File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 17

Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2001 17:21:40 +0100
Subject: Re: [Fwd: Weeping in a Rolls-Royce]


I'll respond to the below later - I believe that a different reading is possible based
on the evidence which allows for an interesting difference.



Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

> 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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