The information age assembly line.

Viewed with the eyes of today, industrialization offered dehumanizing working-conditions to the worker at the assembly line. This was mainly by removing meaning from the work, reducing it to simple repetitions and reducing the worker to a small wheel in the big machinery. No worker at the assembly line could find pride in the finished product or find joy in the process, no one would expect to find meaning or joy in work.

In the information age things are perhaps not as bad (no one dies of ‘Iron-Lung’ at the tender age of 30 anymore) on the physical side of things, but much worse when it comes to meaning and integrity.

Many – if not all – jobs in the information age carry many of the same characteristics – the meaning has been removed from the function, workers are simply part of the big machinery carrying out work that is almost entirely meaningless to achieve goals nobody understands.

Now however, even the physical component of working has been removed, and thus the worker is even more estranged now, than when work was taking place in front of an assembly line.

At the same time workers are expected to participate in a big lie – in the information age workers are expected to find personal fulfillment, joy and meaning in their job. People are actually supposed to buy into the “company values” (simply buzzwords, not a single company is honest about it’s own values) and be “driven” “goal-oriented” “achievers” that “take pride in their work and accomplishments”.

Using the same dynamic as a religious sect, employees are over time supposed to internalize the lie and make it part of their own personal values – the actual slogan of working in the information age should be “Live the Lie”.

In the modern-day assembly line the worker is still met with dehumanizing working conditions, but at the same time expected to give up his/her personal integrity and act like some sort of corporate prostitute, taking on the values of the given corporation like some sort of chameleon. The worker is not even allowed to utter the simple fact that he or she is doing it (working) JUST FOR THE MONEY.

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One Response to “The information age assembly line.”

  1. Holistica Says:

    The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society . . . .Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relationships . . . are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is forced to face . . . his real conditions of life and his relations with his fellow men.
    Capitalism is the one social system that oppresses people in a way that actually makes them smarter and stronger. Growing up and trying to live in the midst of uninterrupted disturbance, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, everything melting, all workers get a compulsory free education in what old American slang calls “the school of hard knocks.” For workers to organize, to create radical unions, is not just a political triumph, but a triumph of subjectivity. The great civil rights hymn “We Shall Overcome” tells us we can build a new world if only we can remain united and stay true to ourselves. That song began its life in the eighteenth-century “Great Awakening” and lived nearly two centuries, as an American Protestant hymn called “I Shall Overcome.” Somehow, in the radical ferment of the 1930s, “I” became “We,” and the song became a hymn of collective yearning. Just as Marx had hoped, the free development of each blended into the free development of all.

    Among Chinese intellectuals today, there seems to be a great melancholy and nostalgia for China’s all too brief “Enlightenment,” from the fall of the Gang of Four to the great demonstrations at Tiananmen Square and a sense of helpless bitterness toward the post-Tiananmen crackdown on thought. People often mention the 1990s slogan—and directive—“Farewell to Utopia.” They feel the pressure of cultural bullying directed at any sort of independent thought. Authority figures and mass media convey a message something like this: “China’s boom will go on forever; it is its own justification. It is dangerous to think about what it means or about how its benefits should be shared or about how men and women should live. Brains have an important function, to design technical improvements and arrange policy implementation, not to worry about the meaning of life. You had dialogues about all the great ideas in the 1980s, and you know where they led. We do not want any more of that.” This language reminds me a lot of the “McCarthyism” in which I grew up, an age of cultural repression in the midst of an economic boom, when intellectuals were told they had better Shut Up and Keep Off the Grass.

    What has this to do with Karl Marx? The Communist Manifesto has a couple of trenchant sentences that can help us see the connection. “The bourgeoisie,” Marx says, “has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborers.”

    In this vision intellectuals are still there, but they are demoted, deskilled, disabled, pushed down into the proletariat, where they live by selling their brains for purely technical uses. But for Marx, to recognize yourself as a proletarian, a member of “the modern working class,” is just the first chapter in a dialectical story. In his narrative, just as in some of the greatest works of world literature (Oedipus, King Lear), the hero is thrown down from the top to the very bottom of society, only to rise again. The man who is “stripped of his halo,” of his power over old ideas, develops a power to generate new ideas. It is a dreadful fate to be “proletarianized.” And yet, capitalism has the ironic power to oppress people in a way that makes them smart and strong. So the declassed intellectual can learn a new way to see society as a whole, to establish connections among human beings that have a wider horizon and mobilize deeper emotions than bankers or bureaucrats can conceive. As he “gets his head together,” nourishes his bruised subjectivity, he can learn a new solidarity with other subjects who are as bruised as he. Together, they can reach a point where they can say, “We shall overcome.” They can imagine a world where “the free development of each is the basis of the free development of all.” Can they, can anybody, actually create such a world? I don’t know. But the power to at least imagine a world where people are free subjects together instead of cash machines can nourish and enrich the world we live in now. As China becomes covered with cash machines, the story of Karl Marx in China may be just beginning

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