By the end of the 20th century, "self-tiredness" took precedence over neurotic anxiety, which was the dominant disease in the 19th century. (1). Today's society, imposing levels of demands that are proving increasingly unbearable for the individual, leaves the field open for new suffering.
The neurotic suffered because he was the object of a conflict between desire and the forbidden. Today's individual suffers from an impossibility of feeling up to the task, an inability to cope with ever more extreme exogenous and endogenous demands; this is the suffering of the insufficient human being. The former suffers from an overload of prohibitions; the latter suffers from an overload of possibilities.
Contemporary man is placed in the obligation, the imperious necessity, to act at all costs and more and more quickly. He must find the energy for this action, within himself, in his internal springs, because he is forced to do so by initiative, autonomy, responsibility rather than by obedience. The current social relationship is 'psychologizing', that is to say that it calls upon the personal resources of the individual. This new kind of relationship consists in establishing a relation between an "I" (subjectivity) and an Other-Ego (the relation of the two creating intersubjectivity). This relationship is established in a generalized contractualist logic that would have as its goal the realization of Self. Traditionally the individual was attributed with egoism; this is why it had to be framed. Today, he is given an empathy that could alone make society. "He is confronted with the question of what it is possible to do and not with the question of what it is permitted to do, he is less constrained by the constraint of renunciation (permitted/defended) than by the constraint of limitation (possible/impossible). »
It is clear that the Taylor and Ford models of human resource discipline in the workplace are moving away from the Taylor and Ford models of human resource discipline towards standards that encourage autonomous behaviour, including at lower levels of the hierarchy.
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Participatory management, expression groups, quality circles, etc., are new forms of exercising authority that aim to instil an entrepreneurial spirit in every employee. The modes of regulation and domination of the work force are based less on mechanical obedience than on initiative: responsibility, capacity to evolve, to form projects, motivation, flexibility, etc., are drawing up a new managerial liturgy.
The constraint imposed on the worker is no longer the man-machine of repetitive work, but the contractor of flexible work. The engineer Frederick Taylor, at the beginning of the 20th century, aimed to make a "beef man", as he put it, docile and regular; today's relationship engineers are ingenious at producing autonomy. It is less a question of subduing bodies than of mobilizing the affects and mental capacities of each employee, of leaving him or her responsible in the face of possible choices and behaviour.
There are so many possibilities in so many areas, and they must be achieved so quickly that it becomes impossible. The feeling of never being able to do enough, of not being up to the task or of not being able to carry out the action within the required time limits leads to this pathology of inadequacy, this depressive implosion described by Ehrenberg. It is true that, from the mid-1980s onwards, occupational medicine and sociological research in companies noted the new importance of anxiety, psychosomatic disorders and depression. The company is the antechamber of the nervous breakdown.
Depressive implosion is one possible expression of the inability to cope. It is accompanied by another addictive form: dependence on the emergency room. In today's emptiness and collective anguish, urgency becomes an "ersatz of meaning", as if the speed of problem solving alone could give meaning to action. (2).
The sick individual in the ER has a particular symptom: he wants to keep control. To do so, he or she must take up the challenge to succeed in everything within the time constraints given to him or her. Time becomes an object that we want to possess but which constantly escapes us. Time is the object of an impulse to hold on to it, which seems to be the hallmark of our confused society. When this possibility of control disappears, because the constraints of reality impose themselves and make the individual no longer manage, overwhelmed by time, to live up to the demands he has set for himself, he cracks. His depression appears as a pathology of insufficiency, of self-esteem. The man having wanted to be his own sovereign, finally overwhelmed by time.
(1) Alain EHRENBERG, La fatigue d'être soi, Odile Jacob, 1999
(2) Cf. Nicole Aubert, Le sens de l'urgence, in Sciences de la Société, No. 44, 1998.
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