Outsourcing our Lives
I’ve been writing about opting out for a good while now. For me, opting out means living a more intentional life in which I get to choose where to put my time and energy rather than going through prescribed, culturally dictated actions, specifically the ones that are harmful in some way or another.
Opting out can look like a lot of different things. Intentional living can manifest itself in a million different ways. As I’ve become more comfortable with this idea and less prescriptive with what a Good and Just Life(TM) might entail, I’ve found myself digging deeper into what makes the division between intentional living and the status quo. One of the topics that keeps coming up is the idea of outsourcing.
Outsourcing is a huge piece of capitalism: we devote a huge portion of our lives to doing highly specialized tasks in exchange for money and therefore don’t have time or space to do many basic daily tasks for ourselves or even do them within our local community. Food preparation becomes an obvious example. We pay others to grow, prepare, and even serve our food for us.
Entertainment is another big one that deserves some unpacking. Yes TV, movies, video games, etc. but how often to do listen to other people make music compared to how often you make music yourself? Do you watch others play sports? Do you play them yourselves? Watch people dancing instead of dancing yourselves? This is outsourcing: we pay for the service of being entertained rather than engaging in the activity directly.
Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that we can avoid outsourcing entirely or even that it’s an all or nothing deal. Of course you can sing in the shower or dance in the kitchen and still enjoy listening or watching others who are very talented at singing or dancing. You can even sing along or dance to your favourite track! But when exploring how to live with intention, it’s rewarding for me to notice when I’m outsourcing by paying money to be entertained rather than engaging in the activity myself. It also gives me the excuse to turn off the radio in my car and belt out my favourite songs at the top of my lungs when I’m driving by myself. (My kids have long stopped appreciating this activity.)
The passed few weeks, I’ve been plunged into an organization who is now facing the task of balancing which work can be outsourced and which work can be done by board and volunteers. In other words, what work requires a paid staff member and what work can be done by community members interested in supporting the organization? It’s given me clear insight to the exploration of outsourcing where the opposite of outsourcing is might just be “doing the work yourself”.
In this light, I can start to recognize a pattern in my own personal life as we’ve made decisions on how we want to live more intentionally and opt out of oppressive systems. Are we going to outsource or not? Do we pay someone else to do it and relinquish control and decision making power or do we do the work ourselves and dedicate the time and energy to the endeavour?
Spend money and lose control or do the work and spend the time?
Sometimes the decision is going to fall one way and sometimes it’s going to fall the other way. For me, it depends a lot on what the loss of control entails, but also the money versus time piece is a big factor. I never seem to shy away from the work (to a fault). But the important piece for me is the process of this analysis. I can make the decisions with intention, understanding the differences and weighing options rather than just taking the path of least resistance, often without considering the consequences of my choices.
Beyond this desire to live with intention, there is the notion of supporting systems which are dependent on mindless outsourcing. As someone who believes firmly in the inherent evil of the capitalist economic systems, I believe that this system relies heavily on our decision to outsource - in fact, it demands it. Entire industries are built to encourage us to make decisions to outsource as an automatic response rather than do the work ourselves. Our economy is literally built on the foundation that we would rather pay money to someone else to provide an easier solution. Clothes. Washing dishes. Communicating with each other. Traveling. Eating. Literally all material goods in our homes. It’s so rare that we make things anymore. We almost always buy from someone else who got their materials from someone else. Supply chains reach on to infinity. It seems inescapable and in most cases it is. This is the reality of late stage capitalism.
So when making the decisions to outsource or not, whenever we actually have the option to do the work itself, this - for me - is a way to opt out of capitalist culture. Growing food. Mending clothes. Crafting from natural materials. Upcycling. Meditating. Learning new skills. Cooking on a fire. Foraging food. There are options for me to work myself rather than paying someone else to do that work.
There are of course actions where you can choose to do some of the work and outsource other aspects: knitting a sweater with yarn you’ve bought, cooking with spices imported from other parts of the world, sewing with thread made from fossil fuels. Like everything else in this wide world, it’s never all or nothing. But the more work that I can take on myself, the more often that end product feels right and whole to me. A hand spun, hand dyed scarf made from local sheep's’ wool. Maple syrup sweetened scones made with hand ground wheat I grew in my backyard. Handwoven baskets made from foraged cattails from the pond down the road. And yes, singing as loud as I want in my car instead of listening to radio ads. These things feel really very super good.
But remember, so does pick up pizza from the local pizza place.
For me, it’s about acknowledging that the choice is there, being real about what my capacity is in the moment, and then making the choice with intention so I’m not just getting swept up in the cultural have-tos and should-nots.
Yes yes yes. Have you read... I’ve forgotten the name of the book. He lives in the northeast, makes all that he can, trades for the rest, and glorifies the satisfaction of and honor in what he calls “bread labor.” The work we do for what we need. Let me go find the name of the book. It was a nice read.