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Workaholism and Burnout

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ll professions are conspiracies against the common folk.

George Bernard Shaw

Programmers and system administrators are not he only one who have problems with burour which can be defined as a severe case of alienation.  Outsourcing, inroduction of some stpud but fashionable technologies is rampant everywhere. Here is what physioan in the USA exprence, which is actually pretty close to feeling on IT systems administrators (  Health Care Corporate CEOs Fret About Physician Burnout....Because It Hurts Their Profits naked capitalism)

Here is what the blog post said about the causes of burnout:

The spike in reported burnout is directly attributable to loss of control over work, increased performance measurement (quality, cost, patient experience), the increasing complexity of medical care, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), and profound inefficiencies in the practice environment, all of which have altered work flows and patient interactions.

We dealt with the curious citation of inefficiencies as a cause of burnout above.

The rest of the items seem more plausible. However absent from the post is consideration of why physicians lost control over work, have been subject to performance measurement (often without good evidence that it improves performance, and particularly patients' outcomes), and have been forced to use often badly designed, poorly implemented EHRs. Particularly absent was any consideration of whether the nature or actions of large organizations, such as those led by the authors of the blog post, could have had anything to do with physician burnout.

Contrast this discusion with how we on Health Care Renewal have discussed burnout in the past. In 2012, we noted the first report on burnout by Shanefelt et al(2). At that time we observed that the already voluminous literature on burnout often did not attend to the external forces and influences on physicians that are likely to be producing burnout. Instead, burnout etc has been addressed as if it were lack of resilience, or even some sort of psychiatric disease of physicians.

In fact, we began the project that led to the establishment of Health Care Renewal because of our general perception that physician angst was worsening (in the first few years of the 21st century), and that no one was seriously addressing its causes. Our first crude qualitative research(8) suggested hypotheses that physicians' angst was due to perceived threats to their core values, and that these threats arose from the issues this blog discusses: concentration and abuse of power, leadership that is ill-informed , uncaring about or hostile to the values of health care professionals, incompetent, deceptive or dishonest, self-interested , conflicted , or outright corrupt , and governance that lacks accountability , and transparency , . We have found hundreds of cases and anecdotes supporting this viewpoint.

Here are the warning signs of burnout from MAPP- Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential:

Other more expanded list of warning signs are:

I believe that you can often somewhat loosen the grip of CF a bit. There is a classic story about the pilot who endured several years as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam. Nearly starved and frequently beaten by his captors, the pilot stunned interviewers when he said he had so much to be grateful for in the time he was held. For him, the hunger and beatings weren't the biggest problems. The hardest part of imprisonment was complete isolation in a cramped and dirty room. The pilot told about a female rat that found her way into his lonely cell. He felt blessed by her companionship and the opportunity to witness, over time, the birth and mother's care of three litters of babies. The rat was his only contact with another living being for a long time-and its presence was a gift, he said, that gave him strength and the ability to endure extreme stress and hardship.

That pilot's story exemplifies some really important concepts for dealing with stress and burnout. First you need to distinguish between things which he wanted (better conditions, more and better food, freedom) and minimum conditions that needed to survive and preserve sanity (contact with another living being).

First you need to distinguish between things which he wanted (better conditions, more and better food, freedom) and minimum conditions that needed to survive and preserve sanity (contact with another living being).

The research by Dr. Karen Ballard, a program development and evaluation specialist at the University of Arkansas' Cooperative Extension Service,  showed  that Vietnam POWs either died quickly or "they not only survived imprisonment, but, in many cases, did remarkably well when they returned home."

What distinguished the survivors? "The awareness that they had choices," Ballard says. "They may not have had a lot of choices-they may not have had very good choices. But they had the capacity to evaluate their own resources and select the best available choices for their situations. They couldn't control all of their circumstances, but they chose to control what they could."

Ballard says trying to figure out what those choices are is the first step away from the path that leads to chronic, toxic stress and burnout. She recommends an "honest" self-inventory to identify what's causing the stress. "Write it down. Think about what makes you angry, unhappy, sad-what makes you not want to go to work," she advises. "Make an exhaustive list. This is a critical step to gaining control. Work on it for days if you need to."  While the main reason is clear it is a particular control freak, modes of his attacks and circumstances under which he attack you need to be identified. "Control freak" is one of those terms for which the meaning is starting to get distorted and became a nasty little clutch:

But each control freak is different and combination of qualities that make them tick is different too. For example I saw control freak that give no attention of  time control at all but are tremendously concerned with the creating useless detailed procedures for each minor step. Some control freaks are total "gatekeepers" and isolate subordinates from all information. But some are selective and actually can encourage some outside communication. You can use those few opportunities if you are careful.

