Cross-post; original text here. This cross-post in particular merely includes excerpts from the original post due to posting length. The post concerns the conflicted nature of desire in the capitalist economy, specifically stating that it leads to a conception of necessary activity/”work” that must be presupposed before the notion of a “work ethic” can be established as well as the goals and “dreams” which correspond with the active participation in work. While not addressed in this post itself, there are additional implications to the things in this post: the ideology of work in a capitalist economy must always precede that of wage-labour so that wage-labour can be a justified relationship to our own activity. Any break-down of this ideology pre-figures the dissolution or break-down of wage-labour, and, arguably, wage-labour may be the last form of “work” to exist in history, since the bare-bones need to work is the last garment by which compulsory work can be legitimated.
To experience alienation is thus to have circumstances ‘extinguish’ the universal, the abstractions, by having the concrete take its place entirely, and not merely ‘stand for’ it as meant prior. Subsequently, to experience alienation is thus to extinguish actuality and potentiality. But what does this mean? If we have the agent and his equipment acting as actuality and potentiality and yet as their source of exhaustion, then the experience of present reality, of the actual, and the experience of one’s orientation towards the future, of the potential, must be one and the same in the realm of consciousness, in appearances, to that of agency (or ‘the agent’) and equipment. This unity of appearance is found itself in the separation, insofar as this separation is one of capacity to control material or resource and as such must be one inherently tied to society, for the social means of separation requires subjects which can only take part in society by separation (example: private labour [separation] mediated by money [a unity, but one which needs separation to exist–money, a universal equivalent of all commodities and thus monopoly representation of value, needs the polarization of value and use-value in concrete terms for it to exist as money, as a concrete item of unified concern for society that gives coherence to all interactions because of its extinguishing of the abstraction that is ‘value’]).
Now, we have certainly gotten quite far. But none of this clarifies what effect this has on the human experience–we have described, partially, what it does to consciousness, and to some resultant perceptions of the source of that given experience, as well as the actual source. But we have not dissected the innards of this experience: How does, nonetheless, the subject react to this phenomenal state of affairs at a base level? How does all this further effect the decision-making itself at hand? To understand this, we must introduce some understanding of desire or libido.
One could say this is merely a technical restatement of the idea that the worker is separated, not just from his work, but from the act of working. More than that, though, it describes a separation between the worker and his decision to work. This is not necessarily a new idea either, but in framing it in terms of desire, we’ve introduced a new problem: what is the character and nature of this ‘functionary semblance’ that nonetheless must persist for the worker to indeed decide to work nonetheless, to desire to work nonetheless?
Our first clue is something we already mentioned: desire is ‘decentered.’
What gives our experience unity and coherence are the originations of these separations-of-the-abstract-through-the-concrete: namely, Capital, or the commodity. Thus, when making decisions as something else we must “act as,” we mean making decisions from the point of view of Capital and/or the commodity. This ‘acting as,’ we must clarify, is not merely the ‘desire which desires from’ (this always exist), but describes oppositional desire (desire contrary to itself). Capital and the commodity proper do not ‘desire’ anything beyond a metaphorical sense, after all; nonetheless we see how the contradictions of Capital are paralleled in the desire of the subject.
The point here may be summarized the following way: ‘If I chose it, regardless of what was chosen, then it was chosen because it was necessary.’ While arguably it is always the case that, once a contingency is fulfilled, it is as a necessity, one must remember one is talking about a conscious experiencing of this necessity–the experiencing of a sense of lack of choice, of a ‘contingency’ that’s not seen as one. This experience is supplanted by another level of experience, where ‘choice’ is experienced only in terms of engaging this perception of lack of choice. Thus, we are not speaking of necessity on a merely metaphysical level, but ‘necessity’ in the phenomenological sense. This means this conscious experience may be foreign to us at different historical periods; it means, also, that the need for personal sustenance from nature to survive is insufficient for establishing this conscious experience. We can call ‘work’ a ‘necessity,’ metaphysically, for our existence, but this formal, cognitive intellectual claim has no emotional texture–it is not enough for you to feel ‘necessity’ baring down on you, since this is arguably the source of existential freedom to begin with. The only necessity there is, is to choose, and to be free in that sense. What we then experience at most is angst/anxiety, not necessity itself.
The modern obsession with ‘setting goal-plans’ comes from this experience of choice. The uncertainty of one’s own agency must be affirmed by representing agency externally in, not just a ‘goal,’ but a structured, concrete demand to fulfil it, so that for the subject his agency is always ready-at-hand ‘out there.’
The failure of reality just lets us see the failure of ideology, and thus makes it all the more clear to us that what we chose is in our consideration ‘what needed to be chosen,’ not merely what one wanted and desired to do. Otherwise, we are saturated with goal-plans, which dress necessity in friendly garbs because they suddenly reflect some more ambiguous undetermined desire or an atomized sample of desire that doesn’t look around it. That is, the goal-plans cap our ‘looking for goals’ even if they leave us ‘looking for desire’ itself, and consequently we do not notice the context in which our goals are being manufactured. All of this breaks down in this crises/crisis of expectations.
This is easily seen in the way the subjects of this crises/crisis of expectations describe their disappointment. In protest against reality, which includes the gap between expectation and reality, the subject treats his own demand as a necessity, in the same way that going to college and getting a degree is treated as a necessity in superstructural Capitalism for successful mobility. This serves to conceal the ultimate failure of this ideology because ‘necessity’ hides the futility of goal-planning in the context of capitalism due to the way desire functions in capitalism. If we step back from ‘necessity,’ we can immediately see this. And immediately seeing this will allow us to instead protest against wage-labour in-itself.
Thus, workaholism is a form of ideological ‘neurosis,’ not in any medical sense, but in the sense that, in its full investment with this achievement ideology, its an attempt to not let the full reality of wage-labour hit the surface by continually engaging with work. It serves to keep up the superficial experience of necessity. The satisfaction for one’s job is not workaholism, but merely the experience of wage-labour as epiphenomenal due to all ‘necessities’ being fulfilled in their ‘truth’: if you get a job that meets your expectations, which themselves were ‘necessary’ to you, then you say, ‘This proves my college education was necessary, that my choice was necessary,’ and so on.