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Archive for the ‘individualism’ Category

our society is currently gripped by a pervasive ideology of work. It is continuously preached to us as the pinnacle of human virtue. If you’re not doing superhuman stints at the office then something is wrong with you. And don’t even mention the word unemployed … that’s blasphemy.

The most worrying facet about the ideology of work is this: we are obliged to toil even when it’s not really necessary in concrete, economic terms. Appearing super-busy becomes more about fulfilling a societal expectation than doing something useful to society.

From Peter Fleming’s “The way to a better work-life balance? Unions,  not self-help” in The Guardian

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The matter became academic, because Graeber’s mother died before she got Medicaid. But the form-filling ordeal stayed with him. “Having spent much of my life leading a fairly bohemian existence, comparatively insulated from this sort of thing, I found myself asking: is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like?” writes the 53-year-old professor of anthropology in his new book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. “Running around feeling like an idiot all day? Being somehow put in a position where one actually does end up acting like an idiot?”

From David Graeber: ‘So many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary’ in The Guardian, an interview by Stuart Jeffries.

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.. was about the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare and early childhood. (Whoops, I forgot to tell you).

I snuck in some talk of universal minimum incomes, too.

I don’t regret being a work-outside-the-home mother. There are many advantages to having parents in the workforce – higher family income and social capital opportunities, to name a couple. And as a, now, single mother I can attest to the benefits of staying attached to the workforce in terms of the longer term security it provides me. (Which is why it can make economic sense to work during the early years of motherhood even when part-time work and childcare costs mean you may not lodge a profit. Think of it as an insurance policy). But if we’re going to encourage higher participation rates for women, and quite frankly our economy now depends on such, then we need to think about how we incorporate care into economic systems rather than segregating it outside the system. We must recognise that love and reciprocity are drives as fundamental to us as self-interest.

File all of this with notions like a guaranteed universal basic income and other economic possibilities for happiness that might actually be a real option if we were ready to consider them. Because, we are not talking some stagnant old debate here between capitalism and communism. We’re talking about ways of better organising our economy and care. And it starts with framing the debate around the understanding that children are in many ways a public good and warrant public support accordingly.

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This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.

And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits (direct cash payments, which have shown impressive results in Kenya and Uganda, are a great candidate for the kind of deliberate expansion I’m talking about). NGOs need to be free to invest in the kinds of systems and processes we’re always telling developing countries to put in place. And rich countries need to spend less time debating how to divide up the tiny sliver of our GDP we spend on development and more time figuring out how to leverage our vast economic and political power to let it happen on its own.

This applies to nearly everything in social policy.

This article, “Stop trying to save the world: Big ideas are destroying international development” by Michael Hobbes in New Republic is the most satisfying read on the topic I’ve come across in ages. It was sent to me by my father who worked for one of the biggest development ‘organisations’ in the world most of his career.

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Pointing out stupidity is seductive. In a rigged war economy that breaks bodies, poisons the only planet we have, and isolates us from one another in our dwellings and consumer demographics, stupidity is obvious and seemingly everywhere.

Solidarity, on the other hand, is particular. It’s a recognition that others struggle in their own specific ways. Solidarity requires listening: to stories of the structural deformation of individual lives; to the ways that popular culture makes people feel like they are living against the grain; to analyses that have not yet and may never become wholly coherent, or even depart from common sense.

Listening demands that we approach anyone fighting these battles with a presumptive generosity, even if we go on to disagree with them. Unfortunately, Crikey contrarians Bernard Keane and Helen Razer, in their new book A Short History of Stupid, take the easy path.

Oh my god, yes. This whole piece from Jason Wilson in The Guardian is great reading, “On Keane and Razer and why pointing out the stupidity of others is seductive”.

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Citizens have always grudgingly accepted that politicians lie, and they are willing to elect candidates who offer them scant policy detail. But when politicians lie about even that scant policy detail, it’s no longer clear exactly what elections in Australia are for. They’re not endorsements of judgement, because the judgement relies on trust. They’re not endorsements of policy, because we don’t know what it is. They are opening up a democratic deficit we can’t levy our way out of.

Instead of fronting up to the electorate, governments now invent a whole category of external bodies: commissions of audit, reviews, people’s assemblies, future summits. They create a kind of pseudo-consent, the illusion of consultation, objectivity and changed circumstances. They mimic the representative format of parliament, but do it in a way that’s both predictable and disposable. Unpopular policies already well planned seem to come from some external body, which is then quickly disbanded, and the government looks benign in comparison.

From Richard Cooke’s “The people versus the political class in The Monthly.

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What’s the price of doing well in the workplace and keeping your home life so separate?

The compartmentalising is not without cost. Back at home with the people you love, it seems to take at least a full day to find the rhythm again of being with children. And until you find that oneness with them, you can experience their needs, even their affection, as somehow jarring and irritating. If you’re working long hours or shift work, I suspect it is possible to never recover enough from work to reach this rhythm.

Some of the fragmentation is about training yourself to be indifferent to the fate of others during your work day, but it is also about being indifferent to ourselves. Ignoring our feelings and denying their legitimacy. The outcome of this is a decline in overall empathy. If you do not know the inside of your own head, you cannot possibly understand anyone else’s. And with that is lost the capacity for intimacy, something that is fundamental to our survival and fulfillment.

My latest article here.

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Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.

– George Monbiot’s “The age of loneliness is killing us” in The Guardian.

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