Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘The Need for Dissatisfaction Is Implicitly Recognized by Keynesian Economics, Which Sees the Capitalist System as Threatened by the Possibility of Individual or Collective Satisfaction, Manifest as a Demand Shortfall’

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Depression is the iconic illness in this respect. Indeed, we might say that if ‘immaterial’ labour is now the hegemonic form of production, depression is the hegemonic form of incapacity. Typically, depression is characterized by a lack of any clear clinical definition; indeed it is often defined as anything that can be treated with anti-depressants. [5] Depression is just sheer incapacity, a distinctly neo-liberal form of psychological deficiency, representing the flipside of an ethos that implores individuals to act, enjoy, perform, create, achieve and maximize. In an economy based in large part on services, enthusiasm, dynamism and optimism are vital workplace resources. The depressed employee is stricken by a chronic deflation of these psycho-economic capacities, which can lead him or her to feel economically useless, and consequently more depressed. The workplace therefore acquires a therapeutic function, for if people can somehow be persuaded to remain in work despite mental or physical illness, then their self-esteem will be prevented from falling too low, and their bio-psycho-economic potential might be rescued. Many of the UK government’s strategies for reducing incapacity-benefit claims and health-related absence focus on reorienting the Human Resources profession, such that managers become better able to recognize and support depressed and anxious employees. Lifting the taboo surrounding mental illness, so as to address it better, has become an economic-policy priority.

William Davies, “The Political Economy of Unhappiness.” Via Marc Bousquet.

Optimistic theorists of cognitive capitalism, such as Hardt and Negri, believe that the positive externalities or spill-over effects associated with immaterial production create the conditions for a new commons. Efforts to measure and privatize human, intellectual and cultural resources must ultimately fail; the hegemonic character of immaterial labour means that the most valuable economic resources are becoming socialized, despite the best efforts of capital to prevent this. The proposition I wish to investigate here is in some ways the inverse: while policy-makers, doctors and economists seek to contain the negative externality of unhappiness as a measurable psychological deficiency and economic cost, it has inherently political and sociological qualities that lend it critical potential. One contradiction of neo-liberalism is that it demands levels of enthusiasm, energy and hope whose conditions it destroys through insecurity, powerlessness and the valorization of unattainable ego ideals via advertising. What is most intriguing about the turn towards happiness amongst political elites and orthodox economists is that it is bringing this truth to the fore, and granting it official statistical endorsement. Even a cursory examination of the evidence on unhappiness in neo-liberal societies draws the observer beyond the limits of psychology, and into questions of political economy.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

One Response

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  1. Another good line from the piece: “The culture of capitalism must keep individuals sufficiently dissatisfied that they continue to seek satisfaction from it, but not so dissatisfied that they reject or resist it outright.”

    gerrycanavan

    November 6, 2011 at 1:43 pm


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