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Get down with your ‘bad’ self @ work

March 16, 2010

Of all the possible approaches to coping in work, the ‘chicken noodle soup for the soul lifestyle-coaching ten Stepford-style steps to achieving fulfilment in your working life’ pisses me off the most. I don’t mind people who just skive, even though they make more work for me, because I appreciate that skiving is a perfectly rational response to tedious or morally questionable tasks. I even have a grudging admiration for those who just stick their heads in the sand or disappear into a drug induced haze. You know the type: like the guy at the desk opposite you who visits his GP regularly to ask that he be prescribed as much Mogadon as is legal and then takes it all at once. That I can respect. But what I can’t stand are self-styled work-gurus whose implicit message is ‘it’s not work, it’s you that’s the problem’.

Take Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project; here’s some of her gems of work related advice. Imagine offering the following to British Airways cabin staff:

Sit up straight — every time I do, I instantly feel more energetic and cheerier.

Or what about this one for harassed academics facing cuts in higher education:

Indulge in a modest splurge,  i.e., consider whether there are ways to spend money that would make a big difference. Could you invest in some desk accessories to help you stay organized? Could you replace an inconvenient lamp with something that works better.

Go on, splash out on a Newton’s Craddles and imagine that two of its little balls belong to your Vice-Chancellor. Or here’s one for all public sector workers: go explain to your line manager that you’d like to

take a ten-minute break each hour. Studies show that the break boosts your retention level.

Alternatively kick him in the ballacks. The effect will be pretty much same.

Elsewhere, ‘author and speaker’ Danna Beal at Healing the Workplace recommends ‘Rebuilding relationships in the workplace by replacing fear with trust and compassion’. Here you’ll encounter advice like:

Restoration to your true self, your authentic self, occurs naturally when you begin to question the limiting beliefs and lies about yourself. Emancipation from your false beliefs arises within you and you begin to live in an awakened state. The process will be reinforced, as you commit to your own progress.

Now I tend to avoid any temptation to restore my ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ self at work, as anything so bold would likely get me sacked. Instead I split and project.

Psychoanalysts will tell you that this is a consequence of institutional/work induced anxiety and a failure to achieve a proper integration of the ego. But ego integration is over-rated, a mere papering over the cracks of what capitalism has striven to rent asunder.

So how does this splitting of the self work as a survival strategy in the day to day work environment? Well, you have a ‘good’ self and a ‘bad’ self. Your ‘good’ self is the institutional mindset, the part of you that performs obediently in work and seems to believe in what you do. Your ‘bad’ self knows that everything your ‘good’ self is working for is a lot of balls and given the chance will sabotage your ‘good’ self’s best efforts. Here’s an example of how you might ‘operationalise’ this strategy at work.  Your ‘good’ self spends all week working on that uber-important report for the boss. Once its finished you allow your ‘bad’ self to convince you that a celebratory drink is in order on the way home. Your ‘good’ self says in his usual cringing manner that one won’t hurt but your ‘bad’ self gets you monstrously drunk and leaves the said report on the back seat of a taxi – the sort that’s full of red diesel, doesn’t have a brightly lit sign on the top of it and is driven by a bloke whose missing both thumbs and an eye, because that’s the sort of company your ‘bad’ self keeps.

So embrace your fragmented state, and make your alienation work for you. As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi points out in his new book, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, ‘Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.’

Only your ‘bad’, estranged self will make you free, for only s/he sees clearly stupidity and corruption of the institutions and organisations you work for, the inanity of so much modern labour and the indifference of your employer to all this. Seen in this context, striving for restoration of your true self or for an integrated ego, is nothing short of capitulating to your class enemies.

