I don’t think it’s interesting to continue to bemoan my place in this capitalist system. It seems as though the grievances of the educated semi-poor have been fairly well aired by this point in history and whatever wrongs I may have suffered mean very little and hurt very superficially compared to the traumatic injuries of those whose poverty isn’t cushioned by lucky birth. What I mean is, though I am poor by certain standards, I am also a white American with a college education and a middle class background. So in the grand scheme I’m not actually poor at all.
Yet here I am feeling very poor today.
My primary qualm
with capitalism is that it organizes and conceives of the world in terms of growth or profit. Within it, humanity is only a variable to the equation. The work force has a value separate to that less tangible, less practical, value of human life. Human life is subverted to an after thought or something only attributed to those in whom we see direct evidence of it.
Or, to say it less convoluted, I know Jeff personally, Jeff is a friend, Jeff is a full person to me and his happiness and continued existence means something to me. I don’t know who picked the apple I am eating, and so apple has more direct, relatable value to me than the person who picked it.
Maybe I’m off track. Because what’s making me feel poor today is the evidence of my own inhumanity in this system.
I work in a field with what they call a “high turn-over”, which is a euphemistic way of saying that I am completely replaceable. No matter how good or bad I am at my job, as an individual within the company I am meaningless. In terms of profit and cost there is so little invested in me that it would be easier to replace me than it would be to make any effort to keep me.
So here’s the age old wail of the waitress; not a very tragic one perhaps, but still it’s very catchy.
I know it’s just about a cultural tradition in this country to be unhappy in your work yet still hold on to some insane belief that it is your work that gives you value. In terms of my work I feel absolutely valueless.
I am supposed, my grandmother tells me, to have a respect for my employers for their magnanimous gifts of wages and work. But I think if I were to look at it realistically I should value the company that I work for as much as they value me, and they don’t actually value me because they don’t acctually pay me. My money comes almost exclusively from tips. And the support staff that works with me (bussers, hosts, ect.) much of their wages don’t come from the company either but are taken out of a percentage of my tips (based on the sales of each table, by the way, not how much I am actually paid by those tables) so realistically they work for me and I work for the customer and the company is more of a facilitator than a benefactor.
It’s not interesting, nor particularly tragic. I don’t make much, but I’ve got no room to complain when staked against the truly poor.
But still, it’s a desperately inhuman way to make a living. The company I work for doesn’t value me because they invest nothing in me. The customers I serve don’t value me because, in the interest of eliciting my living from people who are not actually bound to provide it to me, I have to become this smiling void of acquiescence. I don’t value myself, because I am an elitist who is sucked into adherence to that system of prestige which values a title and a salary above a face and a personhood.
I am disposable.
I once worked at a restaurant in Uptown, a fancy and expensive place full of fancy and expensive people. I was shocked my first day when, after using a small white towel to clean a table I asked where the laundry went and was told that they didn’t send the towels to the laundry. They threw them away because it was cheaper to buy new ones then it was to send the old ones to be cleaned.
I don’t mean to complain, but somedays I feel an awful lot like that towel.