The Strange Death of the Liberal Individual

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Yves here. Yanis Varoufakis frames this piece by recounting how his father, who worked initially in supervisory positions in a steel factory, made Greek antiquities a focus of his private life. Yanis’ obituary for his father gives a much clearer picture of Georgios Varoufakis’ interests than the article below does:

From 1959 until almost his life’s end, in parallel with his demanding position at Halyvourgiki, he began systematically to study the erosion of the ancient bronze statues of Kouros and Artemis that are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus. Those metallurgical and experimental studies developed into a doctoral dissertation which he successfully defended at the University of Athens, which awarded him his doctorate in 1965.

From 1965, and with the collaboration of leading archaeologists, he continued to study ancient metal finds and to publish original works in Greece and abroad. Among them were:

  • The Mycenaean Metal Finds of Perati – in collaboration with professor and member of the Athens Academy Spyros Iakovidis
  • The Steel Spears of the Geometric Era – in collaboration with  academician G. Mylonas
  • The Study of Inscriptions Around the Quality Control of Metals and the Authenticity of the Silver Attic Coins of the 4th century BC – together with Ronald Stroud
  • The Study of the Famous Derveni Crater – in the study of which he collaborated with renowned archaeologist Manolis Andronikos – and which he presented at the British Museum
  • 45 Figurines of the Minoan Era of Crete
  • Raw Materials for the Casting of Figurines in Kythira

In 1979, George Varoufakis submitted a dissertation entitled “Chemical and Metallurgical Research Around 19 Iron Tripods of the Geometric Era”, which resulted in the award of the title of Lecturer and, in 1982, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Athens.

His research took another important turn when he focused on the steel rods holding the Parthenon and the Erechtheion together; rods that run through  the large marble volumes of the cornice and the base of the temples. That study was published mainly in the Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society and changed the way archaeologists appreciated the knowledge and skills of ancient technologists. He then researched the iron links of the temple of the Bank of Aegio and Epicurean Apollo in an attempt to assess the evolution of technology from the archaic to the classical era. It was at that time that scientific societies invited him to present his research works abroad, including in Cyprus, at the British Museum in in London, Prague, Zurich, Sicily, the USA, etc.

In his new article, Yanis only describes the intensity of his father’s interest in ancient Greek sculpture and architecture, not to tout his accomplishments but to demonstrate that working people, whether laborers or administrative staff, had clearly delineated job hours and the ability to define how to live on ones private time. What Yanis does not add is that in the old world of the heyday of manufacturing, most factories offered steady, stable work at a high enough wage rate to pay for the necessities o life. Lambert has recounted that one of his first jobs, in a yarn mill, paid enough for him to rent an apartment, pay for his transportation and meals, and have enough left for modest entertainment. That was once normal for entry-level, full time positions.

I lived in a series of paper mill towns growing up, people worked set hours and had time for hobbies and avocations, be it playing amateur sports, gardening, music, crafts, or participation in community groups. Yanis frames that loss in terms of the young needing to brand themselves to survive professionally, as in find and then present an identity. He argues that that’s eroded the private space that employees could formerly preserve under capitalism.

While Yanis does describe an important social pathology, I think the roots are much simpler. People in white and even many pink collar jobs are expected to be on call, making it difficult to organize private time and commit to group activities or pursue interests in a concerted manner. A classic union shift job might allow for more predictable private….but how many of those are left? In other words, I agree with Yanis that technology is at the root of this change, but that it’s the Internet enabling employers making unreasonable time demands, as opposed to social media’s impact on identity.

By Yanis Varoufakis. Originally published at his website

Only a comprehensive reconfiguration of property rights over the increasingly cloud-based instruments of production, distribution, collaboration, and communication can rescue the foundational liberal idea of liberty as self-ownership. Reviving the liberal individual thus requires precisely what liberals detest: a revolution.

ATHENS – My father was the epitome of the liberal individual, a splendid irony for a lifelong Marxist. To make a living, he had to lease his labor to the boss of a steel plant in Eleusis. But during every lunch break he wandered blissfully in the open-air backyard of the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis, where he luxuriated in the discovery of ancient steles full of clues that antiquity’s technologists were more advanced than previously thought.

Following his return home, at just after 5 p.m. every day, and a late siesta, he would emerge ready to share in our family life and to write up his findings in academic articles and books. His life at the factory was, in short, neatly separated from his personal life.
It reflected a time when even leftists like us thought that, if nothing else, capitalism had granted us sovereignty over ourselves, albeit within limits. However hard one worked for the boss, one could at least fence off a portion of one’s life and, within that fence, remain autonomous, self-determining, free. We knew that only the rich were truly free to choose, that the poor were mostly free to lose, and that the worst slavery was that of anyone who had learned to love their chains. Still, we appreciated the limited self-ownership we had.
Young people today have been denied even this small mercy. From the moment they take their first steps, they are taught implicitly to see themselves as a brand, yet one that will be judged according to its perceived authenticity. (And that includes potential employers: “No one will offer me a job,” a graduate told me once “until I have discovered my true self.”) Marketing an identity in today’s online society is not optional. Curating their personal lives has become some of the most important work young people do.

Before posting any image, uploading any video, reviewing any movie, sharing any photograph or tweet, they must be mindful of whom their choice will please or alienate. They must somehow work out which of their potential “true selves” will be found most attractive, continually testing their opinions against their notion of what the average opinion among online opinion-makers might be. Because every experience can be captured and shared, they are continually consumed by the question of whether to do so. And even if no opportunity actually exists for sharing the experience, that opportunity can readily be imagined, and will be. Every choice, witnessed or otherwise, becomes an act in the careful construction of an identity.

One need not be a leftist to see that the right to a bit of time each day when one is not for sale has all but vanished. The irony is that the liberal individual was snuffed out neither by fascist brownshirts nor by Stalinist commissars. It was killed off when a new form of capital began to instruct youngsters to do that most liberal of things: be yourself. Of all the behavioral modifications that what I call cloud capital has engineered and monetized, this one is surely its overarching and crowning achievement.

