Time wars: our finite lives frittered away in the precarious world of automation

Mark Fisher's essay "Time-Wars" riveted me. It's an analysis of the way that stories about technology and work -- both explicit political/ideological stump speeches and futurism, and science fiction stories -- have failed to keep pace with the reality of work, automation, and "precarity" (the condition of living a precarious economic existence). After all, time is finite. Life is finite. Automation makes it possible not to work, or to work very little, at least in the rich world. The system distributes the gains of automation so unevenly that a tragically overworked class is pitted against a tragically unemployed class. Meanwhile, the only resource that is truly non-renewable -- the time of our lives -- is frittered away in "work" that we do because we must, because of adherence to doctrine about how money should flow.

For most workers, there is no such thing as the long term. As sociologist Richard Sennett put it in his book The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, the post-Fordist worker “lives in a world marked … by short-term flexibility and flux … Corporations break up or join together, jobs appear and disappear, as events lacking connection.” (30) Throughout history, humans have learned to come to terms with the traumatic upheavals caused by war or natural disasters, but “[w]hat’s peculiar about uncertainty today,” Sennett points out, “is that it exists without any looming historical disaster; instead it is woven into the everyday practices of a vigorous capitalism.”

It isn’t only work that has become more tenuous. The neoliberal attacks on public services, welfare programmes and trade unions mean that we are increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity. The consequence of the normalisation of uncertainty is a permanent state of low-level panic. Fear, which attaches to particular objects, is replaced by a more generalised anxiety, a constant twitching, an inability to settle. The uncertainty of work is intensified by digital communication technology. As soon as there is email, there are no longer working hours nor a workplace. What characterises the present moment more than our anxious checking – of our messages, which may bring opportunities or demands (often both at the same time), or, more abstractly, of our status, which, like the stock market is constantly under review, never finally resolved?

We are very far from the “society of leisure” that was confidently predicted in the 1970s. Contrary to the hopes raised at that time, technology has not liberated us from work. As Federico Campagna writes in his article “Radical Atheism”, published on the Through Europe website. “In the current age of machines … humans finally have the possibility of devolving most productive processes to technological apparatus, while retaining all outcomes for themselves. In other words, the (first) world currently hosts all the necessary pre-conditions for the realization of the old autonomist slogan ‘zero work / full income/ all production / to automation’. Despite all this, 21st century Western societies are still torn by the dusty, capitalist dichotomy which opposes a tragically overworked section of population against an equally tragically unemployed one.”

Campagna’s call for a “radial atheism” is based on the recognition that the precariousness that cannot be eliminated is that of life and the body. If there is no afterlife, then our time is finite. Curiously, however, we subjects of late capitalism act as if there is infinite time to waste on work. Work looms over us as never before. “In an eccentric and an extreme society like ours,” argue Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming in their book Dead Man Working, “working has assumed a universal presence – a ‘worker’s society in the worst sense of the term – where even the unemployed and children become obsessed with it.” (2) Work now colonises weekends, late evenings, even our dreams. “Under Fordism, weekends and leisure time were still relatively untouched,” Cederström and Fleming point out. “Today, however, capital seeks to exploit our sociality in all spheres of work. When we all become ‘human capital’ we not only have a job, or perform a job. We are the job.”

INCUBATE-special: Exclusive essay ‘Time-wars’ by Mark Fisher


  1. As an under-employed poor person in the midst of a recession seemingly exacerbated by the unemployed rich clinging to a paradigm of money—>social worth (or perhaps that should be ‘differences in money’) but not the other way around, this is the kind of thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Certainly the descriptions of constant anxiety are familiar.

    1. At 34 I’ve more or less accepted a fate of carefully saving the proceeds of poorly-paid, tedious busywork, never owning a home, never feeling worthy of a partner and generally having no hope of any improvement in the world during my lifetime. And even with these abysmal standards, I feel wracked with tension about getting by.

      1. Yeah, I’ve been a shoestring away from homelessness for the past couple years myself, I concur with the feeling of anxiety. I hate how our hard-times have turned into a raging, if ultimately actionless,  multi-partisan political debate.

      2. Free to you from me, I’ve gotten good ROI on this outlook.

        Work is. I’ve laboured, managed, etc. Lucky now to do what I want, but had I not been I would still get more from volunteerism and being good now than I ever did from a paycheck. Volunteerism is also excellent networking and can apply to many fields, not to be confused with unpaid internship, which can be dubious these days. Volunteerism is strange medicine for someone that is down, but it honestly works if you work it.

        Home ownership is overrated in many locales and affordable in the others. If you aren’t certain of dying in a city, don’t buy in a city. Bubbles abound.

        You are definitely worthy of a partner because you draw breath. 

        Partners of the sort you mean are best if you and the one you find both fully comprehend richer or poorer. If they can’t accept that commune  firmament, untouchable, knowing that money is only a veil it can be seen through and torn away at will, then fuck em. 

