Strangely enough work became something utmost attractive for our social status. If we would be able to tell this to the ancient Greeks or not so long ago to a Russian or English aristocrat of the 19th century, they would think that we are crazy.
Working we feel superior. Those felt superior not working.
They did not want to work – even if we would have paid them. Instead they were involved in more important things in life. The Russian aristocrat enjoyed his leisure time while administrating his wealth and keeping an influence in political matters and military interests, the Greek citizen was busy negotiating the matters of the polis.
When we refer so blindly euphemistic to every task as work, we forget that nowadays everything that is paid is called work – the janitor as much as the doctor work. Among the different fields of work we find all kinds of tasks that the ancient Greeks would have never called work, but politics. On the other hand we find many tasks that the ancient Greeks would have consigned to slaves, but we expect that someone who works enjoys his or her work, that someone who cleans the streets enjoys his work as much as someone who consults the president.
Looking at some of the elite in this world, we seem to have left racism and sexism far behind us. Non-whites hold some of the most powerful positions in this world. They are presidents, MPs, CEO’s of multinationals, famous actors and millionaire’s. The same counts for women. Still the world did not become less racist or sexist. The tribute that many of these successful men and women had to pay in order to get where they are is to adapt even more intimately to dominant ideology. Thus women became some of the fiercest fighters for war and the strongest promoters of neoliberalism.
But the world has not changed. Poverty is still predominantly coloured and female. Why do I think that this is still due to racism and sexism and not just a matter of class struggle or in liberal terms, due to the selection of the fittest? I think the colour of the skin and the sex of a person comes immediately into play when a person is not exceptionally successful and adapted to the dominant values of western society.
As long as someone is a prominent president an invisible whitener seems to brush his face. And we become in a way colour blind. But as soon as people are just normal people fighting for survival in a harsh world. People turn black and blacker in our regards. The more they are poor and excluded from society the darker gets their skin colour. Unemployed people, immigrants, poor women become dark skinned, second class citizens. Which means for men to be judged as potentially criminal, for women (up to 28) to be considered a sex-object or (from 28 upwards) to be entirely ignored as useless creatures.
Let me never fell into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted, wrote Ralph W. Emerson in the 19th century. I wonder why did he call this mistake vulgar? Vulgar comes from the Latin word vulgus, the people. However it refers to the people in a very pejorative way, attributing the people with what is common and ordinary.
So in order to understand better what Emerson meant, let us maybe liberate the word vulgar from its connotation with the people. Let us start the other way round by asking, what does Emerson understand under the word vulgar? What is happening when someone mistakes a contradiction for a persecution? This someone short-circuits difference with attack. Instead of saying he is different or he might have a point, the contradicted gets paranoid thinking if he is not my friend he must be my enemy. Vulgar in this sense means that someone is behaving vulgar when he cannot respect the other. His formular of life is: Either me, or the other.
Vulgar then means not to accept the multiplicity and diversity of the world, not to accept that people are a plural entity.
Unfortunately life does not have an undo button like many computer programs do. I am sure we would undo many decisions and things we produced, so many that we might end up sitting in a prehistoric cave. And then, what would we do then? Start all over again. In the cave we will notice that life unfortunately neither has a do button and it will take many hardships to organize a more pleasant life and this again might produce unvoluntarily or voluntarily side effects that we would prefer to undo.
So we might better reconcile with what we did and of course try to do better.
When I go to bed tired and frustrated after a 100% mum’s day I wonder what I did all day that I feel so exhausted, but don’t find a satisfying answer. I ask myself whether I am brainwashed by capitalism’s ideology so that I am unable to enjoy unproductive work. Hold on calling a mum’s work unproductive is of course highly questionable: It is splitting productive work from love work as if the latter was no real work. What a commodity oriented understanding of productive work underlies this separation from love work! Giving love should be more productive than any product can be without becoming a commodity!
Not enough, the problematic of my frustration takes another twist: Not only am I supposed to not feel frustrated even though I cannot sell my labour power as a mother. I should even feel more satisfied than someone who holds a regular employment. Giving love is a sacred activity.
But the feeling of frustration remains even though I cannot say that I do no receive love from my children. Would it be different had I been paid for the work? I don’t know I would not feel entitled to take such money as I do this work because of love. A vicious circle opens up that only confirms our current labour division. And I am an agent of it … whether I complain about it or not.