Possessive individualism was always detrimental to mental health. The techno-feudal society that cloud capital is fashioning made things infinitely worse when it demolished the fence that provided the liberal individual with a refuge from the labor market. Cloud capital has shattered the individual into fragments of data, an identity comprising choices expressed by clicks, which its algorithms are able to manipulate in ways no human mind can grasp. It has produced individuals who are not so much possessive as possessed, or rather persons incapable of self-possession. It has diminished our capacity to focus by co-opting our attention.

We have not become weak-willed. No, our focus has been hijacked by a new ruling class. And because the algorithms embedded in cloud capital are known to reinforce patriarchy, invidious stereotypes, and pre-existing oppression, the most vulnerable – girls, the mentally ill, the marginalized, and the poor – suffer the most.

If fascism taught us anything, it is our susceptibility to demonizing stereotypes and the ugly attraction (and potency) of emotions like righteousness, fear, envy, and loathing that they arouse in us. In our contemporary social reality, the cloud brings us face to face with the feared and loathed “other.” And because online violence seems bloodless and anodyne, we are more likely to respond to this “other” with taunting, demeaning language and bile. Bigotry is techno-feudalism’s emotional compensation for the frustrations and anxieties we experience in relation to identity and focus.

Comment moderators and hate-speech regulation can’t stop this brutalization because it is intrinsic to cloud capital, whose algorithms optimize for the cloud rents that flow more copiously toward Big Tech’s owners from hatred and discontent. Regulators cannot regulate artificial-intelligence-driven algorithms that even their authors cannot understand. For liberty to have a chance, cloud capital needs to be socialized.

My father believed that finding something timelessly beautiful to focus on, as he did while wondering among the relics of Greek antiquity, is our only defense from the demons circling our soul. I have tried to practice this over the years in my own way. But in the face of techno-feudalism, acting alone, isolated, as liberal individuals will not get us very far. Cutting ourselves off from the internet, switching off our phones, and using cash instead of plastic is no solution. Unless we band together, we will never civilize or socialize cloud capital – and never reclaim our own minds from its grip.

And herein lies the greatest contradiction: Only a comprehensive reconfiguration of property rights over the increasingly cloud-based instruments of production, distribution, collaboration, and communication can rescue the foundational liberal idea of liberty as self-ownership will require. Reviving the liberal individual thus requires precisely what liberals detest: a new revolution.

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  1. semper loquitur

    Two quibbles:

    “Online violence”. Unless you are hitting someone with an active WiFi modem, there is no such thing as “online violence”. This is a non-thing, like gender essentialism, and it’s ultimate end is censorship. I’m not saying the author wants this but that’s where it ends up.

    Was it not the liberal notion of the individual and their absolute right to property over all other concerns that helped give us “cloud capitalism”? Why do we want to foster that? If it’s dying, let it die.

    1. GramSci

      I appreciate the distinction between real and virtual violence, but again and again I’m brought back to Göring’s quote about ‘telling the people they are being attacked’. For purposes of manufacturing consent, virtual violence works as well — or better — than real violence. Of course an occasional hot proxy war may need to be ginned up now and then to satisfy the arms merchants, but the ultimate end is financial rape which, however ‘virtual’, can be just as ruinous as corporeal rape.

      Varoufakis’ ‘tax on time’ and all that is real enough, but at bottom the ‘cloud’ functions no differently from WWI propaganda (read Upton Sinclair’s ‘100%’ or Adam Hochschild’s ‘American Midnight’) or the dogma and confessionals of the Spanish Inquisition.

      As in Michael Hudson’s recent parable of the Israelites’ escape from Babylonian debt bondage,
      the “young people today” that Varoufakis laments are mostly just ‘good Notsies’ in search of Lebensraum. Unfortunately, it’s now a small planet, and even Siberia isn’t big enough.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > For purposes of manufacturing consent, virtual violence works as well — or better — than real violence.

        I’m willing to stipulate on semper loquitur’s behalf that he meant organic violence as opposed to propaganda campaigns.

    2. Cetra Ess

      I would argue there is such a thing as violence that doesn’t involve physically hitting people. I would also argue what differentiates a fascist from non-fascist is the former thinks force and coercion are or should be normal to our way of living, whereas a non-fascist wants to abolish all forms of force, violence and coercion, such that all relationships are more consensual. I would argue that capitalism is almost exclusively and entirely based on coercive violence and exploitation – money is violence, wage theft is violence, rent is violence, every sales transaction is exploitative, etc. And that’s probably the violence that Varoufakis means.

      1. arthur bryant

        Cetra Ess, so many slogans! Do you have any thoughts of your own?

        Yves, thanks for posting Varoufakis’ story about his father. It was very enjoyable to hear about a fellow wage slave who overcame significant obstacles to achieve such great accomplishments. Yanis is rightly proud.

        1. Cetra Ess

          @arthur bryant: Insult is not argument. Check the forum rules. Specifically, this one:

          4) Insulting your hosts and fellow commentors: These discussions take place in Naked Capitalism’s space. So don’t throw your drink in your host’s face, whether Yves, Lambert, or any poster.

        2. Lambert Strether

          > Cetra Ess, so many slogans! Do you have any thoughts of your own?

          [A] Cetra Ess, so many slogans! [B] Do you have any thoughts of your own?

          [A] Not ad hom, directed at the comment.

          [B] Ad hom, directed at the commenter.

          Watch it!

      2. Lambert Strether

        > differentiates a fascist from non-fascist is the former thinks force and coercion are or should be normal to our way of living

        If you believe in the State, you believe in violence. Are you an anarchist?

        Adding, wage labor is violence, not merely wage theft. But I think throwing wage labor and insulting somebody on the Twitter into the same bucket is, to say the least, problematic (even given the example below).

