Monday, September 19, 2011

The Well-Adjusted


The privatisation of stress is a perfect capture system, elegant in its brutal efficiency. Capital makes the worker ill, and then multinational pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to make them better. The social and political causation of distress is neatly sidestepped at the same time as discontent is individualised and interiorised.

(Mark Fisher)


Having adapted or conformed suitably to new conditions, the well-adjusted go confidently about their business. And their business is most likely to be contract work in a finance, services, marketing or IT-related field. These are proper new economy jobs, as opposed to old economy jobs that have been rebranded and casualised. The strategist. The outside consultant. The optimiser. The optimisation strategy consultant.

However the well-adjusted are not primarily a social class. They are a socialised class.

The well-adjusted rely on social media and mobile communication to craft and maintain their personal and professional reputation. This is a tautology, insofar as in the world of the well-adjusted the personal is the professional.

The well-adjusted are effortlessly ingratiating. Their mediated social interactions are always calculated to maximise the likes and minimise the dislikes. But calculated is a misleading term, for the rhetorical techniques and the inter-personal algorithms necessary to achieve this goal have been fully interiorised.

While possession of an iPhone device or equivalent does not alone a well-adjusted person make, it is necessary to own an iPhone device or equivalent in order to aspire to well-adjusted status. The capacity to police one’s reputation on the go is an essential requirement.

The well-adjusted enthuse about Twitter and are dismissive of Facebook, but are active on both.

The well-adjusted do not check their messages or Twitter and Facebook updates with obsessive frequency. They check them with the correct frequency.

Politically, the well-adjusted gravitate towards the left of centre. Professing to oppose the neoliberalism that produced the economy in which they thrive, they nonetheless maintain that the reforms of the nineteen-eighties were necessary and retain a soft commitment to social democratic goals – think New Labour in Britain, or Clark’s Labour in New Zealand – combined with the belief that there is no alternative to free-market capitalism, a flexible labour market and a lean, rationally streamlined welfare state. They call this ‘being pragmatic’. By contrast, right wingers who believe that radical neoliberal reform will lead to a purer, truer welfare for those who actually need it are forced to defend that conviction on purely ideological grounds.

Having adapted or conformed suitably to new conditions, the well-adjusted don’t believe in ideology. They believe in rational, evidence-based debate on an issue-by-issue basis. There is nothing that the well-adjusted love more than data, but they rarely question how it has been collected outside of a quick check to make sure that the methodology is in order. Attempting even a watered-down Foucaudian critique of this position is one of the few sure ways of irritating the well-adjusted, who are otherwise largely unflappable.

To their credit, the well-adjusted are excellent listeners and there is virtually no limit to the points of view that they are prepared to consider and dismiss.

The well-adjusted believe that politics is the art of the possible, where by ‘possible’ they really mean ‘what can reasonably be achieved within the next six months’. However this doesn’t stop them from supporting a range of campaigns and social causes, typically by means of retweeting as opposed to marching.

The well-adjusted believe that anthropogenic climate change is a scientific fact and advocate sustainable living.

The well-adjusted are in favour of multiculturalism, chiefly in that it broadens the range of available recipes and ingredients. For the well-adjusted are passionate about food. Often you can tell a well-adjusted household just by looking at the spice rack. Or the wine rack. Or the whisky cabinet.

And the coffee, God, the coffee. You don’t want to get the well-adjusted started about coffee. Jesus Christ.

In all matters related to food and drink, and many others beside, the well-adjusted reify taste over culture. So for instance a well-adjusted shopper may purchase Parmigiano Reggiano or the scandalously expensive ‘parmesan’ produced by Kapiti Cheeses in New Zealand. But if it turns out that they like the knock-off better, then the Kapiti Parmesan will be declared as good (and functionally ‘real’, ‘authentic’) as Parmigiano Reggiano, if not more so, and become a suitable substitute in all Italian recipes that call for this particular type of cheese.

Taste being an end in itself, and requiring little by way of education (or study, or understanding), the well-adjusted are happy to enjoy the things that most people enjoy, including – in post-ironic fashion – the most exploitative manifestations of popular culture. They would dismiss Neil Postman’s arguments in Amusing Ourselves to Death simply in that he had them at ‘amusing’: an enjoyable spectacle by definition can do no harm, either to the spectator or to more nebulous categories such as culture or discourse. Criticism is therefore reduced to the form of the review, and critical theory is dismissed out of hand.

A corollary to this is that nothing could be further than snobbery from the sensibility of the well-adjusted, and indeed the well-adjusted are not to be confused with hipsters. Hipsters are in fact far more capable of self-reflection than the well-adjusted, and besides the well-adjusted are neither setters nor followers of fashion. Although they pride themselves on always being current and informed about the latest trends, they do not feel pressured to conform to them.

