Recently, we had a house guest, a family member who has been ill for a while. During her visit, I inadvertently asked a question about what she does with her days. A question that I ask most people because I am curious about people, their interests, passions and their daily lives. She replied that she had not been that productive lately. I responded that her daily efforts at being independent, mobile and self-reliant equaled being productive. I also remembered another physicist friend of a friend who had a similar response to my question. She had suffered an unexpected, inexplicable and untreatable neurological disorder that made her unreliable at the workplace. She had to give up work and her days are spent on researching remedies and trying to push her imminent move into an assisted facility as far in the future as possible. After our houseguest left, I have been thinking about productivity and life.
I am in support of being useful and creating value for the world and people around us. I am known to have said to Viyan more than once, my mantras of ‘give more than you take’, ‘be an active and engaged producer, not just a passive consumer.’ However, our society’s obsession with productivity as a proxy for living is extremely flawed. Tips for being productive, life hacks for productivity abound on the web. My readers know how much I hate shortcuts. When you google productivity and life, Google spews up 189,000,000 results in 0.41 seconds. Most of them have to do with how to save time, shortcuts to a better life, gadgets and apps to be more productive, and how to squeeze more in less. There is even an upcoming playbook on productivity. There is even advice on how men can be more productive by improving testosterone (by refraining from orgasms).What is life without oxytocin? Unfortunately, high testosterone also leads to earlier death. Castrated males can live much longer.
Productivity is the heart of capitalism. There are a lot of good and bad things in it. Work gets done faster and profits get fatter and the shareholders get more bang for their buck. So it makes utter sense that there is a collective obsession with productivity in our culture. A lot of people make money teaching others how to be more productive. The whole mass production industrial revolution was based on productivity ideas. The tricky part is that when results of productivity obsession/revolution does not get shared equally, inequality expands, This obsession influenced his we organize as a society scross generations. Those who buy into the notion that life has value only when it is productive in ways defined by the corporate/capitalist machine create structural machineries that reify these notions. So we death-march our children through schooling systems that create and sustain the same artificial notions of productivity. No wonder our children kill themselves in the so-called highly productive areas of our country. No wonder collective systems of knowledge are co-opted by the capitalistic machine. No wonder universities are the new Walmart. low-wage part time professors make up more than half of the professoriate in universities. And professors are socialized in a system in which they write for free to be considered more productive.
Here is a call to Occupy Life and stand against the productivization and capitalization of our lives.