Dec 12, 2015


Anguish facing proactivity and infinite training. "We do not understand what is happening, and that is what happens to us" (Ortega y Gasset).

Neoliberal capitalism (perhaps especially with the long post 2008 crisis) and the society of knowledge that is nowadays turboglbalized, have also increased tremendously the harrowing competition of all against all.  No leviathan can guarantee today the invulnerability of the medium-term national boundaries or effectively protect the population against the excesses of international markets.
That is why the new cognitive turboglobalized capitalism imposes to all the population a profound metamorphosis in training, attitudes and even long term life projects. Although there are very significant differences, this change affects similarly to managers, technicians, experts, politicians, intellectuals... and workers most of all. As always, the more closer to poverty people are, the more pressure and exclusion they suffered, the more down in the social hierarchy they are, the less empowerment capability they have. No doubt these differences in the quantity and quality of human capital depend critically on social hierarchy and structure.
In any case, the labor and professional attitudes demanded today are different from the discipline, passivity and self-control of the Taylorist-Fordism. For instance –being aware of the instability of markets and the need to win at all cost- today the desired model of a cognitive worker, professional and of correct work falls on the wage-earning. 'For that he is paid and contracted for!' -it is said. Although similar, we should not confuse this "logic" with the traditional Fordism logic, which imposed on the workers even the minor habits and values of their employers. " You are paid to work as I want to and to follow the values of... !". That is why workers often had to attend mass or certain social and ideological rituals as if it was part of the work itself. Currently the existing logic is that the worker improves itself, maintains profitable and defines effectively its own work and - in addition-  he must do so in an obvious and unequivocally way in order not to be fired on the simple suspicion of non-productivity.

Using sarcastically a highly praised term of other times, today´s workers must manage their own work. Now, this does not entails a lot of freedom, since it is strictly subjected to markets, the law of cost-benefit and capital gains. Certainly, it is valued much more today  the worker´s ability to be creative and innovative, and that is something very new. It is even somewhat contrary to virtually all historical work experiences, because capitalism, feudalism or slavery had never before asked creativity to the worker. That is why it has been internalized historically as a 'natural' law the contradiction between, on the one hand, the paid or forced work and – on the other hand- creativity and innovation. And therefore it is very misleading the current demands of constant innovation, proactivity and creativity to both traditional industrial workers, and to people that emigrates almost directly from rural or Neolithic environments to others already postindustrial environments.

As Jared Diamond points out (2013: 331s, The world of yesterday. What can we learn from traditional societies?, Barcelona: Debate) regarding the so-called traditional peoples: "innovation in any technique or behavior related to a natural environment is considered to be extremely dangerous. There is a range of correct behavior quite narrow beyond of which there is a risk ‘of fatal errors’. In a pre-scientific situation, with little control and knowledge of the environment, and above all with few medical or technological possibilities, to fully recover from those errors, small as they may be, means to take very dangerous risks with very negative consequences in the long term."

On the other hand, hired workers were traditionally  contracted with a very limited idea of the specific task to be carried out and how they should be done. The owners knew very well how they wanted to be served. However, currently it is mostly expected a high economic performance and owners have learnt to expect that the worker itself discover how can it can be obtained. Therefore the worker is given a sort of  a "watched freedom" and conditioned to "give" permanently new types and forms of economic returns. Precisely because of this and to encourage it, more and more earnings are less fixed and more "flexible", according to performance.

Therefore, nowadays every more or less stable hiring entails an enormous amount of supporting studies and justified arguments, which have little to do with how easily traditional employment was performed. We believe that, in this matter, Brazil is still in a phase of expansion and in a majority type of recruitment, which will soon be quite rare. Around the world there is much anxiety before any hiring (and hence the studies and justifications requested) and –given the confusion about whether it will be profitable— it is desired to ensure obsessively the performance offered by the worker. In addition, since the economic and technological scenarios change at enormous speed, it is much doubted that the current performance is maintained in the future. Nobody trust that the needs and opportunities detected today, will remain in the medium and long term. Also that is why there is an increase in flexible contracts, part-time, jobs of very short duration and compensation according to the results achieved. More freedom or more anguish and demand?