So what do the well-adjusted look like? For a picture that is about to become out of date, trawl any archive of stock photographs with the search phrase ‘person with laptop’. Then you eliminate the ones who are too laid back,



the formally dressed,


or those who appear to be overdoing it (a phone, a laptop and your card? Plus, the well-adjusted know their credit card details by heart.)


Until you end up with something like this.





Busy, casual, relaxed, connected. Working – possibly, although it's hard to say – yet at the same time chilling out, at home or in a café.

(I say the picture is about to become out of date because the laptop will soon have to go. It’s just that ‘person with smartphone’ is compositionally more awkward and hasn’t quite produced an equally satisfying set of interchangeable images yet.)

This last exercise should have finally clarified that the well-adjusted do not exist except as a sociological construct, a composite image, a demographic profile. For the purposes of this post I deduced most of their characteristics by going through this article by Mark Fisher on the privatisation of stress and working my way backwards: that is to say by reversing the distressed mindset of the workers and would-be workers who in the course of the past two to three decades have had to metabolise chronic job insecurity and the constant shrinking of social safety nets, and attempting to produce its negative image.

To put it another way: if the success of capitalist realism is measured by the generalised belief that there is no alternative not only to the status quo but also to further neoliberal reforms (the only way out is to go deeper), then – if only because goods still need to be sold, but also and far more importantly to create a screen in front of the distressed subject – there must also exist a more cheerful narrative predicated on wilful acceptance. However creating this narrative is not solely the task of marketers and advertisers, nor ideologues or politicians for that matter: it is the culture itself that must produce the image of a model, contented subject by working inductively through the demands that are put on each of us.

Job insecurity and living from contract to contract are a source of anxiety? Then there must be somebody for whom this is not so, somebody for whom the designation of freelance (lovely word, that) is an opportunity for deducting some cost of living items from their taxes and who uses the enforced downtime as an opportunity for rest and recreation. The social and professional demand to be always communicatively available and plugged into multiple networks is a source of stress? Then there must be people who are only too happy to always be available, and for whom checking Twitter and Facebook updates or new emails and text messages never becomes a compulsive habit.

Because ultimately, if I can’t make it work, it must be my fault. If I can’t trust that the work will come, and that I won’t get sick, it must be my fault. If I feel ambivalent about some aspects of food culture, reality television or the Rugby World Cup, it must be my fault. I must adjust my settings and learn to enjoy. Some online communities can help with that, teach you how to smooth the corners. Not any single person can be well-adjusted, but together we can reach homeostasis and create a self-adjusted whole. A model, ideal subject: liberal, cultured, non-judgmental, environmentally conscious, socially aware. That’s someone, or something, to be. Don’t corporations also strive to embody those characteristics?

And so the social networks, as well as a place for creating and sharing on the margins of the established pathways of capitalism, are also this: a training ground for the aspiring well-adjusted. Which is to say – seeing as more and more the personal truly is the professional – a tool to fight insecurity, to behave more appropriately and become better liked, hence more employable; but also to derive much-needed psychological comfort from that collectively constructed simulacrum (or stock photograph, if you will) that is the well-adjusted person. Yet the simulacrum operates in turn as a source of anxiety, for it embodies and sharpens the demand to conform to that model subject and naturalises the workings of the system that produces it. (And here we glimpse the mechanisms of community without solidarity that Fisher hints at when he refers to the individualisation of discontent.)

I don’t have much to offer by way of conclusion, other than to suggest that we might wish to pay a qualitatively different kind of attention to the attempts at communication that fail, to the awkwardness, perhaps even the trolling, not as flawed or disruptive strategies to be designed out of the system, but rather as qualities of a different kind of subject – the maladjusted – to be considered in a dialectical relationship with its opposite. That could be something to pursue. In the meantime, read The Privatisation of Stress, for it is illuminating. I’ve also compiled a brief separate entry on the well-adjusted child.





48 comments:

merc said...

Oh you've done it now ;-)

wv, vericani, should be a word no?

stephen said...

I feel we should investigate the connection to machines, particularly computing and communication devices, which never tire and have no need to be switched off. I work in a firm that to some extent makes these demands on its workers, because it provides services that are expected to be available always. The capability of the technology, the expectations of users of the technology, and the demands placed on those who work with the technology, are in a feedback loop. No one expected me to check work email at home before that capability was just there anyway. Now, we have a customer who is chained to their iPhone, sends me email at all hours, and is clearly perplexed that answers don't come back till after 9 am the next day.

I remember clearly when cell phones and remote access to the office first came in, and they were seen as privileges and things that bore cachet.

There is also something odd about the return to pre-factory work patterns. Some of us are now working at home and in coffee houses, keeping gentleman's hours in the office, and essentially leading a 19th or even 18th century work pattern. But perhaps the factory has not disappeared. Perhaps the factory has taken over all our spaces as well as all our time.

