Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Willpower May Set You Free

The article at the link below discusses the problem of self-control in our modern society, in which tempations and distractions of all kinds are more plentiful than ever before. The author even suggests that our social hierarchy is organized by our differing capacities for self-control. At the top, he says, there is a "scary new self-control elite...who seem to excel at both self-restraint (the ability to resist) and its more vigorous cousin self-discipline (the ability to persist). Not only did these lords of self-discipline withstand all those boring texts in graduate school, but keep themselves thin by carefully regulating what they eat after flogging themselves off to the gym at the crack of dawn..." It's easy to see who's at the bottom of this hierarchy. Poor people are currently stereotyped as obese, lazy, sexually lax, drug-taking and beer-swilling slobs. Slothful, slatternly, slovenly and slow. That is not necessarily what they are, but it is how they are perceived. White collar workers, and others in the increasingly slighted and exploited middle class, have their own signature weaknesses. We are supposedly the ones with the paunches, the wishy-washy, willless "nice guys" who give in and quit with almost comical predictability. We inhabit TV commercials and sitcoms, prey to the slightest temptation and devoid of staying power. We have internalized this image of ourselves to the detriment of our social mobility.

At the same time, the corporations which employ us are themselves run by the "self-control elite", who impose their standards upon us. As the author says, "At the office we are expected to regulate our attire, our attitudes, and our outbursts, smile at customers, refrain from off-color remarks, remain awake despite every postprandial impulse to the contrary, and produce urine free of illegal narcotics whenever it might be demanded." The result of this excessive control upon our work lives is that, in resentment and rebellion, we turn away from the very self-control that could empower us, embracing a childish lack of restraint in our personal lives like a badge of freedom. Our refuge from the cubicle is not the workshop or the barricades, but the hammock and the couch. What we need to do instead is to create our own culture of self-control, not in compliance with our corporate masters, but in opposition to it - a sort of counter-regimentation that will give us the strength to win back control of our own destiny. The only way to prevent corporate power from doing with us whatever it wants is to resist, to fight, and that requires self-restraint and self-discipline. We can overturn the tyranny of the corporations only by becoming as tough and relentless as they are.

"Who's In Charge Here?" from The Wilson Quarterly

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