top of page

Dismantling the System โœŠ๐ŸฟโœŠ๐ŸพโœŠ๐ŸฝโœŠ๐ŸผโœŠ๐ŸปโœŠ




The world of work has lots of expectations and rules: the way people behave, the way we dress, the amount of time we work and not work, our capacity for handling stress, these are all often unspoken and unexamined assumptions about the way that work "should be".

We expect all people, regardless of their personal abilities, morals and capacity, to conform to these expectations. We do this to the extent where we force people to overrule their innate needs to function within this system. And then as every generation enters the workforce we wonder why they're so different from us; why they "can't handle" what we can. But we've just become acclimated to work culture and to its abuses (not even seeing them as abuses anymore), and pass on the wounds that we have suffered, just as parents pass on their wounds to their children.

But the times are changing, and there are change-makers who are deciding to take a different path. This week's episode of The Hearth is the first of a 2-part miniseries that looks deeper at how we created our current agreements about what is and isn't "work". This episode examines the power dynamics in Europe that shaped the nature of work into what it is today, specifically looking into the development and exportation of systems of oppression.

I was driven to this research because I hear a lot about "systems of oppression" being at fault for prejudices we experience today. I wanted to understand really how those systems came into being, uncovering the unspoken. It turns out that story goes much further back than the research that I have conducted so far, but it's a start, and I'm grateful to be able to share it with you now.



Hello brave souls and welcome to the Hearth.

For the past few solo episodes I've shared some of the ways to prioritize rest, healing and downtime to be able to fully embody purpose in work and for me personally part of that purpose is to share what I have learned about the use of power and how it has shaped work into what it is today.

I think that as business owners, owners or leaders or you know heads of departments, executive directors, we have a lot of power and we assume business assume that we must use that power in a certain kind of way. That is currently socially acceptable. And that by doing that we actually create inequities. And that for those of us who want to not perpetuate the inequities of the past, it requires us to take an in depth look into how systems of power have been and how they have transitioned over hundreds, if not 1000s of years and especially a trends that have to do with workers and the workforce

I've been doing research on this for decades, like literally two decades. And this is the first time that I'm sharing like a real totality of this work. All at once in this form. And and it's going to happen in two episodes. So this episode is going to focus on power structures that affect the society and the workplace up until the 20th century. So up until 1900. And then the next episode is going to talk about the shifts that happened at the end of the 19th century and continuing until today. Because there's a pretty big shift that happens there.

And that really affects the structure and agreements of the workplace. A lot of the work that I do with human resources is like explaining all of that part of it that I don't often get to talk about this part of it that I'm going to be sharing today.

So what sort of led me to putting together this body of work in its current iteration to share is that in early 2022 I read a report by Pew Research that was inquiring into the great resignation. So they interviewed tons of people who had resigned from their jobs during that sort of 2021 period of time, and they asked them a lot of questions. But, you know, one question that they asked was, what were the primary reasons for you leaving your job and about 67% of people left their jobs, to try to make more money or to try to get a promotion and I see those two as pretty similar things. The numbers were actually the same. So you know, making more money and getting a promotion tend to coincide with one another. And then about 50% I think might have been a little bit more than 50%. That's half. Were leaving because they felt disrespected. And then these numbers get higher when you look both at younger generations of workers and at people of color. Within the study.

And so, you know, later in 2022, quiet quitting became a thing and it just became apparent to me that there are trends that are identified in the workforce, that are really symptoms of greater structural and power dynamics that are unjust, that are intrinsic to how many workplaces operate, and that going back 10 years or 20 years wasn't going to really even 100 years wasn't really going to get at that information that I needed personally in order to understand how we got to the place that we are at today.

Where 50% of people class of people are leaving their jobs because they feel disrespected. More than half of people who are leaving their jobs are doing it to make more money. They don't feel like they can do that with the job that they have, right how did we get to that place?

And um, so I've already talked about some you know, in these previous episodes, I have talked about some of the things that are that can help you as a leader, and people who are workers to set expectations and boundaries around capacity and to have skills for communication that can help to navigate these issues when they come up issues of not making enough money, issues of you know, why don't I get a promotion and issues of feeling disrespected, creating safe space, so we can talk about that if it happens.