I detect a note of anger with the all-adjusted but to be honest, it's no way to live.

W. Kasper said...

Excellent stuff. Actually meeting the 'people with laptops' well-adjusted can be very eerie, to say the least. Thanks for articulating why.

How did you do that 'negative zone' link BTW?

Robyn said...

All my favourite people are maladjusted.

George D said...

I believe that Monocle represents the end-point of such a belief-system (available at your local newsagent in all its glory). Social advancement, better living, for everyone. Although it is almost a parody, in the way that Vanity Fair exalts the rich, it resists it because it is so sincere. Its local counterparts are more fragmented, and less comfortable with their contradictions.

I don't know that there's anything wrong with fake Parmesan, anything more than there is with Anchor 'Tasty'. What it does represent however is the invisible exclusion of great swathes of the population, not through their tastes, but through things which are markers of 'taste', and thus class. Although they are on the left, they tell me, so their vision is of an inclusive neoliberalism where all have sufficient disposable income to indulge their tastes, whatever they may be. To have such a profound blindness to the effects of social organisation is a wondrous thing, but the last Labour Government succeeded in the ideological consolidation needed to sustain it.

Giovanni Tiso said...

vericani, should be a word no?

It is. It means "real dogs".

Giovanni Tiso said...

How did you do that 'negative zone' link BTW?

Ah, now I wish there was a way to make a negative image of any website! I just created a blog with the same template but a black background, then fiddled with the banner. Luckily, the name "maeb, naeb, tab" turned out to be available. Phew.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I don't know that there's anything wrong with fake Parmesan

I think I can help you with that. There is so much that is wrong with fake Parmigiano, more so with fake *expensive* Parmigiano, more so with fake expensive Parmigiano that doesn't even attempt to taste remotely like Parmigiano. I think it's good to be wary of the myth of authenticity in food (Dougal has written an excellent post about this) but the real Parmigiano is not just a product of a particular soil (although it is also that): it encodes cultural practices that go back centuries and are justly protected, and it requires a lot of patience, time and labour. I can guarantee you that Kapiti Cheeses doesn't even begin to attempt to follow any of the steps needed to make Parmigiano. They just use a word that allows them to mark up their product.

Russell Brown said...

I think the problem here is that you've constructed the well-adjusted as people without personal or social history -- people with all the depth and authenticity of stock photographs you've used to illustrate them -- and given yourself the out of declaring them a mere social construct.

Which is ... convenient, but hardly fair. You might have asked how the well-adjusted got that way. Through a blessed path of professional ease, or through their own maladjustments? Through education or mere wit? Choice or circumstance? Does it make a difference?

I enjoy cooking with spices, coffee, wine, whisky, Twitter (I am sometimes rude about Facebook) and the Rugby World Cup, and I've argued with you about markets and critical theory, to the extent that I understand it. I have an iPhone (only a 3G, mind) and I work from home, by choice and necessity. So I do seem to bear a strong resemblance to your construct.

But, like Robyn, I feel like I've spent much of my life with the literally (as opposed to theoretically) maladjusted: artists, musicians, drug addicts, oddballs, squatters, queers, practical creatives incapable of doing proper jobs. Some of them live lives somewhat like mine. None of them look like the people in the stock photos.

Anyway, parts of the Fisher article are very good and parts of it give me the screaming creeps. The latter being the faithful belief that "psychic well-being" is exclusively a public matter, that we would all be well if only society was run on more enlightened lines, and that anything else is mere "self-help".

It's only a short step from there to believing that under conditions of societal enlightenment, individuals are culpable for their own un-wellness. As, indeed, has often been the official view in highly centralised and structured societies.

Anyway, I've had a crack. Best check my Twitter messages :-)

Russell Brown said...

I don’t have much to offer by way of conclusion, other than to suggest that we might wish to pay a qualitatively different kind of attention to the attempts at communication that fail, to the awkwardness, perhaps even the trolling, not as flawed or disruptive strategies to be designed out of the system, but rather as qualities of a different kind of subject – the maladjusted – to be considered in a dialectical relationship with its opposite. That could be something to pursue.

I'll address this on a personal level because I can't think of any other useful way of doing so. Intentionally or not, it touches on a common criticism of the web community for which I am ultimately responsible.

In short, I think about and am engaged with this more than is commonly realised. There is on the internet a tyranny of literacy, persuasiveness and apparent reasonableness, to the benefit of me and mine.

I'm genuinely fond of flawed speech, however, and will stand by it if necessary. There's a balance to be struck between reining in the group and properly addressing speech whose chef purpose is to attack the group. I place great stock in my own perception of good faith.

I realise this is probably too particular and personal a response -- this is, I think, the only time I have ever used "dialectical" in a sentence -- but I claim my inexperience of theory as a New Zealand birthright. I edited a book about it, you know.

