The Productivity of Shame

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By William Barron

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 4 of VARSITY News.


With Workers’ Day just a few days past, it’s worth remembering who exactly is expected to risk their lives on the front line of the fight against Covid-19, around the world. The class of workers who make up the ‘essential’ category are nurses, doctors, supermarket shelf-packers, and delivery workers. Many find themselves working suddenly high-risk jobs which they still cannot afford to lose. And the economic class most devastated by the crisis is, naturally, the poorest – many of whom are falling through the cracks in the president’s stimulus plans.


But there is nothing more annoying in a time like this than the rhetoric of ‘productivity’. This comes in the form of the capitalist nonsense on social media designed to make us all feel bad for not already being self-made millionaires.


On social media, Twitter in particular- home of the #riseandgrind propagandists- wannabe (and actual) social influencers at home brag about their quarantine activities and throw words like ‘success’ around without deep qualification. At the same time, much of pop culture seems to push us to revere the work ethic of celebrities like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. This has a toxic effect on peoples’ psyches, making us feel inadequate for not being ‘productive’ enough, as if a life has value only as far as it can be monetised. This phenomenon is peaking now when most South Africans are trapped at home with nothing to do and most workers’ incomes are falling.


This language is out there even when there is no national lockdown. It is instrumental in convincing us that the rich are rich because they work harder than the poor. It is part of a system which denies the poor of significant social welfare while telling them they don’t deserve it. We should never feel bad for taking it easy on our own time. The current lockdown represents a long and intense source of stress thereby making psychological health a massive cost of this pandemic. We have to go easy on ourselves.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.


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