And so, I started with those things. You know, trauma informed approach building capacity for rest, and undertaking cycles of service and having an understanding of cycles of service in order to counteract the unsustainable pressures of the workplace. But, but the root cause of why people are unhappy at work, really is this power structure.

And so before we dive into this I want to let you know that we that I will talk about some very sensitive topics in this episode. And it is because the way we have created work has been caused by and dependent on very awful forms of subjugation and repression. And we're going to talk about things that are very personal and bodily, things that have happened to our ancestors. And I recommend you know, anyone who's listening to this, just like give yourself some time. If it's too much to be listening to all at once, then stop and come back. If you feel your body getting really tense and tight and like you need a break. Then give yourself some deep breaths. Shake your arms and your legs. Get your you know, get yourself into your body. Like remind yourself that you're in your body, youโ€™re safe. I've had to do this countless times as I've been, like reworking and reinvestigating all of these pieces of history on some of them are really, really hard to remember, and to fundamentally understand. So some of the things that are included in this conversation. And this is by no means an extensive list are the subjugation of women slavery, rape, infanticide, war, abortion, pandemic, torture, and abuses of the church. So again, you know if it's too much all at once, give yourself some time. You don't need to listen to everything all at once and if you need to shake it out, like I'm doing right now, then go ahead and do that.

So the part of history that I'm focusing on here in this work is the development of the current agreements about what constitutes work/labor/valuable labor, centered in Europe, and especially on the experience of women, the working class, which includes slaves, serfs and the working poor, and colonized peoples, so people who were colonized by European aristocracy.

And the reason that I'm focusing on this part of history for now, is that these groups are currently the most adversely affected by the work systems that we have in place, this is the legacy of systems of oppression.

I want to as a side note, because I found this really disturbing in my research, is that when you look at the International Labor Organization's numbers about who falls into what kinds of economic classes, currently, 4 billion people or half of the world are in poverty. Of that group, there are 50 million and that's probably an underreported number, who are slaves. And so that poverty and that slavery exists in our world, in our community, wherever we live, it's here in some capacity. Which means that we have a responsibility for it.

So that's another question of like, how did we get to this point, where more than half of us don't have the means to sustain ourselves.

Another note about the research that I have done is that in places that are other than European societies, my research is focused on what happened after colonization and immediately before and so this, what you're gonna listen to today, it does not include a history of work. In places like China or North Korea.

I am very interested in learning more about what happened in countries that were not colonized. And I'm sure that eventually I'll get to those histories as well. But so currently, what this body of work talks about is immediately prior to colonization, colonization, and then also the global marketplace that we're currently participating in that pretty much every country is participating in with the exception of a few.

So if you are interested in learning more about both the historical events that I present during this talk and sort of the approach that I am taking, then I recommend reading Sylvia Federiciโ€™s Caliban and the witch: women the body and primitive accumulation. Most of the like numbers and sources and quotes that I'm sharing here can be found in that book and and in the works of the authors that are cited in her bibliography. And all of these things are things that you can just Google like most of them are just widely available on the internet itโ€™s not like Iโ€™m making up a history here it's well documented.

So throughout this narrative, there is a commingling of power between the church, first Catholic and then Protestant, with the ruling classes lords and kings. And so, in the shift from the Middle Ages, to the Industrial Age, laws and social practices were created to define the rights and crimes of the working class. And what did and did not constitute labor. As pressures increased from the ruling class, litigation and revolts were instigated by the working people to protect themselves from abuses. This struggle was primarily unsuccessful until the 20th century, with the exception of a period from about 1350 to 1500. In the wake of the Black Death, where the real wage increased by 100%, prices declined by 33%. And just generally there was a tendency in the working classes toward more local sufficiency and more power over their work and workday, and the content of their work.

So thatโ€™s like an overview of what we're gonna go over. One of the foundational theories that I want to present early on before we get into the story of this history and describes the change from feudal to capitalist economy. And the words shift and transition and change, do not really adequately describe the changes that occurred and instead some historians and myself prefer a term which is called primitive accumulation. And I'll be using the term accumulation. So I want you to know what that means.