        There are more and more people seeing money in a better light as things (seem to) get harder, so odds of meeting improve. I married older than you are, we met at your age.

        The world will burn and turn to ash no matter what you do, so getting by is as good a goal as any for a lifetime. Better to think about next week, line some shit up.

        Look around as you do and not all will be lost.I hate hearing how the world’s recent silliness is getting people down, truly the screws are be put to people and evidence abounds that it is unjust, and often entirely unreal. 

        Don’t read the news for 3 weeks and develop a retch response whenever someone pays an economist to speak as though it will affect you but not if you listen.

  2. He kept zinging me with interesting ideas, “precarity” makes the whole essay worth my while, but he demanded I seek after his other work when he wrote about the “massive deterioration of the social imagination.” I think Doug Henwood was grasping at the same idea in his interview with Sasha Lilley on Against the Grain in November (http://www.againstthegrain.org/program/494/id/451141/tues-11-08-11-wall-street-populism-and-left ) when asked about alternatives and he responded with our inability to imagine alternatives after three or four decades of the Regan/Thatcher program.

    I find hope in those who try and imagine alternatives, imagine the better world. So I’m hungry for ways to reverse the erosion of that imaginative capacity.

  3. What the hell’s a “neoliberal”?  And why are they attacking social programs?  Plus, I disagree.  Facebook allows friends from distant places to play together and share their fun.  Fun is everywhere.  People going out, going on vacations, making great food, enjoying family, taking great pictures, sharing it, cracking jokes, all kinds of stuff.  So, I’m hitting the big DISAGREE button on this one.

    1. “What the hell’s a “neoliberal”?”

      Really?! Wow. Well, you can catch up on the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberal ). The basic idea is that there is a lot of Not Fun At All stuff, like the privatization of education (with corresponding massive student debt), the elimination of the safety net as in Wisconsin last year (pensions, health care, collective bargaining rights throw out for public sector workers)… basically the economy-wide program to insure that government exists only to support socialism for big corporations.

      1. Now that you know that there are people who are proud they don’t know what a neoliberal is, don’t electoral politics in the US make a lot more sense?

        1. Did he say he was proud? The confusion I’m having is taking the word ‘liberal’, as liberals have never been known for attacking safety nets or public education or collective bargaining, but rather for supporting those things, sticking the prefix  ‘neo’ on the front of it and assigning all the bad things in the US to this supposed group.

          1. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been tempted to stoop to saying “just freaking Google it.” This “supposed group” has been a dominant force in American politics, widely discussed by journalists and academics since at least the Clinton era. 

            It’s not the ignorance that annoys people, it’s the weird dismissive pride. It’s someone pretending that because they don’t know what a neoliberal is (despite plenty of opportunity to learn on their own), that the concepts and realities described by the term are “sketchy” somehow and can be dismissed. 

            It leaves me with this bitter taste in my mouth, a reminder of how regularly people simply ignore things that don’t fit tidily into their pre-existing concepts of the world. The fact we’re *all* prone to it only depresses me more.

            Just… argh.

          2. You too would appear to be proud. “Liberal” is not just a word that Newt Gingrich says over and over again. In fact they use the word in other countries! I wonder what they mean when they say it over there? OH WELL IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN OR KNOW

        2. What annoys me is that there seems to be a prevailing attitude among many fairly smart people I encounter that phrases they aren’t familiar with are simply meaningless buzzwords coined by academics….”neo-liberal,” “post-modern,” “multicultural,” even “marxist.” These are real terms that have real meaning that apply to a long-running discussion that Western thinkers have been having for several hundred years now. I’m sorry you are unfamiliar with that, but we are trying to have a complicated discussion that sometimes requires nuanced language. Your ignorance isn’t proof that these words are meaningless, it just means you aren’t paying attention.

          1. You make it all sound so jolly. In my experience academics get involved in sometimes quite bitter internecine feuds determining the meaning of words. Power and status are part of the debate too.

      2. Here’s the problem, also taken from Wikipedia:

        The meaning of “conservatism” in America has little in common with the way the word is used elsewhere. As Ribuffo (2011) notes, “what Americans now call conservatism much of the world calls liberalism or neoliberalism.”

        Hence the confusion. I proudly call myself a “liberal”, but I’m definitely not what the rest of the world calls a liberal.

    2. Neoliberalism is the thinking that anything government does, private corporations can do better. So privatize prisons, health care, electricity, telecommunications, the post office, etc. Make sure to create “free trade” treaties between nations so that capital and goods can move over borders but of course labour can’t. Oh, and if there’s any rules and regulations in place to stop corporations from doing bad shit, get rid of those rules and regulations because they impede growth.


      1. Oh, I know.  I am fully aware of what “neoliberal” is referring to… but still… what the hell IS that? Can anyone post a picture of one?  Didn’t think so.  Last I checked, the neocons are attacking “public services, welfare programmes and trade unions” too, so what the hell does this all mean?  Nothing.  Because it’s mumbo-jumbo.

