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Why Are People Being So Nice?


Affect is the new Trauma.
—Lauren Berlant (or her “bitchy colleague”)

If affect is the process by which emotions become embodied, it’s worth asking why everyone is being so nice. “Nice”? Here’s Webster:

giving pleasure or joy: good and enjoyable
: attractive or of good quality
: kind, polite, and friendly

We don’t imagine that an always-sunny side of human nature is emerging because things are going so well; unless you are part of the so-called 1 percent, things are probably not going so well for you. (I am talking about most, but certainly not all, high-wage, highly industrialized countries.) The development of data-based, or knowledge-based, post-industrial economies (“post-Fordism”) has brought the end of stable jobs, secured by contracts, with a living wage, a future, and the promise of a reasonable pension upon retirement. (You already know this.) We work, in great numbers, for mostly low wages in the knowledge economy. Even if you are not participating in the “gig” end of it, via, e.g., Mechanical Turk, Task Rabbit, Uber, then surely you work gratis for social media, for purposes of friendship and work-related networks, and in no small part for professional self-promotion. The art world—and journalism, and who knows what other fields—has imposed a “24/7” workday on its professional workforce, and not only at the lowest levels, as I discuss below. Service work (food service, cleaning, bellhopping, and the like) and retail jobs, in addition to imposing ever-greater insecurity and uncertain work schedules on people, place them further down in the social pecking order. Being obsequious, even servile, to cadge a tip? Chatting you up like an Uber driver, to get good online “feedback” for pleasantness/niceness? Every transaction must be rated! Is such behavior really nice?

Read the full article here.