Ben Wilson said...

Gio, do you consider yourself well-adjusted? In the sense you characterize here?

Giovanni Tiso said...

I think the problem here is that you've constructed the well-adjusted as people without personal or social history -- people with all the depth and authenticity of stock photographs you've used to illustrate them -- and given yourself the out of declaring them a mere social construct.

Which is ... convenient, but hardly fair. You might have asked how the well-adjusted got that way. Through a blessed path of professional ease, or through their own maladjustments? Through education or mere wit? Choice or circumstance? Does it make a difference?


It wasn’t an out, I genuinely don’t think that the well-adjust exist. There are certainly people who are well-served by out economic and political system, and they might include a subset of urban professionals. But I wasn’t referring to social classes, or actual persons – even if you somehow felt that you ticked all the boxes of my made-up list (I know I tick several), that wouldn’t make you well-adjusted, precisely in that you have a personal and social history.

I see the well-adjusted as being several things at the same time: a sociological construct whose importance is inflated due to an overestimation of how large a particular section of the middle class is (I think we tend to assume that there are a lot more urban professionals doing well for themselves than is actually the case); a demographic profile (George suggested the readership of Monocle, I was thinking of Mind Food when I wrote the post); and the subjects who occupy the place of consensus more likely to be reached amongst liberals on the social networks. But more importantly I think the well-adjusted are defined by being what each of us is not, in that they are more compatible with the system than anybody could possibly aspire or hope to be.

I don’t know if you read the shorter post on the well-adjusted child, but I think its supposed attributes (which weren’t compiled by me) make it quite clear that it’s actually an empty category.

(Will come back later.)

stephen said...

Gio, does this mean that the well-adjusted person is a chimera like the Woman Who Has It All? That is, a role model who lives in stock photography but has no embodiment?

Ben Wilson said...

>It wasn’t an out, I genuinely don’t think that the well-adjusted exist.

As a term, well-adjusted is certainly very loose, and does connote that unhappiness is a disease, rather than at least a partial consequence of circumstances.

I think both ways of seeing things have some merit, that neither can be ruled out. Of course I'm happy if I make a stack of cash. Yet, if that happens, and I continue to be unhappy, perhaps it's medical. Perhaps not. Hard to be sure.

The business of helping people to find happiness/cure unhappiness can have bad outcomes. And vice versa, for some people it does actually work. So I can't agree that "well adjusted" is an empty set. But it's not necessarily the most desirable set to be in, nor one that is an ideal exemplar for society.

There's a strange feedback loop that can sometimes happen between happiness and success, just as there is with pain and sickness. Reduce the pain, and you can recover faster. Reduce the unhappiness, and you might work your way to success.

But obviously, it's not always going to work out like that. Sometimes you need pain to tell you what's wrong, and you need unhappiness to do the same thing.

I went through this recently, finding that sustained unhappiness in my work was a strong signal that I should change something. But being unemployed is also a source of unhappiness (well, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness, at least). The time off, and the job hunting has focused me on what I do actually want to do, and that has made me feel better, but for how long I can't say. Much depends on whether the gamble I am taking pays off.

Russell Brown said...

a demographic profile (George suggested the readership of Monocle, I was thinking of Mind Food when I wrote the post);

Heh. I suspect the readers of Monocle would be horrified to be associated with the readers of Mindfood. I think Monocle is closer to the construct you described.

Amanda said...

I like that Fisher article and I agree with much of it.

But do you know, I think I'm "well adjusted." I hate Facebook, love reality tv, recipes, coffee etc. I very nearly am casual woman with the laptop pictured above. I exhibit almost all of qualities identified as pertaining to the "well adjusted" and I'm left wondering am I supposed to feel bad about this?

I will say that one way I differ from the "well adjusted" is that I am not (at this stage) precariously employed. In fact I have had the same job, as an academic, for 12 years. I suggest that in constructing the "well adjusted" straw person you have conflated tastes and preferences associated with a certain fairly educated, slightly left leaning, possibly Wellington middle classness (dare I suggest these are tastes and preferences which Giovanni finds a bit irritating?) with the unrelated issue of how people adjust to the lack of long term job security and technological change.

stephen said...

I think you all need to know that I just busted a casually well-groomed Gio on a seat in Cuba St, with a netbook, using public WiFi for personal or perhaps work purposes.

wv: bentably,the quality of having been bent well.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I think you all need to know that I just busted a casually well-groomed Gio on a seat in Cuba St

Next time I'm going to pretend not to know you.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Gio, do you consider yourself well-adjusted? In the sense you characterize here?

No. But then see Stephen.

Gio, does this mean that the well-adjusted person is a chimera like the Woman Who Has It All? That is, a role model who lives in stock photography but has no embodiment?