          1. Oh yeah, THAT guy, who has been shaping the political thoughtspace of North America since 1945.  riiiiiiiiighhhhhhttttt.  

            It’s what I said – it’s meaningless drively swervy slithery blather, slapping on these labels like neoliberal, neocon, etc., to make hay.  I mean come on… who are we kidding?

        1. Neoconservatives are all about invading stuff and conservative social engineering. Neoliberals are neither of those things. Generally when someone says they are “socially liberal, economically conservative,” they are a “neoliberal.”

        2. OK, so because you disagree with the terminology and think it’s the “neocons” rather than “neoliberals” who are attacking public services (even though “neocon” is primarily a label for a certain interventionist foreign policy strategy, and virtually any European politician who wants to shrink public services would be labeled a “neoliberal”, even if this label isn’t used much in the U.S.), you therefore discount the entire article and say (paraphrasing) “everything’s great, we have facebook and fun is everywhere?” Kinda seems like the drastic scaling-back of public services and welfare programs, combined with the rise in unemployment and increased difficulty of finding good jobs (due to some combination of automation and outsourcing, probably) would be a serious problem regardless of what label we attach to the people doing it. But let me guess, you have a comfortable economic situation and this sort of scaling-back doesn’t affect your life much?

  4. I agree with all of this except that I don’t understand the 180-degree veer into “radical atheism.” What does theism or atheism have to do with any of this? Is anyone under the impression that religion implies support for Fordist work agendas? Even the right-wing leadership of the bloody Catholic Church agrees that “capital seeks to exploit our sociality in all spheres of work” and that this isn’t a good thing.

    1. I think he is talking about conceptual atheism–the entire set-up is dependent on understanding our lives as finite and without afterlife. If we have an afterlife and are rewarded there for our moral actions here then none of it is relavent.

    2. Yeah, I think that was “radical” as in “building up from root assumptions” (the word ‘radical’ derives from the Latin word radix meaning ‘root’. . . so it sometimes is used to refer to a commitment to root principles, rather than simply extremism or militancy or some of the other connotations carried by the word). Hence, radical atheism in terms of the assumptions made about the time afforded a human consciousness viz. afterlife or not.

    3.  I read the “atheism” part as referring to the absolute belief that this life is our only one. If you start from the premise that there is no chance admissable that you will outlive your body, then every minute your body is stuck in a shitty job becomes a cruel waste of the only life you will ever have.

        1. Interesting link. Thanks.

          I can’t really imagine my life as worth living without connection to civilization; I’m sure I’m not alone in that. But, I think it’s worth working out what about civilization actually improves the quality of our lives; I think we’ve got a lot of unquestioned assumptions about that.

  5. “In the current age of machines … humans finally have the possibility of devolving most productive processes to technological apparatus, while retaining all outcomes for themselves.”

    Ah yes, but then as the pro-corporate shills love to say, we would be “getting something for free!” And that’s stealing!

    1.  SO everyone just gets to laze about, eat play games and procreate? Creating more demand for goods and food? how long does that work? The machines just keep chugging along? And we just keep feeding them resources and they keep feeding us goods to consume? It sounds like we’ve gone from waking to riding in a car and now the idea being proposed is we just put a brick on the gas pedal take our hands off the wheel and let the car drive itself?

      Capitalism or no if you take money out of the system you are still left with physics. Energy needs to be transferred, resources consumed and as Heinlein used to say there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

      Also, what makes you think the machines are going to want to share?

      1. All sorts of craziness ensues when you set a variable to 0. It may still be worth questioning what happens if we reduce its value quite a bit.

        Since 1973 in the US, per capita GDP has more than doubled, but real mean wages have been almost static. Maybe there’s room to produce less, work less, and have about the same standard of living, only with more leisure.

      2. I see, so people should be: poor, overworked, unemployed, uneducated, stressed, anxious, and in constant state of social unrest, all because it would be inconvenient for the out-dated system we have in place? Odd then that the select few at the top already live this ‘inconvenience’, and have enough resource debt from the rest of us to keep up that lifestyle for generations. 

        “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

        Its always the people who’ve eaten everybody else’s free lunch, and horded the rest for later that seem to make this claim.
        “No such thing as a free lunch peasant! Now excuse me while I eat my free caviar lunch.”

  6. Agreed on the time-destroying nature of modern work, but I’m not really on board with this idea that remixing and pastiche are the debased results of neoliberal capitalist precarity — and that if only we had effective labor unions and social stability, we’d all be producing innovative “original” culture instead.

    “The disintegration of social democracy has had a dampening, rather than a dynamic, effect on culture in highly neoliberalized countries such as the UK. Fredric Jameson’s claims that late capitalist culture would be given over to pastiche and retrospection have turned out to be extraordinarily prophetic. We’ve grown so accustomed to repetition and recycling that we no longer notice them.  … social energy is sucked into the vortex of late capitalist labour and its vast simulation of productivity.”

