Tale of a Co-op Work Term
By Matt Loewen at Jun 07, 2008
Recently I had the fortune (or misfortune, which is still a type of fortune) of being employed by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment as an EcoCat Technician. This job opportunity was made available to me through the UVIC Co-operative Education Program. While employed at MoE (the Ministry of Environment) I had the opportunity to reflect on my job, write down observations, goof off, read web comics, daydream, write poetry, and generally do a lot of intellectual masturbation and non-work-related writing-type things. What follows is an account of most of them (not all, because some were inadvertently deleted) in an attempt to provide my viewpoint on the whole 'working for the man' experience that I was bound to for four months.
I hope that this entertains, but also educates, serves as food for thought and perhaps even mind-boggles (as mind-boggling is a very healthy experience, sort of like putting a little too much wasabi on something, and then after the spice hits the nerve endings on the roof of your mouth and makes your nose try to jump off your face and you start drooling and involuntarily hitting yourself in the forehead with a plate, you realize that it wasn't so bad, and it was in fact quite fun (like a roller coaster ride for your taste buds) and you secretly hope that you get another surplus of wasabi soon to fulfill your semi-unconscious masochistic tendencies.
Or something along those lines.
PART THE FIRST: A Discussion of Office Conduct, Amongst Other Things
What's done is done,
You need to set your ways.
And that is you,
You in your future days.
Imagine a self-proclaimed punk rocker, an anarchist, a student environmental studies, working as a co-op student for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. To clarify; an office job. His duties are fairly straight forward. Obtain a box of ecological reports. Take out the first report. Remove the staple, paper clip, or coiled binding. Put the papers into the document feeder of the scanner on his desk. Start-> All Programs-> Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional. File-> Create PDF-> From Scanner-> Grayscale-> Scan-> Enter. Then wait. Wait until the scanner has finished eating/pooping, write up a short and long description (usually copy + pasted from the PDF file just created), add other relevant information such as watershed code and UTM Zone, and submit the whole thing, write-up and PDF, into the database. He never really knew what he was supposed to be doing while waiting for the reports to scan. Sometimes they took hours. Sounds invigorating, no?
To be realistic, he, the undersigned, had received a copy of the Standards of Conduct Manual and read Chapter 12, Core Policy and Procedures, paying careful attention to section 12.3.1 (Appropriate Use of Government Resources). He knew, therefore, that users, "...must use government-provided information technology resources as the business tools required to do their work and provide efficient service delivery." Users must also, "...use information technology resources in accordance with the Standards of Conduct, and applicable terms and conditions." Most of the terms and conditions listed were understandable; he would not propagate viruses knowingly or maliciously, for instance. Not only did he not know how, but last time a virus ran through the system, the government spent around 80 million dollars fixing their records system so they would be able to provide statistics on their statistics instead of spending that money trying to alleviate poverty, or protect the environment, or keep teachers in school or maintain hospitals. He didn't want to have a hand in that.
Two of the terms and conditions listed in the Core Policy Manual were particularly irksome, however. "Users must not," according to Chapter 12 of the Standards of Conduct Manual," access radio stations or video clips (typically referred to as “streaming” audio or video) over the Internet, unless the access is work-related and authorized. Also, "...users must not access Internet sites that might bring the public service into disrepute or harm government’s reputation."
While waiting literally hours for reports to scan (with normal Internet browsing forbidden by the Ministries) what is a young, fresh-faced Anarchist to do? Obey? Or disobey? I think the answer here is fairly straightforward. Not only does he visit sites discussing Anarchist participatory economics, sites rightly accusing our nation and our allies (most notably the red-taloned, blue blooded white house, of war crimes - see the innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed by US bombing since the invasion), and sites decrying capitalism for the inherently violent, perverted and anti-social system it is- all of which would undoubtedly cause anal puckering amongst the Ministries’ finest in their own right- but furthermore he streams music from independent punk rock stations, and he watches Noam Chomsky on YouTube, and downloads documentaries exposing American terrorism, selfish consumerism, autistic economic policies, and depicting leftist revolutions. He also watches anime, but he doesn't like to talk about that.