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[Apr 19, 2017] Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. Thats whats wrenching society apart George Monbiot

Notable quotes:
"... Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do. ..."
"... A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like. ..."
"... Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction. ..."
"... Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement. ..."
"... It's unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It's more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system. ..."
"... Neoliberalism expressly encourages 'atomisation'- it is all about reducing human interaction to markets. And so this is just one of the reasons that neoliberalism is such a bunk philosophy. ..."
"... You can make a reasonable case that 'Neoliberalism' expects that every interaction, including between individuals, can be reduced to a financial one. ..."
Oct 12, 2016 |

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children's mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their "beauty" settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.

Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing

Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

It is not hard to see what the evolutionary reasons for social pain might be. Survival among social mammals is greatly enhanced when they are strongly bonded with the rest of the pack. It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators, or to starve. Just as physical pain protects us from physical injury, emotional pain protects us from social injury. It drives us to reconnect. But many people find this almost impossible.

It's unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It's more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.

, RachelL , 12 Oct 2016 03:57

Well its a bit of a stretch blaming neoliberalism for creating loneliness.

Yet it seems to be the fashion today to imagine that the world we live in is new...only created just years ago. And all the suffering that we see now never existed before.

plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness never happened in the past, because everything was bright and shiny and world was good.

Regrettably history teaches us that suffering and deprivation have dogged mankind for centuries, if not tens of thousands of years. That's what we do; survive, persist...endure.

Blaming 'neoliberalism' is a bit of cop-out.

It's the human condition man, just deal with it.

, B26354 , 12 Oct 2016 03:57
Some of the connections here are a bit tenuous, to say the least, including the link to political ideology. Economic liberalism is usually accompanied with social conservatism, and vice versa. Right wing idealogues are more likely to emphasise the values of marriage and family stability, while left wing ones are more likely to favour extremes of personal freedom and reject those traditional structures that used to bind us together.
, ID236975 B26354 , 12 Oct 2016 04:15
You're a little confused there in your connections between policies, intentions and outcomes.
Nevertheless, Neoliberalism is a project that explicitly aims, and has achieved, the undermining and elimination of social networks in favour of market competition.

In practice, loosening social and legal institutions has reduced social security (in the general sense rather than simply welfare payments) and encouraged the limitation of social interaction to money based activity.

As Monbiot has noted, we are indeed lonelier.

, DoctorLiberty B26354 , 12 Oct 2016 04:18
That holds true when you're talking about demographics/voters.

Economic and social liberalism go hand in hand in the West. No matter who's in power, the establishment pushes both but will do one or the other covertly.

All powerful institutions have a vested interest in keeping us atomised and individualistic. The gangs at the top don't want competition. They're afraid of us. In particular, they're afraid of men organising into gangs. That's where this very paper comes in.

, deskandchair , 12 Oct 2016 04:00
The alienation genie was out of the bottle with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and mass migration to cities began and we abandoned living in village communities. Over the ensuing approx 250 years we abandoned geographically close relationships with extended families, especially post WW2. Underlying economic structures both capitalist and marxist dissolved relationships that we as communal primates evolved within. Then accelerate this mess with (anti-) social media the last 20 years along with economic instability and now dissolution of even the nuclear family (which couldn't work in the first place, we never evolved to live with just two parents looking after children) and here we have it: Mass mental illness. Solution? None. Just form the best type of extended community both within and outside of family, be engaged and generours with your community hope for the best.
, terraform_drone deskandchair , 12 Oct 2016 04:42
Indeed, Industrialisation of our pre-prescribed lifestyle is a huge factor. In particular, our food, it's low quality, it's 24 hour avaliability, it's cardboard box ambivalence, has caused a myriad of health problems. Industrialisation is about profit for those that own the 'production-line' & much less about the needs of the recipient.
, afinch , 12 Oct 2016 04:03

It's unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat.

Yes, although there is some question of which order things go in. A supportive social network is clearly helpful, but it's hardly a simple cause and effect. Levels of different mental health problems appear to differ widely across societies just in Europe, and it isn't particularly the case that more capitalist countries have greater incidence than less capitalist ones.

You could just as well blame atheism. Since the rise of neo-liberalism and drop in church attendance track each other pretty well, and since for all their ills churches did provide a social support group, why not blame that?

