The world of our dreams

Perhaps the second of January is the most dismal day in the civil calendar. Some may get it off, or take it off; but for your average Salaried Sisyphus it means: “resume pushing.” His (or, her) holiday is over, even though it is only the Ninth Day of Christmas, and we haven’t celebrated the Epiphany yet; nor Candlemas. And if, in addition, he (or, she) lives at this latitude in the northern hemisphere, the worst of winter is still to be faced, glumly in cities where a beautiful snowfall becomes a traffic nightmare. Sometimes one feels almost cheated, of that ride in the sleigh.

Take heart. It doesn’t have to be like that. You could be unemployed.

While I find penury more fun at the beginning, than as it wears, there is much to be said for it. As the French observe, the rich man is free to sleep under the bridge; but for the poor man this freedom is more likely to be realized.

Better yet, something in the middle, well short of slave consumerism, but sufficient to maintain life and limb, could be had with a little enterprise and cunning. Some even manage to do better, without a dayjob than with one: by applying themselves to a trade in which demand seems always to outstrip supply. (Plumbing comes to mind.) I am writing here of the independent tradesman, who makes his own hours, and finds his own customers, chiefly through the reputation of his works; and was once the irreplaceable breadwinner of something called a family, living in something called a home.

I am thinking even of “family practitioners” such as doctors. These used to be, and are still wanted, but those who graduate today as MDs are likely to become mere employees, albeit highly paid. House calls are a pain: better to have the customers coming to you, waiting in line at a large institution. And better if they don’t sign your paycheques, for paying inevitably gives a man the idea he has rights. Of course, you may still treat them as if the preservation of their lives were important to you, out of Christian charity or a good mood.

Do you know that, in Canada anyway, doctors once came to the back door? This was because they were tradesmen. Now the customer comes to the doctor’s figurative back door. There are advantages to exchanging a “trade” for a “profession.” One gets all this additional respect.

Gentle reader already knows I am backward; that I will be thinking of so many other trades that became fully-credentialled and bureaucratized professions; journalism being on the long list. In each case, the pay went up considerably, and the problem of collecting on piece-work went away. In return, one sacrificed all of one’s personal independence.


Don’t get me wrong: “If you like your job, you can keep it.” I can understand why some people might wish to retain their corporate employment. Those old-fashioned males, with families to support, are especially in my heart, though it would be invidious to explain why, in detail. I think of one job that I particularly hated, which I nevertheless held for more than fifteen years, in exchange for good, regular pay. I had a family to support. For in the world of old-fashioned, a man hadta do what a man hadta do.

On the other hand, in a DINK household (“double income, no kids”) the rules subtly change, or rather change overtly, and no need remains for any sort of manliness. Indeed, should the woman make a substantial income, perhaps the man should live off her. She can claim him for a little break on her taxes, after all. Consider: housework, without kids, is a snip. And when his “partner” gets home, physically and emotionally exhausted from work, burning with the little humiliations she has suffered out there in the “real world,” and seriously hungry into the bargain — he can remind her that they are a “modern” couple. Tasks such as cooking should be shared equally.

But of course, this is old hat. For the most part it also applies where the Red Chinese “one child policy” is obeyed, as across most of urban Canada.

I became fully aware of the new arrangements in a visionary experience, twenty years ago. It consisted of attending a “bake sale” for the public school in which my sons were enrolled (temporarily, I assure you). I got to meet the whole “sorority” in my new liberal neighbourhood. (Kingston, Ontario: never go there.) This was mostly an “audio” vision, I should explain, though it had a video component. I’d never before encountered so many organic whole-earth, leftwing, squeaky-voiced “house husbands,” all in one place. The immediate revelation was that spiritual emasculation actually changes a man’s voice in the same way physical emasculation does.

Among other discoveries was that the men had done most of the baking — which was good, for men often make better bakers. And we turn to the castrati to hit the highest notes.

The women, on the other hand, I could hear roar. The tone in which they addressed their squeakers was beyond instructive. I reflected that if a man spoke to his wife like that, in public, he’d be courting arrest. The feminists had now got exactly what they wanted. (See: The Wife of Bath.)

There was more. The “gender stereotypes” had reversed at every other level. These women were now the sexual aggressors. I recall one in particular — an executive in a local “arts” operation — who had previously called me “fascist” as well as “sexist” in reference to something I had written in a newspaper. That she hated me still, I could take for granted. But right in front of her lamentable husband she was, unbelievably, “flirting.” (The term is over-refined.) The wee fellow looked harmlessly outraged. He made sounds such as I imagine a gerbil makes when his mate shoves him aside. On his fidelity, I’m sure she could rely, for no other woman could want him. But she, for her part, was trawling for something a little more masculine.

Feminism alone could account for the collapse of the birth rate (which does, incidentally, have economic repercussions); for it operates at so many levels, from the neutering of males, to making females so extremely unattractive. It turns upside down the natural order: turns both sexes against themselves as well as each against the other. (As a friend observed at the time: “There is no blood left to be shed in the battle of the sexes in Ontario.”) And feminism can account for many other things; but it cannot account for the rise of feminism. On that, I’m with Marx: one must look for an economic causation.


Which returns us to this troubling matter of “employment.” The great majority of people today, who earn any kind of income, are “employees.” This holds for everyone from the humblest office go-fer to the CEO. There may be some “one percent” who live entirely off investments, or in some strangely surviving handicraft trade; but whether well or poorly paid, the other ninety-nine are wage slaves. Our whole modern economy, high tech to low, is built around corporate, as opposed to human, persons.

