Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

* What's here and what is this site all about?
* I got here while searching for The Leisure Party. What happened to that site?
* Are you really anti-work? That seems totally utopian and unrealistic.
* So who are you anyway? Who's behind this effort?
* So how did you get started?
* What inspired CLAWS?
* What does the CLAWS name mean?
* So are you people a bunch of anarchists (commies, socialists, Marxists, Libertarians, hippies, punks, new-agers, slackers?)
* Are you against government?
* Are you some kind of cult?
* Why are you linked to social change movements, like feminism?
* I'm suspicious of this commie pinko stuff.
* Couldn't I just marry a rich person or something?
* OK, I'm convinced. But what now? I still hate my job!
* What else can I try?
* I've read lots of books already, but I still don't know what to do!
* Why do you object to welfare recipients having to work for their benefits?
* Once I quit my job, where does my next meal come from? Where do I live after I get evicted?

Q: What's here and what is this all about?

A: Our site, and our organization, is devoted to addressing the question "why work?" as well as providing new ways to think about the prevailing work ethic and the meaning of leisure. We've collected, in one convenient location, many materials dealing with that question - rants and personal stories, essays, theories, quotations, book recommendations, and plenty of links.

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Q: I found your site while searching for The Leisure Party. What happened to that site?

A: Sarah Nelson, creator of The Leisure Party, decided to take a "sabbatical" of sorts, and has taken the site offline. We share a similar mission, so with her consent, we have integrated the material from her site into the CLAWS site. Nearly everything that was on The Leisure Party site is now here.

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Q: Are you really anti-work? That seems totally utopian and unrealistic.

A: We don't think so, but the answer to that question depends on your definition of work, leisure, and your attitudes about such things. See our essays "Are we anti-work?" and "What is Leisure?" for a more detailed explanation.

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Q: So who are you anyway? Who's behind this effort?

A: We're a group of people who share a common goal of eliminating the wage slavery mindset in our lives and in society. The site itself is maintained and (sporadically) updated by D. JoAnne Swanson, our founder, who lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where she works (with love, of course) as a freelance writer. Material has been contributed by CLAWS sympathizers all over the world.

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Q: So how did you get started?

A: In our founder's living room, back in 1998. We started out with in-person support group meetings only, and then as interest grew we launched this site in March 1999, partly as a way to reach people and deal with the many questions we were getting about our mission.

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Q: What inspired CLAWS?

A: A dream our founder had in September 1998, involving the image of an eagle with talons outstretched, representing freedom. In early 1999, she found the Leisure Party discussion list (now defunct), where Sarah Nelson's work was a strong source of inspiration. Here's Sarah Nelson on jobs, for example: "Jobs" were and still are being hailed as some kind of salvation, rather than simply sources of income. I felt compelled to express myself and say, "Hey, I enjoy being unemployed, I don't want a "job" in the conventional sense and my self-esteem is intact. There is already far too much work being done in the world and most of it is pointless. Does anyone agree?"

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Q: What does the CLAWS name mean?

A: We'll describe each part of our name separately. "Creating" is generally pretty well understood. Creativity flows from the wellspring of human intelligence, and we like to think of ourselves as creators, as opposed to destroyers.

"Livable" means different things to different people, but we are using it to represent the idea of true freedom from the mindset that keeps people trapped in jobs they don't like for the sake of money. Livable means workable, practical in each person's life.

"Alternatives" are non-mainstream choices. We seek to create alternatives to the limited ways of thinking that lead people to think they have only two choices: take a "job" or face the poorhouse. Life is not a zero-sum game!

Wage slavery: For our purposes, we describe it as "the state of being whereby, faced with the perceived threat of poverty or financial ruin, one feels compelled to perform alienated labor in a industrialized, capitalist society for wages." It has both an individual and a social/economic/political component. In practice, wage slavery can describe a broad range of feelings and situations.

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Q: So are you people a bunch of anarchists (commies, socialists, Marxists, Libertarians, hippies, punks, new-agers, slackers, etc.) or something?

A: All of the above, and none of the above. We're diverse, and we like it that way. Some of us identify with a particular political party, organization, spiritual group, or subculture. Others don't. Each of us brings something different to CLAWS, but we all have something in common: A desire for liberation and freedom from the wage-slave treadmill. We define for ourselves what that liberation looks like; no two paths are the same. We're here because we are engaged in creating new ways of life that work for us as we help each other along the way. You don't have to adhere to a particular belief system or affiliate with any specific ideology to be a CLAWS member or sympathizer.

