coromandal


seduction and control

tea garden 3

In the discipline society bosses and workers were locked in a continuous pitted struggle for dominance and advantage. There were wins and losses on both sides and to a greater or lesser degree it worked: there was clarity about what each side stood for which made the society understandable and transparent, and afforded people a semblance of success and fulfillment in their lives.

In the control society this essential struggle between boss and worker is removed, the corporation and shareholders sit at the top making decisions and collecting profits without being challenged, while at the bottom a vast sea of workers engages in an endless and fruitless campaign of competition for survival.

The control society is fundamentally manipulative, passive aggressive and opaque. It has removed the clearly defined adversary and the straightforward rules, and substituted a milieu of confusion and fluidity in which people fight each other to stay afloat. Everyone is an entrepreneur now, said Margaret Thatcher as she and her contemporaries stripped away all of the assurances and infrastructure on which one relies when living in a modern discipline economy.

The outcome is continuous muggings and fatigue. How many friends have we recently heard say – I’m exhausted? How many – implicitly or explicitly – blame themselves and not the system for their frustrations and failures? Now you are the master of your own domain, and you are to blame if you fall through the cracks.

Surely none of us would have thought to say it but: we need a new enemy! To convince a critical mass of people that we need a new adversary could be the way out of the manipulations of the control society and back into a place where we can mount proper campaigns for meaningful work, healthy environments, balanced days, sufficient remuneration, and happy retirements. We need an enemy who we can define and see and mount a real tangible assault against to win back worthwhile and respectful lives.

Byung-Chul Han describes the control society:

In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labour entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.

The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.

Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themself (sic) and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.

Why Revolution is No Longer Possible, Byung-Chul Han, University of the Arts, Berlin