Many people have become convinced over recent years that George Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future, in his book 1984, is being realized in today’s world. The most obvious ways that fiction is being turned into fact are connected with the intrusion – some would say dominance – of technology into people’s lives and the all-pervading sense that whatever we do or say is being seen and/or heard by “them.”
Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA – and, by extension, the entire intelligence-gathering operation of the country that claims to be “the land of the free” and the haven of democracy and human rights – is perhaps the weightiest evidence yet of how far we have moved toward the world of Big Brother, but it is by no means the only such evidence.
Nor is technology the only source of concern. The collapse of liberal thought and behavior is systemic, and the rise of tyranny is by no means limited to governmental entities. On the contrary, a very strong case can be made that it is corporations, primarily the very large multinational corporations, that truly dominate the lives of the masses of people who work for them.
These people are, increasingly, no longer employees in the traditional sense of the term, but slaves – in the traditional sense of that term. These wage slaves have less and less control over their own lives, with their masters exercising control via the technological equivalents of the old ball and chain – namely, the always connected iPad or smartphone that ensures permanent availability and obedience of the wage slave.
How far the process of slavery has gone became clear this week when Credit Suisse followed the example of Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) in issuing a circular to its employees urging/ordering them not to work nonstop. BAML directed its directive at its junior staffers, telling them to “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.” (Think about that, and what it implies about existing work habits.) As Bloomberg Business Week noted in reporting this development, “Senior executives presumably know what’s good for them and are welcome to work around the clock.”
These moves by the some of the world’s largest financial institutions come in the wake of a widely reported incident last summer. Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old German intern in a seven-week summer internship program at BAML in New York was found dead in his dorm. A investigation discovered that he had “pulled eight all-nighters in two weeks,” so that his death from exhaustion or complications thereof, unfortunate though it was, was declared “unsuspicious.”
It is not clear whether BAML’s new instructions to staffers reflect a prick of institutional conscience at Erhardt’s death, or merely concern that the bank will be the subject of a lawsuit. If the latter, then the big banks will have to do what they do best – use their lobbyists to rejigger the laws so as to permit more intense slavery. This will not be difficult in the United States, as the following – staggering but true – item proves.
“Right now in Wisconsin, you’re not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week,” he told The Huffington Post in an interview.
The “he” in this quote is not some weirdo nobody; it is Glenn Grothman, a Republican state senator in Wisconsin, and he intends to correct this “ridiculous” state of affairs by changing the existing law, under which businesses “must provide employees with at least one period consisting of 24 consecutive hours of rest in each calendar week.” Currently, these days could be the first and last days of a 14-day period, with 12 unbroken work days between them. But at least the principle of one rest day per week is loosely maintained.
The Huffington Post reports that “Grothman finds this law ‘a little goofy,’ and he argued that rolling it back is a matter of ‘freedom.’” It could hardly be clearer: In Wisconsin, which used to be considered a liberal state but is now best known for its legislative initiatives to roll back liberal laws, especially in the area of labor and workers’ rights, slavery is freedom and Orwell rules, OK.
It is interesting to note that Grothman seems to be aiming at low-paid jobs in areas such as retailing, while in New York City the supposedly supersmart interns are slaving in the hope of getting very lucrative jobs in banking and finance. The moral collapse is thus systemic, covering the entire spectrum of socioeconomic classes, economic sectors and geographical regions. One can only wonder what the founding fathers, whose struggle for freedom drew so much inspiration from the book of Exodus and, specifically, from the Ten Commandments, would make of the rise of pharaonic Egypt in the US of A? firstname.lastname@example.org
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