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130

The Theatre of Loss … Work

2
terms
6
notes

Fleming, P. (2017). The Theatre of Loss … Work. In Fleming, P. The Death of Homo Economicus: Work, Debt and the Myth of Endless Accumulation. Pluto Press, pp. 130-171

(common Althusserian term) the process by which ideology, embodied in major social and political institutions (ideological & repressive state apparatuses), constitutes the very nature of individual subjects' identities through the process of "hailing" them in social interactions

132

As the French Marxist Louis Althusser pointed out in his essay on the ideological state apparatuses, this is what makes the ‘interpellation’ process (his name for a particular kind of capitalist indoctrination) so effective

—p.132 by Peter Fleming
notable
3 years, 4 months ago

As the French Marxist Louis Althusser pointed out in his essay on the ideological state apparatuses, this is what makes the ‘interpellation’ process (his name for a particular kind of capitalist indoctrination) so effective

—p.132 by Peter Fleming
notable
3 years, 4 months ago
142

Why do we work? The obvious answer is ‘to live’. But it’s not our actual job – giving a lecture, selling a car, nursing a patient or flying a passenger jet – that directly secures our life conditions. For sure, as we have already demonstrated, most occupations in the West have drifted far away from the baseline of biological survival, which is partly down to the massive division of labour that has arisen in the post-industrial era. But this disconnect between labour and subsistence is also related to the main medium in which inhabitants of any capitalist society must communicate. Our specific job grants us access to manmade vouchers we call money. We then redeem these so we can then purchase life. How many vouchers we obtain and what we have to do to get them is the political question par excellence in our society and its highly skewed class relations. But it’s this fissure and complex mediation between labour (as an organic/social necessity) versus work (as a cultural artefact) that has been behind employment taking on a life of its own, spiralling out of control, absorbing everything else.

—p.142 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

Why do we work? The obvious answer is ‘to live’. But it’s not our actual job – giving a lecture, selling a car, nursing a patient or flying a passenger jet – that directly secures our life conditions. For sure, as we have already demonstrated, most occupations in the West have drifted far away from the baseline of biological survival, which is partly down to the massive division of labour that has arisen in the post-industrial era. But this disconnect between labour and subsistence is also related to the main medium in which inhabitants of any capitalist society must communicate. Our specific job grants us access to manmade vouchers we call money. We then redeem these so we can then purchase life. How many vouchers we obtain and what we have to do to get them is the political question par excellence in our society and its highly skewed class relations. But it’s this fissure and complex mediation between labour (as an organic/social necessity) versus work (as a cultural artefact) that has been behind employment taking on a life of its own, spiralling out of control, absorbing everything else.

—p.142 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago
143

[...] Work today is simply an ideology, designed to lock in a particular class relationship and naturalise the private ownership of the means of production. It does this by falsely evoking the ruse of physiognomic necessity: if we work in order to live, then only a fool would argue against the need to build society around jobs.

—p.143 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

[...] Work today is simply an ideology, designed to lock in a particular class relationship and naturalise the private ownership of the means of production. It does this by falsely evoking the ruse of physiognomic necessity: if we work in order to live, then only a fool would argue against the need to build society around jobs.

—p.143 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago
149

[...] The work ethic mutates into something entirely different, much darker, compared to previous eras. It used to help fill in or suture over the emptiness of human vulnerability (an attack) and help a community imagine itself in positive terms. Now, however, salvation and redemption comes to those who submit to work not because it makes them whole again but allows people to see past themselves, to retroactively perceive the void they always were, while simultaneously keeping that nothingness at bay through hard labour. This foregrounding of the disposable nothingness we already were is an inadvertent consequence of blending the ethos of war with the everyday convention of work.

The organic excuse for employment (physical survival), in this sense, almost becomes a distraction from this other existential register and its secret martial law. Max Weber’s analysis of the Protestant ethic and its focus on a ‘calling’ inevitably misses this blend of faith and demise. For us today, work is no longer a vehicle for divine redemption. And it certainly does not save us. It merely forms the space in which existence can be judged by an immense absence or the void concerning the worthlessness of one’s sacrifice. [...]

—p.149 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

[...] The work ethic mutates into something entirely different, much darker, compared to previous eras. It used to help fill in or suture over the emptiness of human vulnerability (an attack) and help a community imagine itself in positive terms. Now, however, salvation and redemption comes to those who submit to work not because it makes them whole again but allows people to see past themselves, to retroactively perceive the void they always were, while simultaneously keeping that nothingness at bay through hard labour. This foregrounding of the disposable nothingness we already were is an inadvertent consequence of blending the ethos of war with the everyday convention of work.

