The universe is always changing, that is its primordial nature and it reflects in our world, including its sociological and technological aspects. For centuries, such changes were slow, gradual, almost predictable, this of course made it easier for our minds to settle and take in any new changes; in other words we had time to properly adapt. Currently we like to think of ourselves as “multitaskers” and “adaptable” yet this is not quite accurate. We tend to feel proud of the above noun and adjective and often look back at our ancestors with a certain air of “authority”, for we feel we are better equipped than they were; but are we correct? Let’s examine our rationale a bit shall we?
Multitasker; someone who can perform or manage many tasks at once. We like to call ourselves “multitaskers” yet fail to see the psychology behind this word. Someone who does a lot of things but has not mastered something specific. In our desire to become a multitasker, we have learned to be mediocre; failing to discover or tap onto our full potential. We have become puppets instead of masters. Our ancestors may not have been multitaskers but they were proficient and often exceled at whatever they chose to become; to develop a gift or talent requires practice, time, dedication and consistency, things we seldom apply to our lives anymore.
As per considering ourselves better equipped to adapt to new situations; I would like to challenge this as well. To bounce from one thing to the next is not to adapt. We seem to have confuse or forgotten what actual adaptability means. In order to properly adapt, one needs to process new information and assess the pros and cons, then choose the best outcome. To adapt means to flow; currently we don’t do flow, instead we are carried off by the constant demands impose by a society which teaches its citizens that to be somebody or to have value you have to literally kill yourself juggling one thing after another. When a person has properly adapted to a new circumstance, the new will not impact the mind and body in negative ways. The reality is our world is changing so fast, we do not have time to properly adapt. The fast pace we currently live in, is taking a toll on our mental and physical health as reflected by the high number of disorders and suicides all over the world.
I chose to write this article to remind us all that quantity isn’t always quality. To always be on the go doesn’t mean you will do better than the person who takes his time. Your worth is not determined by how much you can multitask.
Life is short yet we spend a lot of our time trying to escape reality; in other words we are not living. We try to escape because we are mentally exhausted from running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to add value to our lives by working ourselves to death. Given our current pace, it is only natural we would have less time or energy to enjoy life…to really live. Instead, we choose to escape or distract ourselves because we are burnout.
Writer and philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlights in his book “The Burnout Society” how we have become exposed pray to a society where the enemy is no longer wars based on political differences or the need to conquer another land, but rather the enemy is something more sinister….consumerism.
A society where corporations invest billions to make sure people become addicted. Their constant propaganda states unless you are successful, you are nothing and your voice should not be taken into consideration. Of course this new “success” is only in reference to money. As a result people drive themselves mad or give up the best in them in the constant chase of empty “success”. This in turn ensures even more consumerism; it is a win win for corporations but a death sentence to the individual.
The moral compass we used to have to maintain balance has become obliterated and money has become the new symbol of a successful life. The sad part is anyone who doesn’t accept this new “compass” is considered “crazy” or is shun away. The amount of people who commit suicides due to feeling inadequate isn’t of importance to most. Those people are seen as “defective”; in other words we have a society that looks down at pain and suffering and labels those who chose to take their lives or those who battle with depression as people who had no strength or have no self esteem. This may be true for some, but to believe this faulty conclusion just because the majority has learned to negate their own humanity, would be misguided. To build character, to have authentic value, you have to look in. If a person is always looking out, chasing the next “best” thing, that person most likely has no healthy self esteem nor the strength to stop and analyze his life and priorities.