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Q: Your reading recommendations include materials that are critical of the capitalist system, government, and so forth. Are you against government? Wouldn't that make you anarchists?

A: CLAWS does not advocate overthrow of the government or the capitalist system by any violent or coercive means. We are not necessarily "against" government, but most of us believe that sweeping changes need to be made both individually and socially, and these changes start with each of us. We would rather define ourselves and our mission by what we are for rather than what we are against, frankly. CLAWS is engaged in creating alternatives to the capitalist, white male dominated, corporate-dominated wage-slavery system. We don't believe that "external" changes, made through legislation and political action, are enough. We don't wish to discredit some of the great contributions that political activists and legislators have made, and we encourage you to get involved in social reform if that is your calling; but our focus is on the internal work that each of us can do as individuals and in our communities. We believe that the only route to real, lasting change must begin within our minds and hearts. We want to work alongside the activists and others, not in opposition to them.

One of the reasons we don't clearly identify ourselves as socialists, libertarians, "commies", Marxists, etc., is that we don't necessarily agree with all the tenets of any of those philosophies or political parties. We often get classified as leftists, anarchists, socialists, freethinkers, and so forth, but we maintain that our strength lies in our diversity and our willingness to examine all points of view and choose for ourselves what we will stand for.

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Q: What is your position on religion and spirituality? Are you some kind of cult?

A: There isn't anything cultish about us because we have no leaders, no dogma, nothing to worship, and no requirements for membership.

We don't have an official position on religion, because we each need to find our own path. We are Zen Buddhists, Pagans, Taoists, Christians, Discordians, athiests, agnostics, freethinkers, and much more. Sometimes we engage in critical discourse which addresses the influence of certain religious ideas on the work ethic, but we are doing so in order to make it clear that we support choice and freedom rather than coercion. We do, however, have a strong philosophical bias toward the examined life: we want to encourage you to think, really think, about the choices you make in life and what factors may be influencing them.

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Q: Why are you linked to social change movements like environmentalism, sustainable living, feminism, anti-racism, etc.?

A: We share many common goals and ideas with these groups. We feel it is to everyone's benefit to work together toward a more free and humane world.

We recognize that we have a certain built-in bias simply by virtue of the fact that many of us were born into privileged, white, nuclear, heterosexual, patriarchal, middle-class families. For example, we know that the concept of "voluntary simplicity" only has meaning if you've already reached a certain level of comfort to begin with, and this applies to the middle and upper classes. We also recognize that, in many cases, this privilege has been set into place and kept there by the silence of dissenters. We feel that speaking out about it and acknowledging our bias is a small but important step toward dismantling it; we have to start where we are.

We struggle with this one a lot. We'd like to better address the needs of people who weren't born with such privilege. The work ethic and "the system" as it exists affects all of us, and we want to explore alternatives.

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Q: I'm suspicious of this commie pinko stuff.

A: That's certainly your prerogative. We certainly wouldn't describe ourselves as "commie pinkos", except perhaps in jest. CLAWS isn't for everyone, but we believe in what we're doing. We don't pretend to be unbiased, though we are more than willing to engage in open discussion of that bias.

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Q: Why should I have to transform my thinking and attitudes to avoid being a wage slave? Couldn't I just marry a rich person or something?

A: Well, it's certainly your prerogative to seek a rich partner if you wish. CLAWS members have talked about this issue in meetings, actually. Several of us have considered that option at times in our lives--until we realized, that is, that if we continue to seek security in money, whether through normal 9-5 jobs or through marrying a rich person, we'll never truly feel secure. We think that kind of security is an illusion (albeit a seductive one). So we think you should ask yourself if this is what you really want. Think long and hard about whether it would address the problem in a way that satisfies you. In modern western cultures, the accepted norm is to marry for love. Would you marry someone for monetary reasons? (We're not trying to judge you if you would…we're just trying to get you to think). Would you discuss this openly with your partner, if so? If not, why not?

