MANCHESTER, NH – In 1985, after years of working in independent publishing of various kinds in San Francisco, an author named Bob Black wrote “The Abolition of Work,” in which he criticized the way in which productive labor is organized in capitalist societies. He proposed instead that we should engage in productive play, or use our efforts toward meeting our own needs – be they physical, mental, or spiritual.
The first two opening paragraphs of his work set the tone for all else which would follow:
No one should ever work.
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
Rather than advocating for full employment or right-to-work laws, he instead deliberately advocated for full unemployment in the name of laziness. The word lazy, in this context, would later appear in Devon Price’s book “Laziness Does Not Exist,” (2020) in which the author describes laziness as a condition wherein people are resting from work, ie doing any activity outside of a job.
Black did not advocate for complete personal indolence, though it is perhaps easy to believe he may have done this. Rather, he thought effort which people wanted to engage in would serve humankind better than effort which they would feel compelled to do perform, by economic necessity or societal expectation.
Nowhere in his work is found the usual exhortations to seize and control economic resources for the betterment of society; nor is his philosophy written with an animadversion of wealth in mind. Wealth, according to Black, is not the problem. The problem, he states, is the way in which we seek to acquire wealth – by working at a job, most often for the benefit of others.
His ideas percolated in the background for more than three decades until writer and activist Doreen Ford created a website at AbolishWork.com. Ford pulled together works from other authors who contributed similar ideas, such as Bertrand Russel’s “In Praise of Idleness” (1932) and David Graeber’s “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” (2013), in order to create a cohesive, inclusive philosophy which can be summarized as: working has a negative influence on the individual.
Ford’s philosophy stands in direct opposition to, and is a refutation of, the Puritan Work Ethic, which claims work is a good unto itself. By contrast, one of the ideas generally espoused in the Antiwork movement is: work is an evil unto itself.
The fundamental difference between those who hold to the Puritan Work Ethic and those who hold to Antiwork appears to be one of individuation: whether or not the individual feels the work they perform is helping them gain a better life for themselves and their children.
In the case of the Puritans, their religious faith combined with a rough frontier life gave rise to the notion that non-productive activity is a social negative. This can be observed in a biblical verse from Proverbs 16:29: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.” In seeking to live Godly lives and avoid Satanic influences, the Puritans took it upon themselves to extol work as a virtue and idleness as a vice.
The Antiwork movement, however, is filled with all kinds of people: religious, atheist, and everything in between. While God is often not the subject of discussion in Antiwork’s Subreddit or Discord channel, neither is it prohibited. Instead, Antiworkers find they don’t have a frontier to conquer or a world to win. They have rent due at the first of every month, bills they have to pay, and a never-ending stream of work they have to do.
Such work, rather than allowing them to live the lives they would choose for themselves – as was the case with Puritans fleeing English persecution – Antiworkers instead find that work allows them less and less individual freedom. Posts on the Antiwork subreddit describe, among other things Whole Foods cutting breaks for employees from 15 minutes to 10; a Twitter post with a person reflecting how a master’s degree made them unemployable; and a picture of an expensive sports car owned by a company boss who recently got rid of paid time off (PTO) in the company.
Rather than making themselves free, Antiworkers see work as something which makes other people free: namely, bosses and company owners. In order to acquire freedom, they propose to do away with that which restrains them the most, their jobs. What people would do if they could leave their jobs varies greatly. Some propose to live off public lands as survivalists. Others propose to invest more time into hobbies and projects they have been setting aside. Still others just want to rest and not feel tired any longer.
Doreen Ford is a person who joined the Antiwork movement after just such an experience.
“I’m a very ideological person,” Ford said. “I just worked at a retailer or medical provider. After a while, I realized I didn’t like my job very much. It felt really monotonous. I just kind of realized through my own experiences I didn’t like work very much.”
Following this revelation, Ford went on to write hundreds of articles for her website. She put in effort, many hours at a time, on the subreddit, which was created by someone else. At first, the project was a labor of love. Despite editing a book called “Abolish Work: an Exposition of Philosophical Ergophobia” (2016), the movement hadn’t gained ground or really established itself into what it would soon become.
At the end of September, the Antiwork subreddit passed 500,000 users and has since gained close to 40,000 more. At the time of writing, the Antiwork discord channel boasts close to 600 users. For various reasons, people have gravitated to the movement, even if to gripe about conditions at their job they may not like, something Ford knows about only too well.
Doreen Ford was a resident of Manchester from 2016 until 2021. This year, she moved to Boston with her partner. These days, she is trying to strike a work-life balance. In her spare time, she does podcasts about video games, in addition to her pet-sitting job. She finds that she would rather treat Antiwork as a hobby rather than an all-consuming passion.
“It’s been one of the most productive movements I’ve gotten into, ironically enough,” Ford said. “I feel really good about it. I’m in a good place with it. I don’t feel like I’m going to burn myself out with it.”
Unlike other movements which may have a leader or a central figure, Ford admits Antiwork has nothing of the kind. A lot of her activities take place in the background, with the exception of the media interviews she has been fielding of late. She does not see herself as the face of the movement, or the person solely responsible for it.
The subreddit is non-ideological in nature. Anyone is welcome to join, provided they follow rules enumerated on the sub’s home page. The discord channel is similar, with specialized chat rooms such as “book club,” “rant,” and “religion.” Even if Ford left the movement completely, due to scheduling conflicts, or other reasons, she feels as though it would be in a good place with or without her participation.
“I’m happy with what I got,” Ford said. “I just hope things keep getting bigger.”