Friday, February 24, 2012

Ulrich Beck on Risk Society, Individualization, and the Future of Jobs

Ulrich Beck quotes:

Risk Society

Modern society presupposes side effects that are spatially, temporally, and socially bounded. Without that condition, it can't function. Only against this background, when it was assumed that the side effects of modernization would always somehow be compensated for, could faith in progress become popular and widespread.

In is a general, institutional principle: in any case where a clear chain of causality cannot be demonstrated, there is therefore no risk. When the affected people take their case to the scientists, they find themselves talking to a group whose most identity-defining belief is that the canons of causal evidence and inference must always be strictly adhered to. When these criteria can't be satisfied, scientists can be depended upon to explain away any new risk as a mere fantasy without giving it any further consideration.

Class analysis has always been in part an attempt to conjure up class solidarity, to postulate the collective subject as a historical subject, and then to build a political program around it. But as a utopia, and as a political program, class leads to a picture of society that is exactly the opposite of individualized society, and to politics that are exactly the opposite of political individualism. If you ask what are the new ideas and political strategies that class analysis can generate for the present situation, all you get is antiquated answers or total hopelessness.

Class concepts, no matter how subtle, simply can't capture the existing complexity of radically unequal living situations, either within nationstate societies or between them. What they do instead is deceive us with a false simplicity. The frame of reference has changed. Our model of class struggle and class society presumes the nationstate. The old marxist argument that the worker knows no nation has today been turned on its head. It is capital's activists, those who have made globalization their profession, who don't have any fatherland, while the workers and their unions call on "their" governments for aid... Marxists use class analysis in part as a means of finessing their way around the central problem facing us, the question of what we can find that can successfully serve as the basis of long-term, progressive solidarity.

Labor is a means by which the structure of power is internalized through everyday routines, each of which involves the positing of meaning and the submission to control. When every desire to build a life, an identity, an existence, is forced to be mediated through the labor market, what results is one of the subtlest and most refined systems ever invented for getting people to conform to the societal structure of power. People adapt themselves. They fit in. This self-activated conformity to rule constitutes the core of labor society. It transforms the control of rulers into self-control. Individuals integrate themselves into the system of labor, they makes themselves functional. The net of exploitation that binds them is experienced as self-exploitation, as drive, as something to be proud of.

The voluntarily unemployed say: Screw That. We are using unemployment compensation as a foundation to explore new forms of existence. We are the pioneers of a post-labor society. We are searching out activities that interest us, that we enjoy. We want a life where we an switch from one activity to another, because variety and change in themselves make all activities more enjoyable. We don't need the control claims of labor society to organize ourselves.

Paid labor has a monopoly on meaning (that is, for work to be considered significant, it seems it has to be paid for) and it has a monopoly on the means of existence. But labor society and its totalizing claims are really a very recent phenomenon. For most of history there was a wealth of alternatives. There still are. But these other activities are always practiced in tandem with labor and are often more necessary, though less visible. They form its necessary background, without which society could not exist. Most of these activities seem to share two characteristics. They have a strong emphasis on self-initiative; and they are activities in which the ends and products are transparent to the people doing it.

This necessarily raises a question. If this system is beginning to dissolve, and if, in many ways, we want it to dissolve, then how can we create an alternative milieu in which individuals who have been fragmented and atomized can be socialized? Where they can experience something like society, and internalize the values of society?

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