6th Subversive festival
The good old days of exploitation, where the boss was interested in the worker only to the extent that they produced a commodity which could be sold at a profit, are long gone. Work then meant the annihilation of subjectivity, your reduction to an impersonal machine-part; it was the price that you paid for time away from work. Now, there is no time away from work, and work is not opposed to subjectivity. All time is entrepreneurial time because we are the commodities, so that any time not spent selling ourselves is wasted time. Hence, like the characters in the film Limitless, we’re always seeking ways to increase the time available to us – via intoxicants, cutting back on sleep, working while we commute … The unemployed do not escape this condition – the simulation tasks that they are now induced to perform in order to qualify for benefit are more than preparations for the futility of paid work, they are already work (for what is so much ‘real’ work if not an act of simulation? You don’t just have to work, you have to be seen working, even when there’s no ‘work’ to do …)
Being exploited is no longer enough. The nature of labour now is such that almost anyone, no matter how menial their position, is required to be seen (over)investing in their work. What we are forced into is not merely work, in the old sense of undertaking an activity we don’t want to perform; no, now we are forced to act as if we want to work. Even if we want to work in a burger franchise, we have to prove that, like reality TV contestants, we really want it. The notorious shift towards affective labour in the Global North means that it is no longer possible to just turn up at work and be miserable. Your misery has to be concealed – who wants to listen to a depressed call centre worker, to be served by a sad waiter, or be taught by an unhappy lecturer?
Yet that’s not quite right. The subjugatory libidinal forces that draw enjoyment from the current cult of work don’t want us to entirely conceal our misery. For what enjoyment is there to be had from exploiting a worker who actually delights in their work? In his sequel to Blade Runner, The Edge of Human, K W Jeter provides an insight into the libidinal economics of work and suffering. One of the novel’s characters answers the question of why, in Blade Runner‘s future world, the Tyrell Corporation bothered developing replicants (androids constructed so that only experts can distinguish them from humans). “Why should the off-world colonists want troublesome, humanlike slaves rather than nice, efficient machines? It’s simple. Machines don’t suffer. They aren’t capable of it. A machine doesn’t know when it’s being raped. There’s no power relationship between you and a machine. … For the replicant to suffer, to give its owners that whole master-slave energy, it has to have emotions. … . The replicant’s emotions aren’t a design flaw. The Tyrell Corporation put them there. Because that’s what our customers wanted.
Economically, what I would really like to see is some kind of guarantee of life security that would allow people to pursue those kinds of value they actually consider worth pursuing- individually, or with others. As I’ve observed, that’s the main reason people pursue money anyway. To be able to pursue something else: something they consider noble, or beautiful, profound, or simply good. What might they pursue in a free society? Presumably, many things we could barely now imagine, though one might expect familiar values like arts or spirituality or sports or landscape gardening or fantasy games or scientific research or intellectual or hedonistic pleasures would figure in, in every sort of unanticipated combination.
|—||the democratic project- david graeber|
Yes, our world is unashamedly a world of gangsters. There are illegal gangsters and official gangsters, but that’s a mere nuance. ‘I only exist for my own personal benefit, and I’ll liquidate yesterday’s friend to maintain or improve my lifestyle’
What would remain is the kind of work only human beings will ever be able to do: those forms of caring and helping labor that are at the very center of the crisis that brought about Occupy Wall Street to begin with. What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or a caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called “the economy” (a concept that didn’t even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation.
At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity. This might seem a strange thing to say—our knee-jerk reaction to every crisis is to assume the solution is for everyone to work even more, though of course, this kind of reaction is really precisely the problem—but if you consider the overall state of the world, the conclusion becomes obvious. We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.
|—||david graeber, the democracy project|
In fact, most of the economic innovations of the last thirty years make more sense politically than economically. Eliminating guaranteed life employment for precarious contracts doesn’t really create a more effective workforce, but it is extraordinarily effective in destroying unions and otherwise depoliticizing labor. The same can be said of endlessly increasing working hours. No one has much time for political activity if they’re working sixty-hour weeks.