P.S. Only one of the people in the thumbnails below is a spectre haunting capitalism. Can you tell which? The other two are Gretchen Rubin and Danna Beal. Now, which side are you on?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:17 pm

    I can dimly recall be taught academic stuff that relates to all this about forms of slave resistance in the pre Civil War Southern United States. Whole doctoral theses have, apparently, been devoted to show that ‘learned incompetence’ on the part of the slaves, especially the field slaves who had to work in atrocious conditions, was a way of surreptitiously controlling the work pressures put on them. Direct defiance would result in the whip and the brand – but incompetence, especially if accompanied by a seeming willingness to attempt the required task was another matter…

  2. Rabelais permalink*
    March 17, 2010 8:49 pm

    I’m reminded of George Orwell’s description of the unofficial self in his analysis of Donald McGill’s seaside postcards:

    ‘There is one part of you that wishes to be a hero or a saint, but another part of you is a little fat man who sees very clearly the advantages of staying alive with a whole skin. He is your unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting against the soul. His tastes lie towards safety, soft beds, no work, pots of beer and women with ‘voluptuous’ figures. He it is who punctures your fine attitudes and urges you to look after Number One, to be unfaithful to your wife, to bilk your debts, and so on and so forth.

  3. CharliemcMenamin permalink
    March 27, 2010 1:32 pm

    Finally I think I have tracked down the publication which will henceforth guide all your academic work. It’s by Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Larfargue:

  4. Rabelais permalink*
    March 27, 2010 5:18 pm

    Cheers Charlie.

    I like the sound of this – The Right to be Lazy. Wasn’t it his son-in-law that Marx had in mind when he said he didn’t consider himself a Marxist?

  5. Lecturer Anonymous permalink
    March 31, 2010 3:23 pm

    Hmm. Yes, rab. We don’t get in touch with our bad selves often enough, do we? May I make a few humble suggestions?

    Why not compose a nice auto-reply for your email or if you’re truly a dick, then a tweet, to share your long lost bad self with the world? I’ve just read a fairly typical tweet thread by an eminent media studies academic that lets us know his every itch and scratch from morning til night, including multiple media appearances. This is not what is required. So how about this one from me:

    9.30-11am I’m supervising dissertations right now and losing the will to live.
    11.15am Just heard from graduate Karl, third class; the wee shite did fuck all throughout his three years here, made my life a misery and has the stupidity and cheek (quite an achievement it has to be said!) to ask for a reference now!
    12.23pm Told publisher to fuck away off – my manuscript was deeply flawed, yes, but brilliant nonetheless. Bah! Who needs em? I’ll publish it myself.
    2.12pm What gives my boss the right to expect me to mark 20 (TWENTY!!!!) first year essays?
    3pm Called my partner on a whim to tell her I’m thinking of taking a pay cut to work part time at Cullybackey Independent College of International Studies.
    3.10pm Partner called back. Told me to collect my things from the back door step.
    3.30pm Dean of Faculty called. Told me I’ll never get promotion by occupying the VC’s office.
    4pm Karl left a voicemail thanking me for the reference and that he got the job. Manager of the local Bank of Ireland!
    4.45pm Just vandalised vending machine they put in place of SU shop. Teach em to refuse me a bag of crinkly crisps! Off to anger managament class. Bye for today!

  6. Rabelais permalink*
    March 31, 2010 4:15 pm

    I hope you gave that vending machine a proper kicking.

    Hope things work out for you at Cullybackey. I hear its anger management seminars are the envy of the civilised world. I’ve just applied for a job at Roehampton University, where they offer reiki, reflexology and Indian head massages to staff. According to its website “people will feel relaxed, energised and ready to meet any challenges”. Also it promises that “People will feel valued and appreciated with a positive impact on motivation and enthusiasm.’

    Finding a progressive employer these days is such a bugger…

    • Lecturer Anonymous permalink
      March 31, 2010 4:31 pm

      I surely did, Rab! Any vending machine that offers health advice on what you’ve selected needs a good kicking! I mean, I have a fair idea that a packet of crisps and a can of coke is really really bad for me and that I shouldn’t. Good luck with your application to the Chair of Audio Visual Education and Cultural Literacy at Roehampton!! 🙂

      • Rabelais permalink*
        March 31, 2010 5:53 pm

        Chair of Audio Visual Education and Cultural Literacy at Roehampton? Don’t know about that. I was applying for the position of head masseuse.

  7. Lecturer Anonymous permalink
    March 31, 2010 9:37 pm


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