Great new article by Nina Power: From The One to The ManyRather than identifying what it is that makes us ‘special,’ we would do well to remember what it is we have in common, including all the time and resources that have been stolen from all of us, and given back piecemeal to some. How to divide and conquer those who seek to divide and conquer us? Only a strategic mass identity can save us now.
Coincidentally, in the final section of my forthcoming essay on the naturalised subjugation of 'employability’ I argue similarly that resisting this pernicious and divisive discourse means positioning collective desire against individual 'aspiration'. It also involves discovering a new unemployability, and attacking fake positivity with a radical negativity (aiming for a real social happiness by destroying the coerced, isolated, miserable simulation).
If a genuinely rebellious cultural movement/moment/whatever is to emerge from this era of digital precarity and competitive compliance, it could usefully coalesce around these elements: it would be anti-individual, anti-positive thinking, anti-aspiration, anti-employability. Such a position would also shun self-promotion and maintain a sceptical distance from online hype and revolutionary posturing. This attitude would primarily circulate in places and conversations rather than in tweets and opinion columns. Rather than preaching to the converted, it would directly (or obliquely) confront its targets - the bosses, team leaders and entrepreneurs, the executive guardians who deny responsibility for the misery they inflict - and seek tactical alliances not with verified career lefties but with fellow inmates sentenced to debt in warehouses and call centres, hotels and restaurants, agencies and job centres. Such communication would be concerned not so much with activism as inactivism, actively not doing; refusing, rejecting, withholding, demurring, declining, ignoring. We would prefer not to.
Of course the individual yoked to the mechanisms of i-capital cannot afford to refuse work and the performative labour involved in getting and keeping it, so unless one is in a position of privilege one cannot make oneself literally unemployable, much as one might fantasise about doing so. Rather it is the latent negative energy behind the job interview smiles and the upbeat social media profiles, the shared ecstatic destructive desire to sweep away this vile charade, which is unemployable and irrecuperable, and which, if unrepressed, could overflow into those everyday spaces and interactions of discipline and control*, irritating/irrigating and gradually eroding them, cultivating conflict and channelling dissent through instances of micro-resistance and, to borrow a term of Foucault's, counter-conduct.
Obviously anti-aspiration here does not mean the inane Hollywood slacker stereotype (this would be to perpetuate the post-political entrepreneurial subject position by way of its supposed opposite, in fact its apathetic twin). Anti-aspiration means intense desire, concentrated and collective (in)action which transcends those imposed models of self-help and happification and rejects the bombardments of inspirational gurus, lifestyle pedlars and lying politicians.
*I also agree with NP’s point here on societies of discipline and control existing concurrently or within each other, rather than, as is sometimes said, the latter being the sequel to the former. I have in the past noticed this dual effect in the mutually supportive hard and soft discourses of employability, the quasi-police state of welfare ‘conditionality’, sanctions and workfare, and the language of CV-building, corporate networking and self-presentation which has become a supposedly essential field of scholarly knowledge in university curricula.