Saturday, May 23, 2015

competing as a royal screwing

The ideological work of the capitalist system is seen at its most successful in creating the character mask of the competitor for the laborer. In our time, the workers work against each other not only in terms of the price they put, or can put, on their work, but also in as much as they must partake of the treadmill of skilling and de-skilling, which has advanced beyond what it was in the first industrial era - much as Marx predicted. The capitalist system seeks the maximum level of interchangeability among all the members of what I’d broadly call the working class – that is, the class who do not own the means of production. Thus, as members of that class strive to attain a higher price for their skills – investing in education and training – the organizations that hire them strive to devalue those skills by breaking down the peculiarities inherent in their routines. That is, the system strives to make them purely quantifiable. Consequently, we see such things as this: in the white collar world – say, of academia – the ‘uniqueness’ of the academic skill set is continually confronted (and the academic anguished by) the quantitative protocols by which the organization not only judges it, but by which it shapes an interchangeable work force. This is true everywhere there is R and D – the single inventor is replaced with the laboratory worker, the engineer is continually forced to market his labor inside the organization, etc. In the eighties, it became faddish – and still is – to speak of the worker’s “owning” their projects. Now, of course, the workers know that the projects are owned by the company. But the false ownership relation does its ideological work by turning the workers into small entrepreneurs, engaged in rivalry one with the other, or in temporary alliances. In this way, the workers never face the organization as an associated whole. To call the project workers the ‘owners’ of the project is an interesting instance of what Althusser meant by interpellation – that the first ideological act is the identification implicit in greeting, so to speak.