From The Baffler: “Given that we spend most of our waking hours in an alienated, desperate grind to obtain or maintain a life-sustaining job, blaming ourselves for every snag along the way, gospels of reassurance and self-care are precious cargo. We are denied the ability to seek comfort from colleagues, neighbors, or—heaven forbid—comrades, because neoliberalism has turned them into our competition. Instead, disaffected souls are relentlessly steered back into the thrall of a marketplace where we can access, individually, little hits of succor. […]
But here’s the truly wonderful thing about neoliberalism—as it turns us all into paranoid, jealous schemers, it offers to sell us bromides to ameliorate the very bad feelings of self-doubt and alienation it conjures in our dark nights of the soul. Neoliberalism has not only given us crippling anxiety, but also its apparent remedy. It is no coincidence that as we become more nervous, ‘wellness’ and ‘self-care’ have become mainstream industries. Over the last few decades, workplaces have become ever more oppressive, intensely tracking workers’ bodies, demanding longer hours, and weakening workers’ bargaining rights while also instituting wellness and mentoring programs on an ever greater scale. […]
Anxiety, and especially depression, as the late social critic Mark Fisher noted, often have social causes, but we are led to believe that we suffer individually and must struggle alone. Fisher’s point is that we are prevented from even considering such conditions as social. The treatments on offer, the most common ways to discuss recovery—therapy and pharmaceuticals—are essentially solo journeys that patients undertake. Against this hyper-individualist vision of psychic healing, we do well to highlight Fisher’s core insight that the tools we are given skew how we understand the world and our place in it. Language, typically the most essential method by which we articulate our affective life, can be a most insidious means of our own oppression if co-opted by those who would exploit us.
There is a reason why re-emergent words and phrases like ‘solidarity,’ ‘class consciousness,’ ‘mass movement,’ ‘organize,’ and ‘collective struggle,’ sound old-fashioned and in need of a good dusting-off. They didn’t simply fall out of vogue; they were aggressively obsolesced in our everyday lives by a variety of interests—employers, corporations hungrily eyeing public assets—determined to alienate us from each other in the interest in marketizing our souls for their own benefit. In return, they bestowed to us a self-oriented language of supposed care, that was never really meant to liberate us from the sources of our anxiety and depression. It’s only there to blunt the pain temporarily—long enough to enable us to move on to the next TaskRabbit assignment, Uber client, or briskly managed election cycle.”