aNewDomain — It’s alright to complain.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak, a whiner or that you won’t take any action. It doesn’t mean you’re blaming others for your troubles and failing to take responsibility. It means you see what’s wrong, or unjust or problematic, and that you have the courage to talk about it, to weigh in.
When I was struggling to break into academia, I saw the systemic injustices perpetrated against the adjunct, part-time, contingent workforce. I wrote a fair amount about it, talked about it. And people sometimes said: Why don’t you quit complaining and just work harder?
The truth is, things have gotten so hard in academia that working harder is unlikely to produce any results, and it might even be counter-productive. Most of us are still part-time, contingent workers without benefits. I didn’t find my way in, I just quit really trying. Contingent workers like us can be fired at any time for no reason or the wrong reasons.
One of my schools has instituted a faculty development program – if we work a bunch of unpaid hours, do essentially a research project, they might give us a small raise. Maybe. But a small raise isn’t going to solve my financial problems.
And working for free isn’t going to improve the institution’s perception of my worth.
Now I could work harder. I could work a lot harder, turn my two adjunct positions into 80 hours a week of mostly uncompensated labor. At the end of all that, I probably still wouldn’t be full-time, and the systemic problems would not be solved.
Complaining – educating people about those systemic issues – is the only reasonable means of redress.
These days, I’m a writer as much as a teacher, and a lot of the problems of academia are also prevalent in writing. This has a lot to do with a really shitty economy. Everyone needs to make a living, the only jobs left tend to be low-wage service jobs, corporations that downsized eight years ago aren’t sizing back up.
People are willing to work for cheap because it beats not working.
In the literary world, I see people giving their books away for free, or for 99 cents. A lot of those books are worth real money. There are just so many books, the only way to cut through the noise seems to be to give them away. Self-publishing has acted like file-sharing on the music community: It’s put a lot of downward pressure on values. Anyone can publish, and they do, and if your book isn’t a buck or less, there can be a lot of pressure to drop the price. To work, as it were, for free or next to free.
And, periodically, we get told to suck it up. Quit complaining, stand on your merits, work harder. The thing is, it likely doesn’t matter how hard we work. The number of writers whose success or failure is riding on a thin line of demarcation between working just this hard and just that much harder is vanishingly small.
Complaining is more than blaming my problems on society. It’s about challenging the values of society.
Don’t art, music and literature matter to you anymore?
Doesn’t labor matter? What about civil rights?
Because there are other groups of people who we tell to work harder and quit complaining.
Do you blame white people for all your problems, or do you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? That’s a question all racists ask in one form or another all the time, every day. So there’s systematic racism and structural violence? What do you want me to do about it? You want everything for free, don’t you?
It never stops.
People just want a fair shot, is all. The number of poor people whose financial success or failure depends on how hard they are working right now is vanishingly small. Working harder isn’t going to solve your problems. Neither is complaining about how it’s all impossible. But you work harder anyway. That’s a core American value, one that isn’t present more in rich than poor. You work hard, and you do so with full knowledge of what you’re up against.
If you work hard, you might make it. If you don’t work hard, you almost certainly won’t make it. And if you educate people about the social justice issues, they have an opportunity to change. Our other core American value is blaming the victim and, when you complain, that’s often people’s first resort. But we work hard for a low chance of success.
We try to show you what the issues are for the same reason: Sometimes it works.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover image: MsSaraKelly (Complain More) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; image one: Prospect.org, All Rights Reserved.
The Working Poor infographic, via: Sparkaction.org, All Rights Reserved.