Sunday, July 20, 2008

Death from Overwork

I came across an article today in the Mainichi Shinbun with the headline, "Restaurant manager died from overwork, rules labor office" (original Mainichi Shinbun article). This poor guy was the manager of a Skylark restaurant, which is the Japanese equivalent of say, Denney's. In my opinion, the very existence of a term meaning "death from overwork"--karoushi 過労死 in Japanese--calls into question the dominant enterprises of "modernization" and capitalism.

Not that work itself is bad--I like work; it's a basic aspect of human life. The selling of one's labor however, to the profiteers of a restaurant for example, has the tendency to divorce humans from the non-commercial aspects of their work. Marxists, of course, have discussed this alienation for over a century now. Recently, here in Otaki I've been thinking about it more and more. It's a mixed bag, many villagers work jobs to earn money, but most families also maintain fields and rice paddies from which they are able to produce a good portion of their daily food.

July has brought a wealth of fresh vegetables from neighbors and friends; plus, a few tomatoes from our own garden. In contemporary Japan, where stories of outdated food being relabelled, imports containing traces of deadly chemicals, and needles being found in frozen foods abound, recieving gifts of fresh vegetables bring with them a sense of peace. In addition, these gifts bring with them the social rewards of friendship and support: conversation, comraderie, and the chance to reciprocate. Veggies Chizuko and I recieve are answered with fresh baked banana bread, potato salad, or donuts.

Capitalist transactions, of course, involve little, if any, social interaction and reciprocation. This fact, in and of itself, is not bad; I don't think. However, it seems to me that the creation of monetary values for goods and services opens the door for lives of humans to be subverted to the accumulation of capital--and to death from overwork.

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