This is supposed to be an eloge on therapy as I think it is extremely important to cure minds and hearts and not only bodies. Yet, thinking about therapy brings in many aspects that suggest the topic to be more ambivalent than I would love it to be. It all began with popularizing Freud, Oedipus, the Penis Envy and the Unconscious. And it continued with Woody Allen, I quote: “I had a shrink then, I have a shrink now. I had three wives down the line and I still love whores…” His public testimonials of therapy experiences are another step towards a trend that culminated in the establishment of reality TV therapy (RTVT), in other words reality shows with life therapy sessions. We can say that these developments are a logical feature of the current society having grown exhibitionist. Public therapy is part of a society that likes to portray itself in all sorts of formerly private moments in selfies and reality shows and with it introduces competition and pressure of having to perform outstandingly in all realms of our private life. But why do we cure our minds and hearts publicly and not our bodies? Apparently there is nothing to discuss about our bodies, but there is about our minds and hearts. I am not so sure about this in either way. Maybe there is more to discuss about our bodies and less about our minds and hearts.
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty wrote Thomas Jefferson some hundreds of years ago. This might have been true for his times, but today it is worth to rescue the reputation of timid people. What would we call a characteristic that is opposed to being timid, self-assured, extraverted, expansive, outgoing, bold. Those who are not timid might be social beasts who need a stage such as television and social media, but do they necessarily have a sense of freedom. The surveillance and control features of such media do not scare or serve as a warn signal to most of the adherents of these public platforms.
Timidity instead can allow to step back and to observe where and through which measures our in the past so hardly fought for gains of freedom are vanishing so that regulations become a subtle companion of our extraverted egos.
1440 minutes a day, 525 600 minutes a year, seem a lot of time. However often we have the feeling we miss every minute of them. Routine, boredom, stress, efficiency, but also extreme emotional states such as grief, angst and pain serve as our excuse for missing these minutes. So when do we not miss them, these minutes running through our fingers? How can we catch time?
Walter Benjamin criticised the conception of time as a chronological empty flow, the ticking of a clock reflected in a historiography that adds one event after the other, one king after the other without accounting of the tensions, conflicts and attractions that led from one king to another. He instead tried to grasp moments where time comes to a standstill, in revolutions, but also in very personal revolutionary moments, such as split seconds that they freezes an image, an atmosphere, an emotion to grasp our attention and change our behaviour.
Remarkably, in some languages the word for time is synonymous with the word for weather: “temps” in French, “tempo” in Italian. We feel the time when we feel the weather on our skin. And I think we shouldn’t just think of it in a spiritual or even esoteric dimension, but we should rather think of the materiality of weather along with its movement and changes that manifest themselves on us… rain on our face, leaves wet sticky wisp of hair on it, sun on our body, warms our limbs, cold humidity creeps up through the sleeves of our coats. The more time we pass inside hermetic secured rooms and buildings the less we feel the weather but also the time. Now to pass time outside does not only mean to confront oneself with weather, but to take risks, to expose oneself to insecure territory, to make experiences and this is when we grasp a moment of time, a twinkle of a sometimes stormy, sometimes soothing minute.
I shop therefore I am … Barbara Kruger’s slogan from 1987 didn’t lose its bite. And what she says is not just that shopping became a matter of life style, as some commentators suggest. Shopping or rather consuming in general became a matter of survival. It is the only way to have a rest. Consumption is the only escape from the pressure to perform. If we don’t consume we have to work, if we don’t work hard (in the office), we have to work out (at a fitness center), if we don’t work out, we have to have fun (organize fun). What is at stake is the old-fashioned Marxian thesis of commodity fetishism – although in a slight variation. Commodity fetishism does not only function to conceal exploitative relations of production (which it still does, of course!), but to presumably provide the only remaining island that is entered without effort. Have a break! Have a treat! You deserve it you worked hard enough to reward yourself is what the products from the shop shelves keep calling at us.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau once blamed the nation state to be an atrocious invention because of its unsatisfiable character. A state never has a full stomach. It remains always hungry and thirsty. Thus it accumulates riches and in order to do so wages wars without limits (it has no belly that could possibly explode, it has no body that could possibly die). The accumulation of riches by individuals on the contrary reaches according to Rousseau its limits in bodily restraints. Our greed finds a natural barrier in a full stomach. Unfortunately Rousseau was wrong. Today some men (I don’t know whether there is a woman among them) are richer than the richest states. And they keep on accumulating riches even though their stomachs are full and they own already everything one can possibly imagine. They continue to accumulate, for who? For their kids (done), for the kids of their kids (done), for the kids of the kids of the kids of their kids? In the meanwhile the kids of their neighbours (maybe not the close ones) are starving. Pity, that even with a 100 billion Dollar one cannot buy a place in “Noah’s Ark of the future” to survive all natural catastrophes and wars.