    I was a sociology student at Goldsmiths in the 90s and all this is strangely familiar. This is exactly what they were saying back then about television and VCRs. (i.e. the media of the previous generation)

    You could say that academics have a tendency to repeat themselves, but that would be cheeky!

    1. The problem is, we have a system that is called “free-market” and “capitalism”, and its anything but. 

      “You could say that academics have a tendency to repeat themselves, but that would be cheeky!”

      Well, you know what they say “History repeats itself.”

    2. The irony of his statement is that “repetition and recycling” have always been a part of culture; if anything we’re actually far more aware of it than we have been in the past.  And I think that’s because “late capitalists culture” has, to a previously unprecedented degree, managed to commodify the basic ideas themselves, so it has an interest in keeping track of who owns what “intellectual property” and making sure that we recognize cultural referents and references.

    3.  We do repeat ourselves!  Every freakin’ semester to a new group of freshman! Especially  us historians…  And for the record, the cheeky students are always the best ones, IMHO.

      But seriously, I think you’re on to something there.  I’ve been thinking about the rise of copyright in the 20th century and the nature of the culture industry, and how it presents itself ( that they both promote the best and brightest of artists and they constantly crank out original material, and that they are constantly just filling popular demand) vs. how culture actually works in real life. It seems to me that culture is always and has always been a shared, remixed, and reinvented thing. It’s a way of making sense of the world and forging common bonds amongst a group of people.

      I think also that authenticity and originality have become watch words of the industry, but are we really getting at the heart of what they really mean? I’m not convinced that they are. I think that it’s far more productive to look at how people use/live culture, rather than just assuming that people are being hoodwinked by the culture industry or whatever. I think it was Simon Frith who noted that the intent of culture industry is not always how culture is used and received – I guess that is if you buy the Gramscian notion of culture being in the service of the elites, who are crafting a consensus based on a shared culture – which I kind of do, with serious caveats. I’ll say that in the 20th century culture became a commodity, along with still being a means of reinforcing cultural/social norms. I think this is caused a crazy kind of schizophrenia in culture, how it is presented and how we experience it… 

      I don’t know if that made any real sense, but I’m trying to work through these sorts of ideas in my work lately.  But, yeah.  I think it was Jello Biafra who once said in a song “don’t just question authority/don’t forget to question me”.  I kind of take that seriously when I teach a class. I sure as hell don’t have the answers for my students. But I don’t think anyone else does either…  I try to bring that uncertainty to my lectures… 

      1. This got me thinking, I do have a few questions.

        I’m not sure about the commoditized ideas. I think certain expressions have been commoditized but not the “ideas” themselves. So the culture itself isn’t the commodity so much as the products of that culture.

        The patent system also traditionally doesn’t hinder new expression (the better mouse trap). This is what makes me think there is something missing from the debate. The system doesn’t debase creativity, just repeated copying of older expression.

        Thus, if those cultural expressions are so entrenched and in such need of a reform why haven’t countervailing-forces encouraged a boycott or otherwise taken grassroots action against those forces?

        In sense, I think that its hard to rebel against the cultural authority that you are accepting with the copying of that expression in the first place… I don’t really know for sure, which is why I am asking.

        This is the one oddity I find in IP debates, people still “rent” seats for a couple hours at the movie. It’s has been a common practice to pay for such service for years, what has changed in society that warrants an adjustment?

        I know of  artists on places like DeviantArt that seem to look with some longing towards IP protection/ accreditation for their own truly original works. After all its one thing to slight a system yet it is quite another to slight an individual.

        1. “I know of artists on places like DeviantArt that seem to look with some longing towards IP protection/ accreditation for their own truly original works.”

          Thats because they believe they can be the next Lady Gaga, its the dream sold to them by Hollywood. One where everybody can be a rock stars if only they (the Hollywood big shots) take mercy on you.  And I would add that “truly original works” in quotes, there is no such thing.
          The smart ones wised up, and we took the high road.

          1. That’s very presumptuous. All artist want to be like the  big shots ? What evidence do you have to support that conjecture?

            If you want to quote out “originality” I will give you that; however, my point isn’t so much philosophically tied to what “originality” is or isn’t so much as it is tied to the testable sameness of two works. Basically the idea, the “original”, is a platonic form, and unreachable. The expression however is testable.

            Now I grant that test is also somewhat subjective as of now (even as new technology exists to provide accurate scoring), but this is also tied up into what value we as a society give to artistic talent. The lack of IP protections for artist could be said to have its own chilling effect on creativity of expression.

            After all why create something new and original if there are masses of people there to either lift the work and pass it as their own, or people who see no point in paying the artist for their investment of time and stress into their expression.

