Underselling The Failure To Cope

Somehow last year I managed to miss Clare Coffey’s takedown for Gawker (via Jonathan Malesic) of blaming capitalism for everything wrong in your life, which pointedly springboards off of Anne Helen Petersen’s writings on burnout.

Readers here know that I’ve sort of savaged Petersen’s writings, a post for which I’d later apologized for my tone if not my argument, because I do think there’s a recurring strain of burnout as a sort of millennial lifestyle issue and I think that overselling burnout in that fashion runs the risk of losing sight of populations at risk of chronic debilitation.

Coffey, though, while recognizing “that super-individual forces are significantly involved”, and while not wrong to criticize the idea “that constrained choices are not real choices”, nonetheless doesn’t quite seem to give to the idea that choices like “prioritize the good life over a promotion or pleasing your boss” or “leave your job and take on the risks of finding work that does not corrode your self-respect” have significant weight to them. Constrained choices might be real choices, but they are not in any way necessarily equivalent ones—or even realistic options for not insigificant portions of the population.

I’m all for giving the side-eye to complains from the comparatively privileged, but weird interjections like ridiculing the idea that a disabled person dependent upon grocery delivery might find it unreasonable to skip a day in the name of labor solidarity only (yes, I’m going to say it) serves the interests of capital to pit us against one another. While, as Coffey’s subtitle says, “the inability to do basic tasks is not always a political problem”, the inability to meet basic needs is a political problem—and if part of that disability comes from the ways in which living “under capitalism” devalues you for being sufficiently econonically unproductive, a dynamic in which demands upon you surpass your available resources, well, that’s a political problem for certain.

(Someone will say Coffey wasn’t talking about such things, but that’s exactly my point. Why bother taking Petersen to task for perhaps making too much of the personal political unless it’s to help focus light on people for whom the personal definitely is political?)

It’s purely my own anecodotal sense here, but I rather suspect that most “blame capitalism” either falls into legitimate critique of systemic faults or a sort of ironic exasperation, with little of it somehow being simultaneously blithe and serious.

There are real forms of burnout (the autistic kind included), and among them you will find causes that indeed ultimately can be traced to the ways in which extractive capital both loudly and surreptitiously conditions everything around it to discount difference and devalue the unproductive.

I’d rather we spend less time solely diminishing burnout-as-lifestyle and more time also on the ways in which burnout exists as a real phenomenon—certainly more time talking about those “super-individual forces” we cannot address solely through personal choice.

Of course every individual person has decisions large and small to make about how to buoy their own life, and their own health, and whether they value this more than that. Those choices, however, often cannot help but be salves, not solutions; we are desperately in need of solutions.