To say that the (late) capitalism is oppressive is to say nothing. It is a truism. The neoliberal ideology has been taking its bloody toll, just like the totalitarian systems. We believe that we live in the best of possible worlds because there are no bombs falling on our heads and we do not need to hide in air-ride bunkers. We owe our seemingly peaceful lives to no one but ourselves; anyone who disagrees or fails to adapt is a weak loser. War rages on but it is far away from us; it is the effect of the illiberal politics dominated by a few businessmen. It is calm and quiet, the place we live in. We may be threatened by the growing authoritarian and fascist movements, but aren’t they the result of limiting our freedom and property rights, the two capitalist totems for which our grandfathers and grandmothers fought so hard? Anyone a bit more insightful will soon learn that fascism and capitalism are two forces that feed one another.
Nowadays, the pro-ecological movements and the coveted zero waste lifestyle try to shift the responsibility for the sudden (!) disasters that befall the Earth onto us, single individuals. “Anthropocene” could well be the word of the year for 2018, as it became wildly popular not only in the artistic circles. Do not waste, do not use plastic, do not eat meat. You and I are responsible for our planet and for the life of future generations. Be the change you want to see in the world. I think about that every time I buy a bar of chocolate in a supermarket and make sure it does not contain any palm oil, as its harvesting leads to burning forests and extermination of particular animal and plant species. As I wait in line and put my carefully-selected products on the conveyor belt, I can tell that no other customer shares my engagement. The long-awaited social financial redistribution made people more wealthy, so that they can now buy dozens of sweets and colourful beverages, and pack every single carrot (or a kiwi fruit that was imported from overseas) into a separate plastic bag. Right now everything is just fine − why worry about the future? Or maybe they think: “who does it really affect, anyway?” At the same time large corporations prepare further extractions of natural resources and plan the next few years of the ongoing war for the precious oil. The concept of the Capitalocene, that is the capitalist epoch, is an attempt to redirect the focus from single individuals to the destructive and exploitative power of the capitalist system; unfortunately, it has not been so widely applied as the concept of the human epoch, with humans being perceived − too universally, in my perspective − as the source of all evil.
I could spin this dark and bitter tale on the next few pages − I can assure you that there are far more reasons to complain. Those who I would now describe as “mentally privileged” have a perfect right to call me a malcontent; they would probably be right. What I wanted to share, however, with the kind readers of this magazine, is a realization that I have made quite recently and which has changed something in me, changed my position within the system, triggered further thoughts. I aspire to be a professional philosopher, so I actually feed on thoughts − they are the only available resource I may draw on. In fact, it is the philosophical perspective that brought me to this point in my life.
The previous and current year has abounded with people coming out of their closets and opening up about their mental illnesses and disorders. At least once a month, via the social media site with a blue icon, one of my friends would make a public coming-out, admitting that she had been diagnosed with depression, addiction, personality disorders and what not. Some of them would join one of the many support groups led by sad girls with pretty or not-so-pretty faces who would express their sadness via a different social media site (the one with a lot of pictures and almost no text). Selfie-feminism has started to be replaced with self-care.
In cultural institutions, non-governmental organisations or even anarchic collectives, there has been a cascade of self-care and self-love workshops organised for the tired activists, artists and PhD students on the verge of professional and emotional burnout, as well as for all other people (mainly women) whose every-day struggle for others’ and their own well-being had left them mentally devastated. No wonder that after all these years of fighting (recently painfully ineffective, with small exceptions), their bodies and brains began to resist and call for slowing down, taking some rest. The same message was conveyed by my coming-out friends and the organisers of the self-care meetings. Slow down. Let it go. Eat healthy. Take care of yourself. There was something fishy about it all, so I decided to find out what it was.
It was not until the last year that I came across Mark Fisher’s book titled Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? with lots of valuable references and quotations, for example the one by Slavoj Žižek: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Fisher’s cruelly bitter reflection about the shape of today’s world and system spoke to me deeply, to the very core, and became my “book of the decade.” Fisher and his incisive analysis of the capitalism as the only existing system which constitutes, in itself, its own cause and effect, was the reason why I had been continually postponing the decision about visiting a psychotherapist; I perceived psychotherapy as another manifestation of the capitalist hegemony. Having registered a few months ahead and in exchange for a given amount of money, you can confide in a stranger and talk about how sad and unhappy you are or that you do not understand the world around you. As you finish and go home, some other people show up and your problems of a precarious art-ivist pale in comparison to the real problems and experiences of the real, ordinary people. They are the ones that are worth fighting for. The labour unions and women’s organisations, which I am part of, fight for their rights; for workers, for single and non-single mothers, for the badly situated. Not for me. I have to fend for myself − I am the privileged one. I have higher education and higher cultural capital; I live in a big city and work on my PhD, I deal with art and culture (so I am not really working) − I should be doing fine and be glad that I do not have to struggle with every-day problems of the ones living in small towns and villages, with the harsh reality of large workplaces or women having to deal with deadbeat dads. No, it does not concern me. As I kept on observing that day-to-day reality, I felt more and more frustrated. Frustration, as we know, leads to constant discontent, lack of self-confidence, inability to enjoy life. And of course I should enjoy my life because it is better than the lives of most people. Alternatively, I could attend one of the self-love workshops for the tired activists, since apparently that is where I belong and where I can learn how to focus more on my own needs and well-being.