            So  sure there is no such thing as “originality” but such philosophical arguments aren’t what’s at stake. What’s at stake is whether we as a society wish to culturally support and maintain the traditional social value that comes with creative expression.

    4. “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat the eleventh grade.” — James Loewen

  7. “…stories about technology and work … have failed to keep pace with the reality of work, automation, and “precarity”…

    Somewhere, Justin Timberlake is jumping up and down, waving his hand.

  8. Thanks for posting this one, Cory. 

    One of my favorite aspects of Burning Man is removing myself completely from the pressures of time (and precarity) for a couple weeks out of the year. It’s really striking, upon returning to the default world, just what a house of cards it all is, how many radically different options we have. More people need that experience. Our world predicament is a massive failure of social creativity.

    And please stop by Decadent Oasis, at 6:30 and Esplanade (the grove of glowing palm trees). I’d love to ponder life’s ironies with you over the alien playascape. 

    — wryfi

    a/k/a Chris, a/k/a the Hammer

  9. Some interesting ideas here.  I generally agree that work and anxiety about it have colonized free time.  And that a steady secure job is a thing of the past for many people.  We’ve been sold this as a feature, not a bug and that’s a cruel fraud.
    But “The neoliberal attacks on public services, welfare programmes and trade unions mean that we are increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity.” doesn’t make sense to me.  Yes, public services, unions and the social safety net are under attack but in the case of the US he’s blaming the wrong end of the political spectrum as the assailants.

    1. In response also to the “what the hell is a neo-liberal” comment above, many in the Democratic party in the United States are neo-liberals. It is important to understand “liberal” here not as it is used in U.S. discourse but in the classical 19th-century sense– Enlightenment liberalism that favors free, rational markets. Bill Clinton’s partial privatization of Welfare is a prime example of neo-liberalism. Many of Obama’s economic advisers are neo-liberals– Robert Rubin and that whole gang. On a global scale, the bastion of neo-liberalism is the World Bank and the IMF,  many of whose employees would vote well to the left in the U.S.  The problem is that in the U.S. we actually don’t have significant political representation for NON neo-liberal economics– other than the decayed unions and the insignificant Green party. Both sides of the mainstream aisle have been captured.

      1. I get that, and thanks for the careful explanation.  Progressives (I’m assuming there’s more than one of them and pluralization is appropriate) could be considered the other pole of the US liberal spectrum.  My point was that the Right has done far more damage to unions, the social safety net and public services than the Left.  Singling out Neo-liberals for that seems like a shot at the wrong target.

        1. Liberalism is a right-wing ideology.   It has nothing to do with Democrat vs. Republican.  Both Parties are pro-capitalism and anti-worker.  The author was not blaming the wrong side of the US political spectrum.  There isn’t really a spectrum.  The US lacks any viable communist, socialist, labor, social democratic, etc party and no longer even has a functional organized labor movement.  We are ruled by a corporate oligarchy.

          People who only know the US understand liberalism to mean something like “moderate social-democracy”.

          The rest of the world considers liberalism pro-free market capitalism.  They define the right as supporters of traditional power structures in all their forms: capitalism, the patriarchal family, religion, etc and the left as those who support liberty, equality, and solidarity over existing systems of power and domination.  By these definitions, US politics only have a right-wing.

          The Republican Party may be even worse on social issues, but on attacking unions, opening up borders to capital but closing them to humans,  etc, the two parties are nearly identical.

        2.  It might not have been original with Gore Vidal, but he liked to say that American politics was dominated by a single party with two right wings.

    2. Neoliberal is a strange term, because it is the philosophy used by the “conservative” wing of American politics.  The Neoliberal ideas of privatizing everything predate the modern conservative movement.  I suppose if you want to annoy a conservative, you could call them a neoliberal.  If they don’t like it, tell them to look it up.

  10. I like this analysis a lot but one thing I am currently very obsessed by is that actually a lot of the description of precarity is not really new at all, but describes life for workers before the middle of the 20th Century (or in many parts of the world now). For example, I am working on a story now about the 1936 auto-workers strike in Flint Michigan, which established teh UAW, widely seen as the paradigm of “Fordist” labor conditions. But in fact, as I read the testimony and oral histories of those workers, what they reveal is that before the union, jobs in the factories were paid piecework (ie, “Pay [was] correlated to output”) and there was no guarantee of a job or a career or even a set amount of work day-to-day. It was the major demand of the union that workers be paid hourly wages and be guaranteeed a minimum number of hours per week. And this understanding gives me hope– because basically direct action and political organizing found a solution to those problems 100 years ago and there is no reason why they can’t today. It took long years of struggle to get there then and we shouldn’t expect less now.

    1.  Unions have been virtually destroyed in the US and they won’t be coming back any time soon. Labor is on the cost side of the balance sheet and the capitalist will always try to pay as little for it as possible.

