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Bob Black is one of the most imaginative and entertaining political theorists currently writing. His philosophy developed out of the New Left movement, libertarian socialism and situationism, but is particulary located in what is called the "Zero-Work Movement". Black believes that the major factor denying human freedom is not the political system but the world of work.

In essays such as The Abolition of Work (which is included in its entirety here on Everything 2), Black claims that work restricts freedom by taking up an unnecessarily large part of our time. He claims that the small amount of work necessary for the provision of food and shelter is overwhelmed by a huge amount of useless administration and unproductive labour. It is Black's contention that the genuinely necessary tasks could be packaged in a way that is creative and enjoyable, so all the work that has to be done, from making cookware to cleaning sewers, would become play and could be done by people who wanted to do it. Black points to so-called primitive hunter-gatherers who commonly work only a few hours a week, and perform highly skilled and varied labours in hunting which are very similar to the leisure pursuits of groups such as the English aristocracy.

Black's remarks on work mirror certain ideas in Karl Marx and modern marxism, that (possibly through technology) work could be made creative and the hours reduced to a minimum, but his description on the evils of the workplace gives Black a unique place as the most beloved philosopher for the wage slave. Menial work, he suggests, reduces the imagination and destroys the intellect. In The Abolition of Work, he comments of the modern worker:

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 hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.
Black's theories of work have influenced a number of science fiction writers, including Bruce Stirling's Islands in the Net.

His ideas has been criticised principally on the grounds of practicality: it may just be possible to live idly on a subsistence level in warm climates, but hunter-gathering supports far fewer people per acre than farming, and in cooler regions it is necessary to do far more work to stay alive. Critics suggest that the refusal of work may have a place as a protest, but is arrogant and elitist, and deflects attention from important issues such as guaranteeing workers' rights.

In common with many anarchist thinkers, he has spent a lot of time attacking the various other elements in anarchist, libertarian and counterculture movements, including the hugely respected philosopher Murray Bookchin. Another attack was directed against the Art Strike, which Black considered elitist. In 1996, following a dispute with publisher and author Jim Hogshire (writer of Opium for the Masses and other pro-drugs books), he tipped off the Narcotics Division of the Seattle Police Department about Hogshire's illegal activities, earning himself wide condemnation within the anarchist community.

He has also devoted a large amount of effort to attacking the right-wing Libertarian movement in the United States. In his speech and essay The Libertarian as Conservative, he argues (contrary to libertarian claims) that the state is not a major restriction on freedom: the state exists because it is efficient at allowing free-market capitalism to flourish and governs largely by consent not by force. Black suggests that most of the changes libertarians have in mind are simply a transfer of ownership rather than an essential change in the nature of society, and a libertarian society would leave intact the restrictive domination of the workplace and its bolstering institutions such as the educational system.

As to his own life and childhood, Black claims:

When I was eight a psychiatrist diagnosed me as "a bright psychoneurotic child with marked acting out behavior and possibly some mild encephalopathy which inhibits impulse control." I was kicked out of third, sixth, eighth and twelfth grades. With the educational edge this gave me over the docile I went on to get a B.A., M.A. and J.D. During the mid-1970’s I went from Yippie-tinged New Leftism to something like whatever it is I am now.' (http://www.inspiracy.com/black/timeline.html 1990; from an interview by Chris Searing in Chaotik World News and Olds (Olympia, Washington) issue #19)

Bob Black can be contacted at PO Box 1342, Albany, NY 12203-0142.

Further reading/sources

  • http://www.zpub.com/notes/black.html
  • http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/black/sp001648.html
  • http://www.inspiracy.com/black/
  • http://www.scenewash.org/lobbies/chainthinker/situationist/black/
  • http://www.notbored.org/black.html
  • http://www.seesharppress.com/black.html
  • http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/5065/smokestack.html
  • http://www.dis.org/daver/anarchism/aow.html


Note: I can find almost no biographical information about Black, so if anyone can enlighten me, I would be grateful.

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