It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future. Yet as a result of putting virtually all their efforts in one political basket, we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded no other system would be possible.
|—||david graeber, a practical utopian’s guide to the coming collapse|
subjects accept their economic situation if it is accompanied by an awareness of the possibility of change- ‘good luck is just around the corner’.) The opponents of capitalist globalization like to emphasize the importance of keeping the dream alive: global capitalism is not the end of history, it is possible to think and act differently- what, however, if it is this very lure of a possible change which guarantees that nothing will actually change? What if it is only full acceptance of the desperate closure of the present global situation that can push us towards actual change? In this precise way, the virtual alternative displays an actuality of its own; in other words, it is a positive ontological constituent of the existing order. ‘Democracy’ is not merely the ‘power of, by , and for the people.’ It is not enough just to claim that, in a democracy, the will and interests (the two do not in any way automatically coincide) of the large majority determine the state’s decisions. Democracy - in the way this term is used today - concerns above all, formal legalism: its minimal definition is the unconditional adherence to a certain set of formal rules which guarantee that antagonisms are fully absorbed into the agonistic game.
|—||zizek, iraq the borrowed kettle|
functioning of the system is the fundamental fact. Stalinist ‘totalitarianism’ was the capitalist logic of self-propelling productivity liberated from its capitalist form, which is why it failed: Stalinism was the symptom of capitalism. Stalinism involved the matrix of the general intellect, of the planned transparency of social life, of total productive mobilization- and its violent purges and paranoia were a kind of a ‘return of the repressed’, the ‘irrationality’ inherent to the project of a totally organized ‘administered’ society.
Today, this configuration is in a state of total crisis. One of the symptoms of this crisis is the return of the old traditions and the seeming resurrection of old dead gods. All the heroic figures are old ones too- such as, for example, religious sacrifice and bloody fanaticism. In the guise of these figures, nothing new can occur. They bespeak a disjunction between the human and the inhuman, and not an integration of the inhuman into a new sequence of the historical existence of humanity. But the absence of any sort of heroic figure is certainly of no more value than the old sacrifice. Instead, we have the strict inhumanity of technological murder and the bureaucratic surveillance of all aspects of life. We have bloody wars, or at least police-type wars, including of States against their own people, without the least bit of conviction or faith. In fact, without an active figure involving an element of symbolic creative value, have only a formless conflict between the old religious sacrifice and the blind will of capitalist control. And everywhere this has a disorienting effect, which turns important fractions of the popular youth, in particular, into the site of a despair that is devoid of all ideas and a form of nihilism delivered over to the worst.
The u.s. government has done a really good job, through cooperation with mass media, of legitimizing an excessively militarized police force to the extent that they mobilized every nook and cranny of fbi, homeland security, swat teams with snipers, decked out in full camo in urban space, people clapping and cheering as they drove by, raiding houses. Something is totally amiss here.
So what remains today of Thatcher’s legacy today? Neoliberal hegemony is clearly falling apart. Thatcher was perhaps the only true Thatcherite – she clearly believed in her ideas. Today’s neoliberalism, on the contrary, “only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing” (to quote Marx). In short, today, cynicism is openly on display. Recall the cruel joke from Lubitch’s To Be Or Not to Be: when asked about the German concentration camps in the occupied Poland, the responsible Nazi officer “concentration camp Erhardt” snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.”
Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in January 2002 (as well as on all financial meltdowns that followed), which can be interpreted as a kind of ironic commentary on the notion of a risk society? Thousands of employees who lost their jobs and savings were certainly exposed to a risk, but without any true choice - the risk appeared to them as a blind fate. Those, on the contrary, who effectively did have an insight into the risks as well as a possibility to intervene into the situation (the top managers), minimized their risks by cashing in their stocks and options before the bankruptcy – so it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some (the Wall Street managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people paying mortgages) do the risking.
One of the weird consequences of the financial meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (enormous sums of money to help banks) was the revival in the work of Ayn Rand, the closest one can come to the ideologist of the “greed is good” radical capitalism – the sales of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged exploded again. According to some reports, there are already signs that the scenario described in Atlas Shrugged – the creative capitalists themselves going on strike – is enacted. John Campbell, a Republican congressman, said: “The achievers are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs /…/ who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.” The absurdity of this reaction is that it totally misreads the situation: most of the gigantic sums of bail-out money is going precisely to the Randian deregulated “titans” who failed in their “creative” schemes and thereby brought about the meltdown. It is not the great creative geniuses who are now helping lazy ordinary people, it is the ordinary taxpayers who are helping the failed “creative geniuses.”
via New Statesman article, Zizek (made aware by http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/)