And then I realised that I (and we) have been experiencing violence for years. It is a soft and symbolic kind of violence originally described by Pierre Bourdieu; such violence is difficult to define, even though it has been perpetually reproduced and almost radically embodied or internalised by all of us who constitute the dark matter of art and culture, representing probably the most precarious professions, deemed insignificant and unappreciated. We have been subjected to systemic economic violence as well, but hardly anyone recognises us as people experiencing violence (or simply as victims, but this term is not welcome in the progressive circles that I am part of). That violence is inflicted on us by the late capitalism or, according to Fisher, by the capitalist realism. But it is also inflicted by Poland and persistently low pay, by the position of the working poor who fight for everyone else’s rights but almost never for their own. That violence is also self-inflicted − we, the anarchist fighters for a better life and better working conditions, do not assert respect for our own work and do not seek its recognition as significant to the world development. We do not use such pretty big words. That violence is self-inflicted by the artists who deprive themselves of recognition for the sake of some higher ideals or the a priori patriarchy of the world of art, the patriarchy that we no longer have strength to fight. That violence is inflicted on us by the social media with their naked truth on the one hand and, on the other, the depressing illusion of the fight for a common cause which never goes beyond the smartphone and computer screens.
The consequences of violence understood as inflicting physical or psychological pain are bodily and psychological injuries or traumas you have to heal. The consequences of the symbolic and economic violence, which I and people like me have been experiencing for years, are the deepening depression and mental disorders. Angela McRobbie, a British culture theorist and a feminist, described depression as a pathology of precariousness. Depression and creativity are two sides of the same coin, but psychiatrists rarely (or never) admit that.
During a psychotherapy session which I had finally decided to attend, overcoming the sense of solidarity with Mark Fisher, I had to repeat a few times that financial instability which I had been experiencing for years had always been linked to chronic stress and constant fear of the future. On the one hand, I have always been an ideal, almost textbook example of a follower of the neoliberal capitalist ideology; I have always taken matters into my own hands, I have been very proactive, I have been working and providing for myself in a big city, without anyone’s help. Interestingly − I have always been most praised for fulfilling those capitalist objectives, especially by people who have arranged their lives even better than me or, on the contrary, by people who have failed to “succeed as much as I have.” On the other hand, being in my thirties, I have nothing; no apartment, no car, no bonds, no business, no offspring − I have just been living the way I have to in order to survive (some precarians have already accepted this fact in the form of a sour joke), trying to do as little harm to our planet (understood as Mother Earth) as only possible.
I am just at the beginning of my fight against depression that is the consequence of systemic, symbolic and economic violence, and I can feel that there are few people who understand this mental disorder the way I do. Most of us has fallen into the trap set by the capitalist way of thinking, namely that it is not only success but also failure that depends solely on our actions, and that the only possible solutions are the ones provided by the system: the glittery support groups on Instagram, antidepressant trips to Thailand, selfie-feminism or the so-called self-care. Take care of YOURSELF and all YOUR problems will disappear. I guess we like it when the system thumbs its nose at us since we continue to fall for the illusion that this is the solution to all the world’s problems. No revolution will grow from the selfie ground, my dear sisters.
I am writing this text form the peripheries of the capitalist system. I am hardly a tempting target for any political party or grassroots movement; none of them can or wants to propose a solution to my problems because these problems are not political, neither in the parliamentary nor in the discursive sense. I am aware that after long years of struggling and stressing over the material aspects of life, I will most probably end up escaping into one of the available worlds that will give me some kind of dignity of not having to watch every penny when buying food, books necessary for writing my PhD thesis, drugs and other feel-good medications. If while reading this text you have been feeling that it relates to you in some way, you must know that I do not have any ready solutions, my dear sisters. I do not really believe anymore in the slogans calling for mutual care and solidarity, which we carry with us on the banners as we walk together in the emancipation marches. Unless we tackle the capitalist realism at its root, nothing will change. I have no idea how to do it. I guess all we have left is to laugh maniacally with the rest of the world and with ourselves, even if bitterly and through the tears.