Nowtopia, Internships and the Ideal Worker

Thoughts on Vishwas Satgar and Chris Carlsson

As much as one can despise the corruption and greed that often piggybacks on the shoulders of modern capitalism, Vishwas Satgar’s The Solidarity Economy Alternative: Emerging Theory and Practice (2014) does justice to the roots of its intended motivation. Offering an optimistic reminder that “The emphasis at the time was to ensure that the economy served social needs, with the long-term goal of creating a more egalitarian society” (44). I often found myself wondering if the capitalism of today, was that of my forefathers? Informed by Satgar (2014) the distinction seems starkly evident, in that the goal of economic production is one of reciprocity and “international linkage(s)” (44). But, the application and determination of value have gradually altered today’s capitalist system. Eventually, rewarding exploitation, naturalizing the financially disadvantaged and pursuing profitability at all costs.

Nowtopia: Strategic Exodus? Chris Carlsson (2010), continues this conversation with a sharp deconstruction of the actors within capitalism, namely the “insecure worker” (924). It’s with the emphasis on competitive value, that the worker with maximum malleability, finds security in molding herself to produce something of worth. Given that worth is determined by the highest payout, she becomes a professional of “…no profession” (924) whose primary aspiration is to compete for the opportunity to contribute to someone else’s value. Only then, does the worker achieve value by association. Despite finding moments of success, the “insecure worker” (925) is plagued with maintaining value in the face of fiscal bargain hunting. Using David Harvie’s reinterpretation, Carlsson (2010, 927) addresses all unproductive labor born of interest and lacking capital as “nowtopian” ventures worthy of pursuit yet, in danger of societal dismissal. Today’s job market, specifically that of factory and retail work, exemplifies the commitment to the insecure worker model. Yielding exponential growth at the expense of their laborers, this continuance is arguably assisted by the stigma of “drop-out” culture (925). Opting for underappreciated meaningful work is now a form of alienation and rebellion, often resulting in financial struggle. Though Carlsson makes a clear distinction, “nowtopians reject the preconditions of the reproduction of capital” (2010, 928) while even “drop-outs” are still tangentially connected to capitalism. Evident today,  the “drop-out” is only successful if her passions produce a justifiable income worthy of mentioning at the next 10-year reunion- otherwise, you’re just crazy. Throughout his writings, Carlsson questions how turning our “unproductive” passions into valuable wage work allows us freedom? He makes it clear that it doesn’t, and ultimately argues all capital based perspectives “… use(s) and abuse(s) hierarchy, divisions of identity, technological imperialism, etc in order to proliferate—opposition to them does not always pose a direct opposition to capital” (2010, 929).

With such constraints, the worker labors in the hope of affording the time not to work, thus earning her right to divulge in unproductive passions. This idea of earning the right to engage in self-emancipating work (Carlsson 2010, 925) is quickly replaced by the construct of what I call the ideal worker; she who can not only perform but also at the expense of her free time. In this way, she outshines her competitors delivering outstanding performance accompanied by an unwavering commitment, ultimately prioritizing the employer above all else. It’s not enough to offer excellent products through cheap labor; this is hardly impressive. Rather, it’s dedication through self-sacrifice and continuous production that teases the illusion of job security. Internship culture is a prime example of this new era of work ethic, showcasing a desperate need for “nowtopia” (Carlsson 2010, 925). What once was a job, is now an opportunity to prove your worth through free labor, allowing employers to capitalize on the efforts of its workers without committing to their hiring. With this in mind, I believe today’s capitalism is an assault on livelihood, in a war between people and profit.
The very whisper of a revolution first requires daily practices, by a plethora of communities around the globe equipped with trust, strength, and commitment to solidarity. I found myself uplifted by the promising methods Satgar discusses, particularly his encouragement of revolutionizing the workforce through direct action, and alternative democracy (2014,95). Though, I wonder how we might dismantle the internship? There are always those who sustain these institutions through sheer need or, risk aversion. Perhaps that goes back to the value of work, or even living? How might universal income change this dialogue, especially on the horizon of robot-labor? In the meantime, how can we further empower workers-unions, cooperative and other collective work?

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