        1. Cetra Ess

          I do consider myself an anarchist, yes, and do consider the state to be a form of violence.

          Personally, I think when we dismiss social media as violence it’s because we tend to forget that even before social media there were similar forms of violence.

          Every Jew in Nazi Germany was on the receiving end of non-physical violence until it became physical. Every black person in America from slavery ownward is familiar with a kind of violence which doesn’t necessarily manifest as physical, a “whites only” sign is a form of violence, has force and power, effectively coerces, for example. These non-physical manifestations are very real and, I would argue, deserving of the ‘violence’ label. Deliberate exclusion and ostracization have immense power, power has real force.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            First, I disagree to your use of the term violence in this way because it trivializes actual physical violence, like rape, lynching, burning people, can lead to permanent loss of capability and death. (You can contend that verbal abuse directed at teens can produce suicide but suicide rate have long been high among teens and the higher general stressors they are under compared to younger generations makes them more fragile. Suicide is also high among middle aged men, a testament to the role of the loss of community and perceived poor prospects for the future, as opposed to interpersonal abuse). Second, you depict verbal abuse as inevitably leading to violence. That is not the case either.

            In general, I am not at all keen about the PMC/contemporary tendency to treat emotions as sacrosanct and on a par with, or even trumping, objective reality. It used to be that therapists spent a lot of time teaching patients to recognize that their emotional reactions were very often their “stuff” and how to handle them better, that learning to shrug off stupid remarks, even ones intended to wound, was a sign of maturity. Now it seems we’ve turned that on its head, and for instance, if someone makes a deserved criticism and the recipient feels bad, that the person who made the remark is at fault. I don’t buy that.

            Instead, the press and various other shapers of social values seem out to create psychological frailty by encouraging young people to look for slights when none may have been intended and attribute great importance to them.

            1. Anon

              Who is trivializing what now? At what point does keeping your wife safe, in the basement, become violence? Jury is out on this one. If the threat of state-violence is still classed as violence, then such by other organized groups, real or implied, is still coercive (if not always physical) and deserving of the title, if even metaphorically. An attack, verbal or otherwise that results in a loss, or denial of status and/or resources is violence. What moral weight you give to the act is your business. Wolves will be wolves.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Help me. Your example is of PHYSICAL constraint. You are actually supporting my position, that physical violence is not in the same category as emotional abuse. And you could not keep someone in a basement without constraining them or confining them.

                Criminal Confinement is the act of restraining someone without their consent. Often, this occurs when someone is being held without their consent in a closed off space such as a house, vehicle, or other enclosed area.


            2. Cetra Ess

              I wouldn’t diminish or trivialize physical violence, far from it. I think what’s happening is we’re becoming more aware of unintended consequences. Such that, for instance, a dimension of racism, antisemitism, sexism, are microaggressions.

              The holocaust, slavery, etc., didn’t happen in a vacuum, they needed a critical mass of bias, a critical mass which achieved systemic racism, and when bias does manifest in the physical it is never without the preceding “soft violence” of words having created ideal conditions for physical violence.

              Also, I think it’s not that emotions are sacrosanct and people are to be coddled. Instead, the PMC have learned that certain modes of conduct are not conducive to productivity. When the numbers are crunched, people like Harvey Weinstein are a waste, a costly and unecessary expense, ultimately destructive to unit cohesion, create desync with no value-add, and we need not arrive at that conclusion by deference to the sanctity of feelings and emotions. I think it’s quite possible for corporate psychopaths to arrive at this conclusion without being empathetic or woke.

              By the way, I think what we call wokism is actually ancient, Dale Carnegie may have been a very early example. Christianity and all forms of religion have some form of it. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is an example of it….

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Harvey Weinstein does not prove your point but mine. He was found guilty in cases in New York and California of rape and sexual assault. Those are PHYSICAL attacks. You can’t even keep the physical v. emotional categories straight.

                By contrast (and I’ve regularly called out this pathological conduct), Jeff Bezos would regularly reduce senior executives, including often men, to tears.

      3. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

        This has been central to some severe social disruption. This idea that a whole array of verbal (for now) and soon to be mental offenses count as ‘violence’. Humor, even jocular sarcastic snark becomes punishable by social death. This concept of non physical offenses being equated to a punch on the nose or a Brooklyn Stomping (a 90 percenter) needs to be hashed out now before the society becomes unhinged completely. It’s possible to cause offense in any number of ways and neither ‘pick your pocket nor break your leg’.
        Like Jonathan Bowden, when folks ask me if I’m ‘some kinda fascist’, I answer: not yet.

    3. Bugs

      In France last week a 13 year old girl committed suicide because of harassment in social media. This happens all the time, across the world. Online violence does intrude into the real world and the effects are grave.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > Online violence

        That’s a single example and in any case I want a link on “grave.” I agree that social media has initiated scaling issues. But I still think it’s a category error, and an extremely reductive one. But I think the end point of the “This is violence!” discourse is that any speech that contradicts one’s current ideological convictions is framed as a form of violence. Often this is absurd in itself, and in any case the concept leads directly to censorship (and an enormous censorship apparatus, as we see from the Twitter Files).

        You can also see “This is violence!” discourse migrating from liberals to the right (as in the recent Idaho graduation case). Partly this is because the right loves to own the libs, but partly it’s because liberal discourse is in some way ungrounded, and so such migration is very easy; we end up with a stew of talking points into which anyone can dip a spoon.

        1. Bugs

          Here’s a single example link, Lambert. I know this space is very absolutist in regards to freedom of speech, but I’m convinced that the ability of harassers and bullies to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet has led to grave consequences for young people, especially girls.

          1. semper loquitur

            Doubtless you are correct, but that doesn’t make it violence. Harassment isn’t violence. Violence is physical. The blending of notions of physicality (consensus reality in the language of Idealism) and subjective states is an ontological absurdity.

