Friday, January 17, 2014

"Do you love to clean?"

Everybody was recommending Miya Tokumitsu's Jacobin article about "do what you love," but what stopped me from rushing to it ASAP was that I anticipated recognizing this argument and agreeing with it. Artists, writers, academics, and the like have been making this point for a while now - you're expected to love what you do and thus be willing to do it unpaid, underpaid, without benefits, etc. "Do what you love" had always struck me as something particular to those in a very specific socioeconomic situation - people who are middle-class but not trust-funded, who somehow end up in creative fields where it's assumed that everyone is. Who end up playing by rules that only make sense if you are.

What Tokumitsu does with the argument, though, is much more ambitious and interesting. She connects it to the sometimes extremely high-paid tech world, as well as the least-glamorous jobs. And to capitalism more generally. Go read it!

What I wish she'd done - but this is one of those starts-a-conversation articles, so it couldn't do everything - is get into how even what she refers to as "unlovable" jobs are ones workers are now asked to love. I'm thinking of a Craigslist job ad with the following title: "Do you love to clean?" It's recruiting for a house-cleaning service. Nothing more glamorous. Not cleaning as dues-paying at an internship. This is to be a maid.


caryatis said...

What the ad means is that they're looking for cleaners, but, given that this is a relatively high-paid job in a rich area, they want cleaners with a more middle-class attitude (i.e. ready to at least pretend to be glad to be there and motivated to do quality work). Frankly if I were hiring a maid I would screen in somewhat the same way.

Phoebe said...

OK, in that case, we're still learning something interesting. Namely that the "love your job" requirement extends not just to the rich or middle-class, but to anyone who might so much as interact with the rich or middle-class.

I'm not sure what changes when we consider that the ad is in English and Spanish. It doesn't seem to be entirely looking for the 'college student in need of some extra cash' demographic.

Miss Self-Important said...

Did you think the argument that DWYL is a particularly capitalistic ideology was persuasive? I don't think 18th and 19th century industrial capitalism was ever premised on the idea that people loved industrial jobs, but that they worked b/c they had to. Socialism was offering the alternative - that we could organize production in such a way that everyone could do what he loved (Marx's famous line about "fishing in the morning" for example) rather than the drudgery necessary to stay alive. The current situation doesn't look like the logic of capitalism to me, but the logic of socialist values (held mainly by elites) pasted over capitalist markets.

Also, it's not clear to me whether this woman is arguing that DWYL is actually impossible, b/c even the high-status jobs you're supposed to love are really forms of drudgery, or whether she thinks that lovable jobs are simply limited to elites and the ideology of DWYL should not be promoted beyond them, for example, to maids. Can you tell?

Phoebe said...

DWYL relates to capitalism because it's about maximizing profit. It's getting the most out of workers for the least pay. If you love your job, you'll work overtime for free!

My interpretation of the piece's argument was that DWYL is both classist (it assumes a creative-class or high-powered job - jobs that the vast majority are never going to have) and exploitative (it encourages people to work for no or not much pay). The second piece struck me as the stronger - I mean, really important! - one.

The first I wasn't as convinced. Yes, DWYL is often used in a clueless way - kind of like the high school teacher I had who would only write college letters for people who were going to college "to learn", not if they wanted to make money. That much I agreed with. But if elites aren't thinking about all the labor that went into their comfort, I can't imagine it's because they love their work and imagine iPhone factory workers do as well. I didn't follow how DWYL makes low-status workers less visible.

Miss Self-Important said...

But DWYL didn't start as some kind of secret scheme to maximize profit; it later turned out to be a useful way to do so. Even the author says it began as an anti-industrial capitalism argument (in Thoreau, but I'd think socialism precedes him). And in earlier incarnations, DWYL didn't imply that a job had to be "creative" to be lovable, just that it had to make you self-sufficient and maybe "in touch" with nature and the pre-capitalist essence of yourself. Rousseau's Emile is trained to be a carpenter for this reason - being a carpenter makes you mobile, independent, free. But this article leaves out those elements of DWYL that push for "going back to the land," "working with your hands," or DIY instead of being an ad executive. That's why I'm not sure whether she thinks that DWYL is a basically flawed ideology b/c ALL work should be viewed as unlovable drudgery requiring remuneration, or whether it's only flawed when it's used to justify not paying people for high-status "creative" labor.

Phoebe said...

It might be interesting to trace the origins of DWYL, but this incarnation of it is pretty specific. Tokumitsu's discussing the current use of DWYL. She's saying that employers use DWYL to exploit workers. Which they do! It's not about a "secret scheme," but fairly upfront corporate jargon. She isn't saying that people should or shouldn't love their work, just that DWYL shouldn't just be nodded along to.

I mean, one could totally address the DIY DWYL connection in terms of what it says about someone that they're in a position to opt out of being an ad executive. I even think there's a YPIS angle, but that might be enough acronyms for one paragraph.

David Schraub said...

I dissented from Tokumitsu here. I think her analysis of class politics is off, and I don't think wealthy people need an excuse to either (a) ignore the actual working conditions of the poor or (b) demand workers work extra time at reduced pay.

Phoebe said...


I agree with this very much from your post: "Put bluntly, I'm skeptical that the wealthy need the aid of a mantra to forget about the life and working conditions of the lower classes. That's really more of the default setting."

However, in terms of the rest of your critique, I'm not completely convinced. For one thing, I'm assuming the two jobs you're talking about are both law (?) jobs, and that the lower-paid one still paid a middle-class-plus salary. In any case, DWYL is very often about cases like that, where someone chooses between a high-paid but soul-sucking job and a reasonably-well-paid one with better hours, and/or more interesting work.

So maybe the connection - not spelled out in the article, granted - is that the people who preach DWYL are people whose basic needs will be met if they choose a relatively low-paid but still high-enough-paid option?

David Schraub said...

That's undoubtedly true, and as I said the value of emotional satisfaction is not infinite vis-a-vis tangible rewards. On the other hand, most of the efforts to import DWYL on the employer side are on these middle-class-or-higher jobs -- I've yet to see anyone even try to reduce janitorial pay because they should love it.

Phoebe said...

But are we so sure? (Again, the maid job ad...) Benefits and wages aren't exactly getting better for working-class or low-skill jobs. And I do think this gets justified in terms of DWYL - all the stuff about being part of a "team," etc. I'm pretty sure I've seen ads for food service jobs that insist you must "love" whatever it is.

But I also wouldn't make to sharp a distinction between "middle-class" and lower jobs. A job that barely pays is compatible with being upper-class, even, if you have family money. If you don't, the job might be relatively high-status, but the person working it is lower-middle-class financially at best, perhaps without room for advancement. The obvious example: adjuncting. You can be a professor, but not making enough to live on. But DWYL, as Tokumitsu notes, definitely applies there.