Writing in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, Franco “Bifo” Berardi tells us in The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy that “there will be no full employment in the future.” The global workforce over the last twenty years has been forced to work more and more but with less and less guarantee of job security or economic stability. Working from home sounds convenient, but what happens when jobs become increasingly “temporary” and flexible workers drift from low wage job to low wage job without health care or the promise of retirement benefits? The precarious nature of work is indeed a dire situation, but it might be a blessing in disguise. Against centuries of capitalist logic, Berardi states his case for a dramatic reversal of values:
“Society does not need more work, more jobs, more competition. On the contrary: we need a massive reduction in work-time, a prodigious liberation of life from the social factory, in order to reweave the fabric of social relation. Ending the connection between work and revenue will enable a huge release of energy for social tasks that can no longer be conceived as a part of the economy and should once again become forms of life.” (213)
Berardi is dead serious: too much work is killing the Soul. There’s no use producing goods and services for bodies too exhausted to enjoy them. The Soul, which Berardi says includes language, creativity and affects, has fallen into a deep depression. People suffer individually. Society suffers as a “hole.”
It’s time to utilize our creative powers to rebuild a more just society in which everyone is entitled to food, clothing and shelter.
“Every person has the right to receive the amount of money that is needed for survival. And work has nothing to do with this. [. . .] Until the majority of mankind is free from the connection between income and work, misery and war will be the norm of the social relationship” (214).
Depression is a natural response to perpetual misery and war. But a way out emerges in the midst of tragedy, a revolution via the Soul. The pain of depression is infused with the potential to develop a new existential template, an enlightened approach to life accessible to us only through our unique brand of suffering under capitalism. To overcome depression—both on a personal and social level—we need a special type of therapy, one that helps each patient “singularize” and “become conscious of his or her differences, to give him/her the ability to be in good stead with his being different and his actual possibilities” (216).
The goal of therapy is to find and embrace my “self” in order to appreciate the Otherness of others.
After the Great Recession, de-growth is here to stay. Today the notion of wealth should not be based on possession but enjoyment, on having enough time to spend with each other in communities rooted in trust and understanding. Politics and therapy should be one and the same.
A therapeutic politics. A political therapy. Berardi is the ultimate idealist; for his passion and vision I applaud him. But he wrote The Soul at Work at the beginning of Obama’s first term as president. Hope and change were promised but rarely delivered. Congressional Republicans had made a pact, we later learned, to thwart the first black president’s efforts at the same time he was dancing with his wife at the inaugural ball.
Berardi puts too much faith in rationality and the triumph of compassion over fear and bigotry. Some people hate for no reason. Some people vote for “security”—from minorities, immigrants and refugees—over their own economic interests. Economic competition is no longer just a race; it’s about “opposing” races competing for American jobs that end up being outsourced or go to robots that don’t complain or call in sick. Inequality is a social, not a natural, division between individuals who all live and suffer and die together. We are more alike than different, and we’re all afraid of poverty, disease and isolation. Yet our misery under capitalism grows.
Prior to 2015, few could imagine a Donald Trump presidency. Berardi has redefined some of his thought in light of Trump’s rise to (white) power, but the core ideas he laid out eight years ago appear naïve today. Rather than less work, there will be more work. Plenty of work after Trump unravels “the fabric of social relation.”
We live in a post-truth world. Can the Soul survive post-hope?
It’s been two weeks since Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to concede the election. Wonder if she used her rollover minutes.
Against the math, the polls, the demographics, Trump is now transitioning from troll to big kahuna. Some pundits argue that voters who identified for months as “undecided” knew they were voting for Trump all along but were afraid to admit it. Trump didn’t make their hearts go pitter-patter, but one look at Crooked Hillary turned them into stone.
Baudrillard had no faith in surveys, opinion polls or questionnaires. Pollsters don’t objectively gather information; they look for (and subconsciously elicit) answers that confirm their own ways of thinking. But the amorphous political collective–which includes you and me and everyone–known as the Masses has grown weary of all the poking and prodding. We resist the incessant demand to “rationally” decide and “truthfully” register a definitive Yes or No.
Trump supporters who refused to be counted weren’t conflicted but clever. They messed with the media, played the system. We all have to live with the results, and Trump’s executive decisions, now and into the un-foreseeable future.
In 1996 Jean-Claude Romand was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two decades prior to his conviction Romand was a promising medical student who failed his second-year exams. Instead of retaking the tests Romand set up a double life in plain sight. He presented himself to his family and friends as a successful doctor and medical researcher even though he wasn’t qualified and held no medical post.
Romand became a husband and father, turning to shady property dealings to support his family. Eighteen years into his double life, Romand feared exposure and killed his parents, wife and children. The case, which calls into question the foundation of personal identity, continues to baffle police, psychiatrists and philosophers.
Could Hillary Clinton, ashamed of her defeat, convince her family and friends that she won the election?
Here’s the plan. On inauguration day she tells Bill she’s leaving for the White House. “I’ll be back in eight years,” she says, gathering her pantsuits. “There’s leftover lasagna in the fridge. If the FBI calls let it go to the machine.”
Instead of DC, Hillary heads for NYC and a date with destiny. She joins Beyonce’s world tour with a fresh perspective and a new Gmail account, ready to turn a political lemon into Lemonade.
America’s fate took a sharp right turn last week. Was electing Donald Trump our destiny? Or another random occurrence in an absurd universe? Or the logical result of intricate causal relationships that began with the Original Thought in the mind of the Unmoved Mover?
Baudrillard liked to write about destiny and seduction. It’s silly to speak of an individual’s destiny, he said. We have a collective destiny with every living being and every non-living object in the world.
But each life has a double life. “Each individual life unfolds on two levels, in two dimensions–history and destiny–which coincide only exceptionally” (Impossible Exchange, p. 79).
I have my biological life, the physiological stuff of my existence, which allows for the development and expression of myself as “subject” over time. But my fate lies beyond my individual choices, in the mysterious inner-workings of a destiny I can neither name nor change. Baudrillard calls this double life my “becoming-object” or my “becoming-other.”
Many folks see their lives in linear terms. They embark on paths they mistakenly believe are straight, their goals attainable if they stay focused and plow ahead. But paths diverge, lines intersect. GPS recalculates.
Seduction, in Baudrillard’s world, has little to do with amorous pursuits and more to do with our secret desire to be led astray. We seduce ourselves and each other. Objects seduce us. We long for a shove in unexpected directions.
Donald Trump seduced American voters. The election results seduced the pollsters. We don’t know where the county goes from here. History is a poor substitute for destiny, which is here before you know it.
Donald Trump just cockblocked our old friend Hillary Clinton from the presidency. To liberals across the country I hereby raise a soothing glass of Moloko Plus imported just this morning from the place where everybody knows your shame, the Korova Milk Bar.
Hallucinogenic milk: it does a body gooooooooooood…