Thursday, March 3, 2016

Coffins as productivity motivators

“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” 
― Walter Benjamin

The BBC article reports that to combat the high stress related suicide rates in South Korea, workplaces are encouraging employees to perform their own funeral rituals. They believe this theatrics will help them appreciate what life has to offer and to accept their problems as a part of life. Additionally the article describes other efforts made by employers to improve stress related problems with their employees, for example morning rituals that include stretching exercises and loud and joint forced laughter also aimed at dealing with stress and workplace “happiness”.

The article touches upon the subject in a superficial and whimsical way, by not analyzing more than two aspects. The first being the employers pretended outcomes and their perceptions of the activities; and second, the biased testimonies of employees that engage in the mentioned activities because they are company mandatory policies. Furthermore the author’s voice denotes his white western perspective by focusing on the “folkloric” and even comical elements of these foreign practices in the Far East.

In my perspective these "business" practices are very telling in the sense that they are one more manifestation in which the utmost commodification of everyday life shows itself, and are not anecdotal in any way. Moreover they are symptomatic of the effects that modern financial hyper productive capitalism has on its working force.

One can argue that suicide is the ultimate act of resistance that workers have available to them. The workers are forced to that extreme by a relentless pressure to be competitive, effective and productive from the labor market and their company. If the exploitation and oppression extends to every aspect of a person's life, and labor and leisure are no longer separate spheres that don't have separate spaces in a given society; then I would say that the reification process is so complete and profound that it causes individuals to kill themselves. Suicide then becomes the ultimate act of resistance against the social relations of production that dominate their society and oppress them.

If their symbolic existence as human beings is denied by contemporary capitalism and its dominant ideology and reduced exclusively to their physical labor potential then they resist by denying the system their physical existence in return.

In light of the above one could say that these practices are converting the loss of human life into an effectiveness and productivity problem and developing workshops to try to come up with simplistic solutions.
The process has gone as far as that even death is a commodity, one that can be sold even to the subjects whose death is being dramatized. While the companies seem to be dissuading them from suicide using the workers well-being as a rationale the problem lays in the fact that the workers lives are being valued only for their capacity to contribute to the company profit.

Another aspect that I would like to highlight about the article is where these activities are taking place. An old poster country for free-market macroeconomic successful development policies, South Korea is one of the so called Four Asian Tigers. This group of countries supposedly exemplifies an ideal to be obtained by most of the underdeveloped countries, specifically the potential success of applying neo-liberal policies in their economic management in obtaining a “developed” economy.

Since the focus of this post is not to criticize neo-liberal economic policy and/or ideology or its perverse effects in the Global South during the last 25 years of imposition of it by multilateral institutions, I will only say that the arguments made above should be considered as part on the unintentional repercussions of “successful development” under a capitalist system. How the “success” of a country’s economy sometimes has nothing to do with the well-being of its citizens; as the epigraph says a million times better.

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