In his book “The Burnout Society”, the philosopher’s thinking revolves around multiple problems which emanate from the most avant-garde challenges of today; hypercommunication, over information, misinformation, individualism, neoliberalism, consumerism and others are responsible for the chaos we are currently experiencing. To start, the author makes a clear distinction between global society before the cold war; which he labeled “Disciplinary Society” and society after the cold war; which he labeled “Performance Society”
The disciplinary approach consists on the design and execution of a social command by virtue of a diffuse network of devices that produce and regulate customs, habits and productive practices. The implementation of this model in society is canonized through institutions and mechanisms whose staging are the so-called disciplinary institutions; prisons, factories, schools, churches, the army, asylums, psychiatric facilities, etc. These institutions based themselves on arbitrational channels of binomials, in other words: normal-abnormal, good-bad and correct-incorrect. The disciplinarian system isn’t based on a set law but on norm which can be influenced by the majority. Schools mold thinking, prisons are supposed to fix behavior, military service is supposed to build and train character. A society focused on teaching people how to think and feel, so they better fit a particular box making people “predictable”.
According to Hang, the main task of a disciplinary society would be to structure the social terrain by presenting the appropriate plantations for the precept of no-power. While some of its procedures are based on positive duty, others are based on negative duty. Be that as it may, disciplinary societies end up translating into “I can’t” or negative.
Performance society started to take shape after the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war, and flourished with digital growth and expansion. This new paradigm’s imperative is performance.
The power found within a disciplinary society of “I can’t” has been replaced by a sense of false positivity without limits or “I can”. This new false sense of positivity is now at the very core of our society; in other words the disciplinarian slogan “No” has been substituted by a highlighted “Yes”. One would think this new “positive” society would be better than the “negative” society; however as you will read further on, this new paradigm has led to many undesirable consequences. Instead of repressing, this new positive force is circumscribed to constantly promote, stimulate and demand the individual to decide, innovate and transcend shouting “Yes we can” or “Just do it”
According to the philosopher, the Foucauldian figure of the subject of obedience disappears, taking center stage this new subject enslave to “performance”; a fiercely competitive yet confused person who is in continuous training and immersed in countless challenges and tasks in order to achieve success. In this way, a person is reified as human capital and his Integral Value becomes subjected to his net present value in the market; in other words, if he does not contribute abundantly commercially, he has no worth. Given this, coercion should no longer be understood as an extrinsic element on the freedom of the individual but rather as an intrinsic one.
Within this demanding and ever changing new society, we become our own jailers, who demand unlimited efficiency increases, increasing work profits and always taking initiative in order to hyper generate new ideas and projects; in doing so we never give our mind rest or time to properly process information.
According to the professor and philosopher, the disciplinary factor did not disappear but is hidden under the opacity of this most superficial layer of false positivism and constant need to perform. The subject of performance reacts faster, and on the surface appears as more productive than the subject of obedience; however, power does not nullify duty; to be able to do something does not mean one should do it–we are losing the ability to analyze if something will be good for us or not as a whole not just monetarily or due to the need of false acceptance.
It is also important to clarify the person who believes in this new “performance” society in reality isn’t free, he is still is being “disciplined” or limited by the old dogma; in other words our current society is an enslaved society that believes itself free not only in relation to increase productivity but in relation to self. This compulsion to believe only in performance and false positivity submerges the subject in the chimera (a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve) of free choice. We impose demands on ourselves, believing that in this way we are affirming our own freedom.
The author and philosopher explains better the above in the following quote “Performance society is not a free society, rather it produces new obligations. The dialectic of master and slave does not lead to a society in which everyone who is fit for leisure is a a free being, but one in which the master himself has become a slave to his work….Particularly the latter, he is both prisoner and guardian, victim and executioner. Man becomes an “animal laborans” (animal of labor) that exploits himself without external control”
This new performance society’s narrative venerates a generation of self-entrepreneurs or self starters. Taking into account the etymology of the word entrepreneur in its Latin root, one can observe in detail its three lexical components 1)Into 2)Catch 3) Agent; in other words the agent who catches himself or cages himself. The subject was supposed to be the architect of his own destiny yet he is not; in linking “freedom” with performance, certain beliefs are internalized. Beliefs such as “the more I perform the freer I will be”.