This small, daily rebellion is almost enough to keep him within his Rubik’s cubicle (which isn’t even a real cube- he measured it) when the sun is shining outside. Almost. You see, he is allowed to work an extra hour here or there, and build up extra time, and then take that time off whenever he wants. This essentially means he is allowed to enter the office whenever he wants, and leave whenever he wants, as long as he works 35 hours per week. Flex time, beauty is thy name. But his boss never checks if he is in the office. He isn’t required to tell anyone when he is going home. No one even checks that he is entering the reports. Sometimes his boss leaves for weeks at a time. No one ever checks his hours sheet. Can you see where this is heading?
He only put in a full day of work in the first month. His boss enters at 9 or 9:30 just about every day, so he arrives at around 8 or 8:30 and signs in for 7 or 7:30. Sometimes he leaves a few hours early, and no one notices. In the words of Fat Mike, “Fuck the government until they fuck you back.” He is irresponsible. He is not fit for office work. He should not be where he is. He will never fit into their tight cube-shaped future. How can an anarchist work in a hierarchically- arranged office? He can’t. How can he do the same rote, repetitive, unfulfilling task for four straight months? He can’t. How can he keep from going insane while the sun is shining and he’s shackled to his keyboard? If he follows the rules, he can’t. Fortunately, he isn’t regimented in the sense that his co-workers are. He has learned about the fallacies of wage slavery, and so rejects office work. He rejects most work unless it goes to help change the status quo, decrease gender or class or racial inequality, or unless it was arranged in some participatory fashion. Will this ingrained conscience prove helpful or hindering? Stay tuned.
You might say that his current job would be a good one; he provides ecological reports to scientists and firms that need that info to carry out their studies or perform their construction projects. He enters reports that the pipeline companies were forced to carry out because their practices had to comply with Ministry Standards. If the Environmental Engineering company they obtained to carry out the research was bribed or not, no one can tell. The Ministry Standards are, of course, low enough so as not to fully mitigate environmental damage, because hey, we need to keep that economy growing, right? Barf.
It pays the grocery bill, though. But the can’t help but feel like he is being regimented, being taught how to do boring and unfulfilling work day after day to prepare him for a life that is boring and unfulfilling. He feels like he’s on a lathe, and they’re trying to slowly take his edge off.
The job is good because no one pays attention to him in his cubicle, and he can get away with playing chess over the internet, or downloading top-down shooter games, or drawing pictures on MS Paint, but more importantly watching documentaries and actually learning, and listening to NOFX and actually being entertained, and he can leave early and do what he wants. In essence, the job is good in that he can get away with not doing a single goddamned piece of work all day (aside from scanning, which is work, but shouldn’t count) and still be paid $18.10 per hour or whatever the fuck it is, and not get caught. The job is good because there is a supply cabinet in the mezzanine and he can take CD’s and writing utensils. This job is good because he is beginning to shake off the guilt at not doing what he is told; at resisting authority. He is beginning to see that the guilt that was there before was placed in him; he recognizes that the guilt is there as a tool to get him to comply. Is he delusional? The job is good because the bike trail commute is awesome, as it goes right by the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary. Plus he llikes biking.
The job is good because he can reject the status quo from within the system, and do what he wants with his time, and get paid for it; literally speaking, he will end up 'earning' hundreds- maybe even thousands- of dollars through paid leisure/education time (justification, you say, is needed- check out how much tuition costs). Eighteen bucks an hour, and what does he spend it on? The finest local, organic foods, of course. The tastiest, localest beer, of course. The occasional item here or there. He is saving up for his next year’s education, though. If there is one thing that he does not want, it is to be caught up in student loans. He will never be shit on by a bank. Not when every cent you borrow is just money that is magically created by the bank out of a void, and money that automatically puts you into debt as it has attached debt on it. He isn’t going to fall victim to the scheme of international bankers. He isn’t going to let them attach their fanged, sucking mouth-holes onto him. As much as he hates money, he can’t dare do away with it completely. Not yet.
