Sunday, December 06, 2009

Automatic for the people

Tony Jackson, Financial Times:

When times are good, the bosses get more than the workers, and when they are bad, they settle for the same.

The stomach has a long memory, and mine registers a query: When are times good? I have worked for Fortune 500 companies all of my adult life; and in the meantime aspired to something more in personal affairs than to exercise my individuality via the savvy consumer purchase.  

But it takes resources to make an investment; and what is undertaken on behalf of survival does not contribute to the project of living, as long as the boss stands in between.  Nietzche writes:

No one can finally spend more than he has.  That holds good for individuals; it holds good for peoples.  If one spends oneself for power, for high politics, for husbandry, for commerce, Parliamentarism, military interests -- if one gives away that amount of reason, earnestness, will, self-mastery, which constitutes his real self, for the one thing, he will not have it for the other.

What we give away must conform to our values. "Paying da bills" is not a value -- it is a necessity. It follows, then, that if there is to be scope for what "constitutes our real selves," it can't exist in conflict with the task of basic survival. But because we surrender that potential to the boss in exchange for "a living," we hope to anesthetize the spiritual agony which ensues with material accumulation in excess.

This is the compact of a consumer society. When times are good, many are invited along the single path which makes it work. When times are bad, fewer are admitted. But in neither case can one hope to make that investment in one's real self without, on some level, rejecting its terms.


Anonymous said...

reminds me of something you wrote a while back: the only time one is treated as an adult in the US is when one is shopping. i've thought about that statement a lot since reading it, a golden nugget of insight into behaviors we just take for granted.

Cüneyt said...

I don't see how a system where some live at the pleasure of others could possibly go wrong.

(By the way, I finally saw your April comment on my weblog. Thanks!)

JRB said...

The consumer ideal that separating yourself from your money is the highest form of self-expression, and the one realm where the individual experiences autonomy, really completes the cycle of wealth transfer which the process of industrial capitalism began. Capital keeps by force one portion of what labor has produced, only to have the laborer voluntarily return what is left -- or go into debt to give more.

What I wrote earlier was a quote from Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, which is filled with
similar insights. You're right that this is a hard one to shake! Montag has a running commentary on the book at his blog.

Anonymous said...

i'm anon from 0824 12/7 above; great comment JRB. w/the increase of the debtor society (speaking as one who knows), "they" are even taking away the pleasure of consumption. the bastards!

Cüneyt said...

Is this the season of Debord? A Finnish friend of mine recommended the book earlier this year and it read like Nostradamus. It's easily one of my favorites now.