The philosopher contextualizes this paradigm shift through the immunological and psychological problems we are currently experiencing. Our society is being drowned with overly positive messages of “you can do it” or “you should do it” despite how a person may be feeling; as if an individual has no right to feel tired or depleted from the constant changes. “You can do it” has taken a whole new meaning, one where instead of building a person and encouraging, it is used to make a person feel inadequate. A person is left feeling empty and broken if he is not constantly chasing the next best thing but that “best” thing is always external. That so called pinnacle of success is like a mirage…always out of reach yet propaganda keeps telling us, if we only try harder we will get there. In other words, your best efforts are not enough; which to many translates as “I am not enough”. It should not come as as surprise then, why the number of suicides all over the world have skyrocketed.
According to the philosopher and author, the main neurological and psychological illnesses ruling our current society are: Depression, borderline personality disorder, attention deficit disorder (which is becoming more and more evident in young children due to the overuse of technology) and Burnout syndrome.
Current propaganda and slogans have twisted the meaning of the phrase “become the best version of yourself”, always saying it in reference to something external, while in reality the phrase always meant to represent the search within; building a life that will serve and honor the best within you, where you are the master of your life and not the slave to external gratification or false idea of “success”.
Social media isn’t used to promote quality content but instead has become the new way to “bully” anyone who does not think the same or who does not focus on the positive only; in other words a person who chooses not to edit his or her emotions and life so others may see only snips created purposely for all to see, is not a “good” person.
It is not uncommon to see people mocking or shunning away from those who choose to share their feelings and thoughts as they may be experiencing them at that particular moment; particularly if they are of struggle or if they are expressing views different than most. As such the person who feels or the person who is capable of thinking for self versus regurgitation, is to be punished or to be silenced. In this way our society is becoming delusional, for it has taught itself to believe that all the created snippets shown on social media are life in general. Sadly linked to this, is the great level of apathy which keeps on rising, yet the delusion is that our society “cares” but do we? after all, preaching nice words but shunning away from anything considered “negative” (which really means, I don’t want to see what your mirror is reflecting back to me about myself) is not being empathetic; at most some are sympathetic but for the most part people are apathetics who believe themselves to be sympathetics or champions of justice–so long as that so called justice fits their criteria, matches their particular beliefs and creeds and does not require growth from their part.
Within this society of performance, the person who chooses to take time to look in, is considered a freak of society; even worst if that person suggests others should do the same. We seem to have forgotten that boredom is the mother no only of real imagination but also of introspection; something we very much need these days.
In this day an age, to take time to reflect or to go against the herd means to be dysfunctional; even though by psychological and spiritual health standards our society is very ill. In the desire to hide this fact, those who don’t want to look at how they are contributing to the illness by feeding the monster of false positivity, consumerism, instant gratification and apathy, would rather annihilate anyone who points out this crude reality.
The philosopher in his book, points out the real need our society has for introspection. One of the easiest ways he suggests to start getting in touch with self is through Zen mediation. Of course any mediation has to be born from a desire to connect with self and to simply be, not because you want to tell others you joined a mediation or yoga group.
In reality Zen meditation works best when doing it alone or with a very small group of people out in nature. Meditation allows us to reconnect, to flow with life rather than fight against it and to master our thoughts (over time).
For those who don’t like to mediate in this way, please remember that a conscious walk in nature (not rushed, usually by oneself or someone else who will not be focusing on talking about work, gossip, etc but enjoying the moment) is just as effective. Perhaps you like to fish or dance; those are other effective ways to meditate, moving out of the head space which is already over crowded and into our body and spirit.
I ask you, what good is it to produce so much when in the process we lose our very own humanity? becoming robotic and medicated in order to consider ourselves “successful”. Looking at it that way, are we building a successful society or a very ill one? I think the answer is clear.
The power to change the course of our current society lies within each person. Too many people are afraid to decide for themselves out of fear of upsetting the herd, the status quo or fear of being labeled. It is important to recognize our own inner power and to use it responsibly.
"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" Jiddu Krishnamurti