Exorcising the Spirit of Capitalism

Yesterday I was talking to someone I work with about why “re-entry” after a vacation can be so psychically difficult, and what can be done to assuage that. My theory was—well, let’s just say she suggested I open a side practice in Marxist Therapy (TERRIBLE IDEA—I couldn’t charge!).

Want to hear it? Here it goes.

The first step in not being overwhelmed by a return to work—as someone who currently works three jobs, I guess trust me?—is to come to terms with the fact that as a worker, you are eminently replaceable. This is actually something insufferable tea-party bigot and Grade-A Fuckface Matt Walsh said in a recent post about stay-at-home moms that inexplicably went viral with my progressive friends last week. This is a guy who believes that the Benghazi tragedy was a multi-level conspiracy, that Pres. Obama is 100% at fault for the government shutdown, that there is such a thing as a “billion-dollar abortion industry,” that there is such a thing as rampant “black-on-white hate crime,” and that everyone on food stamps is stealing from him. He is—you know what? I’m going to stick with Grade-A Fuckface because it’s been a tough week and I can’t think of anything better.

Anyway, I begrudgingly admit that he made a few salient points in what was otherwise a post full of patriarchal claptrap, barely-disguised homophobia and general tea-party smugness, the most important of which is this: at any job where you receive a salary, you can be replaced. Will your replacement be exactly like you? No, but who cares (and, sometimes, yes). Where you cannot be replaced is—to un-heteronormify Walsh—with your loved ones (he says: “as a mother”).

If my colleague Dan took my classes for the next three weeks, there might be some grumbling for the first fifteen minutes, and then nobody would care.  For me to think, I AM IRREPLACEABLE AS A PROFESSOR! is the mark of a tremendous amount of delusion—especially because I am an adjunct, the very definition of expendability. But what if I decided I didn’t want to be me anymore, and I sent Dan home to my husband? Dan might be able to boil three sweet potatoes and mash them up with raisins (my definition of “vegan gourmet cooking”), but it is possible that my husband would not like being superseded for House’s Best/Only Beard. Walsh is correct to say that when parents abdicate their duties (he says “mothers” because he is a patriarchal fuckface), entire families collapse, childhoods are thrown asunder, etc.

Why, then, do so many people take for granted their indispensability at home, and yet seek it out, desperately and deludedly (and to no avail), at a place where the very act of being remunerated for your labor makes it very clear that you are not indispensible? That you are part of an exchange, a circulation, a Kreislauf (for you Germanists out there) of exchanging compensation for goods or services? That the running of that Kreislauf is not at all contingent upon any of its particular members’ particularities, but simply that they are present in circulation at all?

This is actually why Walsh is such a goon—he says, in his correct attempt to explain that people mistakenly view compensated labor as “important” and uncompensated labor as “unimportant,” that those who do must have read that in the Communist Manifesto. Actually, dipshit, the Manifesto says the opposite: that Capitalism destroys and remakes the family in its own image, as a relative amount of potential income. Marry, because then you’ll have two incomes from that factory. Don’t have a kid, because then you’ll lose one income…until you can put that kid to work, and then you’ll have three! Family=earning potential. IN CAPITALISM. So yes, I suppose that idea is in the Manifesto, but it is the object of Marx and Engels’ critique, not their adulation. But Matt Walsh probably believes that reading Marx on purpose will cause Lucifer himself to emerge from the Ninth Circle, and fasten one of his pus-dripping mouths directly onto Matt Walsh’s cock (can you tell I am still teaching Dante? OH YOU CAN?).

Still, though, once you strip away the patriarchal righteousness and functional illiteracy, Walsh’s point stands: the place you are indispensable is at home (I would replace his “stay-at-home mothers” with “stay-at-home parents of any gender”); the place where you are very much dispensable is at work. So the first step in letting go of work-related stress is to realize this: my place in the Capitalist Kreislauf is just that. I am but a cog in a larger system primarily designed to keep me down. I can stay or go, but in the end it will make very little difference to other people, and this is true from the lowliest Custodial Engineer (a job I have had!) to the highest-ranking CEO. Steve Jobs, Patron Saint of Objectivism, has entered the transcendental Cloud, and yet Apple soldiers on. Whatever shitty bank Jamie Dimon is in charge of will continue to have big dumb piles of Scrooge McDuck money when he’s gone (and how impressed is everyone that I know that person’s name? Just me? Yeah, probably).

But nobody wants to believe this about themselves. Everyone wants to think: if I don’t go to work tomorrow, it will matter to someone, over and above my salary. People are counting on me. And therein lies the mistake: they’re not counting on you; they’re counting on whoever has your job.

Indispensability at work is a delusion, but it is a very important one that most of us (me included) maintain, because without it, then the craven reality of our participation in a rigged system becomes manifest, fatis become amor’d, and pretty soon it’s just ECCE NIHILISM (and yes, I realize that not a single use of Latin in the past sentence has been correct). I don’t think a society with a majority of people cranked up to Full Early Nietzsche would be ideal either, so in many ways (really most ways) the perpetuation of this delusion is in not only our own best interests, but those of our fellow man as well.

