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Bob Black

Birthdate: 4. January 1951

Robert Charles Black Jr. is an American author and anarchist. He is the author of the books The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, Beneath the Underground, Friendly Fire, Anarchy After Leftism, and Defacing the Currency, and numerous political essays.

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Works

„The demeaning system of domination I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: The demeaning system of domination I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it's not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better still — industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are "free" is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to heirarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it.

„Post-leftist anarchists are striking off in many directions. Some may find the way — better yet, the ways — to a free future.“

—  Bob Black

Source: Anarchy after Leftism (1997), Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism
Context: There is life after the left. And there is anarchy after anarchism. Post-leftist anarchists are striking off in many directions. Some may find the way — better yet, the ways — to a free future.

„You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

„No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater's problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is co-extensive with the consumption of delightful play activity. Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not—as it is now — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other's pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful.
If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work.
Workers of the world... relax! </center

„Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won't be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a "job" and an "occupation." Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their airconditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won't be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

„Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimun definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

„These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

„I was coming from the New Left of the 60’s, but I was increasingly disgruntled with the left of the 70’s.“

—  Bob Black

Preface to the Preface
Preface to The Right To Be Greedy (1983 edition)
Context: I was coming from the New Left of the 60’s, but I was increasingly disgruntled with the left of the 70’s. It retained or exaggerated all the faults of the 60’s left (such as current-events myopia, theoretical incoherence, historical amnesia and — especially — the cult of the victim) while denying or diminishing its merits, among them a sense of revolution against the totality, a sense of verve and vitality, and a sense of humor. The left demanded more sacrifice and promised less satisfaction, as if there was not already too much sacrifice and too little satisfaction. I began to wonder whether the failure of the left to root itself in a substantial social base, or even to hold on to much of what base it once had (mostly on campus, and among the intelligentsia, and in the counter-culture), might not in part derive from its own deficiencies, and not only from government repression and manipulation. Maybe the leftists were not so smart or the masses so stupid after all. Guilt-tripping might not go over very well with ordinary people who know they are too powerless to be too guilty of anything. Demands for sacrifice lack appeal for those who have already sacrificed, and been sacrificed, too much and for too long. The future promised by the left looked to be — at worst, even worse — and at best, not noticeably better than the status quo. Why rush to the barricades or, for that matter, why even bother to vote?

„The contradictions are obvious, but whether they derive from the authors’ irrationality or from their fidelity to the real quality of lived experience is not so easy to say. If "Marxism-Stirnerism" is conceivable, every orthodoxy prating of freedom or liberation is called into question, anarchism included.“

—  Bob Black

Preface to The Right To Be Greedy (1983 edition)
Context: The individualists have only worshipped their whims. The point, however, is to live them. Is this a put-on, a piece of parlor preciosity? There is more than a touch of that here. Or a mushminded exercise in incongruous eclecticism? The individualist egoist is bound to be skeptical, but he should not be too quick to deprive himself of the insights (and the entertainment!) of this unique challenge to his certitudes. The contradictions are obvious, but whether they derive from the authors’ irrationality or from their fidelity to the real quality of lived experience is not so easy to say. If "Marxism-Stirnerism" is conceivable, every orthodoxy prating of freedom or liberation is called into question, anarchism included. The only reason to read this book, as its authors would be the first to agree, is for what you can get out of it.

„Basically, revolutionaries never go far enough, and if they're not going to go far enough, they should stop upsetting people. Or killing them, for that matter.“

—  Bob Black

As quoted in "Self-publisher takes sardonic aim at all views — including his", by Linda Barnas, in The Sunday Gazette (11 November 1990), p. H7<!-- [Schenectady, New York] -->
Context: I look for the sources of domination and misery that are so deep down that they apply to the system and the apply to its supposed opposition also. … Basically, revolutionaries never go far enough, and if they're not going to go far enough, they should stop upsetting people. Or killing them, for that matter.

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„Most anarchists are, frankly, incapable of living in an autonomous cooperative manner. A lot of them aren't very bright. They tend to peruse their own classics and insider literature to the exclusion of broader knowledge of the world we live in.“

—  Bob Black

Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy (1985)
Context: My considered judgment, after years of scrutiny of, and sometimes harrowing activity in the anarchist milieu, is that anarchists are a main reason — I suspect, a sufficient reason — why anarchy remains an epithet without a prayer of a chance to be realized. Most anarchists are, frankly, incapable of living in an autonomous cooperative manner. A lot of them aren't very bright. They tend to peruse their own classics and insider literature to the exclusion of broader knowledge of the world we live in. Essentially timid, they associate with others like themselves with the tacit understanding that nobody will measure anybody else's opinions and actions against any standard of practical critical intelligence; that no one by his or her individual achievements will rise too far above the prevalent level; and, above all, that nobody challenges the shibboleths of anarchist ideology.