So primitive accumulation is the process by which the body was transformed into a work machine over the course of hundreds of years. It is the way that women were subjugated into the reproduction of the workforce as well. It includes the intentional development of hierarchies that are built on sex and racial status. And that required the destruction of the power of women and indigenous peoples, including those peoples who were indigenous to Europe, the working poor of Europe, the serfs and slaves that were there.

The shift from feudal to capitalist economy necessitated the accumulation of vast numbers of subjugated peoples and slaves. And this exploitation was made possible by separating the worker from the means of production and the product of his or her labor. And so how did that all happen?

Like we haven't even really gotten ourselves out of this subjugation relationship because if if we look at how the market works currently, we have countries that are producer are countries where wages are incredibly low, and then we have countries that are consumer countries that are basically determining what the value of the work is in the worker countries. Even within the United States we have the outsourcing of work to states with lower costs of living. So this is a process which is ongoing, that we participate in either willingly and knowingly or by default because we donโ€™t realy understand whatโ€™s going on. So how do we get here?

We're gonna go back to the fifth to seventh centuries. So that's 4000 to 6000. I was happy to do that math in my head. I'm like okay, century two year number. So in the fifth to seventh centuries, there was the development of the feudal state. This was happening at the end of the Roman Empire, the Roman Empire primarily built on the work of slaves and the subjugation of people through slavery.

So serfs in the feudal state were the working poor and were a combination of these former slaves and agricultural workers. One of the tenants of serfdom is that people received land in exchange for labor. So they were given a plot of land and then, when their Lord required their labor, for the harvest of their own crops or for different building projects at the Lord would then use the labor of the serfs that they had.

At the same time, and this becomes important later. The serfs also had the use of land that was called the comments. Common land is like forests and meadows and streams and lakes. It's land that is used for hunting and fishing for gathering, berries and herbs. And is a space where much of the culture of serfs occurred or festivals happened where women gathered were, you know serfs traded and marketed with one another.

So some of the other tenants of this time are that there was a rough, rough equality between male and female serfs. There was not equality, but they were more equally subjugated by their Lord, than what came to be later in capitalist society where women became at lower socio-economic status than men.

Through the way that states created laws about what women and men were and were not allowed to do and how their relationships were legislated.

So at this time, what we call reproductive labor, which is like the labor of having children of caring for the home of cooking of, you know, mostly work that happens in the in the home or around the home was its own form of work. And it was equally I'm not gonna say it was equally respected and valued, but it was respected and valued as its own form of work in a way that it isnโ€™t later on.

And at this time, there's tons of litigation by serve, to limit the abuses of their lords. They're fighting to not pay ties to not pay taxes to limit the amount of labor that is required of them by their lords and it's this ongoing battle of litigation that's happening.

So that lays this groundwork for the Millenarians who come into the picture around the 12th century. So the Millenarians, were a type of religious sect that had what's called a liberation theology. So at a time of oppression, they believed that the church was corrupt, and that people could have their own access to God and to divinity, and self-actualization. And they were a revolt against the power structures of both the church and the Lords.

Within millenarian lands like the lands of the Cathars, the rights of women and Jews and other persecuted people were equal to those of everyone else. There's some quote that says that women in the church are nothing, but in the Millenarian society they are equal.

Millenarian is also had a range of perspectives related to labor. So, on the one hand, there is resistance to labor. So serfs, saying, No, we're not going to provide labor to you, lords. On the other side, there is this description of the value of labor and that a person is valuable. Their labor is valuable. A person has worth labor has worth. And it isn't just something to give away without some sort of I think Equal Exchange, reciprocal exchange and the Millenarians were really about an Egalitarian society

And then, they promoted sort of a range of practices related to sexuality. So all the way from abstinence, which many working well, many serfs were attracted to, because of the difficulty of their means of subsistence. So abstinence was something that people were interested in practicing because they didn't want to have children and to have to support them. On the other side of that, there was also a sexual liberation, which was that sex as a way to become closer to God, and a worship of female deities. And so it went all the way to that other side as well.