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I am going to write up a substantive post on both Horkheimer and Honneth’s take on labor as a concept in Marx’s work, which I find to be at once silly and misleading. But before I do that, I want to note here (so I remember to do it later and so that I inform the world that I am still breathing — gasp!) the strange way of thinking about “work” that I have noticed in a couple of places recently. Work, suddenly, is no longer thought to be understood sufficiently in economic terms; you don’t work because getting a wage will, if you’re not a lazybones freeloader, supply you with the necessities of living. Now, you want work because it is “rewarding.” Or some other feelgood adjective. On account of this, certain companies — Google could be the exemplar — have started adding more “leisurely” facets to what is expected of their employees: there are ping-pong tables in the breakroom; once a week people can work on their personal project; etc. So there is a supposed blending of work and leisure within the workplace.

Problem with this sort of blending is that it doesn’t matter a whit when it gets down to brass tacks: no matter what it is that a worker is doing for his boss, whether he enjoys it or not, as long as he does not have ownership of his product and does not have a direct say in the allocation of a firm’s profits, he’s exploited. Perhaps happily so, but exploited all the same. And it is that that Marx is underscoring in his analysis of labor. All the mystico-utopian blather about work as a revolutionary force and the post-socialist moment without alienation is baseless cant until it fixes on determinate realities of exploitation.

Categories: Asides.

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6 Responses

  1. I look forward to that post.

    Here’s what your remarks on Google etc made me think of - I used to work in the “nonprofit” “social justice” industry. The hours were long and the bosses were often assholes and the pay was mediocre. But I also got a nonmonetary wage in kind, in the form of satisfaction/self-righteousness because of the importance of the endeavor and my role in it (not unlike some ideologies about and within academia). What I did was a huge part of my sense of self. And because the hours were long and the environment so corrosive of the rest of my life, a huge proportion of the relationships I had and the time I had for human contact came via the job. That meant among other things that my bosses had their hands on the shut off valve for a lot that mattered to me in addition to my paychecks, which made the firings and layoffs a hit with additional ramifications along with financial concerns.


  2. Hey Nate, thanks. That would definitely be a major component of the sort of power an employer could wield: not only one’s practical livelihood, but their felt connection to the world as such. Bleh. I like the fact that I don’t have to identify too much with my work — even though I like what I am doing now.

    Chabert: some of the statements in that video are absolutely priceless. Google’s like Stanford with stock-options! Also very interesting is the fact that the “20% time” produced 50% of google’s launched products.

  3. Business speakers are so irritating. “Don’t kill projects, MORPH them.”

  4. She likes to surround herself with “really smart people.” I wonder when google’s “flat” hierarchy will succumb to the Peter Principle.

  5. Just mindblowing, isn’t it? Like a theatrical character, truly. That laugh. The irrepressible bubbling zeal for exploitation, changing the world by integrating the url and search bars. The bubble never burst here! No indeed. And those words that need be eaten about monetization. But I though it interesting how she is fully aware of the value production that has been tagged by gimmicky names in recent decades (“immaterial”) and how its happening there - “ideas” come from “everywhere” - with simple and traditional mechanism of waged labour and some slight but hardly dazzling innovations of means of enclosures (developments in enclosing different kinds of things, not necessarily lumpy discrete clumps, in property).

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