If you are seeking to partner with someone for love AND money, good luck. We just hope you don't end up spending your life waiting. We recommend you take action now, on your own - whether you are partnered or not - to create a life you can love. We'd be willing to bet the effort, and the changes it engenders in you, will make you more attractive to potential partners anyway, and that's certainly a nice side effect, isn't it? Then, if you find a wealthy partner, it will be like icing on the cake, rather than your sole source of hope. And if you don't, you'll still have the satisfaction of knowing you are living your life in accord with your real desires, which is a very rich reward.

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Q: OK, I'm convinced. But what now? I still hate my job!

A: You could start by reading a few of our suggested books. Books are an ideal way to begin the transition from wage slavery to liberation, because you can read them at your leisure, and take time to fully digest the material. Often there are detailed lists of related reading materials, groups, and other resources in the back of these books that will provide a jumping-off point for you to continue your exploration. Not all the books we recommend will apply to your situation, of course, but as always, we suggest you take what you can use, what suits your tastes, and forget about the rest.

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Q: What else can I try?

A: You could follow the sage advice of Sarah Nelson:
"You, as an individual, can decide right now to start listening to that tiny voice inside, the one you've pushed aside for so long, the voice that asks "how come I have to spend all this time doing all this stuff I don't really want to do?" Somewhere deep inside you, you know that you were meant for greater things; you know that you came to this planet to play; you know that there's a part of you that simply wants to be happy. As soon as you begin to allow this voice in you to speak, you will be guided, you will know what to do. The "right" course of action will become clear."

Also, finding a community of like-minded people can do wonders. There are many ways to go about this. There are also some Usenet newsgroups discussing labor issues and other topics related to a life free of wage slavery, such as alt.society.labor-unions or alt.society.sustainable. The postings from these groups are searchable through Google.

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Q: I've read lots of books already, including many of the ones you've suggested. But I still don't know what to do!

A: Your life is unique. Your answers are going to come from inside you, not from a book or from us. Books can kindle ideas, give you suggestions, or introduce new ways of thinking, but they cannot solve your problems.

We are called CREATING Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery for a reason: we create alternatives as we go through life. We don't have all the answers and we don't pretend to. We can't give you a script, a step-by-step guide for how to do it, or a canned answer—we can only share our experiences, point the way to resources, warn you about possible pitfalls, commiserate with your frustration, and tell you what has worked for us. The rest is really up to you.

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Q: What's your objection to welfare recipients having to work for their benefits, or "workfare" programs? I think welfare recipients should work for their benefits. It helps build some sort of work ethic in people. Those that find work oppressive are those that need this ethic the most.

Though I am generally a sympathetic person, I have no sympathy for those that refuse to work to make their lives better. Nothing in this world is free for me or anyone else, so why should it be for those who are down on their luck? Working will build something in these people that they have never experienced, though they may not realize that. If they are not willing to work for something, they do not deserve it. Exceptions might be made for extenuating circumstances, such as severe disability or handicap, but if more people end up homeless or hungry because some find work "oppressive," too bad, it's their problem then. They were offered an opportunity and they blew it. They can come back when they are ready to take a little responsibility.

A: The position you take here is, sadly, very common. The problem with this position is that it is not supported by any research, but instead is often passed along by word-of-mouth as (questionable) "common sense." It is a major part of the work ethic we at CLAWS are working to eliminate.

Unfortunately, most people do not have a clear understanding of the factors which link individual actions to larger social forces. Lacking this understanding, they often make the error of placing the blame on the individual's work ethic or someone being "down on their luck" instead of examining the deeper social, political and economic forces which cause things like unemployment and the need for welfare.

We face a no-win dilemma. On the one hand, we hear from folks all over the political spectrum that any failure to find a job must be due to some fault of the individual. If we take the social-political milieu and other cultural factors into account, we are often told we're "playing victim", making excuses, and avoiding responsibility. On the other, if we are "responsible" and take the first job offered to us, often we must endure awful, soul-killing conditions for low pay, all so we can help line the pockets of the upper classes. (If you doubt this, take a look at Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent book "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America".) This no-win dilemma sets a pernicious trap, creating endless guilt for those who don't have jobs and wage slavery for those who do. Sounds like a Faustian deal to us.

