All fall down

From my latest at Al Jazeera English:

When survival is touted as an aspiration, sacrifice becomes a virtue. But a hero is not a person who suffers. A suffering person is a person who suffers.

If you suffer in the proper way – silently, or with proclaimed fealty to institutions – then you are a hard worker “paying your dues”. If you suffer in a way that shows your pain, that breaks your silence, then you are a complainer – and you are said to deserve your fate.

But no worker deserves to suffer. To compound the suffering of material deprivation with rationalisations for its warrant is not only cruel to the individual, but gives exploiters moral license to prey.

Individuals internalise the economy’s failure, as a media chorus excoriates them over what they should have done differently. They jump to meet shifting goalposts; they express gratitude for their own mistreatment: their unpaid labour, their debt-backed devotion, their investment in a future that never arrives.

And when it does not arrive, and they wonder why, they are told they were stupid to expect it. They stop talking, because humiliation is not a bargaining chip. Humiliation is a price you pay in silence – and with silence.

People can always make choices. But the choices of today’s workers are increasingly limited. Survival is not only a matter of money, it is a matter of mentality – of not mistaking bad luck for bad character, of not mistaking lost opportunities for opportunities that were never really there.

You are not your job. But you are how you treat people.

So what can you do? You can work your hardest and do your best. You can organise and push for collective change. You can hustle and scrounge and play the odds.

But when you fall, know that millions are falling with you. Know that it is, to a large extent, out of your hands. And when you see someone else falling, reach out your hands to catch them.

Read Surviving the post-employment economy at Al Jazeera English

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2 Responses to All fall down

  1. Reblogged this on 21st Century Theater and commented:
    Another “must read” from Sarah Kendzior. She is on the right track.

    At the end of the article, she offers this: “You can organize and push for collective change…”

    I think it is necessary and has to be done now. It is clear that whatever we have done and are doing isn’t enough in the face of of this corporate assault on working people and every institution in the land. The corporate elite and the politicians they buy are implementing a neoliberal agenda

    ( http://21stcenturytheater.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/david-harvey-and-others-explain-neoliberalism-these-are-the-ideas-that-became-policies-which-in-turn-rule-our-lives/ )

    that is simultaneously creating the problem and making resistance harder than it has ever been. Corporations and the governments they buy are rapidly privatizing everything. They are “rent-seeking,” maximizing return, writing international trade laws, they are criminalizing poor and working people, stealing pensions, property – the list of crimes and venality seems to go on forever.

    The “devaluation of people” Sarah writes of has roots in capitalism as well as neoliberalism. One has to understand both to know that while exploitation has always been key to capital accumulation, neoliberalism has been used to increase and systematize that exploitation. It is like a set of tools capitalists can use to extract wealth from individuals, cities, countries – in fact the entire world. In other words, yes, exploitation has always happened, but the consolidated power and wealth corporations have attained is unprecedented in world history. It is increasing. And they have what amounts to an organized plan, viz. A neoliberal agenda. It’s different this time. And we ignore it at our peril.

    This is the (rarely reported) root cause of many of the revolts of the Arab Spring. Recently, in Turkey, neoliberal policies of privatization and the loss of public spaces sparked protest. Scratch the surface and you will find corporate interests and the politicians they pay for. In every English-speaking country, the neoliberal agenda has been forced on the “political process,” food, water, education – again, the list could go on for pages.

    We need to understand what neoliberalism is as we organize to fight it. In the best Shakespearean manner, its greatest strength is its greatest weakness: It is a global phenomenon backed by many of the same corporate players. They are implementing the same policies all over the world, and through their oppression and repression, they are are radicalizing people world-wide.

    They exist on greed – and the attendant fear that comes from knowing the consequences of their greed. That is why they are spying on all of us, why they are militarizing our police forces, why corrupt politicians shout down teachers, why the rich live behind walls and security cameras and lead lives almost totally separate from us (unless we’re waiting on them). They fear us. Because they know what they are doing is wrong.

    Even now, as a small fraction of the earth’s population amasses most of its wealth on the backs of most of its people and the health of the land, they are more and more afraid. We have a small window, and when I look around the English-speaking world I know, I don’t see the urgency we need to have, I don’t see enough people making the intellectual connections or the necessary connections with each other.

    People who are already activists and organizers need to organize under one banner. I humbly submit it should be one that is pro-human and anti-neoliberal. Then we need to organize the world, putting people before profit while fighting the neoliberal agenda. It may sound utopian or crazy, but I think it is eminently realistic – and I hope imminently realistic. Even if it’s not, simply accepting the path we’re on is not an option.

    No time like the present.

  2. Carrie Schwartz says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I’ve been reading your pieces on AJE for awhile now. The above piece expressed so much of what I feel and have experienced as an MPhil graduate in politics, sociology, and human rights law – working “pro-bono” or “freelance” – and seriously considering a PhD because a fellowship would pay more than underemployment. When I feel despair about my precarious existence (that is incredibly privileged in comparison to those around me in the developing world where I live), I repeat these words: “I don’t see the light; and I don’t need to see the light. I just need to be in the right tunnel.”

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