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‘New Work’ and community production: Eyes on Detroit

By Barbara A. Stachowski
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Jimmy Boggs (1919-1993) encouraged people to “make a way out of no way.”

That is what we have been doing in Detroit as we have been grappling with the economic devastation of the postindustrial era and have had to imagine our lives anew.

A tsunami hit us decades ago when robots began replacing human beings on factory assembly lines. Resilient Detroiters became keenly aware that, to avoid the catastrophe of another tsunami, we had to move to “higher ground,” to a new way of life, of work. We call this New Work.

What is New Work and how does it promote New Cultures and New Economies? How is it different from the old culture?

Frithjof Bergmann, the international philosopher activist of New Work, New Culture, explains: “First we must realize that the current jobs system is only about 200 years old and obviously doesn’t work. Everything connected to the jobs economy has been reduced, diminished and made worse. New Work is an effort to turn the whole thing around from the bottom to the top.”

Bergmann warns that in the next relatively few months or years, we will experience a calamity on the level of six or eight tsunamis if we do not find an alternative to the current jobs economy. “These tsunamis are rolling in from the ocean towards us, and if we do not do anything very intelligent and imaginative, they will destroy us and we will be drowned.

“New Work from the start was conceived as a possible staircase up to a new culture that will be more humane, more intelligent and more cheerful than the one we are leaving beneath and behind us.”

Specifically, New Work makes use of new technologies to become independent and self-reliant, to NOT depend on a boss to get a job.

Bergmann reassures us that: “A quantum leap is now possible, and it is important to understand that this is not just a fantasy, not something that people in some ways just dream about. Detroit is the place where this is becoming more real, more substantial, more graspable, more graphic than maybe any other place in the world.”

This quantum leap has to do with an astounding technological development called miniaturization or micronization. An iPhone is an example of this technology. Like smartphones, miniaturization applies to manufacturing and factories.

“With 3D printers, it is now possible to manufacture anything from houses to electricity, to computers, to electric cargo bikes. Almost anything can be produced almost any place.

“In remote villages in Africa, in blighted neighborhoods in Detroit. Community production is what makes possible the quantum leap up to New Culture, a new way of life, a new experience of the spiritual.”

Community production has an enormous advantage over archaic attempts to rebuild an economy of meaningless jobs because it allows people to focus on doing work that they really, really want to do to make things that we really, really need. We can now move into a New Culture that, as Grace Lee Boggs says, concentrates on developing people and growing our souls.

When we do work we really, really want to do, we realize a sense of strength and not exhaustion. We begin to feel that we are living; we begin to feel that our lives have meaning.

As the waters of the economic tsunami continue to recede, leaving behind fertile ground, Detroiters are creating a New Culture based on Community Production. Grassroots community-based centers of work and culture are emerging in the Brightmoor and Birwood neighborhoods, the MakrSpace in the Church of the Messiah and the Feedom Freedom Growers’ Manistique Garden project.

According to Bergmann, “The fact that Detroit has a tradition that goes over generations makes it plausible that Detroit can become the model for no end of other cities that will come here now to study how this is accomplished and what it looks like.”

Barbara Stachowski is member of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and Detroit New Work Center. She is now in Germany visiting with Fritzhof Bergmann’s associates. 

 

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