Therefore, it is not a gracious concession, but a necessity of the current Postfordist and neo-liberal capitalism. Workers have more freedom, it is true, but if someone doesn´t want it, he will end up being fired! Also, and for the same reasons mentioned above, new rules of work market requires that the worker himself - permanently! - prove the need of being hired. As Bauman (2014, does the wealth of a few benefits us all?, Barcelona: Paidós) has said so graphically: present-day capitalism is even more cruel and ruthless than the traditional Fordist capitalism, because it demands the worker even the task of demonstrating that he is irreplaceable. Today he must not only do his job properly, but succeed on an ongoing basis to demonstrate that no one can do it better than him. Certainly current turboglobalized capitalism is characterized by an anxiety which exhausted all of society.
In the short run, perhaps, most of the time the contractor has a clear idea about why and for what reason he needs a worker, but - increasingly - everyone assumes that their long-range stay in a work place (even in the medium or short run!) depends on his ability to evolve in accordance with his tasks. Even, the worker needs to be skillfully at reconfiguring his tasks, adapting it to new circumstances and making it more profitable. That´s why today´s post-Fordist cognitive capitalism tends to demand "not to much specialization", because workers must be able to discover new lines of business or new technological applications and evolve with it, avoiding to fossilize in the ultra-specialization-.

Contemporary capitalism also include other important and very subtle transformations. Education and leadership expert Richard Gervin minimizes the PISA index and value the GEDI report on innovation and entrepreneurship. As he says "the more mature is an economy the most it depends on innovation and entrepreneurship. We need people to be able to create their own job rather than to be waiting for a large company to give it. We must stop creating educational systems that teach kids how they should be directed and to trust in others [!], and teach them how to find opportunities. [...] My generation was educated to believe in certainties. We need to prepare our children to cope with changes and with an uncertain future, instead of certainties."

Note how the work place is increasingly "sold" to the worker as some kind of "privilege and honour" - especially if it is stable . Consequently, workers doesn´t have enough running the contracted task during the working hours, it is also required to  dedicate extra and after-hours; to enroll in permanent training programs to improve its own performance (even before specific needs are detected!) and proactive attitude to suggest improvements or opportunities for the company. Worst of all, most of these task are often executed for free, or pro bono.

In many ways, current cognitive capitalism forces everyone to convert long term training and personal development in a sort of work of art, personalized, differentiated and, especially, endowed with productive and exchange value. In addition, as the acceleration of changes generates rapid obsolescence, this work of art must be highly flexible, easy to reinvent and  adaptable according to the new circumstances. Notice how strange and incomprehensible this should be for someone who comes from a pre-fordist rural environment, just like many of the immigrants who lives in the favelas that surround the huge and advanced Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bello Horizonte.

This situation conducts to paradoxes, like the one that perceived and formulated beforehand the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894): compliant diligence is no longer a virtue, at least not necessarily, especially  if we compared it with proactivity  -which today may be rebellious, but mostly it's adaptive. Stevenson said: "excessive diligence at school or university is a symptom of a poor vitality. The Faculty for the leisure implies a universal hunger and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a kind of dull people, dead in life, who are barely aware of living (...), nor they have curiosity, are unable to surrender to incidental stimuli and, unless the need stimulates them, remain stationary (...), they have been at College and at the University, but always with the eyes fixed on the medal".

However, Stevenson forgets the suffering and the exclusion of those who have appetites and curiosities that are not ultimately rewarded by society, such as those who has been formed under an specific type of society or culture and - later - should work in another, completely different. Thus, someone educated for stability, according to personal and social models too rigid and prefixed, falls -easily and without being able to avoid it- in exclusion and poverty when living in a society asking just for the opposite. Simply put, his training and life experiences have not provided him with the strategies, the level of awareness and the  reflective self-configuration required today, all of which are very difficult to obtain in pre-modern social contexts.