To which my answer would be yes. But let’s also say that I filled the model subject with a particular set of attributes so as to cover my tracks. Some of those traits do irritate me. And yes, I believe in ideology (and that everybody has one), and that you need to be New Labour to be well-adjusted. However the straw man charge is not entirely unfair and we could probably negotiate a version that is closer to my situation, or opine that some of the things that make me maladjusted are accidents, not virtues: for instance I don’t believe you can have an autistic child in this country and be well-adjusted. You’ll always be fighting an institution or two, you’ll always be stressed, you’ll always be tired. That’s just the reality of it.

But again, this was never meant as a quiz, along the lines of is your child well-adjusted. If we were to reason in those terms, it would make more sense to ask ‘well-adjusted relative to whom’? And if that is the measure then I have given a couple of answers on this blog: professionally? Yes. Generationally? Yes.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Anyway, parts of the Fisher article are very good and parts of it give me the screaming creeps. The latter being the faithful belief that "psychic well-being" is exclusively a public matter, that we would all be well if only society was run on more enlightened lines, and that anything else is mere "self-help".

It's only a short step from there to believing that under conditions of societal enlightenment, individuals are culpable for their own un-wellness. As, indeed, has often been the official view in highly centralised and structured societies.


I take the opposite view, although to get into this properly would require a major commitment on both our parts. But briefly – and with the benefit of having worked for a year in the mental health sector in Italy and having some knowledge of the differences with the local system – one of the key effects of the revolution that led to the closure of the asylums in the 1970s back home was taking mental illness out into the public square, but also (and this is not sufficiently recognised in my view) making mental health a public good. This is enshrined to the point that for a compulsory medical treatment order to take effect a psychiatrist needs to obtain the signature of the local Mayor, who acts as a guarantor of the rights of the citizens. The thinking there is that pharmacology and coercion should be last resorts, and that it is incumbent on society and our civic institutions, as opposed to physicians and the police, to maximise the opportunities for mental well-being. If this sounds utopian, I will say that I have witnessed the benefit of the applications of that philosophy in practice (and that I have heard it being advocated in this country).

paul said...

"The well-adjusted rely on social media and mobile communication to craft and maintain their personal and professional reputation."

I view an over reliance on the above as traits of the mal adjusted personality, with such mal adjustment having evolved, with the advance of technology, to now be considered well adjusted. The invisible overarch being a disconnection from the real world.

To my mind disconnection from the real world has evolved particularly in the "professional classes". The over reliance on maintaining reputation can, I suggest, also bring one down by creating a room full of mirrors were all said professional sees is the “me”. Regard the following scenarios

Scenario A – it springs to mind that the geezer who was in charge of BP oil spill in the Gulf went sailing rather than address the massive oil spill problem – while amidst the crisis he or his co professionals may even have tweeted or blogged of the leisurely pursuit – did the photos of said geezer on the yacht come from his or an associate face book page.

Another scenario is why did it take Pike River Mine management so long to make the 111 call following the blast – what did they have to do instead of making that call.

A most incredible disconnection from the real world is the development of the emission trading/carbon tax scheme based on financial markets models is promoted as an answer to climate change, the phenomenon formerly known Global Warming.

I am waiting to see what the GETSC (Global Emission Trading Scheme Crisis) looks like – give it 7 to 10 years.

Ben Wilson said...

Gio, can I ask, now that you've had a day to reflect on it, what the point you were hoping to make with this article was? Your conclusion was totally unconnected to the rest of it. Was this deliberate, some kind of rhetorical device? Or was the rest of it an outpouring of a large bundle of views and emotions, intentionally open ended? If so, was the purpose to provoke discussion, rather than to make any particular point(s)?

You drew a picture of a stereotype, which you later claimed doesn't exist, but which was so obviously familiar that it was no surprise that Russell showed up to defend it, since it would describe about 500 people who participate at Public Address. To some extent it even describes you.

Apart from the moniker "well-adjusted", that is. Was the purpose of your article to deconstruct that *anyone* can be well-adjusted? If so, why did you pick that particular stereotype? Have they laid claim to being particularly well-adjusted? Or are they particularly likely to partake of self-help, since they are (in your stereotype) self-reliant? Or perhaps they are in actual need of help, being of insecure employment?

Or was it entirely a straw man, the building of the stereotype deliberately constructed (convenient for easy deconstruction) to show some kind of model of social oppression and objective alienation held up by *someone* as an exemplar to beat the un(der)employed over the heads with?

Or something else? I seriously was very much confused by it all - the tone was mocking all the way and when a conclusion introduces a point that has not occurred anywhere in the body, then it's not really a conclusion, it's just an ending. Is this a writing style you have deliberately chosen, or do you feel that the article waffled and you got tired of it and opted to just whack it out there?

