Michael Sean Strickland

Books I’ve Read


884 — Gorz, A. (1989). Critique of economic reason. G. Handyside and C. Turner, trans. London and New York: Verso. 5 June 2014, Philadelphia–Atlanta–Houston.

« The economic rationalization of work will thus sweep away the ancient idea of freedom and existential autonomy. It produces individuals who, being alienated in their work, will, necessarily, be alienated in their consumption as well and, eventually, in their needs. Since there is no limit to the quantity of money that can be earned and spent, there will no longer be any limit to the needs that money allows them to have or to the need for money itself. These needs increase in line with social wealth. The monetarization of work and needs will eventually abolish the limitations which the various philosophies of life had placed on them » (p. 22).

« Both economic rationality and the functioning of the megamachine require the ‘human factor’ to be eliminated and living labour and free workers to be replaced by strictly programmed labour and workers. Both require the submission of the living to the inert, of living labour to dead labour (that is, to machines and capital). In both, the techniques of domination and the imperatives of rationalization are inextricably linked, to the extent that one may consider rational organization to be the goal of domination or, inversely, domination to be the goal of rational organization » (p. 43).

« . . .this process of monetarization, the effects of which are added to those of the functional predetermination of subdivided tasks, is a powerful factor of social disintegration. Indeed, offering financial incentives for functional work presupposes the conviction, sustained by commercial advertising, that everything we can do, money does better and that the goods and services provided by paid professionals are essentially superior to those we can provide for ourselves: they incorporate that element of magic, fantasy and non-utility which confers on them a compensatory value (and therefore an exchange value) which is far superior to their actual use value. Thanks to the constant barrage of commercial advertising, the need for money will thus increase as social wealth does, prompting the previously unpaid strata of society to seek waged work. This in turn will further increase the need for compensatory consumption » (p. 46).

« . . .the ideology of ‘human resources’ is preparing the ground for the instrumentalization — or, as Habermas has it, the colonization — of non-economic aspirations by economic rationality: the new type of enterprise will strive to take these aspirations into consideration but only because they are factors of productivity and ‘competitiveness’ of a particular kind. The question is whether this consideration will lead to a greater exploitation and manipulation of workers or to an autonomization of non-quantifiable, extra-economic values, to such an extent that these will restrict the rights of economic logic in order to impose their own claims » (p. 60).

« However interesting it may be, work done for exchange on the market cannot be regarded as being of the same type as the activity of the painter, the writer, the missionary, the researcher or the revolutionary, who accept a life of privation because the activity itself, not its exchange value, is their primary goal » (pp. 137–138).

« The development of personal services is therefore only possible in a context of growing social inequality, in which one part of the population monopolizes the well-paid activities and forces the other part into the role of servants. [...] The professionalization of domestic tasks is therefore the very antithesis of a liberation. It relieves a privileged minority of all or part of their work-for-themselves and makes that work the sole source of livelihood for a new class of underpaid servants, who are forced to take on other peoples’ domestic tasks alongside their own » (p. 156).

« The non-coincidence of the individual subject with the ‘identity’ which society obliges him — or gives him the means — to express is at the root of both individual autonomy and all cultural creation. It is this that is thematized in the questioning or rejection of accepted values and norms — by the contesting of language, the subversion of clichés, the unearthing of meanings that are beyond all discourse and of the nonsense all discourse carries within it, in short in artistic or intellectual creation. It is the ferment of negativity at the heart of all culture, the ferment of doubt at the heart of practical certainties, the ferment of strangeness at the heart of familiarity and of nonsense at the heart of meaning » (p. 177).

« We should never lose sight of the dialectical unity of these two factors: work in the economic sense, by its very impersonal abstractness, liberates me from particular bonds of dependence and reciprocal belonging that govern relations in the micro-social and private sphere. And this sphere can only exist as a sphere of sovereignty and voluntary reciprocity because it is the obverse of a clearly circumscribed sphere of clearly defined social obligations. If I am relieved of any social obligation and more precisely of the obligation to ‘earn my living’ by working, be it only for a few hours, I cease to exist as an ‘interchangeable social individual as capable as any other’: my only remaining existence is private and micro-social. And I cease to experience this private existence as my personal sovereignty because it is no longer the obverse of compelling social obligations. The customary balance of living in a macro-socially organized society is upset: I no longer negate myself as private individual by my ‘work in general’ nor do I negate myself as an individual in general by my private activity. My existence collapses into the private sphere where, being subject to no general social obligation, to no socially recognized necessity, I can only be or do or not do what I have decided myself, without anyone asking anything of me: ‘Excluded from every group and every enterprise, a pure consumer of air, water and other people’s labour, reduced to the boredom of living, an acute consciousness of my contingency’, I am a ‘supernumerary of the human species’ » (pp. 206–207).

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