On to Unemployment


“What does Dada mean? Dada has no meaning!” So declared the Zurich Dadaists, derided by George Grosz and his friends as “salon dada.” He was more directed towards revolutionary thinking, if not action. Among other demands:

“…the introduction of incremental unemployment linked to wide-ranging mechanization of every field of activity. Only unemployment assures the individual of an opportunity to assess the truth of his own life and be finally reconciled to experience.”

As another great socialist, Oscar Wilde, said, “Work is the refuge of those with nothing better to do.” Of course, this was before there were so many things to buy, which, of course, makes working all the more desirable. Quite a clever little rat race it is! What a situation…

[the founding of the] Situationiste Internationale in 1957. At first, they were principally concerned with the “suppression of art”, that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. Like the Lettrists, they were against work and for complete divertissement … To hell with work, to hell with boredom! Create and construct an eternal festival.

And back to one of the clearest statements I have read about the nature of work in our society of controlled, stimulated consumption that keeps the wheels going as we all turn our cranks in our cubicles and our factories, while most of us – humans that is – are living in poverty and even squalor and don’t really work as we do but toil and struggle to exist, but we are privileged, and of just what does this privilege consist..?”

The idea that a society can exist without work is disturbing because it implies that work is the product of society and not the other way around, as we ordinarily imagine …

…the act of work, as the manner in which human energy is concerted under civilization, is inextricable from exploitation. That is a word before which we tend to wince. But in early civilization it is not difficult to see it nakedly apparent and coercively enforced. The figures of the rent-racked peasant and the abused slave are inextricable from the centralized mode of production.

Yet is the common observation that men and women want work, even when they do not have to have it’ that few individuals are happy on welfare; in short, that work is looked on as a desirable condition of life, even though it is no longer essential for life. Capitalism is the first civilization in which the upper class “works” in ways that would have been regarded with disdain by the upper classes of previous social orders…Capitalism has combined prestige and power into a new social value, available to many and tempting to all: the value of success. Prior to capitalism, there was triumph, glory, high rank, wealth—but there was no success. Success is the reward of power and prestige that comes from work.

The submission to the dictates of the system[of work]is not as overt or dramatic as that required on a field of combat or before a court of law, but it is there just the same—all the more overmastering because it seems no more than the warp and woof of daily life.

Robert Heilbroner:
“The World of Work” from Behind the Veil of Economics

Pardon me, but I repeat myself. See my Lotus Eaters.


2 Responses to On to Unemployment

  1. troutsky says:

    Warp and woof, I love it! And in my years blogging, it has been all to rare to run into the great Debord, whose theory of the Spectacle is as honest ( if a bit dense) an attempt to delve into “coersion without force” as Ive found. My last post on “gaming” is an attempt to point out one of the myriad aspects of this subversive project to shape culture. This in turn begins to shape the “normative”, in historical research, economics, politics etc in my opinion. As for work, I enjoy it in moderation, I just want ALL the fruits of my labor. If I had my share of Exxons record profit, I could work less, blog more.

  2. lichanos says:

    Debord’s writing may be dense, but I think it could be CONdensed to about one paragraph. The rest is just high-flown, off-the-wall left-wing philosophizing.

    The bane of left-wing thinking is the conspiracy theory mentality. (Something the right shares with it.) As Marx noted, the capitalists are as much at the mercy of the forces they unleash and try to ride as the rest of us. There is power, there are classes, but there is no secret cabal of World Controllers. Some people benefit more, and at the expense of others, but that’s because they are better positioned to take advantage. The degree of CONTROL is less than you imagine. Why else the continual hysteria over the ups and downs of the stock market?

    Talk about “shaping culture:” look at the medieval Catholic Church! No capitalism there…

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