      1. Yeah, but that was also true 100 years ago. Unions were practically nonexistent and worse than useless where they did exist. People fought like hell and won some victories.

        1.  The difference today (in the US) is that the very people who would be helped by unionization have accepted as truth, the demonization of unions by the right. Whereas, 100 years ago, laborers understood what unionization could do for them in terms of improving their situation, unions, today (again, in the US) are pretty roundly thought of by the working classes as being responsible for the collapse of manufacturing jobs in the US, the decline of public education, and on and on. It’s been an amazingly successful smear-job on the part of the right in the US.

          I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for 21st century workers to “fight like hell” to unionize or do anything that would actually improve their lot.

          1. Surely globalization would change the game significantly here, as companies are much more mobile with their workforce and can realistically move to another country if laborers become to awkward / expensive.

          2. @mfux5jr2:disqus  Yeah, 100 years ago you simply couldn’t outsource your industrial manufacturing to a third-world country in order to pay less than 2% of the wages you’d pay the local work force, for instance. That certainly changes things.

          3. Most white people have accepted the right-wing lies about unions.   I don’t think most poor and working class blacks, recent Latin@ immigrants, etc are so hopelessly reactionary.

            Also, for those saying that offshoring labor changes things, remember that globalization is nothing new. The labor movement has always aimed to unite workers all over the world. It’s hard for bosses to undercut wages when every worker in the supply chain is bargaining together. Also, occupations and factory takeovers are a great way to prevent offshoring. Seizing the means of production is another tool the labor movement needs to rediscover.

  11. I can’t help getting the sense that “tragically overworked” here is simply a metaphor for the work the author (and in this case his “overly educated” audience) never have any interest in doing, even if such an honest job might pay the rent and give one a markedly less dismal outlook on economic life.

    Skilled Labor continues to get a bad rap in western society. Even as those jobs make growing use of the “Soft” technologies, and the jobs are there working with these enhanced machines. 

    The misguided assumption in this piece is that these “software enhanced” or automated machines take all the work out of production, this is simply false. There are many jobs associated with modern production methods: one still has to select materials based upon client needs , load the machine and among, “skilled” things ensure that the programming is actually both right for the job and right for the tool and right for the cut. This list could go on.

    The allusion’s to “zero work” in this day and age ring hollow to me at least.After all, if this conjecture were true then the employment trends at my local tech school should, in theory, reflect this “zero work” reality, which it does not. The jobs are there, but people have to want to do the jobs in the first place.

    1. “This list could go on.”

      Not really, as the millers of the 19 century learned, everything has limits.

      1. What exactly are you saying?

        Indeed.com kicks back 3000 plus actual job listings for “miller”

        Millwrights still exist today, their work has changed with the ages. Not only has the job changed under the label but so too have the attitudes around and about those jobs. The humanities/ academia have an inexplicable dislike of those who maintain the baser functions behind “first world” comforts.

        1. “What exactly are you saying?”

          I’d like to know what you’re saying. How does 3000+ jobs equal “The jobs are there” and “This list could go on”???
          And I wasn’t talking about people who build or maintains mills, I was talking about the millers, who did the job of actually milling the grain. You know, the ones replaced by them.

          And you seem just a little bit bitter at “The humanities/ academia” who you seem to view as some sort of straw-bourgeois who hate ‘ day laborers’ or something.

          “After all, if this conjecture were true then the employment trends at my local tech school should, in theory, reflect this “zero work” reality, which it does not.”

          Are you talking about students? Or teachers getting hired at tech schools? Which is it?

          1. I’m talking about how tech school graduates get placed in jobs via cooperative education. the Coop is a source of a sure job these days.

            I’m not here to get into a flame war over our perceptions. I’m not here to change your mind. Please don’t elevate my personal ideas and experience beyond what they are.

          2. “the Coop is a source of a sure job these days.”

            And? Again, what does that have to do with anything the article mentioned? I didn’t see it insulting or ‘dissing’ cooperative education. Nor did I see it mentioning the lack of ‘skilled labor’ requirements. 

            “I’m not here to get into a flame war over our perceptions. I’m not here to change your mind. ”

            If me asking a simple question, is a ‘flame war’, then you clearly have no idea what a flame war is. 

          3. Not really, as the millers of the 19 century learned, everything has limits.

            This isn’t a question.
            Good day to you. 

          4. “This isn’t a question.”

            What? Just that one? That wasn’t the thread to which you replied, and yet you avoided my questions just above. The same thread where you think this is a flame war. I’d call that deflection.
            But whatever, sadly for you, you can’t seem to see past your own political bias. Believe it or not, I actually agree to the point about skilled labor, but that was something the article had nothing to do with. Nor did my point. It wasn’t a rant about the ‘evils’ of automation or skilled labor, on the contrary, it is very much pro-automation. Its just asked the question why only a select few should enjoy the fruits of it. It is a paradoxical condition of moder times.  (I should have probably just linked to Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”)

            “Good day to you.”

