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Addicted to failure: Millennials and the neoliberal job market


Writing for the New Inquiry, Caroline Durlacher draws an interesting parallel between the self-help logic of Alcoholics Anonymous and the self-entrepreneurial logic of the neoliberal job market. She also suggests that nobody in the job market has internalized this logic more than millennials, who are too young to remember what quaint notions like job security and a “career path” were like. Read an excerpt from Durlacher’s piece, entitled "Addicted to Failure, below—or check out the whole thing here.

In a sense, Underearners Anonymous is simply an attempt to allow its followers to function under conditions of neoliberalism. Millennials have infinite possibilities for personal change. They can take up yoga, join an improv group, found a start-up and then sell it to a multinational corporation. They’re free enterprises. But in doing this, they only exercise a freedom determined by the logic of the neoliberal market. UA does not attempt to change the structure of this market by, say, guaranteeing its justice, mitigating its effects, or socializing it. It attempts to make us better capitalists. And yet the logic of the 12 steps themselves address a dialectic between personal and systemic responsibility in a way that other personal or political philosophies do not. Marx’s communism involved a self-conscious proletariat, a collective, yet unitary, self that would become the subject of the revolution. This ended in a compulsory ideology and the totalitarian will of a single party. AA, on the other hand, is sensitive to the dissonance within individuals, and to the dissonance between individuals and the larger world. “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” the second step reads. With this step, AA outsources change. The conscious self is no longer the subject of the revolution.

According to Bateson, this surrender is already the change the alcoholic seeks. This is because AA changes an individual’s relationship to change by democratizing it. If a change is to come, it will come from somewhere else. The self is no longer the hero. And yet this surrender does not absolve those looking for change — the underearner, the alcoholic, the leftist — of responsibility. If we would like a God to save us, if we would like unleash a process of change that is greater than ourselves, that represents the workings of Bateson’s “greater Mind,” the steps must be followed and the program worked. As they say in AA, “It works if you work it.”

Image via the New Inquiry.