„If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.“

—  Bob Black

The Libertarian as Conservative (1984)
Context: You might object that what I’ve said may apply to the minarchist majority of libertarians, but not to the self-styled anarchists among them. Not so. To my mind a right-wing anarchist is just a minarchist who’d abolish the state to his own satisfaction by calling it something else. But this incestuous family squabble is no affair of mine. Both camps call for partial or complete privatization of state functions but neither questions the functions themselves. They don’t denounce what the state does, they just object to who’s doing it. This is why the people most victimized by the state display the least interest in libertarianism. Those on the receiving end of coercion don’t quibble over their coercers’ credentials. If you can’t pay or don’t want to, you don’t much care if your deprivation is called larceny or taxation or restitution or rent. If you like to control your own time, you distinguish employment from enslavement only in degree and duration.

„All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimun definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

„And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to the higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.
And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors; he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation.

„Guilt-tripping might not go over very well with ordinary people who know they are too powerless to be too guilty of anything. Demands for sacrifice lack appeal for those who have already sacrificed, and been sacrificed, too much and for too long.“

—  Bob Black

Preface to the Preface
Preface to The Right To Be Greedy (1983 edition)
Context: I was coming from the New Left of the 60’s, but I was increasingly disgruntled with the left of the 70’s. It retained or exaggerated all the faults of the 60’s left (such as current-events myopia, theoretical incoherence, historical amnesia and — especially — the cult of the victim) while denying or diminishing its merits, among them a sense of revolution against the totality, a sense of verve and vitality, and a sense of humor. The left demanded more sacrifice and promised less satisfaction, as if there was not already too much sacrifice and too little satisfaction. I began to wonder whether the failure of the left to root itself in a substantial social base, or even to hold on to much of what base it once had (mostly on campus, and among the intelligentsia, and in the counter-culture), might not in part derive from its own deficiencies, and not only from government repression and manipulation. Maybe the leftists were not so smart or the masses so stupid after all. Guilt-tripping might not go over very well with ordinary people who know they are too powerless to be too guilty of anything. Demands for sacrifice lack appeal for those who have already sacrificed, and been sacrificed, too much and for too long. The future promised by the left looked to be — at worst, even worse — and at best, not noticeably better than the status quo. Why rush to the barricades or, for that matter, why even bother to vote?

„If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work.
Workers of the world. . . relax!“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater's problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is co-extensive with the consumption of delightful play activity. Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not—as it is now — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other's pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful.
If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work.
Workers of the world... relax! </center

„Most libertarians think of themselves as in some sense egoists. If they believe in rights, they believe these rights belong to them as individuals. If not, they nonetheless look to themselves and others as so many individuals possessed of power to be reckoned with. Either way, they assume that the opposite of egoism is altruism.“

—  Bob Black

The altruists, Christian or Maoist, agree. A cozy accomodation; and, I submit, a suspicious one. What if this antagonistic intedependence, this reciprocal reliance reflects and conceals an accord? Could egoism be altruism’s loyal opposition?
Preface to The Right To Be Greedy (1983 edition)

„The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimun definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

„Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work.“

—  Bob Black, book The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work (1985)
Context: Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at our watches. The only thing "free" about so-called free time is that it doesn't cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don't do that. Lathes and typewriters don't do that. But workers do.

„You can’t treat values like workers, hiring and firing them at will and assigning each a place in an imposed division of labor. The taste for freedom and pleasure can’t be compartmentalized.“

—  Bob Black

The Libertarian as Conservative (1984)
Context: Murray Rothbard thinks egalitarianism is a revolt against nature, but his day is 24 hours long, just like everybody else’s. If you spend most of your waking life taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life. Incapable of living a life of liberty, you’ll settle for one of its ideological representations, like libertarianism. You can’t treat values like workers, hiring and firing them at will and assigning each a place in an imposed division of labor. The taste for freedom and pleasure can’t be compartmentalized.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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