Technocrats defend the current power structures in the West by the real or perceived imperatives of productivity and efficiency; they say that a society organized in a different way would limit capital growth and therefore cause more poverty and precarity. The Left is often accused of having visions that will lead to economic ruination and inefficient allocation of resources, for privatization and wage-labor ensures that the land, hospitals, and energy companies remain productive and efficient. The ruling class portrays history as driven by a linear development of technology and optimization- a straight line from the discovery of fire to the splitting of the atom.
Many twentieth century writers have disputed this naive conception of history. Most of human history was alien to the privatization of the Earth for the sake of growth and optimization. The glory of the warrior and fealty to the King organized the hierarchies and structures that regulated many ancient societies. Some human groups remained in cultural and technological equilibrium for centuries, worshipping the northern lights and sustaining its members through the bones, blood and muscles of the Caribou they followed through the frozen tundra. The scientific manipulation of space and time solely for the unbounded growth of agriculture, industry, and war is a modern logic that radiates from the cores of global capitalism, and crawls into the periphery.
Present life in the Global North has been thoroughly optimized and hacked for the purpose of capital valorization. Humans are dispersed into a division of labor based on the scientific evaluation of test scores, credentials and work experience. Human activity is regulated through laws, paperwork, and carefully directed violence so that people go to work, the streets remain clean, and the flux of humans through roads, cars and public transport doesn’t reach an unacceptable bottleneck. This synergy between the State, capitalists, and workers ensures that maximum value is created per unit of labor-time for the purpose of capital growth. The State and the commodity erodes older forms of social cohesion – such as the clan and the agricultural household – in order to replace them by institutions, consumer groups, and the workplace, all for the sake of a more efficient unit of labor time.
We rarely consider the psychological consequences of productivity and optimization. If the mind is saturated with calculations on how to optimize every parcel of space and time, then something must give in. An anxiety develops as our problem solving brain tries to navigate the increasingly more abstract and complex decision-trees of a civilization in disequilibrium – from ruminating about that off-color remark done in a workplace meeting, to the fevered delusion of a West destroyed by terrorism and refugees. The noise increases inside the skull; an assonant song that lists everything that could go wrong if the citizen gets a a B- in a class, or they don’t stay in the office after 5:00 PM. The efficient citizen of the Global North resents those that do not practice the same rituals of optimization. Newspapers and pundits justify the homelessness and poverty of millions of people by claiming the latter doesn’t work sufficiently hard. The latino that waves their hands too much in front of a powerpoint presentation is deemed as unprofessional, in contrast to the anglo-saxon suit whose words and body movements are optimized and focused.
Interpersonal relations are eroded by the imperatives of optimization; there is nothing more infernal than the dating market of thirty-something professionals. Future partners are judged for their potential as mortgage companions, where the tension between how interesting their personality is versus the respectability of their career plays out. Everyone wants to date the good looking engineer that is also a musician, yet optimized society selects some traits against the others – a person that spent all their bandwidth grinding through the math homework, job searching, and acquiring the right work experience for a fruitful career, will have no energy left to cultivate a deep taste in music, art or literature. Emotional labor is allocated into the three or four potential spouses in order to find the intersecting point between the supply and demand curves of the most desirable partner. The domesticated impulse that makes us think about our date’s career prospects, equity, and how interesting their personality is, leads to the death of romance.
A softer and brighter world wouldn’t be governed by the imperatives of efficiency and optimization. A young socialist society would use time saving technologies and processes to immediately decrease the work week, with a long term goal of eventually abolishing work. Psychological and existential cost will be considered when implementing a new regulation or time-saving process, in contrast to the current society that considers workers as infinitely optimizable and regulated machines, as another commodity alongside computers and tractors. Late capitalism considers efficiency and productivity as almost axiomatic, given that capital growth is treated as unbounded, as something that always requires innovation, productivity and more efficient labor-power. Therefore, it follows that socialists should fight for slowing down the world. The healthy human relates to space and time in an often inexact and spontaneous way, while the anxiety ridden professional sees time and space as something that can be parcelled and optimized.