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Antiwork’s real meaning got lost in translation during Fox interview

Bruno Cooke January 27, 2022
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Fox News’ Jesse Watters spoke to one of the moderators of Reddit’s r/antiwork forum yesterday (Wednesday, 26 January 2022), meaning the antiwork movement now has some mainstream presence – but what does the movement stand for, and how does the subreddit embody it?

‘Antiwork’ meaning explored after Fox News interview goes viral

First things first: “antiwork” refers to two things, a movement (or ethic), and a specific subreddit. 

The antiwork (or anti-work) movement goes back at least as far as 1881. In that year, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche penned The Dawn, in which he critiques the “glorification of ‘work’”.

Among other things, he compares the notion of “impersonal activity for the public benefit” (i.e., work) to a sort of silent police: “It keeps everybody in harness and powerfully obstructs the development of reason, of covetousness, of the desire for independence”.

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Other notable figures who have contributed meaning to the antiwork movement include British polymath Bertrand Russell, author of In Praise Of Idleness; Roman Catholic priest and theologian Ivan Illich, who wrote The Right To Useful Unemployment; and American anarchist Bob Black, whose 1985 book The Abolition Of Work criticises work for (among other things) the simple fact it takes the form of “jobs”.

Others have since developed these ideas.

What is the subreddit /antiwork all about?

With its former slogan – “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!” – Reddit’s r/antiwork community forum associates itself snugly with the antiwork movement. 

It started on 14 August 2013 – the community will be nine years old this year. It has, at time of writing, 1.7 million members, or “Idlers”.

The group’s popularity soared in 2021, clocking an influx of almost a million members. One of the ways it has acquired the limelight is through organised actions. For example, in 2021 it spammed cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s job portal to support striking workers, and made headline news in the process.

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The Washington Post described the group as “one of the internet’s biggest ‘Great Resignation’ discussion boards”.

How has the meaning of ‘antiwork’ changed over time?

The antiwork ethic has been a thing for a long time – more than 140 years, but potentially longer. 

For Nietzsche, work used up “a tremendous amount of nervous energy” that would be better spent in “reflection, brooding, dreaming, worry, love and hatred”.

Meanwhile, for American architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller, people’s “true business” should be “to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living”. In other words, work represents a distraction from more important things.

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Numerous opinion pieces in major newspapers and magazines (Slate, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, The Guardian, Vice) have expressed solidarity with members of the antiwork movement citing, among other things, the erosion of workers’ rights, burnout, and a lack of child and elder care.

Its meaning may have changed, but the antiwork movement has re-entered the public imagination in recent years.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.