Current cognitive capitalism, post-Fordist and turboglobalized, requires workers with a great capacity for cognitive adaptation, even in its lower layers. This characteristic hinder and -even- prevents labor, economic, cultural and social empowerment of large portion of migrants to cities in emerging countries like Brazil.  Those who have been educated in, and for a very different world ‘rural, less competitive, not so intellectualized, etc. On the other hand, new metropolises asked them for a minimal cognitive training and, above all, a great personal ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Also, current cognitive capitalism requires a personal training always open, always unfinished, always attentive to the needs of the markets, always learning new technologies, etc.

Not to minimize but empower for contemporary suffering

"Today it is expected that individuals look for biographical solutions to systemic contradictions." U. Beck

We cannot dwell on details, but it is clear that permanent involvement in complex and unending formation requires always many efforts, for anyone. In addition, today, those efforts also involve postponing economics returns -only possible in the long run. That makes this type of training only feasible for a very rare type of mentality in the human species. It requires a kind of individual willing to strive for years and years towards a distant reward that - basically – it is not even guaranteed! Someone able to isolate himself from much of the society, who walks tirelessly and competing with everyone in the road for self-made, only pulled by the distant and not safe hope of an opportunity to monetize all the effort.

Without a doubt, this type of mentality and training is really very difficult to acquire, particularly for populations used  to live day to day or coming from pre-industrial unstructured environments. We believe that -comparatively- these new mindsets and attitudes required by new cognitive capitalism are much more difficult to develop, than those others demanded during the hardest stages of classical industrialization (which Charles Dickens reported in all its crudeness).

If we are right, we must conclude that the vulnerability suffered by persons trained in prefordist societies, leaving their homes to rebuild their lives -if they can-, and relocating their lives in new and therefore very strange environments, conducts them to superior anxieties than those so well reflected in Chaplin´s Modern Times, Dicken’s and Zola’s realistic novels and early XX century social painting and photography.

All these artworks help us to perceive the alienations, complexities and anguish of the classical industrial life, perhaps much better than the cold sociological essays and effectively complementing our personal experiences. But we don’t have anything like that to describe the post-industrial life and cognitive capitalism. Regarding that, our short vital experience -slightly more than a decade-, is poorly complemented with theoretical or artistic works that translate people´s difficulties and experiences. That´s why, many times, we do not perceive current violations and tend to minimize the resulting vulnerability, even though that is very cruel and manifest itself in all aspects of existence.

In addition, almost like in the 19th century, we still tend to presuppose that these vulnerabilities  are as inevitable, neutral and natural as a hurricane. That they do not involve any social or political responsibility, and that no human being (nor the society as a whole) has nothing to do with them. Selfishly, many people still avoid the need to conceive a mechanism for effective redistribution, that compensate the misfortune of the victims and share part of the benefits gained by the groups promoted with the changes.

Obviously this is a problem of social solidarity between groups and, even, between generations. But this is also a problem of wrong mentality, logical fallacy and miss-cognition of social reality. In this sense, it has to do with the difficulty of conceiving the relation of cause and effect (as complex and global as it would be) that relates triumphant beneficiaries of post-Fordist modernization and “those others”, the ones victimized.

For this reason, many times we are more empathic and sensitive to the human suffering caused by the traditional industrialization, and not that much to the pain, confusion, alienation, anguish and exclusion that causes current cognitive capitalism. This suffering is universal, without a doubt, and affects us all in a way or the other, but we must not forget that -as everything suggests- they are even harder to cope by populations of emerging countries that emigrated from rural settling -where people still live according to other times- to the postmodern labyrinths of the postfordist metropolis. In many cases, they “dive” directly into the current turboglobalized cognitive capitalism, heavily individualistic and competitive, coming from rural environments, almost illiterate, communitarian, and with almost no explicit market concurrency...

We should not minimize or ignore, but study and understand, the violations suffered and the vulnerability experienced by these populations. We must explain the mechanisms that lies behind their pain, distress, poverty, exclusion, disorientation, disempowerment, lack of vital guide, victimization, etc. It is the first and necessary step so they can empower themselves, and take control of their fate and their own life. (Trad. Yanko Moyano) Comes from the post VULNERABILITY & SOCIAL CHANGE and the post TO POST-INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY DIRECTLY? 

No comments:

Post a Comment