            This doesn’t mean harassment and bullying aren’t dangerous and that they shouldn’t be addressed. But the answer isn’t to mangle the definition of words. Better access to mental health care, stronger communities, and fostering healthy senses of character in youths will do the job.

            Equating violence and harassment etc. is also an excuse for the victim of the abuse to engage in violence, for that matter. If words are violence, when one is “attacked” thusly one can make a claim of self-defense if one responds with actual violence. It is why you so often hear the charge of “Rudeness!” from PMC types, in addition to the power play inherent in adjudicating another’s conduct. If words are violence, rudeness is violence-adjacent and the perpetrator can be safely ignored or otherwise sanctioned with prejudice.

            1. Anon

              Words can never be violent, like a machete can never be violent, yet both can be used in violence. I believe the judgment lies in how they are used, what they are intended to shape. In the case of words, with the panopticon of modalities to inflict them nowadays; not to mention their persistence… we might be due to redefine a number of things. Within reason of course.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Sorry, this is a category error. The only way words can be violent (as in inflict physical harm) is if you scream at someone and try to induce a heart attack. And you have extremely low certainty that will happen even if that is your intention v. high odds of doing serious harm if you hack at them with a machete.

            2. Dan

              I believe the argument that violence can only be a physical act is interesting, and I’m not sure what the right answer is. One line of reasoning I keep coming back to-

              A mob boss orders a hit on a rival – did the boss commit violence, or only the hitman?
              I would argue that the boss did indeed commit violence without performing the physical act. If I am correct, then it is possible to commit violence by telling someone to harm another. Thus if I say “Random person I don’t agree with, go kill yourself” I must then also be commiting violence, as I’m telling someone to commit violence.

              The obvious counterargument is that the mob boss both meant for the violence to occur and can be reasonably sure that violence will be committed as a direct result of his words due to the relationship between boss and hitman, whereas I am presumably using my call to violence as a rhetorical device and do not believe that the person will in fact kill themselves nor do I have any specific authority over them. The question then is do these differences constitute a difference in kind.

          2. Grayce

            Pirates hid behind false flags to get close to their intended prey. Who or what made international trade routes private, legal, protected after a fashion, and economically attractive? We moderns, in our non-wage-earning-free-time, could look at that as a big picture for insights into the modern digital trade routes.

          3. ArvidMartensen

            So maybe both worlds re meaning of the word “violence” can come together if we say that
            “Internet abuse caused such distress in a 13 year old girl that she committed violence upon herself and killed herself”.
            What is the word for intentionally causing a vulnerable person such distress that they commit violence upon themselves?

            This word would have to have power. Maybe the word violence is used because it still has power. Imo, the word bullying has been so overused that it has lost its power and also might have an element of victim shaming in it.

            The narrative owners now use terrorist for everyone they don’t like. Something this strong?

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I doubt any of these verbal abusers intended to make the victim commit suicide. And unlike a stab to the heart, the fact that the bullying is followed by suicide does not prove the verbal abuse was the sole trigger for the suicide. From paper summarizing findings from a conference on teen bullying and suicide:

              Three key themes emerged: (1) bullying among youth is a significant public health problem; it is prevalent and frequently has detrimental effects; (2) there is a strong association between bullying and suicide-related behaviors, but this relationship is often mediated by other factors, including depression and delinquency; and (3) there are public health strategies that can be applied to the prevention of bullying and suicide….

              Youth who are bullied are more likely to be depressed or anxious [[11]], have lower academic achievement, report feeling like they do not belong at school [[12]], have poorer social and emotional adjustment, greater difficulty making friends, poorer relationships with classmates, and greater loneliness [[13]]. Bully-victims are more likely than those who bully, those who are bullied, or their uninvolved peers to report being physically hurt by a family member, to witness family violence, and exhibit suicide-related behaviors [[14]]. Those who bully others are more likely to drink alcohol and use cigarettes, have poorer academic achievement and poorer perceived school climate, but to also report greater ease of making friends [[13]].


              1. ArvidMartensen

                Yes it is very complex, suicidality. We have created a society for our young where it’s becoming “normal” for young people to be depressed. And the epidemic of youth depression is not, it appears, in the least impacted by all the “miracle” anti-depressants. It’s as if they don’t work at all.

                Varoufakis is right about free time disappearing, because it can be and has been monetised. That is the sole value of anything in capitalist societies, its dollar value. And kids are on, even from kindergarten.

                We have a 5 yo girl in the family. When a classmate left before Christmas, her comment was, good, then I will be #1 in the class. We took her to the playground and while she thought nobody was watching, she took on a sexualised persona and talked into her fathers phone as a super-confident teen influencer would. Probably related to her being showcased on social media multiple times a day/week since she was born.

                There are whole treatises and careers that have come out of childhood trauma and stress. Youngsters who are forced to grow up before their time (due to family abuse, divorce, parental incapacity, poverty) can lose that window of opportunity to mature at their own pace. They might look wise for their years at 12, but as they go through puberty etc many start to show the effects of never having had the time to mature at a develpmentally appropriate pace.

                And so now we can add the stress of always having to pretend they are somebody else to the mix, smarter, more socially savvy, edgier, better looking, etc. Oh, and there is another minor stress upsetting kids, climate change.

                It doesn’t augur well for the future of our children as whole and contented human beings, because there is no escape for them from the stressors we have immersed them in.

                When we look for adults in the room to run the country, there are none to be seen. Only kidults who lack any sort of executive function, which was ably covered recently.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  Wow, what a revealing story, that 5 year old. I thought Varoufakis was dramatizing about the degree to which young people were constructing personas. I see not, or not much.

        2. c_heale

          I disagree with this. There are many examples of children and young people committing suicide due to bullying and it certainly seems like social media has made this worse. We have a lot less private space due to the Internet and social media as the article is arguing, and this lack of private space means bullies have more power over their victims.

          I think the argument about violence and differing ideology is a separate one and agree this is a problem. Why this is a different is that people who are trying to coerce others to their viewpoint use this argument, and in this case they are the bullies, not the victims.