Please don't take any of this as a suggestion you shouldn't have written it, btw. It got me thinking, that's for sure. I just want to know if you really feel you had a clear objective in it, and if so, what that was.

Giovanni Tiso said...

You drew a picture of a stereotype, which you later claimed doesn't exist, but which was so obviously familiar that it was no surprise that Russell showed up to defend it, since it would describe about 500 people who participate at Public Address.

Can I just say that the vast majority of people who read and shared this post over the last 36 hours or so would have no clue what Public Address is? So while I’m not saying this post is not about Public Address to an extent, and my personal frustrations with it, clearly it’s not what it’s all or even primarily about. And I’m sorry if Russell or anybody else thought I was accusing them of being middle class foghorns, to steal a phrase, but that wasn’t my point either. If anything, it’s closer to the game we’ve played on Public Address about the Listener a number of times – you know, does this mortgage make me look fat and so forth. Philip Matthews thought my model subject was exactly that, the target demographic of a magazine. Chris Butler surmised it might in fact describe the readers of this blog. Amanda in this thread thought I was talking about a certain brand of Wellingtonian. And the bulk of the readers have been Brits, so if the description chimed with them then how much about Public Address could this post be?

As for what the post object is, Dougal probably summed it up best. It’s about a coping fantasy. It is not any one person, although on the social networks we sometimes contrive to make it almost real. (And it is not wrong per se either, or something that somebody might feel like they have to defend. It’s a cultural response to a set of political and social conditions.)

Ben Wilson said...

I didn't say it was all about Public Address. I mentioned it because it's the obvious counterexample to your later claim that these people don't exist. Your references to many other sources show this to be even more true.

There's a huge irony in you suggesting I load up Twitter so that I can better understand you, when I'm asking you straight on your own thread. I'll have to have a coffee before I decide whether I can face opening Twitter for the first time in weeks. The stupid thing gives me the shits.

If the people you caricature are, as you suggest, a coping fantasy, how do you account for the existence of such people? They're real, you know. Only the epithet "well-adjusted" remains in dispute, and then only because it is totally vague what it means.

Giovanni Tiso said...

There's a huge irony in you suggesting I load up Twitter so that I can better understand you, when I'm asking you straight on your own thread

If there's an irony in my linking to comments that other people have made about this post to make a point, it escapes me entirely.

how do you account for the existence of such people? They're real, you know.

You keep saying they're real, I keep saying that they're not. I guess we're at an impasse.

Ben Wilson said...

The irony is that I'm asking YOU for YOUR opinion on YOUR thread, not what was said by other people on Twitter, the apparent choice of your caricatured people that you claim are a fantasy, despite apparently actually being one of them.

Furthermore, my questions were mostly about whether your delivery method was a conscious choice, something no-one but you is qualified to answer. I do not want to have that answer mediated through a medium I despise, I'm sorry. If you don't want to answer, fine. Just say so.

Giovanni Tiso said...

The irony is that I'm asking YOU for YOUR opinion on YOUR thread, not what was said by other people on Twitter,

I've given my opinion in the post and in the thread half a dozen times. I'm no longer sure what you're asking.

the apparent choice of your caricatured people that you claim are a fantasy, despite apparently actually being one of them.

How am I one of them? Huh? I've said the opposite numerous times.

Furthermore, my questions were mostly about whether your delivery method was a conscious choice, something no-one but you is qualified to answer.

Yes, the way this post was constructed is entirely deliberate. I didn't fall over it. Furthermore I explicitly spelt out in it what I was trying to do. Which is not to say I succeeded, but the post is what it is.

Ben Wilson said...

>I'm no longer sure what you're asking.

You've answered one of the questions. You consciously chose to write using the style you did. Thank you. I was honestly unsure about this one. It answers the lion's share of my first post today.

The only other question I've still got is:

>why did you pick that particular stereotype?

You spent almost all of your post building up this picture. I have to ask - You think that it's a mere coping fantasy, rather than a real demographic, full of millions of people, so whose coping fantasy is it? Why do you think this?

Giovanni Tiso said...

You spent almost all of your post building up this picture. I have to ask - You think that it's a mere coping fantasy, rather than a real demographic, full of millions of people, so whose coping fantasy is it? Why do you think this?

Because I think it’s the demographic that is most compatible with the neoliberal project: a certain type of social network savvy gadget-loving urban professional who is comfortable with some job insecurity – because of the tradeoffs – and who can effortlessly navigate the latest changes in media and technology. Liberal, because the liberals’ acquiescence to the project is far more essential (and psychologically comforting) than the conservatives’. And possessing of a refined yet unpretentious taste in things, which is great for marketing.

(One thing I neglected to mention, but is obvious enough: the well-adjusted are very comfortable with consumerism. They fucking love it. And by consuming technology, entertainment and organic or responsibly produced goods they get to be sustainable consumers – but still rampantly so. It’s beautiful really.)