For this reason I see very little difference between nominal capitalism and nominal socialism, even in efficiency. We’re all working for someone else, and therefore to the rules they lay down for our employment. While the guvmint may seize much of that income, and add gratuitous extra bites into the time we have left between work and sleep, there is little to choose between working for a government department or a large corporation. In either case one is a meaningless, easily replaceable cypher. A small corporation may be a little different, until it either grows or dies, but the regulatory matrix ties “the system” together. Small but genuine freedoms — so small as lighting a cigarette after supper, or upon taking Berlin — are gradually “phased out” owing to the corporate need for totalitarian conformity (or, “diversity” as the publicists for Big Brother now call it).

Let me admit, I become more and more Distributist, as time moves along. The world from which we came — in which the overwhelming majority of men, from farmers to town tradesmen, were “self-employed” — was a world in which individual responsibility was unavoidable, and men and women could not be interchanged. It was also an environment more under the stars, where the continuity of human society could not be abstracted: we stood exposed to reality itself. There was no question children would be raised. There was no question that the price of raising them would be paid, including the sacrifice of vanities. We did not look on posterity with indifference.

The technology of “the pill” and so forth comes into this, but only tangentially. For the shape of that technology is itself an artefact of the social and economic order, and not, as mindless fatalists believe, vice versa. For our machines are designed to facilitate our way of living, and provide us with what we might plausibly want. The technology is not randomly developed, but market-driven and purpose-built. We wanted, for instance, to detach sex from pregnancy. (You mean we didn’t?) This was a technical issue, and so the “problem” was solved. The moral issue was not somehow overlooked, but deemed irrelevant. Nothing “just happened.”

And so, on the larger historical scale. We were tired of taking risks to make a living, and having to depend for survival upon ourselves. Men became tired of being men, and women tired of being women. There was too much responsibility. We longed to “return” to the soft life of slavery: to the child’s experience of being taken care of, by creatures much larger than ourselves. We designed all the “safety nets” — not only technology like “the pill,” but the laws to make contraception available and encourage its promotion. We were tired of our painful personal independence, in which we’d had to make moral choices, and face the consequences of our acts. And so, that “problem” was identified and solved.

We created the Nanny State, which is much more than big guvmint; for it is big business, too. We created the legal order in which the “joint stock company” — i.e. the faceless corporation — was transformed from a widely-recognized evil, into the normal way of conducting business. We gave individual owners laws to hide behind: “limited liability” even for the dumbest of their investment mistakes. The “mass market” was an invented thing. And we all bought in, to the convenience of indentured labour — to “freedom” from our old, very personal independence. This was what we wanted.

Given this, it should be seen that the “sexual revolution” follows; for among slaves, sex can be free. They have no real families, whose claims might be enforced by law. Willy-nilly, the couple, and their children, may be split up. This is sad, but one gets used to evil. While the slaves must do their master’s bidding, when he is watching, licence is theirs once out of his sight. And the occasional roll in the hay is a consolation in the slave’s life. What, after all, is the danger? Chance pregnancies provide master with extra slaves: he needn’t impose himself as a moralist. Or may, if he wants: it is all up to him. I trust gentle reader begins to see the parallels.

The “liberated” man (playboy), and the “liberated” woman (feminist), and the “liberated” trans-sexual for that matter, don’t have to worry about the consequences, either, whether to society or even to themselves. It is their master who must do the worrying, about the demography and all that; and now he’s just a big faceless machine. And he rewards and punishes, as one might expect from a machine: with an indifference to the fate of individuals that a human slave master might consider unconscionable.

Beginning some time towards the middle of the XIXth century in England, and other quickly urbanizing places, then moving forward through every other country, like a cancer at whatever speed, feminism happened, in a new form, unlike that in any previous society. (Those who think some “second wave” sisterhood began with Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinem should be better informed: for there has been generational wave after wave since the 1840s.) It spread wherever it had become economically possible; and everywhere a new fecklessness in men was the flip side. It arrived, in other words, with the factories: with the new economic arrangements and the hourly wage, promising a freedom which is actually the opposite of independence; and to provide for families in a way that would ultimately destroy them.

It arrives, not as the front slicing edge, but as the final mincing dicer of modernity. It becomes indistinguishable from that modernity. It completes the destruction of each “traditional society,” with its networks of personal relations: gravels it down. It replaces time-honoured customs with picayune rules and regulations. It assembles people into arbitrary groups, and governs on the basis of statistics. It expresses the reduction of the whole human condition to the equality of warm bodies in a “labour force.” But nowhere is this an accident. The world we have is the utopia we wanted: the world of our dreams.


My comparison of modern workers to slaves may seem unreasonable to some readers; I should add a qualification. Traditionally, slaves were delivered into captivity by slave-dealers; we, as a people, delivered ourselves. And while a slave may, spiritually, detach himself from his fate, and feel inwardly free even while outwardly enchained, our slavery is more fundamental. We have taken our material circumstances as our vocation. We are as much enslaved to the consumerism on which our economy now depends, as to our wage-paying employers. And while the traditional slave might be hoping for someone to come and free him from his bondage, we hope any such do-gooder will stay away from us. The slave knew that his estate was the opposite of freedom; we think our enslavement is freedom itself. And so forth. I wouldn’t want anyone to come away with the impression that I thought our slavery an improvement on the older arrangements, bad as they were.