Globalism and Apathy - A Polemic

Root Event

4. Werkleitz Biennale real[work]
Globalism and Apathy - A Polemic

“My driver chatted away: ‘Is it true that a man in London gets money from the state, even when he isn’t working?’ (…) If that’s the case, London must really be a heavenly place.”
Shiva Naipaul

The relationship between work and society towards the close of the industrial age is a paradoxical one: the ancient dream of man, to free himself from the drudgery of hard work has long since been realized through machines. Now, at the dawn of the age of information technology, the computer has brought about a deliverance from the most stupid, repetitive tasks. The computer, in reality a dumb machine - it is said that the “intelligence” of a modern computer roughly equals that of a fly - fulfils these tasks more or less reliably and without complaint. Work, which can be rationalized out of human hands into “those” of a computer, is hardly worthy of being carried out by humans.

At the same time, the big industrialized nations have managed in the last, as a rule peaceful decades for them, to amass an unbelievable amount of wealth, outstripping the wealth of past eras many times over (for example, according to the German Federal Bank, the total private savings of Germans in 1996 amounted to five trillion German Marks, in figures 5,000,000,000,000 - without taking into consideration the real value of such objects as buildings and land as well as all public and commercial property). One would think that the conditions were already given for the existence of the ideal society. Nevertheless, joy is seldom to be found. Instead of using the human manpower resources and creativity thus set free, to carry out tasks which make sense - whether in the sense of supposedly exorbitantly expensive needs, e. g. the care of others, or whether in the Marxist sense of achieving freedom by being able to freely choose which work one wants to do - work has become a rare commodity, fought over in the bitterest of ways. Those in the population willing to work fall into two parts: the one, comprising of those who are in employment, work until they drop - not only in intensive productivity, but also due to extensive overtime. Symptoms of stress and the resulting illnesses are increasing at an alarming rate. (Thus, according to an academic report of the Technical College in Cologne, 64 % of all employees were overworked, 93 % lived in fear of losing their job. According to Hesse and Schrader 85 % of salaried personnel in middle management positions suffer from cardiac circulatory complaints and illnesses of the digestive tract and 73 % suffer from spinal problems and diseases of the joints “due to their heavy burden”.) The other, smaller section of the population willing to work, do absolutely nothing, because they are not able to find work, this also causing illness: alcoholism, depression etc.

The most amazing aspect of this tragi-comedy is nevertheless, that one has the impression, that nobody has the serious intention of changing the situation. We have been warned about the consequences of technology-based unemployment through the computer since the 60s. At the same time, a model for providing solutions to this problem, which has been favoured by scientists up to this day, has been developed: a basic income, independent of the work one does, which allows each person to either earn as much on top of that according to his needs, or to carry out a totally different, non-commercial activity. However the resonance of society to this and other similar models has been minimal, not taking into account the manifesto of the Green Party. Instead, the same formulas are discussed over and over again, although the ineffectiveness of them has been proved for decades: the dream of never-ending economic growth, falling wages, the doing away with employees’ rights, tax reductions for the well-to-do (“achievement must be made worth it again”), subsidies for large corporations, the avoidance of all ecological impediments. None of these measures has been able to stop the rise in unemployment, and this although the digital rationalization of professional life is only in its first stages. The Internet, for example, will cause a great deal of the support media in the information section (CDs, videos, print media) to simply disappear, along with their entire distribution structure - the consequences of this for the employment market are not difficult to foresee.

At this point the question arises, as to why our society seems to face this development in such a blind way, although the large majority of Germans consider it to be the most important question in politics. The capitalist market with its “laws” is treated as if it were a force of nature, as if it would be an absolute blasphemy even to think about the whole thing, as if Homo sapiens, in his 100,000 years of existence, hadn’t lived 99,500 of those without capitalism (and its newest achievement, the social market economy, is only a few decades old). Francis Fukuyama’s postulated end of history after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is surely, seen in this context, one of the most ridiculous self-overestimations ever of our society.

If one is to believe the prophets of the growth theory, then one must only allow the market forces to do their thing, in order to bring to the world peace and prosperity. However, this theory quickly ends at the borders of the nation states - 89 nations in the world have become poorer in the last 10 years, a third of the world population lives in poverty, 800 million people in the world own about the same amount as half of the world’s population together (all data UN 1996). Even if capitalism could overcome its national egoism in order to let the Third World take part in its growth, still it would come up against another limitation: that of the ecological balance. At the moment, less than a quarter of the world’s population are making use of three-quarters of the world’s natural resources, while producing three-quarters of the waste. If one planned to elevate all the people on earth to our level of wealth through economic growth, this would mean an enormous increase in the level of ecological destruction. Indeed, that which is already tending towards global catastrophe would become certainty. The bargaining in Rio over marginal percentage points would be completely obsolete in the face of these increases.

The possibility of finding a solution to this situation seems hardly imaginable, unless the rich nations of the world, to which we belong, are forced to give up a part of their wealth. The beloved car, the spontaneous trip to foreign lands, the own home, the additional TV, the abundance of exotic fruits; all those things which many here would define as an essential minimum for an existence worth living, could be lost to us. The fun ends here, even for the most enlightened; the five percent limit, around which the Green Party hovers, seems to be expression enough of a guilty conscience, without actually involving any danger for commerce.

Also those who are poorer in a national comparison, seem to be aware that they actually live in wealth when seen in global comparison, but are also aware that real justice however could not stop at national borders. In this way, real solutions aren’t discussed, further developed or tried out; rather, rituals such as the “Alliance for Work” are staged, even though nobody believes in their effectiveness - a dance around the Golden Calf.

Shiva Naipaul: Bombay no good, Sahib. Geo 12/1978

Shiva Naipaul: Bombay no good, Sahib. Geo 12/1978

Hesse/Schrader: Die Neurosen der Chefs. München 1996

Studie der Fachhochschule Köln 1996. In: Frankfurter Rundschau 2.6.1996