And yet, I think it would do us some good to remember our occupational dispensability, because our time and attention are zero-sum situations. The less time we spend caring about work in our time off the clock, the more time we can spend caring about the important things—by which, of course, I mean catching up on Nashville and Scandal. Why, what did you think I meant?

7 thoughts on “Exorcising the Spirit of Capitalism

  1. “Indispensability” is a difficult word, and I am not certain that it helps us understand workplace culture enough, or how to improve it (or value it if the culture is a positive one). Most of us have experienced the situation of a colleague leaving for whatever reason, and the workplace has been the worse for it – sometimes disastrously so. Programs of any kind, in or outside of academia, are made up of the people who are there, and not just by the jobs.
    Many of us have probably had the experience of not being able to do (at least part of, or as well of) a job that our predecessor did, or have watched what happened when we decided to go let go of a given responsibility that was supposed to be kept up by another person. The world did not end when the piece of the program got lost. But formerly important hallmarks of a workplace’s “profile” did end, and not always just to have a new and equally important hallmark become part of that office’s/department’s ability to keep offering certain areas of study/products/services/mentoring/whatever. Indeed, a colleague leaving or changing positions is reason enough for many people to decide to leave as well.
    My place of work might continue without someone there (although a place I worked in college did go under when a new manager just could not make things work) – but just because someone else can be hired into that person’s position and receive a salary does not mean that the new person is capable of doing that person’s job. Or the next person might do it better… everything is possible. But I do not find it helpful to think about how dispensable I am, or my colleagues are.
    I do find it helpful to think about what they do contribute positively, sometimes uniquely (or in mean moments to think about how much better off “we” would be without so-and-so…. not always a fair or accurate assessment, of course!).
    I thought of this concretely regarding you when, a few days ago, I feared you were going to stop blogging and addressing tough issues. I (granted, selfishly) thought about what a bummer that would be, since it would leave a gap in my professional life. My life would not end, but that part of my life in which I look forward to the discussions you start would likely just be gone. (And of course I would wish you well and mean it!) Are you indispensable in that sense? I think that is the wrong question.
    I understand that I am asking for a push in a different direction when we think about ourselves and our places of work. I do understand why it can also be helpful to realize that we are replaceable – to a degree, anyway. I have learned, though, that workplaces where the culture focuses more on what we all can and do offer pretty much eliminates the need for me to have to think about how my place of work has no real need for me, makes me able to talk with colleagues about what I should be doing with my professional life, there or elsewhere, and in general makes me realize how horrible it is to be in a place of work where I am forced to remind myself that no one really cares about me and to not take it personally.


    • I don’t know. This was well-written and strongly argued, but as someone who is currently barely scraping by in three jobs, I also think your arguments come from a place of privilege I and most people who read this blog don’t have. Which, good for you! I’m proud of you and you seem awesome. But I was mostly talking about “regular” jobs, in the 9-to-5 world. However, I still think that what I said applies to academia–and that is where academics often disagree. There is a very blurred line in academe between “love” and money, because there is often so little of the latter that we are taught that the former must be very important, that what we do must, indeed, be very important. Alas, it’s not. Some of the things you’ve listed to me as things that would matter if someone who did them left them are:

      formerly “important” parts of a program/service/product being lost
      me not blogging anymore

      The first of those should be filed under “minor pain in the ass,” because anything that does not have directly to do with the health and welfare of a loved one is not important at at all. The German major and minor requirements at Whatever University are not important. The pedagogical approach of Business German I, also not important. Whether or not the German and Philosophy departments get along, also not important. They may be professionally or academically important, but I am trying to make the distinction between that kind of workplace-“importance” and actual importance, when dealing with things that cannot even be approximated. Your mom passes away and your dad remarries–that new stepmom may be a lovely person, but she is NOT your mother, not even close, no matter even if she’s a nicer person than your mother was. Same goes for your dad/husband/brother/cousin/whatever. That is the distinction I am making. Assigning any emotional or human importance to workplace culture whatsoever is, to me, humanizing capitalism in a completely understandable way, but a way it does not deserve.

      The second of those, well, that could happen at any moment. One of these days I will just up and decided this blog isn’t worth the $20 a month, and I will, indeed, stop. I would hope simply because of my own egoism that that would also classify as a “minor pain in the ass” for some people, but I would be forgotten immediately thereafter, and that would be fine. I know this, because I did stop blogging between 2009-2012, and nobody gave two fucks which is fine, because, hey, it’s a personal blog.

      At any rate, I really thank you for this input, but I think that if you were viewed with a little more dispensability at your job, as I am, you might realize just how dispensable *all* workers are–it’s just that low-wage workers can see it more clearly.


  2. Can I pay Rebecca to be my therapist on work and life issues? Reading her blog is, so far, more effective than my $150/hour Manhattan sessions. So serious.


  3. I know your Marxist therapy is in jest (and it’s brilliant) but more disturbingly, I note a trend in academia, at least here in the UK, whereby to get a post, be it lecturer or fellow, what counts now is not publications, or teaching experience, but the ability to obtain funding and ideally, an already existing grant. So, to get a job, I have to bring not ideas, or experience, or a record of peer-reviewed publications, but MONEY. I have to pay to get a job. I don’t even know where to start on this…..


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