(This also by way of belated response to what Amanda said: the seemingly more pointlessly satirical aspects of my portrait, the ones that are taste- or consumption-related or may seem incidental, are actually connected to the ‘employability’, not only in that they contribute to make the subject appear more sociable, a better team worker, etc., but also, circuitously, because everybody wants to hire the well-adjusted.)

On one level, this is a fantasy in that this mythical subject is grossly over-represented in the media, but what I am submitting is that in fact nobody is really like that. It’s a projection of what we think a well-adjusted person looks like. It’s who The Listener tells us we are. And sure some of us will see ourselves reflected or refracted in that image: but never completely, and always with shortcomings, manifested in various degrees of anxiety and neurosis.

Ben Wilson said...

>Because I think it’s the demographic that is most compatible with the neoliberal project

I presume you mean "compatible as an exemplar". Because you described them as left wing, and not prone to ideology, which suggests that they aren't likely to be neoliberal themselves.

But I'd have to say that the way you set it up, it would be a good exemplar for any utopian ideology. Socialists could easily identify with the outcome of people being well-adjusted and calling the shots in their own lives, whilst working in specialist roles, connected to friend and family.

That's one of the cunning things about neoliberalism, that it professes similar aims to diametrically opposed means of getting to those aims.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Because you described them as left wing, and not prone to ideology, which suggests that they aren't likely to be neoliberal themselves.

Yes, they are not neoliberal themselves. They just happen not to be opposed to neoliberalism, other than sometimes rhetorically.

Ben Wilson said...

>They just happen not to be opposed to neoliberalism, other than sometimes rhetorically.

And probably not voting for it? Which means they actually do more about it than most people, who don't even care to argue about it.

Giovanni Tiso said...

They do vote for it.

Ben Wilson said...

I'm beginning to see why you think that it's an empty set. I don't know anyone who argues against neoliberalism whilst simultaneously voting for it. But it is a secret ballot, goodness knows, maybe all socialists vote Tory too. That might explain how they stay in power.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Neoliberal != Tory. Nowhere should this be more evident than in New Zealand.

Ben Wilson said...

mmkay, but I was suggesting Socialist != Tory. I don't figure how you think your caricature votes neoliberal but speaks out against it. But then it is your caricature, you can make it do whatever you like. They could be all Exclusive Brethren, for all I can recognize them.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"I don't figure how you think your caricature votes neoliberal but speaks out against it."

You say you're against it, and then you don't advocate doing anything different. Tony Blair was a grand master of that particular art. (Until he finally stopped even trying to pretend that he was against it.)

Ben Wilson said...

What I mean is, I don't see how being a liar is part of a coping fantasy. One tends to put only good qualities on ones aspirational fantasies. Or are you now talking about actual people?

Giovanni Tiso said...

What I mean is, I don't see how being a liar is part of a coping fantasy. One tends to put only good qualities on ones aspirational fantasies.

It may just be the best available lie in the circumstances. If you’ve convinced yourself that there is no alternative to neoliberalism, then being relatively less enthusiastic about it is as good as opposing it. Which is pragmatic enough, but it doesn’t make you well-adjusted, and most people would rather think of themselves as being enlightened as opposed to somewhat un-ghoulish. So you glorify that position, make it more ethically appealing, with significant overlaps again between politics and consumption (buying organic is good for the earth, buying The Listener marks you as an inquisitive free-thinker, if you vote Labour you’re a progressive, and so forth).

Ben Wilson said...

>Which is pragmatic enough, but it doesn’t make you well-adjusted, and most people would rather think of themselves as being enlightened as opposed to somewhat un-ghoulish. So you glorify that position.

I'm a little confused still about whether you are talking about a coping fantasy or positions held by real people. Or saying they are the same thing. Who are these people, if so?

Giovanni Tiso said...

It’s not an either/or affair. If the ideal subject is a cultural response, then it is ultimately the product of people projecting certain needs through the channels that are available to them. But I imagine this mediation to be very complex, and to involve different agents in different roles. And of course it’s not as if ‘real’ subjects aren’t shaped in turn by their fantasies, or other people’s.

Amanda said...

I see... Sorry to quibble but I think your well adjusted construct is a free agent nation person http://www.amazon.com/Free-Agent-Nation-Working-Yourself/dp/0446678791

I don't think it follows that this person would be left leaning. Libertarianism and strong belief in independence & personal responsibility are the obvious psycho-social adjustment to a fragmented, precarious working life and weakened social bonds. These allow the individual to see themselves as having freely chosen the circumstances of their working lives rather than as a weak victim at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

In terms of employability I think the constructs who have the most job opportunities are personable, ski, went to the "right" schools and probably read the NBR or Metro. Same as it ever was. Scruffier Listener readers do well in policy, teaching and academia.

