some use violence to do it. Collective or individual. Collective when, once in a while, some easy-to-grasp concept may become a "Cause", and large segments of the third-class will coalesce or be manipulated into something mildly aggressive: Viet-Nam, or Nuclear Disarmament... This is not a frequent occurrence, though, and even these coalitions are not major threats: Do-not's may riot, but they will not carry the day on a battlefield.
The Do-not's effective weapon is individual violence, and the wanton destruction of whatever or whoever stands as a symbol of a power structure that has made them powerless and nameless. In its relatively benign aspect, taking advantage of anonymity, the Do-not's violence appears as vandalism. In its extreme manifestation, challenging anonymity, it becomes terrorism, the more hopeless and purposeless, the more dangerous.
The delicate mechanisms of an organized society are at the total mercy of mild or wild sabotage. It is not really the saboteurs' actions that are a threat, so much as the reaction to their actions and the self-destructive response that they may elicit from the system. Uncontrollable reactions and responses which undermine the values of society, add up, and finally destroy the quality of life that makes a society a place fit to live in and something worth fighting for. The problem, for instance, is not that many non-participants might even consider jumping at their neighbor's throat to ask for justice, but that city parks are unsafe at night; and the real threat is not that many will get knifed... but that so few will dare go.
Some choose violence, but most non-participants merely plunge into despair without this temptation. The threat, then, takes yet a milder form; it is the very "non-participation" of the Do-not and his day-to-day reaction to "marginalization" that becomes a silent attack on our society's values. His way of putting the axe to these values becomes closer to ahimsa - Gandhi's non violent resistance - than to the bomb-throwing of the classical revolutionary. His weapons then become passivity and unbelief, and these complement violence: they become the anvil to the active saboteur's hammer.
The problem with old men and women being retired without cause, is not that it will bring about a "White Hair Revolt", but that it will have us all look at old age and retirement as something drab imposed from above. The problem is not that youths or kids might revolt - although they did just that in France in 1968! - but that family relations be strained past all hope, when the Do-not viewpoint of the young non-worker who simply cannot crash the labour market's gate will diverge from the Do viewpoint of his parents to the point where they cannot be reconciled anymore. The threat is that we may be succeeded by a generation so different in its values and mores that we may well feel we have been the last of our kind...
The anvil and the hammer. The threat from below - if jobs go on vanishing and work remains a privilege - is that the growing number of Do-not's in our midst will become either violent or more alienated, cynical and uncooperative, while a Do elite will become more and more supercilious and flippant with its protégés. Then, we may realize that we are estranged from each other and that we are, all of us, both harassed workers and dejected non-workers alike, rather unhappy about "affluence", "progress" and "life after toil", quite disillusioned about our society's objectives. This is the ultimate danger; for when we will stop believing in what we strive for collectively, then our society will be dead.
Table of Content