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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Be Vigilant For Your Civil Liberties, But Remember That You've Always Lived Under Dictatorship


A friend of mine was just eliminated for consideration of employment because her background credit-check wasn't up to the requirements of the potential employer.

In America, the freedom-lovin' democracy, you must have a job in order to live. Oh, there are ways around that dictum, but these have their own consequences. One can suffer the contempt of family and friends - who are, after all, deep-steeped in the propaganda of our meritocracy themselves, and often are left to bear the burden of feeding and housing you. If you are of sterner stuff (or if desperation is your only companion), you can hit the streets and become a member of the "underground economy entrepreneurs guild," but most variations of that career choice will invite the tender mercies of our prison-industrial complex - even if your gravest crime is blocking a sidewalk. There is, of course, the "opportunity" of disability, but this does not wholly protect you from the pariah-status of "freeloader" from many of your fellow citizens, and frankly it is all-too-often a wearying task to remain jake with the bureaucracies set up to provide you with the stuff of life.

The way our capitalist society has set up the stakes, it has long been the simplest, if not the easiest, to submit to the wage-slavery that is offered to the most of us. To be working class. This has been changing over the decades, and I wonder if the relative incentives for the above choices aren't skewing in a very unfortunate direction - unfortunate for our personal lifestyles, and unfortunate for the captains of industry that have spent so much energy educating us for the hammer-and-saw, the mop-and-bucket, the frier-and-grill, for the cubicle.

There were once very explicit admonitions against the invasion of the privacy of the employee - even if most of these were difficult to enforce even in the best of times. Many of them still stand, but have become mere conventions, tattered as they are from the explosion of the Information Age.

Of course, we are to blame for much of this - who wouldn't resist checking out your social footprint out there in the Internet? The most conscientious - and cooperative - "good" employees out there may opt to forego the cheap pleasures of Facebook, but that is a lifestyle cost in the modern age. And it promises little, for there are a thousand different ways that, given a little diligence and artistry, Google will betray you.

There's more, as commenter mbl at Ian's place points out (my emphasis):
America “has jobs which are intensely unpleasant, with the asshole boss being the norm… People have to be medicated to function in American society because it requires unpleasant and unnatural behavior, virtually all the time.”

Just wanted to thank you for writing this. It’s rarely talked about, probably because working-class people don’t have a voice anymore.

If you’re not aggressive, not “money-motivated,” care more about other people than just making a financial profit, you’ll have trouble succeeding in today’s job market. Used to be that, as a result of the Privacy Act and probably other laws as well, employers could only check your references and ask your former employers about your work history–how long you’d worked for them, what your salary and duties were, etc. Now employers can actually make you take a physical (with one of their own doctors) and can access your medical records! They can have your body physically examined to see whether they approve of you as an employee. I’m talking about basic jobs answering phones, working in customer service, etc., that don’t require physical labor at all. They also can test you for drugs, check your credit history and, of course, your criminal background. (It’s as though your applying for a job arises some sort of suspicion in them.)

But in the process of all that background checking and medical probing, they can find out your religious, political and racial background, whether or not you’re disabled, what your sexual preferences are, etc.
All this used to be illegal because we wanted to encourage employers to hire Americans, but now suddenly it’s okay in the USA, so we have a lot of unemployed Americans who can’t pass all those background investigations. Also now that you’re required to show two forms of ID, employers can see your date of birth. I called the EOC and they actually told me that it is now legal for employers to ask potential employees their age! I believe this is a result of the Patriot Act. And age discrimination is a serious problem as many employers prefer to fire older, better-paid employees and replace them with younger, less-experienced employees whom they can pay a lot less.

What no one’s talking about is that many Americans can’t find jobs due to discrimination. And all this background checking makes it easy for employers to discriminate (that’s why it used to be illegal!)...
If you read this with the thought in mind that we spend most of our waking hours living under the rules and regulations of the absolutely undemocratic (and how could it be any other way?) auspices of the workplace, then a truer picture emerges, of what it means to be a "free" person in America.

I apologize for not being able to locate an attribution for this, but I recall someone speaking of asking an immigrant from Eastern Europe - after the Berlin Wall fell - about his experience of being a citizen in America, after growing up under totalitarian Soviet rule. With the ubiquitous experience of life in the workplace no doubt firmly in mind, this person responded that he could see no relevant difference between the two.

This should be a scandal. I don't want to hear about those who bootstrap themselves into entrepreneurial heaven and manage to become the heads of their own little dictatorships. Besides that fact that this is a fate for the lucky few, I am not impressed that the only good option is to become a member of the oppressor class.

This should be a scandal.

The ongoing erosion of our civil liberties - assaulted first during the "Red Scare," ramping up in our "War on Drugs," with 9/11 and the "War on Terror" delivering a stunning coup de gras all augur for the reasonable worry that our country, our government, are crab-stepping all-too-unsubtly towards a fascist state. Yes, worry for this.

But don't neglect and forget that we have become accustomed to living under autocratic rule. It's called chasing a paycheck. And the extortion is aimed at your belly, and the bellies of your children.

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