            So you came to post your rant, and walk off. Okay then, I’ll remember you next time.

          5. Look, I’m an unemployed college graduate going back to technical school, If that reality offends, too bad.

            I’ve already tried  avoiding talking about socio-narratives other then ones that I  have direct experience with (like the one in the article). I am not properly prepared to have a discussion like one that might be had in a sociology course. If you are comfortable with that style of discussion, then more power to you, I’m just not the person who could properly answer for whatever the supposed counter-narrative might be. So please go find someone more qualified to vent your frustrations upon.

          6. “Look, I’m an unemployed college graduate going back to technical school,”

             For someone who’s unemployed, you sure seem to make the case that there’s countless jobs out there. Did they not suit you? Or were you just lazy/didn’t want them?

             “If that reality offends, too bad.”” 

            Why do you believe that offends people, or me? Does it offend you, and so you’re projecting because you feel ashamed to be unemployed, and going to technical school? If so, why?

            “I’m just not the person who could properly answer for whatever the supposed counter-narrative might be. So please go find someone more qualified to vent your frustrations upon.”

            Fair enough, you could have said that before. And I’m not frustrated at all, I don’t know why you seem to think I am.

            For the record, I don’t hate/and or feel offended by the unemployed or those going to technical schools.

          7. For someone who’s unemployed, you sure seem to make the case that there’s countless jobs out there. Did they not suit you? Or were you just lazy/didn’t want them?

            Sheesh…. really?

            I as a prior graduate of college am as of yet not qualified to take any of the jobs I referenced. I gain qualifications to take those jobs via technical school.

          8. “I as a prior graduate of college am as of yet not qualified to take any of the jobs I referenced. I gain qualifications to take those jobs via technical school.”

            Proving my point then. There is no job for you for whatever the reason, so you’re now in a quest to find one, falling in the category of ‘unemployed’  looking for employment. Welcome to the Time Wars.

          9. There is no job for you for whatever the reason

            Conan, I realise you don’t really care what I have to say; but, that is an exaggeration of my case to fit your perceived reality. Yes there are jobs, yes there are some that can work for me. Do I think those jobs make economic sense to apply for, NO. 

            I would hardly consider a quickly obtainable, and cheap technical degree much cause to wall me off into the hopeless/ can’t fend for myself without systemic change category. I’m not waiting for Godot along with the rest of academia.

            You want me to fit your perceptions but I don’t, that’s why you’ve been dogging me. You so desperately want to be, “right” that you can’t accept that even a small, and insignificant part of reality doesn’t fit your grand narrative…

          10. “Yes there are jobs, yes there are some that can work for me. Do I think those jobs make economic sense to apply for, NO.”

            By the Gods! This man has eyes but cannot see! 

          11. I’ve opened up about my personal experience, and wilfully defended it as you continue still to chided it. This to me is fulfilling enough.

            Thanks for the LULZ… it’s been fun :)

      2. Not all things have limits:

        “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.” – Einstein.

    2.  I read “tragically overworked” as reference to the very real situation in the US where those who have jobs are increasingly pressured by their employers to devote more and more of their time, in and out of the office, to their jobs. It’s quite common for someone to put in long hours in the office, only to go home and put in 5 or 6 more hours on the job. Day after day. All just to remain stationary, economically. It’s pretty standard, actually. And, I’m not talking about the tech industry.

      1. Ok, I suppose I misread the reference, I have trouble parsing metaphor heavy writers such as Sennett sometimes. I understand that too, I know plenty of people working two jobs.

        But the Tech industry offers three more hopeful directions as opposed to cubicles.

        1) You have relatively stable situation (location/ company dependent of course, I happen to live in one of those locations). Some skills like auto mechanics always have a local market wherever you might go.

        2) Now if, assuming that, this sort of situation is unrealistic, its much easier to strike out as a journeyman and take your skill with you to a place where those skills are in demand, another state/country etc.

         or 3) Possibly launching a lean start-up and creating the demand where you’re at.

        No matter which it might be all are preferable to the purgatory of being in the middle of two jobs, that just sucks.All of these options aren’t great, but I by no means tie my happiness to my job, that another part of that article that kinda got to me, who in their right mind does? A job is a paycheck and a career and the enjoyment are always a bonus. Then again the evolution of the Protestant Ethic is another point of continued debate these days.

  12. SedanChair – So I can’t use the word ‘liberal’ with the meaning I understand it to have because in other countries it’s used differently? You use it the way you want to use it and I’ll use it the way I want to use it.
    Another problem I’m having with the term ‘neoliberal’ is that it implies that there are different factions within the government and that this one is different from the others and in ascendancy when there’s really very little difference amongst them and are all serving the same masters.

    1. The US version of ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ really does seem vastly different  from most of the worlds. Heck, even the colours are switched.

