Returning To The office, Fatigue Society, and The Death of The Old World.
Going back to the office in an entirely new world. Are we the same as before? Are there other possibilities?
This will be a major departure from the rest of my posts, though it still connects with a lot of the work I do. The reason I am able to do these weird experiments, build cool stuff and work with plants and garden is that I have been lucky enough to work from home.
I have been of the lucky group that kept their pre-pandemic job. I haven’t been forced to be in front of the public like my partner that works in a doctor’s office. Where twice a week she comes home with a story of being yelled at by someone still wearing a “Trump 2020” hat.
In a lot of ways, this past year has been a major cancellation of the future. All the plans we had, the trajectory of life, the promotions, and the commutes just stopped one day. Some of us, myself included was looking forward to an end to all of it. I would sit in traffic on my way to work, halfway through my one-hour commute and I would wish it would all end. Was I suicidal? Not exactly. But the thought kept dawning that this was all there was to life. The same routines in the morning, the same drive. Wasting time at work. Forcing myself to eat. Every day on repeat. A fractal image of my life slowly wasting away. I would almost fall asleep every day at work from commuting, coming home to cook and clean, spend some time watching youtube before going to bed, and waking up at 5 am the next day.
Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher talks at length about the phenomenon of not being able to see any other alternative to capitalism. Sitting in my car wondering “Is this it?” staring at the office building trying to pass more time so I didn’t have to walk back in. And at the time yeah, that is all there was. I spent most of my time trying to achieve. I wanted to make more money so my entire life was dedicated to learning all I could, to getting a raise, to getting a new certification. To making more money so I could have more free time. Because money could buy more vacations, more time to escape. Taking more and more caffeine and Adrafinil (precursor to modafinil which was used to keep fighter pilots awake and for narcolepsy), just to stay awake and try and get through the day. At night I would stare at the ceiling and watch the shadows flicker from a bar downstairs and hear the yells of drunk people on a Tuesday having fun. Was I having fun? What even was fun? I traveled to different places for work, and each flight left me more drained than the last. Walking in the airport in smart busniess casual attire, checking into a hotel and staring out the window while drinking some expensive Mezcal. The life of a young professional. My job pays well. And yet I was not happy staring out from my hotel at an ancient mountain range, obscured by tall office buildings. Like the wilderness I would never touch, but was in the background behind the looming shadows of a bank office tower. Traveling back to the United States for another work trip just 2 weeks after coming back from the last. Doing the same thing. Just blankly looking out a hotel window, only this time the background of mountains was instead a strong northern snowstorm. I flew back home on March 6, 2020.
That next week my partner and I got horribly sick. I could barely breathe, it felt like someone was always standing on my chest. The thought kept coming into my head “Am I dying?”. I really didn’t want this to be the end of my life. I never got the promotion, or the raise, or the new certification. Then it suddenly didn’t matter at all. I felt on the precipice of death and what was I worried about? Some stupid bullshit that didn’t even matter. For a self-described socialist, all my life revolved around was the achievement of some small short-term goal and getting more money.
The death of the modern worker, fatigue, and the death of the self
We are all working to the bone in a hyper-capitalist system. We fall asleep at work or commuting between work and home. We have no free time to think, let alone have the energy to philosophize or form any true or real personality. All of our time is filled with work because if you aren’t working your job, then you are cleaning or cooking or doing some other kind of work. The maintenance of life becomes work and the thing you want to do at the end of the day is consume and relax. The daily stress of life adds up. Your cortisol levels rise and you gain weight. Cortisol also makes you seek an end to stress by just tuning out. So you work, commute, endure stress, come home, consume, tune out and just do it over again the next day. What’s worse is there are 2 guns being pointed at our heads. One is held by a police officer with a landlord or a bank standing behind them, forcing you to work to have a place to live. The other gun is one you hold to yourself while you clutch self help books in the other arm. It is one thing to live in what Foucault calls a “society of control”, where you have authority forcing you to do something. It is another when you control yourself. You brainwash yourself into thinking “Oh this is how things are done, I need to work hard and sacrifice at work to get ahead in life. I just need to change my attitude in life!”
You start to self-regulate and self moderate your behavior and actions. Philosopher Byung-Chul Han call this Psychopolitics. We see it in hustle culture, where people will work 60 hours a week to reach some dream or goal of theirs. People will sacrifice their own personalities but also their relationships and families to chase these ideals. The work never stops, every part of their lives has to be optimized and made productive. The only media they start to consume are happy images of Gary Vaynerchuk talking about working hard and coming up with new ideas to make money. Enamored at people like Dan Lok, who really make it seem like the average person can run a multi-million dollar business without training and upfront capital to start something. They run off toxic positivity, they tell themselves the impossible is possible even at the detriment of their own lives. And for what?
