The radio silence my life has been under for the past few months is finally broken and I can hold my peace no longer. Since late January I’ve transplanted my life to more rural Australia for what was meant to be a 3 month mining exploration contract. Within the first few weeks the contract was amended and extended to 6 months and all of these things happening at once at first filled me with great anticipation and relief from the year of in between unemployment I had finally got a mining job with my degree.
However I must communicate my disappointment and misgivings. Life on the frontiers isn’t the quiet and romantic idea I had in my mind and my terms of employment certainly do not aide in that regard. I work 10 hour days, 10 days straight with 4 days reprieve at the end. This is not a common mining roster and is unusually harsh, a more standard roster is 8 and 6 with fly in and fly out but this site is roughly 3 hours from civilisation and another hour to home for myself thus not warranting a generous roster in the minds of the corporate level. Significantly a lot of the geo workers are locals and 4 days off when they’re already at home is nothing they really complain about but for those of us who do not call Bathurst home and have to travel we do not get 4 days of rest and certainly not enough to recover from 100 hours of hard work.
It has been communicated to me from the senior geos that this mining site is particularly unlike most others, that is to say it’s a poorly run site and the work is especially boring and monotonous. The company pays well but that line is hardly an excuse as no one would work under these conditions if they didn’t. In the blind and naive pursuit of pursuing the career that my degree pointed me towards I have met work that has extinguished much of the passion I had for that degree in addition to interrogating myself towards continuing a path in this field at all. My only consolation is that this contract ends on the 31st of July and I am under no obligation to anyone to renew any extended contract put before me. It is likely that the contract will be extended but before that I hope to make it very clear that unless extreme concessions are made I will not be returning and one or two of my colleagues share similar sentiments.
I went into this job expecting certain attitudes and expecting certain views and those I have encountered have lived up to those expectations, what I did not expect was the fuck around that literally every single thing would be. Everything from signing the lease on the rental property (something I have yet to do despite living in the house for 3 months) to the day to day functions. The only thing open by the time we finish work and drive back to town is the grocery store, anything that isn’t in there has to wait the 10 days until we’re finished and by that time we’ve either forgotten about it or simply can’t be bothered forfeiting our short break to see to it.
This is further complicated by our payslips being monthly, which on one hand forces us to ration and handle our money responsibly (and I personally ration better than some of my colleagues) but it means there is a backlog of planned expenses at the beginning of every month. For me my backlog is car maintenance; I bought myself a 20 year old Nissan Patrol and it requires some minor attention but I either simply can’t be bothered or it isn’t the beginning of the month and I haven’t been paid yet.
More importantly I’m not writing this entry to simply complain, while my mental health is certainly strained under these working conditions my philosophy and outlook on life has certainly evolved. I previously told myself that a mining job only had to last for as long as it took to pay off a house and no matter how hard the work was it would be done for that purpose. I have since had second thoughts and still concede home ownership would be nice and would make life so much easier I am now much less determined to see it through.
A very young and naive view it must sound but what is the point of life if it is a trap. What is the point of the freedom of home ownership and all the rest of it enslaves you. Yes, there was a point in recent Australian history where a mining job would give you a house in a short time but those wages aren’t around in quite so large excesses anymore and housing prices have certainly seen to the rest until the inevitable and incoming crash.
I love Kropotkin’s philosophy on the voluntary commune and there is a keyword he uses in his philosophy that I wish we paid more attention to: voluntary. There is no voluntary in capitalism, there is no alternative if you don’t want to enter the trap of working for someone else’s profit your entire life. In my mind a truly free society must have a voluntary alternative, the option to say no.
Instead our birth is our consent to be exploited and everyone laughs and jeers whenever anyone says in frustrated anger “I didn’t ask to be born.” But it’s also a truthful philosophy. If a society is free it must be free to consent. So what is the alternative if you do not consent, what can you do to make life the way you imagine it? My years in the rational sciences have been dismantled in no time at all by workers frustrations and leftist philosophy.
At my work site I see the future, we have a huge mix of brand new entrants into mining, like myself, as well as very senior veterans of their fields and I see the same destiny in everyone there: bloody miserable. Everyone is unhappy but because most of them have been doing it all their lives they think that’s how they should be feeling. They put up with it because it’s all they know and they’ve got debts to pay. The other young ones are still enthusiastic for a bright future because they see lots of money. I take a different philosophy: what is the point of work if it is not for the betterment of humankind. On that view I cannot tolerate working for the sake of working and it’s why I loathed my time working at McDonald’s, I fundamentally disagreed with the very existence of our job and felt very strongly that it all could and should be automated (also felt very strongly that maccas shouldn’t exist in the first place.)
In my view automation is the savior of humankind and should be fully embraced and that requires a fundamental change about how we think about work. We have to accept that full employment cannot be achieved with automation and increasingly there will be fewer and fewer jobs for people to fulfill. Educated jobs aren’t exempt from automation either and we shouldn’t think of it as a tragedy. Every process we automate frees the people it is only under capitalism that we think it is a crying shame that people lose their jobs.
It is a legitimate philosophy to argue that the universe only exists because we are here to observe it and scientifically if we weren’t here to observe it it technically wouldn’t exist, because it hasn’t been observed. Why do we exist in this universe if not to observe it? Why should we work our whole lives in complete ignorance when there is an incomprehensibly huge universe full of creativity and learning and with so many observations to make and ideas to contemplate. There are two polar philosophies: the first is the universe exists because we observe it and therefore we should observe it to the fullest and the second is nihilism in that it is impossible to confirm the existence of the universe whether you observe it or not. But even Nihilism offers a choice even though all outcomes are the same. In capitalism we are given no choice but to obey and consume, to toil and fear, to value education as a qualification and commodity fetishism.
My days off are the only days where I see the night sky and it wounds me that so many things go unappreciated because we have to regiment our lives around work. A wage does not replace those things in life and I’m sure your annual holiday will dangle the carrot in front of you long enough to take a picture but the stick will ensure that it is not long enough to question why. I went four wheel driving and had a walk around parts of the forests of the Watagan Mountains this break with a few close friends and it must have been the first time since taking this job that I’ve simply been out in nature and not admiring it in passing. I’m under no impression that life was better when we were hunter gatherers but we certainly do benefit from having that connection with the world. Ultimately what is life if not to be enjoyed and I must seriously question if that is possible when we’re told the only way we can afford to enjoy our lives is by working hard for the duration of it.
Perhaps my perspective is skewed from mining work on the frontiers where at the moment our life is literally working, but even office work where the work may not be so demanding still has you tied up counting the hours until you knock off and the days until your next break. Life shouldn’t be spent waiting in anticipation to be allowed the small time off. To the best of our knowledge we are the most mentally capable lifeform to ever observe the universe why should we allow the bourgeois to tell us work is more important.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.