This follows on from my last post “What is everyday life?” that interpreted Henri Lefebve’s theorisation of how everyday life was governed. In this post I speculate about what everyday life has become.
Whilst the state initially sought to increase productivity by taking an interest in the everyday life of workers, creating a harmonious balance between work and leisure through the rationalisation of private time, fomenting better health through vacations―to charge the batteries of the productive machine―, welfare and stable family structures, the way that productivity is promoted in the current context is radically different. The distinction between private life and work has become ―thanks in part to technology― increasingly blurred. It is now possible to be productive and exchange goods 24 hours a day. Additionally, the productive rationale has been interiorised by the rational modern individual who strives to make their own lives productive. The state understands competition between rational individuals as the ideal source of productivity. The rationalization of everyday life is outsourced to the individual whilst the state limits itself to creating frameworks within which rational individuals compete. This change in orientation brings about important alterations in the structure of everyday life. The ideal subject ―the business orientated individual― begins to shape how everyday life is lived.
It is assumed that rational individuals inevitably want certain things. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia explores the relationship between capitalism and desire, identifying how capitalism structures desire in certain ways that leads us to govern ourselves by certain repressive criteria. Around the time that this text was written, academics began to draw our attention to how numerous factors that contribute to these desires ―particularly culture and the media. Similar to Rage Against the Machine, critical academics began to suggest that “the front line is everywhere” and there is a “thin line between entertainment and war”.
The business orientated individual functions as an entrepreneur of the self. The booming self-help industry reflects the rational individual’s attempts to govern their own productivity and be able to disconnect sufficiently in order to recharge the batteries ―hence the increasing interest in individualised relaxation techniques. The level of anxiety caused by the endless possibility of production and exchange pushes the rational individual to find new ways to relax. The entrepreneur of the self sees the value in the irrational and the spontaneous, but only in relationship to productivity. Thus these aspects of life are increasingly obliterated through commodification. We are sold experiences, but we do not have to go through spontaneous interactions to find them, the market has already decided which experiences are enriching, will inspire etc. (see listicles if you are not sure which experiences you should be having). Then on Facebook we can catalogue all the experiences that we have had. Social spontaneity, romance and sexuality is outsourced to specific locations, discotheques, where these needs can be fulfilled more efficiently, mediated by alcohol to speed up the process ―or the logical extension of same: Tinder. The quantification of spontaneous experiences allows us to live these moments at the allocated time and thus maximise productivity. Alcohol (or drugs) is key to speeding up the process, the quicker you get drunk the quicker you escape the anxiety of everyday life, converted into an orgy of production and exchange, in order to then return to it and be more productive.
Rebellion does not escape this commodification. Counter-cultural movements are continually co-opted and sold back to us. Our own desire to rebel generates new products and new tendencies. Art is produced to be marketed and to assist marketing, it collaborates with companies, accepts to work for them/with them. Theory and ideas are re-evaluated in terms of market value. How can philosophy help to market this product? How can it help me live better? Even the enjoyment of work, as a rebellion against the banality of everyday life in the initial phase, has acquired exchange value. People increasingly agree to work in jobs for miserable wages (or even for free) in order to “do what they really love”.
Those individuals that are incapable of or refuse to run their lives following this rationale, or take this rationality in a violent direction (see NWA below), are increasingly criminalised. The policing of these individuals becomes one of the fundamental aspects of government. Robert Kaplan’s article written in 1994, The Coming Anarchy, is a good indication of the hysteria and moral panic around the breach between rational capitalist individuals and the subaltern classes. Kaplan’s hysteria feeds into the governmental logic that seeks to foment the movement and action of certain individuals whilst rigorously policing others. Hence the militarization of border policing, the criminalization of poverty and increasing numbers of gated communities to eliminate the problem of the irrational individual from the lives of those who need to focus on their productivity. Inner city suburbs, the playgrounds of the productive classes are policed and well-serviced, the elite are able zip around the city quickly, whilst the irrational classes are pushed out into suburbs that are left to rot, spending hours commuting daily.
Some of the early rap groups such as Public Enemy, NWA and Cypress Hill help gain an appreciation of these conflicts.
Note Ice-Cube’s lyrics in Fuck da Police:
Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
Utopias and dystopias
Again we see the emergence of utopian and dystopian visions (Kaplan’s being one of them) and projections of this society. The literary work of Michel Houllebecq and David Foster Wallace are two notable examples of this. Houellebecq is an author that literary critiques love to hate for his ambivalent take on the ultra-rationalisation of elements of our everyday life in texts like Atomized, Platform and The Map and the Territory. In these texts Houellebecq often makes references to utopian theorists, however the projections that Houellebecq draws are catastrophic, but always in a way that is coherent with the utopian ideal that underlies them. Thus he takes the commodification and rationalization of leisure time and sexuality (biological urges) to the extreme, by depicting sex tourism, not as something external to rational society but something which is totally coherent with it. These biological urges are attributed with an exchange value. Similarly, in the Map and the Territory, one of the characters programming of their own life reaches such an extreme that they organise their own death in a completely hygienic and rational manner via a euthanasia company in Switzerland. Both of these examples are nothing more than a logical projection of hyper-individualised pursuits of rational self-management.
Whilst Houellebecq’s presentation of this brave new world is quite ambivalent, the writings of David Foster Wallace are much more alienated. There are two stories in Oblivion: Stories that are particularly noteworthy in this regard. “The Soul is not a Smithy” (an excerpt of which as read by Foster Wallace above) that describes the psychotic breakdown of a teacher in the classroom and the daydreaming’s of a child that is in the classroom as this occurring and “Mr Squishy”, describing a focus group meeting for the marketing of a new product “Felonies!”. This story, written largely from the perspectives of one of the individuals leading the focus groups speaks with a language that reduces all of the members of the focus group to a series of characteristics that can be converted into statistics for the sake of marketing.
In this context, revolutionary utopias, outside of the rationalization of everyday life, seem a distant memory.