Sometimes I find it hard to distinguish between “a genuine phenomenon that has broader implications for our society” and “the rhetoric of a dozen people that I find irritating on social media and a handful of articles. on clickable baits ”.

But “toxic productivity,” the latest synonym for extortion under capitalism, really seems to be popping up in a lot of places right now. If you haven’t noticed it yet, you’ll undoubtedly find it in a TikTok, tweet, or infographic overnight. same Jordan peterson, “guardian of the patriarchate”, Has been in action.

The rule of thumb is that many of us suffer from a near-medical condition that requires us to spend all of our time working without devoting enough time to rest and leisure. He was described as an “unhealthy desire to be productive at all times, at all costs…. The need to make an “extra effort” even if it is not expected of you ”. According to the principles of toxic productivity, we work too much not because we need the money or because of external pressure (in fact, much of the writing on the subject is keen to exonerate the influence of employers), but because we brought on ourselves through our own disordered thinking.

“Often the ‘toxic productivitythe discussion focuses on individual behaviors or attitudes, ”explains Amelia Horgan, scholar and author of the forthcoming book Lost at work: escaping capitalism. “There are certainly people who could describe themselves as suffering from this. I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong, and descriptions like this can be really helpful for individuals to make sense of their stress at work. But I think emphasizing the individual attitude is not looking in the right place. If there is any prejudice that comes from this way of relating to ourselves, to each other and to time, and I think there is, then we need to take it more seriously than to think that we can wish for them by thinking alone. We should really ask ourselves where do these attitudes come from? As with burnout, attaining these labels can sometimes alleviate the underlying conditions that cause them by presenting them as an easily resolved personal medical problem. “

Like ‘burnout’ – who to his name in 1973 – toxic productivity may have been around for decades, but in an era of ‘rising power’ it has become inextricably linked with an ambitious lifestyle. Yet the basis of toxic productivity is really just the brooding and resentful young cousin of culture. Where the restless culture says, “I work all the hours that God sends and this is admirable, proof of my strong will and worthy of emulation,” toxic productivity actually says, “I work all the time, and it’s too much . Which is fair enough: Overwork is a real problem that affects most of our lives for the worse, and we should all have a right to complain about it.

“No matter how pitying your tone is: you are still contributing to the same culture of overwork that you intend to criticize.”

But toxic productivity cannot escape the taint of self-importance and humble boasting. The literature available on the subject would confirm this. According to a recent articleSymptoms of toxic productivity can include scheduling Zoom calls that could have been email and jargon to trick coworkers into thinking you are smart; in other words, to be a pompous job. Claiming to suffer from toxic productivity may seem like the modern day equivalent of telling an investigator that your biggest flaw is being too perfectionist. This isn’t, all things considered, the worst story about yourself ever. If I was overwhelmed by a psychiatric condition that made me infallibly diligent and sacrificing, then I would like people to know that too, especially if they were able to offer me a job.

But if you constantly point out how industrious you are, no matter how pitying your tone is: you’re still contributing to the same culture of overwork that you intend to criticize (or at least, the same culture of posting on. overwork). Surely we’ve all seen someone we follow on social media telling each other how busy they are and saying “shut up”. While this performance is annoying, I can understand the lure of seeing myself as a martyr to a more interesting problem than my own mismanagement of time. Sometimes when I’m working late I feel the temptation to post a dark-faced selfie with the caption “still there!” so everyone knows what a brave little boy I am. But I try to resist, knowing that this would neither be interesting nor a bold indictment of capitalism. Rather, it would be a more whiny version of showing up.

This cycle of martyrdom encourages us to internalize certain ideas about work that are unnecessary at best. The problem of overwork is not caused by the inner workings of our psyche. For the vast majority of people, overwork is closer to an obligation than a constraint. For every freelance creator who worries they should listen to a more educational podcast while in the bath, there are a lot more people working too hard because they have no choice. This may be because they are underpaid, have insecure jobs, their boss is an asshole, or they work in industries where long hours and unpaid overtime are the norm.

According to Amelia, “Sometimes these discussions tend to universalize from the experiences of young professionals in creative but precarious work, who very deeply feel the need to cultivate and maintain their reputation online. This is different from managing the reputation of construction workers who are rated by customers on platform applications. The effort required of people claiming universal credit to continue to be entitled to benefits is still different. The damage caused by this excess of productivity is distributed differently in society. You may not have any financial pressure to devote your free time to extra work, but still feel obligated to do so. Call me insensitive, but I don’t consider this a particularly sympathetic situation.

If there’s one argument for toxic productivity that I find compelling, it’s that precariousness breeds paranoia. If you have a zero hour contract, you might feel a real compulsion to work harder than necessary in order to get more shifts. But while this could be seen as representing toxic productivity, it is not a distant way of thinking. It reflects a real power relationship and a potential for real exploitation. If you don’t work to the bone, your employer might just pass up on you in favor of someone who will. Is this situation really best described as a condition from which you suffer? Toxic productivity may exist, but I’m not convinced that it exists only in our brains.

Overwork is a real problem, and it is clear that a lot of people are miserable, stressed and exhausted. There are political solutions, but none of them are quick or easy. “Better job security and better control over shift distribution would make some pretty big differences,” says Amelia. “So many people don’t know what hours they will be working next week. We have to fight for more time outside of work, but also for a better time, a time that cannot be interrupted by work emails or by your manager asking you to come for a shift. If we are to achieve these better working conditions, we probably have to go beyond moderating our own attitudes, self-medicating with scented candles, or humbly bragging about our internet activity.

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