          I also think it’s reductive to use liberals and the right as examples of this. People of all ideologies historically have always used words to bully and coerce others. I would say bullying is more often a verbal attack than a physical one (the physical attack occurs when the verbal attack fails).

          This can be seen in the current Ukraine war. There is a lot of propaganda (verbal violence) against both sides, and the people most affected by the war – the victims – the everyday Ukrainians/Russians/People who don’t care about either side, the ordinary people who live, or lived in Ukraine are the ones who don’t have a voice in the Mass Media and the Internet. The only place I have seen them speak, is in videos by Patrick Lancaster. The bullies are the mass media, social media on the Internet, the governments of the countries involved (by which I mean anyone using or supplying weapons or propaganda in this conflict).

          1. Grayce

            Does society benefit from the type of peer pressure that does not look the other way when someone shouts “FIRE” in a crowded theater? We do not condone that. Does the media reinforce society’s mores or does it just foment more verbal choosing of sides to get those clicks?

      2. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

        Teenagers do commit suicide over things like social ostraziation and bullying online is just the modern form of ‘you can’t sit with us at lunch anymore.’ But encouraging a legislative response is not going to help.

  2. El Slobbo

    Yves notes that “people worked set hours and had time for hobbies and avocations, be it playing amateur sports, gardening, music, crafts, or participation in community groups.”

    And to Yanis’ example I can add: my father was a government auditor who would be home by 6 PM and would retreat into his den to work on medieval Slavic music, a field in which he was expert. He also translated texts from Old Slavonic into more modern languages. And this work is what he was remembered for at his funeral.

    Although he did not seek monetary renumeration for it, his evening work required more skill and dedication than the work for which he was paid. And yet the only terms I can think of to describe it in modern English is: “hobby”, which puts it into the same broad category of leisure activities as shuffleboard, or darts at the pub in the evening.

    There is this subtle degradation of non-monetized activities, which is a contributory factor to the trend described in the article. There must be a term for this that is not “hobby” or “avocation”. “Gentleman Scholar” sounds a touch twee to me…

    1. Karen’s Hubby

      Maybe the impression that people had more time in the past is but the luck of entertainment options.
      Time can appear very long if you got nothing or very little to do.

      1. Dan Fay

        Yeah, there’s an interesting question there about the effects of screens on people’s time usage.

      2. c_heale

        People had entertainment then. What, indeed, are the oral stories before many people could write. Music and singing have in my opinion, have existed as long as humans have existed. Entertainment in the modern sense is a very recent phenomenon, and dare I say it, most of it is a complete waste of time, when we could be spending time being close to other people, talking and playing and interacting with the natural world. I think industrialization has made us less human.

        1. Karen's Hubby

          not judging the quality of our current entertainment but pointing out its ease of availability and diversity and addiction which seems to be the solution against modern boredom.
          Its not easy to get people together to sing and not everyone knows how to no matter how noble that activity might be.

      3. digi_owl

        Not so much what to do but when to do it.

        Back then you had radio and TV that followed fixed schedules.

        And those would intermix entertainment and information.

        Of late i have found myself pondering why (often younger) people do downright silly mistakes that i swear would not even be considered back in the day, like head out for a hike when every forecast is screaming about a blizzard coming.

        And what it comes back to is that back then we would put on the radio for music and get short news updates every hour on the dot, complete with a weather forecast. Now instead people fire up Spotify and get a endless parade of music.

        1. podcastkid

          With Hubby above you I agree halfway, digi_owl, and with you I agree halfway.

          Judging by its quality our entertainment has to be the cause of boredom; it’s only convention to deem it a cure. However it came and however it’s wound up (cable yfi whatever) somewhere along the line it discovered Rachel Maddow.

          Deemed the cure, yes people resort to it. Which is why the young don’t comprehend forces…like blizzards (offshoring manufacturing to blame too). But our “cure” is so not creative that people think creativity should be stifled. They’re not inclined to let their shadows speak any slightly dark humor re current foreign policy–it might demonstrate too much vain implication that concern can have an impact on the course of events. So, when shadow contents don’t unload and do load up…they’ll find something to project into. Russia.

        2. podcastkid

          “My complaint is more fundamental: it concerns the apparent inability of our political establishment to wean itself from obsolete thinking.” Y.S.

          What’s the manifestation of obsolete? Well, if laws/policies aren’t adjusted as times moves on, it seems to me they begin to interfere with one another. It’s like a starved person whose joint-parts without nourishment only encumber one another. You could call it gridlock. You could call it Kafkaesque. Medical science wants to help people, but pharma and private equity function to negate the “help” and/or push pills. Boeing wants to sell to China, but to war with China is also profitable. Biden talks about a buzzing economy with bunches of chip foundaries, and yet (for whatever other reason) Jerome Powell intimates we need more service sector layoffs. Gov shells out to assist chip production, and yet “American elites have magically forgotten they were the ones who moved US industry to China in order to make a buck.” (Naked Capitalism)

          Bureaucratic bishoprics defend their turf…a war of all against all. The people therein need to begin talking to one another about a complete reorganization. ORGANIZED, not dysfunctionalized.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I know your comment is merely using the quote as a point of departure but you are incorrectly attributing it to me. Please read more carefully. Those are not my words but those of Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies. We often cross post material with which we do not entirely agree. I even offered some caveats at the top.

            1. podcastkid

              Sorry. Don’t know how I missed the heading which was in bold black and bold orange. Article by Andrew Bacevich, though, right?

    2. tevhatch

      Just drop the ad from advocation and there you get closer, but still no banana, as that too has been bastardized by the PMC and education industry.

      It’s funny how English does such a great job borrowing from so many languages, both dead and alive, but where it delineates the corrupting influence of capitalism it fails so utterly. Engels would have struggled with how to conform die Begabung vs. die Berufung into English. Don’t start me on the 20 flavors of a calling in Chinese, but my favorite translates back so, so crudely as giving life it’s meaning.