      1. I doubt this is an accident; the distorted use of the term “liberal” in US political discourse helps to confuse and obscure the dynamics of electoral politics. In particular, it tends to reinforce the Democratic Party. Democratic Party politicians are regularly described as liberal, and individuals describe themselves as liberals. But many self-described liberals hold views that would be described as social-democratic or socialist elsewhere in the world; whereas the actual policies the Democratic Party advances are pretty much what is labelled liberal elsewhere.

    2. “You use it the way you want to use it and I’ll use it the way I want to use it.”

      A surefire approach towards effective communication.

    3. Another problem I’m having with the term ‘neoliberal’ is that it implies that there are different factions within the government and that this one is different from the others and in ascendancy when there’s really very little difference amongst them and are all serving the same masters.

      The “they’re all the same” meme is wrong, primitive and destructive. Even if they were all evil, it wouldn’t mean that they all had the same goals.

      1. They’re not all the same… Dems, Repubs, etc… but they DO share a similar strident, blissful, willful ignorance of reality.

      2. In general, that’s true. Strategy and tactics depend upon knowing details, and that slogan goes too far in obscuring details
        On the other hand, there’s a need to counteract the conventional depiction of politics, especially US politics, as a simple binary opposition, with the two major parties depicted as polar opposites, obscuring the breadth of the number of fundamental issues on which they agree.

      3. “Even if they were all evil, it wouldn’t mean that they all had the same goals.”

        How is getting obscenely rich NOT the same goal?

        1. Not everyone is in government for the money. Some of them see themselves as warriors for their race or religion. It’s a lot easier to negotiate with the greedy than with the fanatic.

  13. Is this the thread where everybody disagrees with each other and I can’t figure out what viewpoint anyone is defending?

    Neoliberals are in effect like those who are called neocons in the US?
    Only with completely different backgrounds?

    The term “neoconservative” (sometimes shortened to “neocon”) was initially used in the 1930s, to describe former American communists who criticized fellow communists for following a path closer to Soviet communism.
    To me ‘neocons’ are puppeteer Karl Rove’s minions, the ones that hijacked the republican party for his masters.

    The meaning of neoliberalism has changed over time and come to mean different things to different groups. This lack of agreement creates major problems in creating an unbiased and unambiguous definition of neoliberalism.

    What the hell’s a “neoliberal”? What? 

    Neoliberals agree with neocons that the few very rich, very powerful people should become fewer, richer and more powerful.
    They’re just less socially awkward.

    1. As I understood it, the neoconservatives were originally a small group of academic Marxists who were initially critical of the Soviet Union and who came to assume that the Soviet Union was in fact the only possible outcome of Marxism, that liberal republics with free market economics were the only effective opposition, and that given the horrors of Stalinism, they should give total support to the US in the Cold War. Before long, any reference to their Marxist roots was forgotten
      As I recall, Karl Rove, and a few key Bush staffers, were students of one of these academics
      I remember during the invasion of Iraq, that there were bits of rhetoric about how this would trigger a wave of revolutions in the Middle East, that sounded a lot like the rhetoric of Lenin and Trotsky, only with the goal of such revolutions being free markets and liberal republics.

  14. Civilisation depends on one generation leaving behind a surplus to the next (in terms of knowledge, of productive capital, of whatever else). This is why we can now start our economically productive lives clothed, educated, and in cities rather than naked, ignorant, and on the savannah.

    It is in the how and the when of distributing the (rightly) private control over this surplus –from people who have died to people who have not yet worked to earn anything – that the “doctrine of how money should flow” is so profoundly broken.

    Under conditions where death is inevitable, opportunities are equal, and earnings are meritocratic, it would take significant and concerted effort to pervert the system into allowing any significant degree of wealth disparity.

  15. Not to be too controversial, but there’s always the possibility that your work and your interests and your preferences all align, and you wouldn’t want to make substantial changes. Precarity rules, of course, and everything could come crashing down at any time, but the same would be true for if your work was hateful and pointless. In short, the assumed dichotomy between “work” and “meaningful activity” is not absolute.

  16. “A machine is a concrete thought.
    When our thoughts are perfectly accurate, our machines will be perfectly efficient.
    When our machines are perfect, our wealth will be infinite.”
    Sir Edward replied at once, “Yes, but who will own that wealth? The most bold and predatory, I daresay.”

    – from The Earth Will Shake, by R.A. Wilson.

  17. It needs to be borne in mind that these metaphorical “time wars” are intimately connected with literal wars. Walter Benjamin described the connection toward the end of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:

    “War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. This is the political formula for the situation. The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technological resources while maintaining the property system… If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production -— in other words, to unemployment and the lack of markets.”
    — Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

    Apologists for the status quo and opponents of reducing working time are fond of telling us that “there is not a fixed amount of work to be done.” Tellingly, Eric Bogle employs the phrase “there’s work to be done” as the invocation that sends the young man off to war in his “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”


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