He might say "I would prefer not to."
Written in the middle of the 19th Century, two years after the publication of the magisterial novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville's short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A story of Wall Street, was serialized in two parts in Putnam's Magazine. A man is hired for a job. After two days of productivity, the employee refuses to take on new tasks. He eventually ceases to work all together. When asked to complete tasks, Bartleby replies, repeatedly to the delirium and anger to all around, particularly his boss (the Wall Street lawyer concerned about his reputation) "I would prefer not to." This simple, frustrating, annoying, and brilliant response disrupts the entire office and the social relations of productivity and Protestant work ethic assumed in a professional workplace.
Though he might prefer not to agree, or refuse click any button or touch the screen, Bartleby might tune in avidly to the podcast "Millennials are killing Capitalism." The crew that puts this podcast together is phenomenal. The participants that share their analysis, ideas and visions for a different tomorrow are generous and cogent with their time and perspectives.
"Our goal is to provide a platform for communists, anti-imperialists, Black Liberation movements, ancoms [anarcho-communists], left libertarians, LBGTQ activists, feminists, immigration activists, and abolitionists to discuss radical politics, radical organizing and share their visions for a better world. Our goal is to center organizers who represent and work with marginalized communities building survival programs, defense programs, political education, and counterpower. We also plan to bring in perspectives on and from the global south to highlight anti-capitalist struggles outside the imperial core. We view solidarity with decolonization, indigenous, anti-imperialist, environmentalist, socialist, and anarchist movements across the world as necessary steps toward meaningful liberation for all people."
The themes, invited guests, commentary and resources represent a thriving and circulating critique of rapacious, predatory capitalism. Centering how people are living dignified lives; theorizing new ways of living; and making those theories live in the world, means telling stories of organizations, communities and people in struggle. With interviews and commentary from revolutionary feminists, radical scholars, journalists and artists, the podcast's archive of over 150 episodes are a who's who and a what's what of radical, transformative political movements from across the globe.
Bartleby might then refuse to scroll through pictures and videos of sloths, snails and tardigrades. While refusing to scroll he might sing the lyrics to his favorite song, under his breath or in his head.
Though partially adverse to admit it, Bartleby is also enamored—in a passive, almost imperceptible manner—with the Swedish punk-pop band "The International Noise Conspiracy," and specifically the song, Smash it Up.
While watching the fascinating movements of a tardigrade, he might sing, "I want to smash it up for all the workers who spent hours into nothing/I want to smash it up for all my sisters who got caught up in this funky system/ I want to smash it up just like a locust, like a satellite shooting rockets/ I want to smash it up for all the kids who got fucked up just like their parents did/I want to smash it up, the gods and masters who made us die so much faster/ You know I wanna smash it up/you know we gotta smash it up…"
The liner notes to the 2001 album A New Morning, Changing Weather, provide an informative reading list for each song, something one can listen to while staring at the wall and thinking about the power of refusal – to read the liner notes.
Be like the snail, show solidarity with the tardigrade, and smash it up with the sloth. Bartleby may have preferred not to, but his preference to prefer not to was actively and adamantly defended by his own agency for choices and actions. The choice and action of refusal.