That said I have enjoyed bandying constructs and I get that they are not real people as such. The relationship between work and identity is fascinating. I keep thinking about Satre's waiter in Nausea. He is not really a waiter but a human being pretending to be a waiter who must transcend the social identity of waiter. But this must be harder to navigate when the social identity as well adjusted worker comprises not just the worker label but also a miscellaneous baggage of tastes and interests which together form a personal "brand" one uses for self marketing.

harvestbird said...

The Well-Adjusteds


2011

You call me and you
call me and I answer. I
answer with the baby on the breast
or when I’m sitting in the dark
beside the cot while she sleeps,
the laptop on my knees. My knees.
The cold glow of the LCD screen
spins a shimmering scroll of emails.
You have too many emails.

You call me to read aloud your emails,
to read aloud my replies.
You can’t find your emails. You can’t find
the conversation history. You say
the email never arrived. You
tell me to tell you the gist of the reply
you say is on your screen. You
haven’t got time to read the message.
You haven’t got time to do your emails.

You call me and you call me and you call me.

2002

You sleep with one hand on the mattress
and one on your phone. You say

my phone is too old and too large.
You don’t want to touch my phone. You keep

your phone close to your heart while we are
sitting on the station platform. You check it

all the time to see if your friends are
sending you messages. I am your friend,

I say. You say, you know that, but you
are still going to check your phone. Once

I send you a text message while we are
sitting on the station platform. I am beside

you but not close to your heart. The message
says hi and calls you the nickname I have

given you and which you say you do not
mind. I watch the interest in your eyes

disappear when you see the message is from me.
You say, this is just the way I am.

2009

You keep your smartphone in your breast pocket
like a modern pocket book where you
account for us all. I see you slide it in
a single motion from where it rests to the

open palm of your hand. You hold your index finger
like a pen as you enter the information. The
information flies between our phones or
down the cable through this LAN that

regulates our relationship, our antagonism.
You are cheerful and polite and you have your
smartphone always. I see you in the corner of the room
at meetings, tapping with your pen-finger while

the announcements roll out, while hope rolls up
like a worn-out carpet. People say look, he is
playing with his phone again. Sometimes my phone,
silenced for the meeting, vibrates and I

see the message is from you, your phone, your
pocket book already slid back into the tailored
recess of your shirt.

2007

You text me from the bar when the first drink
arrives and every drink thereafter till the last.
We are always together, even when you are in
your cups. You text me from the taxi or from
the bus. You tell me what stop you are at and
how many minutes between the stops. You say,
fuck Riccarton, it is still too far away from me.
You text me when you cannot sleep or when
you get up early to go to work. You text me
in the downtime on the late shift. I am never alone
because we are always together, even when
you are at work. When you move in, we look
at our battered phones, side by side beside
our bed and we miss their separation, their
flurry of words and our love on the downlow,
our love in the dive bar, our love from first drink
to last orders, please.

Giovanni Tiso said...

I don't think it follows that this person would be left leaning. Libertarianism and strong belief in independence & personal responsibility are the obvious psycho-social adjustment to a fragmented, precarious working life and weakened social bonds.

Maybe that’s what the well-adjusted look like in the United States. In New Zealand, Libertarians are a marginal group and quite frankly they are completely batty. Psychologically too I think the break to that ideology is still seen as just too uncomfortable. My scepticism towards the discourse of egalitarianism in New Zealand notwithstanding, the ideas that WB Sutch used fifty years ago as the thread on which to write a history of the country are still held strongly by many. That’s why I think that the well-adjusted need to be seen to have a well-developed social conscience.

And Megan, that was simply wonderful. Thank you so much for posting it here.

Jane Robertson said...

I started with Harvestbird's 'The Well-Adjusteds' (from facebook). I read Giovanni's 'The Well-Adjusted' and ALL the comments. I read 'The Well-Adjusted' again and then returned to 'The Well-Adjusteds'. Finally I read the Privatisation of Stress - except that it wasn't 'finally' because I then went back and scrolled over all the 'Adjusteds'.

I did all this while waiting for a pre-arranged 7.00pm phone call from a financial consultant which (so far) hasn't eventuated.

Is there a link...?

Huw said...

That was indeed a marvellous poem.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Tempted as I am to preserve lovingly hand-crafted spam... sorry Fatima.

Creon said...

... critical theory is dismissed out of hand

And so -- as portions of this thread so amply illustrate -- when the well-adjusted subject seeks to engage seriously with anyone who has actually moved beyond asinine high school empiricism, the discussion seems to resemble nothing so much as protracted explanations of the adult world to an importunate five-year-old.

I love trolls, though I tend to think they'd be better off going for a nice walk instead.

Nice work here, Mr Tiso.

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