    3. Alan Roxdale

      who would be home by 6 PM and would retreat into his den

      A luxury unaffordable today by very many who even have the luck to be home by 6PM.
      Our parents/grandparents generations lived in households supported by a single salary, and likely a full time housewife whose domestic labor of preparing food, clothes, supplies allowed luxuries like being able to work on academic papers after work. Most modern office workers will be facing into at least an hour or two so of basic cooking/chores/etc that cannot be conducted during the day in a two-income household.

      The 8 hour day as a concept was developed in the era where the workers in question had barely any “husbandry” to do at home themselves. Add in commutes now online work requests and no-ones evening is their own.

    4. PhillipSterling

      When I read the article I kept feeling that I had seen it, or something very similar decades ago, about the United States.

      My daughter, who is in college read it and pulled this up on her phone:

      “People who fill their intellectual horizons with nothing beyond sports statistics and exquisite attention to their personal appearance, who know nothing of real matters such as growing food, repairing things and asserting their independence from mass culture are in for a rough future. A quiet disaster of seemingly unconnected changes will overwhelm their expectations, hopes and transient security. Their children will live in poverty and the world of their parents and grandparents will be unobtainable to them.”

  3. .Tom

    Property prices may also be involved. When I grew up in Glasgow, club houses were used for all sorts of social and hobby activities.

  4. Robert Hahl

    I think it is the influence of recorded entertainment, making live entertainment by amateurs uneconomic and unwelcome. People used to get together and play music after work, city or country. Anyone might be prevailed upon to sing a song or tell a story. Look at any YouTube clip from the 1970’s or earlier in which an audience starts to sing. They can all do it. Not so today. These customs had spillover effects on other activities. Today, medical students have to be taught to sew, never having touched a needle and thread in their lives. If everything is done for you, you will become stupid. Stupid rich. Like the British aristocracy who famously can’t dress themselves. That’s all there is too it.

    1. bdy

      As AI content becomes ever more bland and easy to recognize (think Marvel movies, Kelly Clarkson and Koons — all zombified like Biden) small venue live music, spoken word and even participatory events will flourish as an affordable (and believable) satellite market for arena talent.

      Knock wood.

      1. Bsn

        No need to knock on wood. It is happening, the small communities of life re-emerging. Used to play in orchestras, large and small bands. Now I’ve returned to playing in the street and people love it. Small crowds form, people sit and stare and children are enthralled. Quite nice and friend creating. Of course, as a street musician I was arrested a few times, that before the internet. Vive la Rue!

  5. funemployed

    I don’t think we can ignore the radical shift in child rearing practices and values that occurred between the 70s and early aughts either. It’s hard to develop as an individual when either every moment of your life is monitored, sheltered, controlled, and optimized (if you come from a “good” family); or you are utterly neglected, excluded, and exploited by every legitimate social institution (if you don’t).

    1. Grayce

      Or if you do not realize that you can learn by experimenting and *gasp* thinking. Does anyone give a child a chemistry set with a user guide? Do kids build things with interchangeable parts like an erector set? Even Lego has discovered the lucrative idea of selling a kit that is built once to be saved as is. Kids are becoming adept at memorizing and asking Siri to authenticate recalled facts.
      But the skill of analyzing (Is it? What is it? What are its properties? Why does it matter?) that skill is scarce and it does not appear as if anyone is teaching it.
      So, the consumer, is the desired outcome of schools. Was it intended to have thoughtful citizens who could make good use of a vote? And, consuming entertainment is their hobby.
      Ivan Illich was on to something.

  6. John R Moffett

    Thanks Yanis, I think you might find Alasdair MacIntyre’s old classic “After Virtue” an interesting read. He discussed how the philosophers of the 1700s and 1800s left the study of virtues in tatters, with the resultant lack of understanding of virtues in modern societies.

    1. witters

      It’s a great read! Even better, I think, is his earlier A Short History of Ethics.

  7. Jade Bones

    As we are seemingly destined to go down for the third time; financial capitalism, digital capitalism, AI capitalism(?), I have felt Varoufakis to be one of those ‘hands reaching down to pull us to safety’.
    And, while I agree that it is Revolution which is called for vs. the civil war, the civil divisiveness which is promoted and survivable by the oligarchs. I find it somewhat sad that the goal of such is a ‘return’, a recapturing of a romanticized existence for the individual, which I doubt is possible any more that the MAGA dreams of that group.
    Somehow “It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine”, (REM) seems appropriate. Peace

  8. fred

    Late capitalism is determined by both its economic conditions and the corresponding capitalist culture developing from it. It is built on an seemingly unstoppable drive of commodification of all spheres of life and the accompanying message of a highly individualized society based in the framework of personal freedom and neoclassical subjective utility theory, which promotes both personal entitlement and utility maximization while subjecting individuals to consumption and commerce as the ultimate social purpose. In plain english utility maximisation and unfettered individualism means exploitation and greed on all social and economic fronts. Beginning with Capital Marxism is an immanent materialist critique of liberal-bourgeois ideology. However, the point is not merely to reject liberal values of equality and freedom but to elevate them beyond the individual in civil society to the level of collective freedom – free from the constraints of wage labor and class society. Individuality cannot be fully developed if the individual is separated from the collective – contrary to what liberal western ideology strenuously promotes as a fundamental achievment – isolated individual entitlement to anything a highly commercialized world is advertising based on the capitalist competitive law of the jungle, no matter what the cost for society as a collective entity. The techno-feudal drive of exploitation in late neoliberal capitalism is merely a symptom of the underlying principle of preserving a class society on the principles of profit and private property – a highly developed mechanism of of the laws of bourgeois capitalism Marx has tried to explain comprehensively.

    1. samm

      We are all commodities, just like a box of toothpicks. Seeing ourselves in this way, seeing reality in this way and even celebrating it (what the ol’ bearded one called reification) — everything is a commodity and has its price — is the heart of the liberal mind, and also what dissolves it in its own juices.

