Time is Murder

Robert Kurz

That time is money and nothing else, capitalism knew long before Karl Marx. The abstract fluid time of business management corresponds to “abstract labor,” the expenditure of “brain, nerves, and muscles” optimized for the end in itself of the valorization of money capital – all the while remaining indifferent to the content of this expenditure and to the health of the working people. The capitalist social machine also turns man into a machine. Already in the times of the economic miracle people noticed that the rhythm of working time spills over into “leisure time.” The general obsession with time has become the hallmark of a postmodern acceleration society. The philosopher Paul Virilio spoke of a “frantic standstill.” In Japan, “Karoshi,” which is sudden death due to overexertion at the sacred workplace, became the talk of the town.

The world crisis of the 3rd industrial revolution is taking performance mania to the extreme. The more mass unemployment and underemployment spread, the more unrestrained the extraction of energy from the proud occupants of the workplace became. Whether in the factories of the corporations or in the cleaning crews of the service companies, whether in the privatized postal service and railroads or even in the temples of finance capital: everywhere, one person is supposed to do what three or four did before. In the U.S. and Argentina, it was revealed that retail groups have diapers distributed to cashiers so that they don’t “steal time” from management by attempting to satisfy their elementary physical needs. A heavy workload goes hand in hand with humiliation, all in the name of the need for profit.

But the obsession with performance by no means affects only the lower ranks of the global value chains. Since it is not only about the “muscles” but also the “nerves and brains” of the human combustion engines, the “officers and NCOs” of the much-invoked society of knowledge are not exempt. When a young finance lawyer from the renowned law firm “Freshfields Bruckhaus” threw himself from the seventh floor of London’s Tate Modern museum at the beginning of 2007, it was lamented that: “The city feeds on its children.” Working 7 days of 16 hours each, the aspiring elitist had been unable to endure the “up or out” imperative, despite the prospect of a soon-to-be £1 million annual salary. At the same time, a series of suicides at Renault’s technology center became public. A leading computer scientist threw himself to his death, a highly qualified engineer drowned himself in a nearby pond, and another hanged himself in his apartment. The background is believed to be the “Renault Contrat 2009” restructuring program, which amounted to psychologically terrorizing top executives with negative evaluations in the presence of their colleagues.

Such incidents, discussed in the media in all their helplessness, are only the tip of the iceberg. Time is money, and therefore murder. We may soon see exemplary managers putting on their diapers early in the morning so that they don’t waste their valuable brain time with a superfluous trip to the toilet. Pampers and “Karoshi” for everyone, then perhaps the extreme income inequality will be easier to bear and the “upswing” can continue. The fact that mishaps and catastrophes will accumulate in the process is to be accepted, because concrete realities are no longer important in virtual capitalism anyway. For a universal culture of incineration, the duty to bravely self-immolate also applies.

 Originally published in Neues Deutschland on 04/05/2007

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