It is important to note that none of what we're saying excuses individuals from taking responsibility. We do not advocate hopelessness, nihilism, or a "victim" mindset - in other words, seeing the system and one's circumstances as inherent, unchanging limitations, and endlessly lamenting one's lot in life. We acknowledge the social, structural factors involved in wage slavery, but we also believe strongly in mining our circumstances in life for hidden opportunities. Opportunities for what, you may say? Well, how about starting with the growth of our character, and for the enrichment of our community spirit?

Keep in mind that getting jobs for people is extremely difficult even under the best of conditions. Would you hire someone who was homeless, broke, or "down on their luck"? And if YOU were the one who needed a job, how do you think you'd feel about working if the only job available to you were, for example, working 50 hours a week for minimum wage on an assembly line under hazardous conditions? These issues are complicated by race, class, sexual orientation, disability status, appearance, and gender factors which are rooted deep in our history and our attitudes.

We'd also like to offer a note of caution about assuming that work itself teaches people responsibility. That is an oversimplification of the issue, even though it might be true in certain circumstances.

We at CLAWS believe that efforts should be devoted to generating viable alternatives to traditional jobs, because work as we have known it under industrial capitalism has created widespread misery and encouraged the idea that a job is valuable mostly for the paycheck it provides - never mind what one does "for a living." We don't approve of "workfare" programs, in part, because we believe they are based on a work ethic and underlying assumptions that create the kind of double-bind we mentioned above. The question to ask here, we believe, is not "should needy folks work for their benefits?" but "How can we provide for everyone's basic needs without relying on providing traditional jobs to everyone?"

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Q: This site has a lot of content on why not to work, but it leaves out important knowledge, such as HOW IN HELL TO SURVIVE without money and without government getting on your back about it.

Everything on this site beats around the bush about how you have to "change your attitude", and how you don't really need money to eat and stay out of the freezing cold, and how you can do anything you want without incurring expenses.

Once I quit my job, where does my next meal come from? Where do I live after I get evicted from my apartment or after the bank forecloses on my house?

A: Your question has a lot of content on why you're worried about your finances and your survival after quitting your job, but it leaves out important knowledge, such as: What kind of life do you WANT, deep down in your heart? If you already know what kind of life you want, do you really believe you can do it? What would you REALLY do to have it? How much money would it take to sustain it, and would you be willing to learn to live more simply in order to be job-free? What would you be doing if money were no issue, if you didn't have to "earn a living?" Having answers to these questions will help you come up with a practical plan to design a life free of wage-slavery.

We don't mean to sound facetious here--we take your question very seriously despite the lighthearted tone of this reply. We aren't saying that it's easy, in a capitalist system rooted in a puritan work ethic, to quit your job when it's your only source of income--particularly if you live alone, are in debt, support a family, or have become addicted to certain conveniences.

Still, there are many options for surviving if you quit your job. We have a question (well, actually, several) for you to ask yourself in return: What kinds of things are you willing to do in order to ensure that you can stay job-free? Eat at a soup kitchen? Live with friends? Move to a rural area, build your own mortgage-free home, and grow your own food? Sell your car or other possessions? You don't HAVE to do any of these things, but they are options, at least. And must you do it immediately? Why not think about making a long-term plan for quitting, if it would be too threatening to quit now? And let's not forget community. This is a key factor, and all too often overlooked. Your question did not mention any friends, family, or other folks who might be involved in your life. Why not discuss your dissatisfaction with them and see if all of you can work something out together? Maybe a friend would be willing to let you take over her spare room in exchange for your part-time services as a groundskeeper, and no money would change hands yet you'd have a place to live. The point is that there are options--but the best way to see them is to shift your frame of reference and treat this as a social, community problem and not just an individual one.

Your question sounds very anxious, and we'd like to respectfully suggest that you give a bit more thought to exactly what it is that frightens you, and take steps to prevent such things before you hand in your resignation letter.

We do not mean to minimize the difficulties people face under this inhumane system. None of us at CLAWS have found a way to live entirely outside of the system. In fact, we think it's important to acknowledge that any individual choices are necessarily going to be limited, and take this into account when you make a plan for eventual freedom from wage slavery. We don't advise you as an individual to quit your job suddenly with no "backup plan." Almost all of us who have achieved some measure of freedom from wage slavery have done so by compromising, "doing our time" in jobs before managing to escape partially. For example: If you decide you want to build your own inexpensive earthen house, say, as part of a strategy to free yourself from mortgages and rent (and thus the need to work as often at paying jobs), you still need to have a certain amount of money and/or community resources and solidarity to support yourself while you're going about this task. How will you go about bringing that into your life? We suggest you think about it.