  9. Starry Gordon

    Isn’t monetization precisely the aim of liberal capitalism? If you don’t get paid for it, whatever it is, you’re not serious and it’s not serious. It’s a kind of credential. It seems normal with respect to how the rest of the social order, including especially its cultural life, is constructed,at least the one I have experienced in the United States. If you don’t like it, better go live in the woods or seek out Diogenes’s barrel.

  10. GlassHammer

    Yes, Capital pushes “individual autonomy” as the paramount virtue and a culture of “do what you will” because it makes it easier to sell things/services that might otherwise be prohibited as vices.

    Vices and virtues are obviously needed to reign in “individual autonomy” and the “do what you will” culture less it corrode trust and social cohesion.

    But…. the institutions that set Vices and Virtues have been greatly diminished and putting Virtues into action has become frustratingly difficult.(We are all increasingly short on time and the churches, lodges, clubs, etc… are much smaller in number now.)

    1. Synoia

      Yes, Capital pushes “individual autonomy”

      Capitalism pushes getting a job. I don’t view that as “Individual aotomo0ny.”

  11. bdy

    The revolution will be top-down, infiltrated and fine tuned from the start, designed to ultimately pacify the die-off (see Cloud Atlas the book not the movie). The best way to participate will be by tapping out reactions/reflections on whatever screen is still glowing, in real time (as if time was even a thing). The best way to watch will be unplugged at arms length with like minded friends and family, over a beer and perhaps a bowl of the hobbits’ weed.

  12. Lex

    I’m just old enough to have seen the end of those days. Raised in a UAW auto plant town where all my friends’ fathers worked 7-3. Other than driving the cars of the company they worked for, I don’t recall anyone talking about or thinking about work after they punched out.

    My current employer is starting to get mad at me, but I warned them that if they wanted to play the game I would do so by approaching my job the same way those UAW guys I knew as a kid did. It’s pretty funny because nobody knows how to react to someone who simply refuses to go above and beyond, who won’t open their email after 5 or on the weekend, who just says “we’ll I’m not doing that”. (My job calls for weird travel and I’ve started simply refusing.) I’m having great fun watching the new ownership try and fail to understand how anyone could not be completely defined by what they do for making someone else money. They try to talk to me about my “career” and I tell them it’s no such thing, it’s just a job.

    1. ambrit

      Good on you! And I’m willing to wager that you will refuse to train your ‘replacement’ too.
      I have repeatedly tried, over the years, to teach our children the difference between a “job” and a “calling.” I probably won’t be around to see how that experiment ultimately works out. However, that is an entirely different subject; the difference between open ended and closed ended processes.
      Stay safe.

    2. Henry Moon Pie

      “They say, “Sing while you slave,” but I just get bored.”

      “Maggie’s Farm” Bob Dylan

    3. eg

      Endorsed. My father taught me to “work to live, not live to work” — advice that has made my transition to retirement seamless.

    4. Mildred Montana

      So true. If one is a good employee his or her employer will be loath to let them go, regardless of demands on the part of the employer or refusals on the part of the employee.

      Here’s the trick though: One must have enough savings in order to call the employer’s bluff. It’s important to save, just for situations like this. Money is power and freedom.

      In my many past employments I always refused overtime or unsafe jobs. Despite the protestations of my various employers I knew I was bargaining from a position of strength because I was a reliable employee and had money in the bank. I didn’t care if they let me go. They backed off.

  13. Altandmain

    Workers in general lakc have very little bargaining power to demand a better work life balance for themselves.

    There’s a reason why employers engage in union busting. Unions allow for more bargaining power. The same reason why employers hate workers shortages so much.

    Although the upper-middle class is often lambasted here, one interesting thing is that they are to a degree using some of their bargaining power and have one big difference in their opinion with the executives. They want work from home and are using their power.

    Unless the working class gains more bargaining power, this demand to have down time is not likely to happen.

  14. Susan the other

    Speaking of self determination and AI, my brain just snarled up on a post last week about the little glitch in AI programming that has no logical translation for the word “not”. Self determination is a process of eliminating the stuff you do not want, so AI with its insistence on making choices based on “yes, I want that” or selections of random offerings is precluding our basic instinct for eliminating the bad stuff. In order to eliminate the bad stuff we all need a personal set of values. But the only thing capitalism values is money – which is the ultimate irony because money does “not” have value. It is a medium of exchange. so that’s for starters. Just flashing back on “Lost in Translation” with the Bill Murray scene with the hooker who won’t take “no” for an answer. He finally has to push her off of the bed. That’s kinda how I see AI. AI is a hooker and you are going to have sex with her whether you like it or not. I’d just say that in order to make coherent choices we have to have a coherent value system. If I could actually have a freedom of choice I would choose an environmental value system in which we could all be very happy on fewer but better material goods.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      you and me, both, Susan.

      and that used to be called “discrimination”(small-d)…and its very useful…essential, even…to effectively navigating this world while maintaining some modicum of integrity(‘holding together’) and honor(something so unquantifiable that the Machine has no use for it…like love, etc)
      we’ve been trained to forget any schema of Value besides the approved one…which is really two:money value and power value, hopelessly intertwined, by now.
      but i hold the more immaterial things of much more Value than mere $.
      and the only power i want is the right to left unmolested by those with too much power(“when Gengis Khan shows up at yer door, offer him a beer”).
      beauty, affection, community, sentiment, and numerous other diaphanous things are what its really all about.
      last week, after i reckoned i’d made enough $ on peaches(enough to end out the month with pre rolled filtered Native American cigs), i gave the rest of the stuff away…to nearest neighbors, to familia and to estranged friends in town.
      can an algo calculate the use-value of that?
      reducing everything to a transaction(holy, holy)
      but there’s other things going on, there.
      and i dont think jamie dimon
      (Amfortas hisses at the name on the screen)
      … understands them…nor can the AI’s that eventually emerge.
      i think the dream, there, is definitely to replace US…and all that messy sentiment and ire and unwillingness, after a time, to be trod upon.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        after i wrote that^, i finally got around to reading Branko’s thing about “Succession”, from whenever.
        gels right into it…and i’ll add that here lately, ive been thinking about Roszak’s “Where the Wasteland ends”…with the idea(not really his) of Single Vision.
        from things Mr Hudson has provided, to the “let them eat plague”, to just many, many other things i’ve grazed over in the last week or two….Single Vision is somewhere near the Root…perhaps as an ultimately pathological epiphyte.

