Friday, August 16, 2019

Today I'm thinking about exploitation and I'm wondering why there is so much of it in the world today.

As I've gotten more aware of how the world works, I've noticed that a lot of life seems to be comprised of people who are looking for others to do unpaid work for them or to just flat out support their lifestyle of fun and play. It's a fascinating thing to observe, and I don't really have strong feelings about it either negative or positive. It just is, and I'm aware of it. Now, I'm not going to call this "unpaid work" by the term "slavery," but some resemblances to the images that particular term conjures into the mind do exist.

For example, I know people who are hyper-sexual and long for a devoted partner who will go to work 40-hours a week to pay for all the bills they rack up going on lunch dates, seeing doctors for various things, playing board games, and entertaining multiple guys and gals in that oh so special way (glamorized somewhat under the term "polyamory.") I know people who take on partners and then down the road, expect these partners to pick up more and more of the slack of caring for disabled individuals. And I know disabled individuals who really want a partner for doing all of the domestic chores and then some free sex here and there. I know people who "borrow money" with no intention to pay it back (another way to manipulate someone into doing something for them for free).

I know of organizations who couch unpaid work as evangelical volunteerism, or that use a religious calling as a thinly disguised way to make someone do a lot of unpaid duties. I know unpaid interns working for corporations. I know some former prisoners who tell me stories of work they were forced to endure while behind bars, which was essentially "unpaid." I know people who always have "their hand out," and it's because they want someone else to do the work they don't want to do (for free). I know people who feign helplessness to try and get free work out of someone else. And I know people who use emotional blackmail to enlist volunteers for lots of work (caregiving for an elderly parent comes to mind).

Becoming aware of this "fact" of living in the 21st century has become essential to my well-being and self care. I've actually found it "empowering," because I've learned that there is a never-ending pit of need out there, and that saying "Yes" to everything is dangerous to a person's health. If you do, you risk spending the rest of your days doing unpaid work for someone else, which can lead to bitterness, rage, and resentment (and other issues). And believe me, there is a never-ending supply of people who want you to work for them for free. Some will even be so ungrateful that they will criticize the work you've done for them for free.

And I wonder, sometimes, how many people out there are unaware of this fact. The curious thing about "facts" is that they are true no matter whether or not you believe them. This is a hard concept for some people to swallow, especially in this day and age of "fake news." I wonder how many people end up in marriages that, after several years of honeymoon, break apart because one spouse realizes that they are being worked to death. I wonder how many people understand that they are being "exploited" by an organization or a person. I wonder how many parents exploit their children for free labor.  And I also wonder how many people are honestly wanting to be exploited, because their self-esteem is so damaged that they long for a good exploitation with exultations of "Yes! Yes! Exploit me more!" I find the whole thing just fascinating to think about.

I have been careful in the past few years to avoid any opportunities where I feel someone or something might try to exploit me. And I must say, it's had a souring effect on my disposition regarding this particular word. People do a lot of things in the name of "love" whether or not they are actually feeling that emotion at all. Sometimes, maybe all it takes is someone mouthing "I love you" and there is no meaning behind it.

"Love" in my book is supposed to be Shakespearean. It's when two people who have great passion and respect for one another, come together and become greater than they are apart. But what I've been witness to are people who are afraid of living alone just taking anyone to cause the pain of aging to go away, or people see another person as a meal ticket and think "why not?" Or people who choose a partner because it allows them to climb higher in whatever social circle in which they reside.  It all seems to fly in the face of my heart, which is that of a true romantic. I suppose I should add to the stack of "the people I know" a nice helping of psychopaths. Yes, I know a few people who I think are psychopaths, and by the very definition of that word, they could not possibly know what love is. Yet...these people end up in marriages...and they say, "I love you" to their partner with as much emotion as a fish. "Whatever," I think to myself. "You do you" and all that, right? But it does leave me wondering why this happens.

I wonder why there is so much exploitation in the world. I also wonder why people fall victim to it every day. I do know that things are changing. Cheap labor is drying up, and I think that's a good thing. But I expect there to be a tipping point...that there will be violent pushback from the modern day "slave owners" who suddenly will be in danger of paupering themselves to get the help they need. There will be lazy people everywhere who suddenly will need to do the work themselves because they no longer have someone to boss around for free. Organizations may need to cut their bottom line to start paying unpaid workers or risk being destroyed. I honestly can't wait to see this happen, and I hope it happens within my lifetime. I love to witness a good wake-up call as much as anyone, and I can't wait until the "entitled" in our society come face to face with the fact that they may have to scrub their own toilet.


  1. Eventually people with enough money can get machines to do most of their grunt work.

  2. Interesting thoughts. I see it as lessons. If you aren't able to stand up for yourself, then people will enter your life and exploit you. Until you figure out that's what they're doing, and you put a stop to it. Some of us never figure it out.

  3. I've seen, at my job, even paid work being exploited by those willing to take days off whenever they feel like it, seemingly for the least excuse (I mean, sometimes it's a good one), leaving more work for those who are actually showing up.

    But I get your point about free work, and even mooching (which aren't really the same). What you're observing is a society that is perfectly happy to function by exploiting people even when we've grown up learning about how horrible slavery was. But apparently slavery is only bad if there's awful stuff like whipping and amputations and auctions and terrible sea voyages and...Basically if you can make the pain of the experience invisible, it seems acceptable. When essentially it's the same as it's always been. How did we reach a point where before half the population didn't need to work, and suddenly everyone has to and most of the jobs are low-paying? It doesn't add up. We talk about everything in various modes of social media, and yet the basic framework of society isn't working. Pat says there'll be robots. Will that restructure how wealth distribution works? I'm not talking about a free market or a controlled market, capitalism and socialism, but what happens to the people at the bottom if the work we think is menial enough for them is no longer required to be done by a human? Do they get moved up the ladder, or do we just expand the homeless class?

    That's what we need to be figuring out. Your free labor, forget about cheap labor. Maybe that structure of support in communities, which you're wondering whether or not is a good thing, will become common again, like when there were extended families living together. Maybe community will mean something again?

    1. Tony, this is an amazing comment. You summarized so much of what I was feeling and so succinctly. Yes to all of this. I especially love the line, "apparently slavery is only bad if there's awful stuff like whipping and amputations, etc., ...if you can make the pain of the experience invisible, it seems acceptable." YES. Our whole society is built on this: the attitude that, yes we aren't whipping you so you should accept this new form of slavery and be good with it. But it's the same thing.

  4. I like Tony's comment too, and your post, Mike, really points out how money and self are far too important in our American society. As a woman, I know what it's like to be especially pressured to do volunteer work, never mind that I'm already so busy I barely have time for myself. But it's always the person doing the pressuring who gets the attention and and credits. The fact that we're often expected to live for our jobs 24/7 doesn't help either.