Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Death of Free Time

Dear George,

The writer Sheldon S. Wolin must have been thinking of your administration when he wrote:

Inverted totalitarianism marks a political moment when corporate power finally sheds it identification as a purely economic phenomenon, confined primarily to a domestic domain of “private enterprise,” and evolves into a globalizing copartnership with the state: a double transmutation of corporation and state. The former becomes more political and the latter more market oriented.[1]

According to Weldon, this mutant’s favorite methodology is “the tyranny of efficiency and the subversion of democracy’s requirement that time be defined by the requirement for deliberation, discussion, reconciliation of opposing viewpoints, all of which suddenly seem ‘time-consuming.’” (pg. 233)

The quickest way to oppress a people is to demand an increase in productivity. The longer and more intense the workweek is, the less time people have for making trouble.

As Wolin points out, democracy requires free time—time to attend meetings, to get together and discuss issues, to engage in the volunteer work that is the lubricant of democracy. But if people return from work after the sun’s gone down, exhausted and drained, you effectively neutralize the democratic impulse. Whatever private time remains is spent in a state of drained numbness.

Corporatism flourishes when the public’s too exhausted to give a shit.

The disorder of the sixties was the result of too much leisure time. I mean, hell, the thirty-five hour working week was in, and people were getting up to four weeks of vacation time. This gave the public time to look around and ask questions, which led to discussion, which led to debate, which led to dissent.

The market state wisely responded to this disorder by demanding more productivity. Free time was a dangerous black hole that had to be filled. The movement to eliminate free time began by breaking the unions, which were so soft they practically broke themselves. They committed suicide when they failed to call a general strike the moment Ronnie fired the air traffic controllers.

Then the Messiah appeared in the form of Sam Walton. His Wal-Mart stores taught the world the virtue of bottom-feeding that sent manufacturers running overseas to meet Wal-Mart’s outrageous price demands. This drove wages down towards the minimum-wage level, which led to the golden age of productivity as downsizing began in earnest, forcing one man to do the work of three.

Corporate leaders well understood that stress doesn’t spark rebellion, it suppresses it. All a stressed-out drone cares about is the respite offered by booze, TV or bedtime.

Corporatism’s victory is the salient fact that had the minimum wage kept up with productivity, it would be $18 an hour.

The beautiful thing is that the drones are too tired to bitch about it.

Your admirer,
Belacqua Jones


[1] Wolin, Sheldon S. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Pg. 238

4 comments:

thepoetryman said...

Corporatism’s victory is the salient fact that had the minimum wage kept up with productivity, it would be $18 an hour.

I would imagine that the unemployment rate would be nearly 0% with wages like that! Imagine all the toys and furnishings you could buy with that kind of dough! Not to mention the nation wouldn't be bitching and moaning about the price of gas and groceries and the deficit! They should have kept the minimum wage going along with the long party and they could have continued their march for oil and land and routes and God and what have you for another 100 years or so... Idiots.

Case Wagenvoord said...

Why spoil the underclasses?

Richard Blair said...

I wrote a similar piece a couple of years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and came to much the same conclusions. We're all too busy "makin' the nut" to get out the pitchforks and cudgels and head for the castle.

Case Wagenvoord said...

True, but now that the nut is starting to dry out and shrivel, those pitchforks are looking better and better.