In addition, we think there's a possibility that you may have misinterpreted the essential message of the CLAWS site. We don't presume that no one should do anything that resembles work. There is a difference between work and jobs. (See the definitions at the beginning of our founder's essay, "What I Learned When I Quit My Job: Part One," for more on this).

Work can be done joyfully, meaningfully. "Jobs" are often just a meal ticket, no more, no less. We are not "anti-work"; we are anti-wage-slavery. People can do work, and make money, without being wage slaves. You can even have a "regular" job without being a wage slave, although our bureaucratic, profit-at-any-cost oriented society makes it quite difficult.

We dispute the notion that work EQUALS wage slavery. We want to see a new concept of work very different from the one that is dominant right now, and we think that starts with your beliefs and attitudes. They're much more powerful than you may think. They shape your thoughts and your actions. It's not that your thoughts are all that matter, though! In this system, thought can only get you so far. We know that. We don't wish to promote some cheap new-age message about personal growth that makes it sound as though you, as an individual, can overcome all possible limitations. We're not that naive. But we do believe that you have more power than the dominant ideology would have you believe!

To say that our site gives the impression that "you can do anything you want without incurring expenses" is to oversimplify our message to the point of unintelligibility. What we're saying is more nuanced than that. We do believe you can do many things you want, though, if you are truly committed to doing whatever it takes to make it happen. For example...if you have friends who will give you a meal, you don't need money to eat. If you are willing to go to a soup kitchen for dinner, you don't need money. It helps, but you don't truly NEED it. And on and on. The same goes for any choice you make in life. Money can help, but it's not the whole story. If you believe the solution to your woes is "more money", you'll overlook other ways to achieve your goals.

If you base all actions on the deeply-held (and often unconscious) assumptions that

1) the only viable way to get physical needs met is through having money
2) the only viable way to get enough money is through jobs

then jobs will probably seem like a necessary evil, and it will be hard to envision other ways of getting your needs met. Other ways either won't occur to you at all, or you'll tend to dismiss them out of hand as "impractical" or some such before ever giving them serious consideration.

The need to earn money is only part of the story. Wage slavery has its roots in the belief, conscious or not, that the ONLY way to earn enough money is to do something you'd rather not do, and that you're trapped in that situation indefinitely because of financial concerns.

As a final note, please don't assume that our focus on encouraging you to change your attitude and figure out what you want means that we're shaking our collective finger at you, or that we think you're to blame if you feel like a wage slave. We know that society is set up to make income-producing options other than a job extremely difficult to put into practice, and frankly, this fact pisses us off to no end. That's why we took the time to create this site--in the hopes that, if enough of us see through the lies, social change will happen on a wide scale!

It's easy to fall into the kind of thinking that blames the individual for her/his problems, and we discourage that. It's also easy to blame "society" or "the system" for individual problems, but that is a dead-end street as well. We recommend shifting your focus off the blame game entirely and placing it on "how can I/we live a life free of wage slavery?" If you ask this question in earnest, and trust yourself to find the answers that will work for you, guidance will come to you in some form. Listen for it, and act on it!

We sympathize with your worries, since most of us have faced them sooner or later. But we still maintain that a shift in attitude is the first and most important step toward freeing oneself from wage slavery. Not the ONLY step, mind you--just the FIRST one. Figuring out the mechanics of the practical stuff--the "how can I do this" part--comes much easier after the shift in attitude, not before. These ideas can be slippery and subtle at times. Don't minimize the emotional struggles involved; we've found that they are very deeply rooted and are not likely to vanish overnight.

The focus of CLAWS is re-thinking the work ethic, so we have gone into great depth on attitude because we've found through experience that guilt about laziness and other relics of the Puritan work ethic run very deep in capitalist cultures. Thus, shifting our attitudes is the level we want to focus on in our quest for freedom from wage slavery. However, again and again our readers have asked us for ideas, suggestions and true stories from real people who live job-free lives or are working toward them, so we've put together a "practical ideas for surviving without a job" list from our e-mail discussion list and from other supporters. It has come to our attention that such suggestions are fairly difficult to find, and we'd like to remedy that. We hope you find ours useful!

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