File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 11

Date: Sun, 03 Jun 2001 16:32:28 -0400
Subject: Re: [Fwd: Weeping in a Rolls-Royce]

Eric, Steve and All,

In the context of Eric's message (below) see the new movie, "Bread and
Roses", which is flagrant propaganda for unionization. and read "Nickel and
Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich, which may persuade that unionization hasn't a
ghost of a chance.


> Steve and all
> I'd rather be driving in a stolen Rolls Royce
> Powered by untaxed liquor from Satan's still
> On the lam from the interplanetary work machine
> Are we working more today and enjoying it less?
> Have things gotten better or worse?
> Is a women beeped from work at a mall on the job or not?
> Is a man shopping at a mall on the job because he is being a good,
> dutiful consumer?
> Are children in kindergarten on the job?
> These are only a few of the questions the subject of work raises.
> These questions are difficult to answer because they cannot be answered
> in empirical ways for the simple reason that work is no longer simply
> measured by the clock, but has become more seamless and pervasive
> throughout the culture?  There are also the implicit questions of who,
> what, where and when. So, rather than directly answer your question, I
> merely want to provide some very generalized historical context.
> I am struck by a reading of history for the period of the last fifty
> years (and Steve, I apologize in advance for its American slant) that
> sees it as composed of (very loosely speaking) two social contracts.
> The first emerged during the Post-World War II era, as a response to the
> crisis that had been brought about by economic failure and the rise of
> Fascism and Nazism in Europe which was in turn a response to this crisis
> and which the war itself had merely put on hold, but not fully resolved.
> In America, national legislation was passed that tended to constrain the
> right of labor to organize itself in more radical ways, but, in
> exchange, management acceded to certain demands of labor for higher
> wages, more vacation time, shorter work weeks and greater benefits such
> as insurance and pension.
> There was also recognition of the value of education in promoting the
> new society and social investments were made in education, such as the
> GI loan and funding for colleges that made their tuition more
> affordable.
> This led in the fifties to the emergence to a more expansive
> middle-class.  Social critics of the time talked of a diamond shaped
> society as opposed to the more traditional social pyramid.
> However, this contract came at a price.  Women were seen by and large as
> unpaid workers; housewives who needed to maintain workers by providing
> them with a home as well as being given the task of reproducing future
> workers.  African-Americans and Hispanics by and large were not included
> in the contract.  They continued to work in the underbelly of the
> American dream.  Youth were forced to remain in school for a longer
> period and faced the paradox of being biologically adults who were now
> dominated by the passive roles of an extended and enforced childhood.
> Thus, the sixties brought the rupture of the contract as those who were
> excluded began the assert their autonomy - the civil rights movement,
> black power movement, free speech movement, student rights movement, the
> protest over Vietnam and the rise of feminism and the women's movement.
> Their demands for inclusion and refusal of authority tested the limits
> of capital's hegemony.  Unchecked, their forces threatened social,
> political and economic revolution.
> Thus, in the early seventies the foundations for a new social contract
> were laid. A number of factors emerged to make it possible.  First, the
> oil crisis created upheaval and the rise of "stagflation".  Next,
> animosities emerged between men and women, whites and black, workers and
> students etc. that allowed these groups to be co-opted against one
> another.  Finally, space-time compression made a global market fueled by
> cheap labor a realistic possibility.
> This led in the eighties and nineties to a new social contract, one that
> has been termed Neo-Liberalism, the New Enclosures and various other
> names.
> Here, the role of the state is strengthened in its militaristic and
> policing aspects in order to become more effective at social and
> economic domination.  Social programs such as those in education,
> health, welfare and the environment are greatly curtailed and now seen
> increasingly as matters of private consumption.  Through the IMF and
> other financial institutions, these standards have been imposed in turn
> upon developing nations in order to receive loans and economic
> assistance.
> The curious paradox of this emerging situation is that many people do
> extremely well, (knowledge workers, senior management, celebrities, the
> ruling class of small nations and the assorted pimps and whores who have
> pandered themselves around these economic elites) but at the cost of
> moving the world towards greater division and greater hardship for those
> others who cannot crash the party.
> The specter that emerges from this is that of a new social contract in
> which a certain standard is maintained so that politically enforced
> poverty is no longer perpetuated in order to maintain elite privilege.
> The job economy as the pious and sacred means of economic legitimization
> would then be eliminated.  Instead work could be radically reduced and
> concrete freedom could become an actuality.  The demands of a job need
> no longer define one's existence. The fetishism of commodification
> (which perversely mirrors the job economy) would also be undone as a
> result of the same process.
> That seems to be the real question.  Not whether I work less today than
> my dad, but whether enough people can join together to resist this
> imposition of work as a form of social and economic domination and
> create a social and political movement that will make manifest what in
> the sixties was only a vague promise, an opium pipe dream.
> In order to accomplish this feat, the Protestant work ethic would need
> to be replaced by a new ethic, a new social contract, one for which
> Michel Serres among others has eloquently argued.  Perhaps, it would
> also require a new religious understanding such as that provided by the
> Epicurean ideal of ataraxia. (but that is a topic for another time.)


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