        1. c_heale

          I didn’t bother watching Succession because it sounded boring. What is the point of watching something about amoral people, fighting over stuff which has no value.

          What value is, is caring for other people and the natural world.

    2. Eclair

      Wow, STO! You have just put AI in its place, as far as I am concerned, for ever: “AI is a hooker and you are going to have sex with her whether you like it or not.” Your sentence encapsulates my daily struggles to ignore my chirpy iPhone ‘suggestions.’

  15. glen

    Yanis is on to something here. Long ago, my motto was I work so that I can [family blog] off, but that seems to have shifted in our culture. People now are so defined by their jobs, defined by their position, their credentials, and wealth (the PMC!) I can remember when pagers were a thing, and thinking if I ever had to carry one of those around for work, I was getting another job.

    I think the fluidity that now exists in our job market is a serious affront to our elites (same as getting them all back in the office), and they have the Fed working overtime to get us all re-chained to our corporate masters.

    The flip side of that is that we are now “the product”. We provide data which can be sold. SillyCon Valley seems to provide “services” only so that they can data scrap every possible byte of data, and this is fed to an AI engine designed to bleed the last possible drop of money out of (as General Jack D. Ripper says) our precious bodily fluids.

    I personally go out of my way to NEVER buy anything which has popped up uninvited as an ad on my phone (or in my web browser – but I block all the ads pretty effectively there).

  16. tevhatch

    Is a wall / fence built upon a path I once used violence here? I ask as it checks off all the boxes on one of the lines in Webster’s. However I recognize that communities have their own internal dictionaries, and it’s best to stick to them.

  17. Steve M

    If there is any axiom from my youth that has been completely turned on its head – if not just plain buried and forgotten – it is:
    Sticks and stones
    Can break my bones
    But names can never hurt me.

    They actually used to teach young children that lesson in schools. It was a perspective intended as a coping mechanism.

    It worked most of the time for a lot of us. We grew with that sense. It helped us cut through bluster, intimidation, verbal threats because it taught us to disassociate words from action.

    You see, my generation learned that running, lifting, holding, mixing, reading, writing, carrying, building, aligning, sharpening, hammering, wiping, cleaning, creating and just about every other verb was separate from talking.

    With that lesson in mind, we could discern that there was a lot of fluidity in any given situation. If certain conditions weren’t favorable, move towards those that were. Move around obstacles. You were responsible to move.

    If someone was insulting you, denigrating values, threatening you, just walk away. Run if you must. When that someone wouldn’t let you, that’s how you learned to fight effectively. And that a bloody nose wasn’t the most horrible sequence in life. But it could be.

    Unions, churches, community groups, social causes were all called movements in my time.

    Today, the social landscape is static. Everyone has a position. Stand your ground is a law. Mobility is becoming limited and machine-assisted. That we spend our time fixed to screens. In fact, one could argue that the only things moving – showing signs of physical life – are “markets.” Odd, that.

    Action speak louder than words. That was the accompanying dictum. But what does that mean in a society where the action is to respond online to a provocation?

    What a tough job to moderate these discussions. And listen to me bloviate!

  18. Cine Tee

    The “shapers” may well be just using the levers available. Psychologists didn’t teach, but work on the emotional adjustments we had bypassed in various ways. When people used to live closely in small groups, or with the extended family, emotional adjustment was a result of rich human interaction with love, hurt, necessary makeup, healing, and living closely together. Church, confession, “90 meetings in 90 days” at a twelve step group, all of it is work and practice rather than knowledge. It clears the flammables from our chest so they don’t flare up. Both the knowledge and practice of emotional hygiene gave us the ability to be emotionally mature.

    Screens, keyboards, text, and emojis don’t provide any loving healing or ability to self-heal. The last couple of generations combust from the inside out with neither understanding nor transformative practices by which adversity can bring growth. Adversity brings them pain, confusion, and retreat to more infantilism (i.e., ban users who are careless with words that burn).

  19. Bee

    I don’t know how old Lambert is, but I can assure you that “girls” going out in the workforce in the late 1960/early 1970s certainly did NOT get ” one of his first jobs, in a yarn mill, paid enough for him to rent an apartment, pay for his transportation and meals, and have enough left for modest entertainment. That was once normal for entry-level, full time positions.” Nice that boys did. We either had to live with parents or rent a place with other girls, and date someone who could afford a car and to take us out for a meal. And for most of us that didn’t change much as we moved up from “entry-level” positions, until we married one of those boys.

  20. Heraclitus

    Time theft in preparation for working life begins earlier these days. When I was in high school (70s) eighteen credits were required for graduation in my state (SC). Today it is twenty four credits, and everyone must have four years of advanced math, including statistics. I would never have graduated.

    In practice, this has meant the elimination of study hall and has made after school jobs, common back in the day, impossible. Also, in the ’70s students, as young as sixteen, drove the school buses. Twenty five years before that, fourteen year olds drove the school buses.

    The things that make my life rich today were things that I cultivated in my out of school hours then: music, books, and martial arts. Not a day passes when I don’t refer mentally to one of the great novels I read as a child. The school’s expansion of its domain over our time has meant, in the worst case, the squashing of the possibility of developing an independent intellectual life. You read the approved books only, because that’s all you have time for.

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