Modern Times

Blog post @ Volume 3, published 20 February 2012

If I were to tell you that the financial crisis has affected the consumption levels of prescribed anti-depressants would you be surprised? Or if I told you that in 2011 the pool of those who admitted to be anxious included mostly unemployed women and that overall almost 6% of those enquired were ‘completely unsatisfied’ with their ‘work situation’, would you find it startling? Probably not.

We live in a supposedly meritocratic society – the American Dream and all that. Work hard, pay your dues, be rewarded. The truth, however, is rather different and one does not have to watch Pleasentville to know it. The London riots during the summer were indeed a political act of rebellion, for they showed the frustration of those caught in the disjuncture between the advert and the real product. In other words, we live in a world that encourages us to consume (the more the better), but relegates the possibility of consuming, by exploiting our labour even further. The dream (i.e.: the possibility of living in riches, buried under shoes, plasma screens and 4x4s) is supposed to be an enticement for further, unopposed, exploitative labour – a carrot big enough that no one even needs to use a stick. But how much longer will this carrot suffice?

The Job Crisis
Limited opportunities in the job market and precarious work, soaring prices, raised taxes, less public services – all amount to a state of depression that is not limited to the economy. And the problem does not solely arise to the millions of graduates and postgraduates who have to schlep away in some minimum wage job at a fast food chain or mentally crippling, quasi-mechanical call centre work.

The recent Tesco debacle is a good example on how lopsided the labour relations have become in the so-called “First World”. Once left behind in Victorian times, ‘slave-labour’ seems to now be in the order of the day, even if under a different name. ‘Working for benefits’ they call it, when someone has to restock the shelves of a billion pound profit-making supermarket for nothing but the £1.50 an hour granted by the government scheme. Liberals and social-democrats will go on the BBC and rant against how exploitative this is for the tax payer. “Why is the tax payer giving these people their salary?”, they will ask to make the petty bourgeoisie happy and assured someone is out there to defend their interests. But this argument alone is divisive and dangerous. The ‘tax payer’ is not just the owner of the corner shop across the road or the teacher in your children’s school. The ‘tax payer’ is both the person who is earning that £1.50 per hour, as the company which is making those billions of pounds out of the exploitation of the ‘shelf-fillers’ work. In fact, one could argue that in comparison the shelf-filler is paying substantially more taxes than Tesco, for it contributes more to the national economy, with far less compensation. A society that exploits their most vulnerable, inarguably the majority, and condones the exploiters, infamously known as the 1%, is a society which absurd levels of unfairness puts it under serious peril.

Which takes us back to the question of the carrot. If we assume that what keeps an unequal society (like all classed societies are) stable is the enticements it gives to the explored majority – bread and circus as the old motto goes – then the reducing of said enticements leads inevitably to consciousness of the 99%. It is no coincidence that both the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Occupy Movement have taken place after the 2008 financial crisis. The social repercussions of an economic meltdown is the exponential acceleration of the dialectical process that is the class struggle. In better-off states, like the UK, such a process is denoted slower. The dismantling of the NHS has not been an easy job for the ruling classes; mass strike action has not yet been seen to the degree of the worst-off countries like Greece and Portugal.

Importantly, however, is that this process of revolting and reloading is, at the rate of things, unavoidable. In Marx Reloaded the Manichaean option between the blue pill (the status quo) and the red pill (the revolutionary struggle) is misleading. The question should rather be: “Can we abstain from taking the red pill at all?” Or, if one is feeling more controversial and Zizekean, “Is there a third pill?”

The modern times will take us to a revolution alright, but what lays ahead of that is to us unknown. Socialism and barbarism both need the subversion of the status quo. As far as we revolutionaries are concerned, we can only but stand straight, held our chins up and hope that our side is the one still standing in the end.