He’s been explaining his ideas to his coworkers. Things to do with politics, and inequality. The other day he started talking about Anarchism in the lunch room. He said that it was actually a viable political ideology. He was questioned, and was told that Anarchy leads to chaos. That they are synonymical. This question, of course, was from a man who believes, as he put it, "...in a loving God," so the conclusion he came to with regards to anarchism is not surprising as he merely regurgitated the disseminated terminology applied by those in power to dissuade people from actually looking into it. "Well, if you're God is so loving, why does it love white people most? Is your God racist? No? Sexist? No, huh? Classist, then. No? Well, then can you explain to me why is there a strangelehold on most of the world's economic resources by rich white males? To believe in a loving God, as you put it, is to submit to a belief system based on fatalistic faith in supernatural powers, give up on free will in pursuing what this God says to you (which is exactly the same as what you say it the God is saying to you). Talk about regimentation *eye roll.* Would you really rather kneel down than take charge of your life?"
Of course, the young Anarchist didn’t say this out loud, he merely pointed out that the man was in fact merely regurgitating the status quo definition and beliefs about Anarchism, which, in his opinion, were flawed. Flawed how? How is the status quo flawed? He couldn't believe that he was being asked this. If you look at the status quo, it is based on inequality, animosity, selfishness, and exploitation (the evidence here is everywhere). Starving children aren't important if there is a profit to be made. He explained how anarcho-syndicalism allows people to each have a say with respect to the degree that they are affected by a decision.
He was told that this sounded a lot like proportional representation. He replied that proportional representation was a type of system of voting for two rich members of the coordinator class in a professional-wrestling-type public entertainment frenzy (that had less spandex, but still a lot of sweaty, grunting, muscle-headed, loathsome power-hungry individuals who gesticulate wildly at one another with metal chairs while not-too-secretly having intercourse several old, rich, white men for votes) which tended to focus on image rather than issues, and when issues came into question, there was lying, flip-flopping, and mud-slinging. Things that the people want, the mass majority of people, aren’t realized through politics because those in power wish to keep their power, and all political decision must be made within the rational framework (ie. framework of institutional lunacy) of free market economics, or neo-liberalism (which is really just advanced class warfare). In essence, all decision must be made while taking into account that the average citizen is taught to be a rational wealth-maximizer who should only care for themselves, and not for anyone else. They need to pursue their interests, measured by material wealth, right now. If that means stepping on someone's back to move higher, then so be it. Furthermore, if you start caring for someone else, due to the nature of competitive market forces, you will be run out of the marketplace because those who are the coldest and most exploitative are the ones who gain the most power. Therefore, those who are the most cruel, and those who are the most anti-social, and hard-headed, gain power, and tend to keep power.
You know- that whole spiel.
He had also mentioned self-determination. This was met by a condemnation of the assumption that people can actually self-determine. Well, who knows the most about your own self-interests? The government, the church, the mailman, the corporate executive, or yourself? If you aren't the expert on your own self-interest, and you don't try to act on those interests, or if you don't have the ability to act on them due to living under a repressive regime of thought control, and action control, then you are the cog in the machine, the wage-slave; you are everything the corporate owners want you to be- simply a good consumer with no brain for anything other than maximizing your accumulation of material wealth, forgetting all but yourself. He started to say, "If you think my assumptions about basic freedoms are flawed, do you want to talk about how flawed the assumptions of capitalism are?"
This was met by a hearty, 'Well, time to get back to work.'
He has his orders. He has his place, and consequently, he has his function. He has a role in the workplace. A role in society. By stepping out of that role, and by changing his circumstance, even aspiring to do so, is constitutive of disorder. That is what laws and hierarchy and the various societal structures in place are there to prevent: disorder, or, euphemistically, change.
Of course, much of what he was doing may be deemed immature and misguided. But it is grounded in logic, and conscience, and a love of freedom. And what’s done is done.
The space is slim,
So meet my everyone.
So, please, I said
What's done is done.