The organic excuse for employment (physical survival), in this sense, almost becomes a distraction from this other existential register and its secret martial law. Max Weber’s analysis of the Protestant ethic and its focus on a ‘calling’ inevitably misses this blend of faith and demise. For us today, work is no longer a vehicle for divine redemption. And it certainly does not save us. It merely forms the space in which existence can be judged by an immense absence or the void concerning the worthlessness of one’s sacrifice. [...]

—p.149 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago
154

[...] This is how the work ethic functions today. Occupational roles are detached from their basis in productive utility and work becomes the wandering reference point for everything else. Not a concrete activity but an abstract and diffuse prism through which all of life is myopically evaluated and managed. Overwork is an obvious outcome. So is the way political questions are now so violently reduced to the topic of employment, which almost always yields deeply conservative conclusions. Should we welcome refugees and asylum seekers? No, they’ll steal our jobs. How can we tackle gender inequality? More female CEOs. What is the leading cause of depression and suicide? Joblessness. Want to make America great again? More work. What is the objective of your government? Get Britain working. And the list goes on.

—p.154 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

[...] This is how the work ethic functions today. Occupational roles are detached from their basis in productive utility and work becomes the wandering reference point for everything else. Not a concrete activity but an abstract and diffuse prism through which all of life is myopically evaluated and managed. Overwork is an obvious outcome. So is the way political questions are now so violently reduced to the topic of employment, which almost always yields deeply conservative conclusions. Should we welcome refugees and asylum seekers? No, they’ll steal our jobs. How can we tackle gender inequality? More female CEOs. What is the leading cause of depression and suicide? Joblessness. Want to make America great again? More work. What is the objective of your government? Get Britain working. And the list goes on.

—p.154 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago
159

In the end, this economic model is unfeasible since it artificially distils what counts as ‘productive labour time’ down to such a bare minimum that if workers only performed this minuscule task then nothing would get done. Proper labour consists of both (a) the task and (b) the essential, supportive background activity all jobs require (using the restroom). The two can’t be separated in any practical sense. This is also why it is difficult to measure individual productivity – or the marginal product – with simple quantitative metrics in an organisation. Numerically tracking an individual’s performance misses a great deal about their real productivity since it is so intertwined with qualitative, collective processes. [...]

—p.159 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

In the end, this economic model is unfeasible since it artificially distils what counts as ‘productive labour time’ down to such a bare minimum that if workers only performed this minuscule task then nothing would get done. Proper labour consists of both (a) the task and (b) the essential, supportive background activity all jobs require (using the restroom). The two can’t be separated in any practical sense. This is also why it is difficult to measure individual productivity – or the marginal product – with simple quantitative metrics in an organisation. Numerically tracking an individual’s performance misses a great deal about their real productivity since it is so intertwined with qualitative, collective processes. [...]

—p.159 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

(adjective) characterized by abundance; copious / (adjective) generous in amount, extent, or spirit / (adjective) being full and well developed / (adjective) aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive / (adjective) exceeding the bounds of good taste; overdone / (adjective) excessively complimentary or flattering; effusive

160

Such a reduction of labour to a fulsome economic zero

—p.160 by Peter Fleming
confirm
3 years, 3 months ago

Such a reduction of labour to a fulsome economic zero

—p.160 by Peter Fleming
confirm
3 years, 3 months ago
168

[...] Capitalist work systems are not defined by a numerical threshold, a kind of red line that only when crossed can we reasonably speak about exploitation. No, this is a qualitative relationship. For that reason, the capitalist mode of production by its very nature has always entailed overwork, no matter how much time is spent toiling in the post-modern office. This point is made very well by Kirsty Ross in relation to the anthropological investigations of Pierre Clastres:

[...] What we disparagingly called ‘subsistence economies’, societies where one works to satisfy one’s needs and not to produce a surplus, are to be seen, according to Clastres, as operating according to a refusal of a useless excess of activity. Work, then, appears only with the constitution of a surplus; work begins, properly speaking, as overwork.

—p.168 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago

[...] Capitalist work systems are not defined by a numerical threshold, a kind of red line that only when crossed can we reasonably speak about exploitation. No, this is a qualitative relationship. For that reason, the capitalist mode of production by its very nature has always entailed overwork, no matter how much time is spent toiling in the post-modern office. This point is made very well by Kirsty Ross in relation to the anthropological investigations of Pierre Clastres:

[...] What we disparagingly called ‘subsistence economies’, societies where one works to satisfy one’s needs and not to produce a surplus, are to be seen, according to Clastres, as operating according to a refusal of a useless excess of activity. Work, then, appears only with the constitution of a surplus; work begins, properly speaking, as overwork.

—p.168 by Peter Fleming 3 years, 3 months ago