The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself
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There was once a time when ‘work’ was inextricably linked to survival and self-preservation; where the farmer ploughed the land so their family could eat. But the sun has long since set on this idyllic tableau, and what was once an integral part of life has slowly morphed into a painful and meaningless ritual, colonising almost every part of our lives - endless and inescapable. In The Mythology of Work, Peter Fleming examines how neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order. As our society is transformed into a factory that never sleeps, work becomes a universal reference point for everything else, devoid of any moral or political worth. Blending critical theory with recent accounts of job related suicides, office-induced paranoia, fear of relaxation, managerial sadism and cynical corporate social responsibility campaigns, Fleming paints a bleak picture of neoliberal capitalism in which the economic and emotional dysfunctions of a society of wage slaves greatly outweigh its professed benefits.
private property, little ‘free’ cooperation and pure commoditization) the system would grind to a halt – especially the workplace. This is why the collective self-reliance of the workforce – often euphemized as flexibility – is so important to the exploitation process today. Here is another example, this time set amidst a newspaper exposé concerning the joys of being a small business owner: James no longer sees any distinction between his work and personal life, but sees this as a good thing,
level the playing field with my colleagues. The results were quite comical. I found myself drawing up huge Excel spreadsheets and becoming really focused on boring admin tasks.’ (Pook, 2014) On the first day of Pook’s experiment she is working faster and (in her mind) smarter than ever. On the second day, she is still typing at a breakneck pace, but feeling a little nauseous. On day three, paranoia sets in and she terminates the experiment. As we noted in the last chapter, there is enough
built a booming ‘escape industry’ as iniquitous as the post-industrial office cubicle. What I call peasant lines of flight simply embolden what they already are – not in the chancy ‘accelerationist’ sense or even as a dialectical manoeuvre to heighten the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production through genuine protest. The generalized skyline of economic reason can only be broken if we have the courage to face the reality of abandonment that is the real message to us from the
2013). But Deleuze is more interested in the capitalist activation of agency along one unending register, whereby any type of enclosure (e.g. a debtor’s prison that would allow us to pay our dues and move on with a clean slate) would somehow defy the neoliberal project. The point, he suggests, is that there can never be any resolution or forfeit. As discussed in Chapter 2, this is the nature of the neoliberal totality. And it is what makes biopower so amenable to the organization of work today,
to reveal and subvert the negation that it hopes will automatically transpire (‘These employees won’t really tell us managers what they think’). Indeed, one of the wonderful weaknesses of what is called in the United States ‘liberation management’ (with its celebration of flat hierarchies, free speech, self-organization, etc.) is that if it was practised to the letter and fully realised it would result in a fundamental shift in the logic of capitalism: economic organizing would resemble an