I’ve been thinking a lot about binary thinking, and all the ways it limits and defeats. Either you should get a vaccine or you should mask up. Either climate change is already happening or there’s still time to halt it. Either journalism is crucial to understanding the world or it’s routinely, blatantly problematic. So many ors where there ought to be ands.
Either your workplace is a family or it’s not. It’s not, of course. The very concept of the workplace as family is a tool for exploitation. But if it’s not, where does that leave us in relation to each other? What does it mean to care about your colleagues, to love them?
I know—that word is loaded. But I have genuinely loved many of the people I’ve worked with. I’ve loved people from one job to the next, as we’ve moved towards each other when opportunities aligned. I’ve loved people long after we were no longer colleagues, and leaned on them for counsel in matters of work and not-work. I can see, of course, that we live in a culture in which there is so much work—and in which the patriarchal nuclear family keeps us largely isolated otherwise—that the workplace has been left as one of the few places to build those kinds of friendships. But I don’t love people any less, knowing that.
If you take the binary for what it is, then you’re left with either the exploitive office patriarchy or else a scenario in which you are surrounded by strangers about whom you do not give the slightest of fucks. But neither of these options is worth settling for. And they aren’t the only way.
Here’s Donna Haraway, talking about kin, in Staying with the Trouble (2):
Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. Making kin as oddkin, rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin…troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible….What shape is this kinship, where and whom do its lines connect and disconnect, and so what?
Haraway is reclaiming kin to mean not merely blood relatives (“godkin”) but also those whose company  we choose to be in (“oddkin”). “Odd” works here to mean unexpected or unusual but also suggests the odd ones out. “Oddkin” brings the odd ones together into kinship.
But what does it mean to be oddkin? To whom are we actually responsible? The nuclear family restricts the answer to that question to the smallest possible unit: only immediate  relatives, not other more distant ones, and certainly not friends or neighbors. This isn’t just a philosophical restriction—it’s built in to our streets and buildings and laws with parking lots and bricks and surveillance cameras. But oddkin rewrites those boundaries, opens them wide up. Oddkin stakes the claim that the shape of kinship isn’t a birthright but a choice, that the people we choose to gather with are connected to us in ways at least equivalent to those we were born alongside. However odd that gathering may be—and Haraway posits that oddkin includes not only people but every living thing around us, the trees and birds and rivers and bugs—it is one in which we are responsible to each other.
The people of Acorn in Octavia Butler’s Parables are oddkin: refugees from a crumbling civilization who discover one another, and decide to make it work. Not merely to be in each other’s company, but to share resources, to keep watch, to build a new home. To work together. They begin as strangers, united largely by misfortune, and their gathering isn’t without conflict—kinship does not imply harmony. But they draw lines of connection to each other that weren’t there before, that weren’t merely given to them. You have to make kin as oddkin, you can’t take them for granted.
What would it mean for the workplace to be, not a family, but ground for making kin? Where and to whom would that kinship’s lines connect and disconnect, and so what? Oddkin doesn’t abide a hierarchy, it doesn’t heed the chain of command. A kinship of oddkin must be rooted in equity and care, in sustainability, in mutual aid. In solidarity.
And what is solidarity, if not an act of love?
Gavin Mueller’s Breaking Things at Work is a brief review of Luddism from a contemporary angle. We are way past due for a reckoning about what the Luddites actually stood for (spoiler: labor power) and a renewal of their legacy.
David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs is legitimately great, and I regret being even mildly late to the party on it. Graeber first builds a taxonomy of bullshit jobs as a means of defining them, and then ruefully explores the possible reasons for their preponderance. Among his conclusions: middle management is essentially contemporary feudalism.
Kathi Weeks’ The Problem with Work is just stunningly good, and so very timely. Weeks excavates the history of the work ethic, showing how it subverts demands for better work into a system in which work is all we are. But despite the title, I found it to be among the most hopeful books on work I’ve read of late: she concludes with an examination of utopian demands that’s worth the cover price alone.
Finally, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest is (I think) the only Le Guin book I had not yet read. It’s a brief, somewhat brutal read, but Le Guin’s characteristic judgment, her refusal to play either the colonizers or the indigenous people as simple, and her spare, compact language are all on display—and as wonderful and life-giving as ever.
I love a good margarita, especially with an unreasonable amount of salt on the rim. But don’t sleep on its lesser-known but still bracing cousin, the tequila sour. Simple syrup will do here, but use agave if you’ve got it. You can vary the citrus—all lemon or all lime are both classic; a mix of lime and orange will also do nicely. You could also swap all or some of the tequila for mezcal, and I’ll just invite myself over for a spell, alright?
As with any drink with egg whites, you want to shake it twice—first dry, then with ice, in order to really amp up the froth. So add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker (sans ice), and shake vigorously for at least thirty seconds. Then add ice and shake thoroughly again, before straining into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry or a slice of orange or both.
 And notice how the word “company” works. A business. A gathering. Not one or the other but both.
 The way we talk about “immediate” family is instructive. A distance measured in time, not space. But also urgency. So much of what patriarchal capitalism does is force us to act with only the narrowest perspective—no deep history, no long-term future thinking. Just right now.
Thanks, as always, for reading! If you’re enjoying this, share it with a friend. As always, reply with what you’re reading or drinking. —m