Social Studies

My father, circa 1975.

My father, circa 1975.1

I’ve rehearsed these stories many times to friends, but I searched and found that I never really wrote them down.  I vividly remember them from high school, around 1974 or 75, I got tossed out of social studies class several times. There were several contentious moments. We were visited by a policeman during one class, and I refused to remain in the room because the man was wearing a sidearm. I didn’t like being around guns, especially when there was absolutely no need for it.2  I’m sure I pitched a fit and left. On another occasion, I got thrown out for arguing with the teacher about Karl Marx.

The cold-war era textbook we were using attempted to refute Marx’s theory of alienation by claiming that the benefits of living under capitalism negated any estrangement from work; we can improve ourselves by working for tokens by which to better itself. I watched my father grow more and more detached from his job in the oilfields every day, despising every moment he had to spend there. He was, for me, a textbook case of an alienated worker. I remember getting really upset to the point that I was simply asked to leave the classroom.

The benefits of capitalism really hadn’t shined down on us with glowing beacons of community as far as I was concerned; my dad wanted out of the system bad. He only survived in it for about three more years.

Work was not something to be avoided for him; he worked hard every day. He just couldn’t stand working for someone else, lording power over him. He took great pleasure in working and improving the five acres of land we lived on; he didn’t enjoy being told what to do by a fresh batch of new college graduates who were working with the new process management computer systems. They understood the electronics and software, but not the mechanics of extracting fluids from the ground.

There was no pleasure in this work, and in the end a $400 a month pension for 40 years of service. Later, I discovered that it wasn’t even possible for me to hope for that. As a retail/management slave I was lucky to simply make it week to week. After retirement, my father gained great benefit from the capitalist system, as an investor— not as a worker. At many points in my life, I have wondered why it’s so hard to simply find good work.

 

1. My father hated this photo, as did my mother. I always loved it, because it really is what he looked like when he got home from work. It was taken in the dining room of the trailer we lived in while fixing up the old farm house to live in.

2. A year later, after I had purchased my first camera, I refused to tour the county jail in my government class because they wouldn’t let me take photos. I reasoned if they didn’t allow cameras, it wasn’t a place I wanted to see.

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