Even worse, this type of system tricks people into falling into the same, and arguably worse type of capitalist exploitation. So people who only strive to achieve will work insane hours because they have been conditioned by capitalism and will try and start their own business to “escape” the system. They start some bullshit business course or selling chunks of plastic from aliexpress on shopify. They end up reproducing the system they tried to escape. Instead of a boss forcing them to order products and produce content and do all of these things against their will. They willingly torture themselves for the goal of hard work and to accrue capital. Usually they actually become even bigger consumers than the people they look down on as working in the so-called ‘rat race’. They buy products from the same megacorporations but just sell it to other consumers and take a cut. Their stress levels cause them to overeat or become dependent on stimulants. In an effort to counteract these forces, and to maintain their outward appearance of capitalist success they get a gym membership or buy an expensive exercise bike. They need the latest computer because they would not be caught dead with a 2012 MacBook in their rented co-working space. The latest phone to scroll tinder with manufactured pictures to show outward success. To show how much work they put in while at the gym. The perfect archetype of the capitalist while they cry in bed. Watching life pass by them. Aiming for the perfect partner, who not only is a model but also is an executive. They work past their children growing up. Outwardly they are perfect beings, but inside they are empty shells. And they remain empty shells until they die in their mid 50’s or die alone in hospice because they never built a relationship with their kids.
Destroy the old world, while building the new
The pandemic forced a lot of people to reconsider their lives. Working from home gave some people the ability to slow down and have a little bit more free time with their family. More free time to be able to take a breath and actually think for once after years of frenzied work. Personally, I look in the mirror and physically look completely different. This time allowed me to really work on myself, work on my priorities in life. Reevaluate all the things I held importantly and reevaluate life in general. All of the effects of watching the pandemic unfold, the world crumbling all around us, the empty shelves, the shallow graves. It pointed out the absolute absurdity it all was, the whole system. And the fact that it took something monumental to break up the monotonous roar of the capitalist engine. I bet more people have transformed themselves since March of 2020, radicalized at the changing world. Radicalized at the destruction and death. Radicalized at the system that tried and still tries to ignore the reality and gravity of our current situation.
The old world is dead and in the past. Right now we are living in the rubble of the old world and the way of doing things collapsing. The bricks of institutions falling into the depths below us. Falling into the rising sea while a massive storm arrives on the horizon, as the weather patterns change and our society collapses. And yet, the capitalists still want us to go to work. Want us to get back to the way things used to be. But they never can. And they never should. We should be happy to destroy the old world, and happy to destroy our old selves and ideas. Make something new while the fires burn around us.
In these bleak times, it can be easy to fall into despair. Over half a million people dead from covid, wildfires in the west. Floods pound the south and freak winter storms. Summers are hotter and drier. Winters are more intense. Supply chains crumbling and ships stay anchored offshore. Companies beg for more employees without raising wages. And we are expected to pretend like everything is normal. That this is just the way the world works now. We can’t think this is normal. This is fundamentally abnormal to how humanity should and could live.
Out of that darkness of reality comes the hope that we can solve these issues and redirect our own personal exploitation somewhere else. The reality that we as working people actually hold the true power in this society. The reality that capitalism and the panopticon of state surveilance can be crushed and turned on its head. The reality that we have the tools, the understanding, the science, and the knowledge to start reforesting and regreening our decaying planet. The reality that we can come together as equals, not in a hierarchical top-down approach but horizontally as equals.
There is a green future based on mutual aid, based on consent and respect. Respect not only for people, but animals and all living things including the earth itself. There is a future where we as people can make decisions and the people who work, actually own their work. A future where you won’t have to worry about housing or food or water. And the work you do benefits you, your community and your country directly. Where you can actually choose what life you want to live, do what you want to do without worrying about having to make money to survive. There is a better future where artists can create and make visions of what like can be. A better future where we all strive for the benefit of each other, not just ourselves. Where we aren’t judged by how much money we have, our race, our ability, our gender, or sex. Where we can really get back to living. And it won’t be easy. There will be a lot to do. But we know the things we do will benefit, not destroy.
The only thing we have to destroy is the old world, our old selves and personalities and fight for the real future.
That is solarpunk.