How many steps have you taken today? – on the cult of performance and the individualistic race to well-being

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“No man is an island” John Donne 

Maximise Me

How obsessed our society in the western world has become with individual well-being, performance and time control…from being productive at work to maintaining a healthy sex life and maximising happiness, pushing ourselves beyond limits has become common practice. Many would comment that, apart from nurturing the ego and unleashing our narcissist tendencies to compulsively expose our achievements on social media, this trend should be regarded as positive. After all, who wouldn’t want to maintain a healthy and dynamic lifestyle? Who wouldn’t want to be able to maximise his time between getting fit and taking care of his kids, just like this guy demonstrates in a rather extraordinary fashion?

Of course, seeking to achieve control on oneself and to maximise some individual aspects of one’s life is not inherently wrong. It even denotes a form of courage and a sense of commitment which are largely laudable. The problem here is that contemporary obsession with well-being reveals far more than just a desire for self-control. Rather, it exposes how the neoliberal mindset has reached its apogee: an individualistic mentality that denies the social and political dynamics at work in our welfare, and which inclines us to take full responsibility for our life by becoming healthy and productive elements of the capitalist system. As a result, the search for individual well-being is rapidly replacing collective forms of struggle for socioeconomic rights, and our energies are now channelled against ourselves, in an infinite quest for control and performance.
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The Panama Papers Are Revealing the Misery of the Neoliberal System

 

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Originally published on Open Labour

The Panama Papers story has been received in a flurry of outraged comments. The intensity with which citizens in various part of the world have reacted is understandable. Both the magnitude of the sums concealed and the size of the list of individuals and corporations implicated in it surely sound astonishing. However, it is not the first time that some investigations expose the mechanisms with which the elite “legally” or illegally conceal their wealth, and in this regard the Panama Papers story appears as just another tax scandal, in line with the revelations of LuxLeaks in November 2014.

Some have commented that Panama Papers have had a shocking effect as they put in the same bag policymakers from a high level of government in the West with officials coming from regions usually considered as fuelled by corruption, hence the appalling character of the revelations. It seems like press secretaries from Western democracies and their relations in the media have done such a good job at pointing fingers at Putin that they have genuinely convinced their people of their own integrity. But these comments also obscure a very simple truth: that the practices of tax avoidance and tax evasion, far from representing an anomaly in late capitalist system, are instead the very proof that this one is working efficiently, along its own neoliberal precepts. These are to encourage a deregulated finance, liberated from the constraints of the state, and from the duties that come with it. Continue reading

Let’s talk about this hybrid beast we call capitalism over a glass of wine

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“After all, if you do not resist the apparently inevitable, you will never know how inevitable the inevitable was.” – Terry Eagleton

Breaking the Dry

February is a good and happy time of the year. Indeed – it is seeing more and more people break the painful dry of January. So after a full month of committing to all sort of sparkling ginger drinks it is time to reunite around nice dinner tables and celebrate with a portion of food that could easily suit one’s weekly dietary need. February is, therefore, a time for political debates. The ones that get launched over a glass of wine and never really properly end. The ones like “Is capitalism the best socioeconomic system humans can get” and which easily inflame the tone of a large table of friends sharing an upper-middle-class background.

Most probably, a good majority of these friends have been raised surrounded by social-liberal ideas – the kind of centrist ideology that recognises the prevalence of the market as a way of organising the economy, but nevertheless endorses the state for its redistributionary and regulatory role. Now in their thirties, they have all lived enough to observe the drastic shift towards a reduction of the public sector’s involvement in health, education, and transport that happened since the neoliberal turn of the 80s. They have heard the good old mantra of “private does it better” multiple times. They have recently come across the discourse exposing the ‘necessity’ of austerity in times of crisis – one that legitimates further reducing the supporting role of the state for the public while governments choose to make large tax favours to private giants and to bail-out banks with public finance. They have observed the appearance of the periphery inside the core, as demonstrated by the immiseration of countries like Greece1 inside Europe, with its lot of precarity and high indebtedness. They have noticed the tendency of late capitalism in commodifying not only goods and services but also health, arts, nature and basically everything that’s been spared by the magic touch of the market (have we found a way to trade our souls yet?).

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The case of antibiotic resistance – one of the new faces of our crisis of modernity

7193“The place of the worst barbarism is that modern forest that makes use of us, this forest of chimneys and bayonets, machines and weapons, of strange inanimate beasts that feed on human flesh.”  ― Amadeo Bordiga

Modernity is in crisis – a view from Edgar Morin

When the French thinker Edgar Morin declared that modernity was in crisis at the start of this century*, that was to express how the combination of technique, science, economy and capitalism, what he called the “four motors of the propelled spaceship Earth”, had failed in its mission of bringing progress to humanity. He explained that humans had fallen short of observing that each of these areas of supposed advancement presented an ambivalence, in other words a mixture of positive and negative outcomes.

Where technique has brought comfort in developed countries, it has also led to the dehumanisation of the workplace through the invention of the work chain. Where science has brought the progress of medicine, it has also created the nuclear bomb. The capitalist modes of production have engendered an economic development on some fronts, but they have also unleashed the forces of neoliberalism which have propelled competition as the new prominent norm in every aspect of life, reinforcing economic inequalities and a sense of despair at the individual level. Continue reading