re: The Curious Case Of Self-Exploitation VIEW POST


I haven't read Han's book but Franco Berardi's 2009 The Soul At Work explores very similar territory:

The content of labor becomes mental, while at the same time the limits of productive labor become uncertain. The notion of productivity itself becomes undefined: the relation between time and quantity of produced value is difficult to determine, since for a cognitive worker every hour is not the same from the standpoint of produced value.

He contrasts the previous industrial work-regime of selling one's body and time in measured increments and operating machines which amplify labor-power with the post-industrial regime:

The mobility of the product was made possible by the assembly line while workers had to remain motionless in space and time. Info-workers, instead, constantly move all along the length, breadth and depth of cyberspace. They move to find signs, to elaborate experience, or simply to follow the paths of their existence. But at every moment and place they are reachable and can be called back to perform a productive function that will be reinserted into the global cycle of production. In a certain sense, cellular phones realize the dream of capital: that of absorbing every possible atom of time at the exact moment the productive cycle needs it. In this way, workers offer their entire day to capital and are paid only for the moments when their time is made cellular. Info-producers can be seen as neuro-workers. They prepare their nervous system as an active receiving terminal for as much time as possible. The entire lived day becomes subject to a semiotic activation which becomes directly productive only when necessary.
But what emotional, psychological, and existential price does the constant stress of our permanent cognitive electrocution imply?

According to Berardi, the quintessential psychological syndrome of the industrial era was repression-induced neurosis: am I in the proper place, am I acting correctly, am I deriving the correct meaning for what I am told? Whereas the post-industrial milieu is a nonstop barrage of signs and meanings, overlapping and overcoding each other -- as he puts it, "conditions that describe schizophrenic communication". In a hyper-stimulating context we eventually panic, trying to keep up with an infinity of moving targets, and when we inevitably fail, we swing toward depression or burnout.

Overall it is not an especially hopeful book, although there are some bright spots: opposing the idea of wealth "as time -- time to enjoy, travel, learn, and make love" to the economic model of wealth as pure accumulation, or looking toward the formation of liberatory economic networks and collectivities which turn away from the juggernaut-Economy and might, in sufficient volume, force a reckoning. But a decade after it was written, it's hard to look at the precarity faced by "gig economy" workers or the infectious compulsion to build and maintain personal brands and think we're on the right track.


Thanks for the suggestion. It is definitely a book I want to check out. The fact that is has 1 customer review on Amazon and no Kindle edition is quite telling....

I don't think we are on the right track, because nobody is raising the issue. Even when I submitted this blog post, I had the feeling of "it's gonna be perceived as negative, loser-ish etc". Positivity always seems to be winning. People have become almost allergic to any form of negativity. Naturally, there is a strong selection bias going for what we decide to read or write, not to mention think.


The trouble with negativity is when we point it at people instead of things. Because people are great but some things suck. Or when people point negativity at things near us or things we like and we mistakenly think it's pointed at us.

Even if we were to point negativity to a person, they will stand their ground in one way or the other - they can be offended, they can learn something, they have the opportunity to test their beliefs, their character, or just simply decide not to care. In a way, that's testing their psychic immune system.

In contrast, if you are surrounded only by positivity, i.e. no external conflict or pressure, you lose that and begin developing some "auto-immune" psychic diseases.

That's the idea I got from the book anyway.

code of conduct - report abuse