, ID236975 afinch , 12 Oct 2016 04:22
While attending a church is likely to alleviate loneliness, atheism doesn't expressly encourage limiting social interactions and selfishness. And of course, reduced church attendance isn't exactly the same as atheism.

Neoliberalism expressly encourages 'atomisation'- it is all about reducing human interaction to markets. And so this is just one of the reasons that neoliberalism is such a bunk philosophy.

, anotherspace , 12 Oct 2016 04:05
So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain?

My stab at an answer would first question the notion that we are engaging in anything. That presupposes we are making the choices. Those who set out the options are the ones that make the choices.
We are being engaged by the grotesquely privileged and the pathologically greedy in an enterprise that profits them still further. It suits the 1% very well strategically, for obvious reasons, that the 99% don't swap too many ideas with each other.

, notherspace TremblingFactHunt , 12 Oct 2016 05:46
We as individuals are offered the 'choice' of consumption as an alternative to the devastating ennui engendered by powerlessness. It's no choice at all of course, because consumption merely enriches the 1% and exacerbates our powerlessness. That was the whole point of my post.
The 'choice' to consume is never collectively exercised as you suggest. Sadly. If it was, 'we' might be able to organise ourselves into doing something about it.
, Burstcouch , 12 Oct 2016 04:09
According to Robert Putnam, as societies become more ethnically diverse they lose social capital, contributing to the type of isolation and loneliness which George describes. Doesn't sound as evil as neoliberalism I suppose. Share Facebook Twitter
, ParisHiltonCommune Burstcouch , 12 Oct 2016 07:59
Disagree. Im British but have had more foreign friends than British. The UK middle class tend to be boring insular social status obsessed drones.other nationalities have this too, but far less so Share Facebook Twitter
, Dave Powell Burstcouch , 12 Oct 2016 10:54
Multiculturalism is destroying social cohesion. Share Facebook Twitter
, ParisHiltonCommune Dave Powell , 12 Oct 2016 14:47
Well, yes, but multiculturalism is a direct result of Neoliberalism. The market rules and people are secondary. Everything must be done for business owners, and that everything means access to cheap labour.

Multiculturalism isn't the only thing destroying social cohesion, too. It was being destroyed long before the recent surges of immigrants. It was reported many times in the 1980's in communities made up of only one culture. In many ways, it is being used as the obvious distraction from all the other ways Fundamentalist Free Marketers wreck live for many.

, Rozina , 12 Oct 2016 04:09
This post perhaps ranges too widely to the point of being vague and general, and leading Monbiot to make some huge mental leaps, linking loneliness to a range of mental and physical problems without being able to explain, for example, the link between loneliness and obesity and all the steps in-between without risking derailment into a side issue.

I'd have thought what he really wants to say is that loneliness as a phenomenon in modern Western society arises out of an intent on the part of our political and social elites to divide us all into competing against one another, as individuals and as members of groups, all the better to keep us under control and prevent us from working together to claim our fair share of resources.

Go on, George, you can say that, why not?

, MSP1984 , 12 Oct 2016 04:18
Are you familiar with the term 'Laughter is the best medicine'? Well, it's true. When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins, yeah? Your stress hormones are reduced and the oxygen supply to your blood is increased, so...

I try to laugh several times a day just because... it makes you feel good! Let's try that, eh? Ohohoo... Hahaha... Just, just... Hahahaha... Come on, trust me.. you'll feel.. HahaHAhaha! O-o-o-o-a-hahahahaa... Share

, ID8701745 , 12 Oct 2016 04:19
>Neoliberalism is creating loneliness.

Has it occurred to you that the collapse in societal values has allowed 'neo-liberalism' to take hold?

, totaram ID8701745 , 12 Oct 2016 05:00
No. It has been the concentrated propaganda of the "free" press. Rupert Murdoch in particular, but many other well-funded organisations working in the background over 50 years. They are winning.
, greenwichite , 12 Oct 2016 04:20
We're fixated on a magical, abstract concept called "the economy".

Everything must be done to help "the economy", even if this means adults working through their weekends, neglecting their children, neglecting their elderly parents, eating at their desks, getting diabetes, breaking down from stress, and giving up on a family life.

Impertinent managers ban their staff from office relationships, as company policy, because the company is more important than its staff's wellbeing.

Companies hand out "free" phones that allow managers to harrass staff for work out of hours, on the understanding that they will be sidelined if thy don't respond.

And the wellbeing of "the economy" is of course far more important than whether the British people actually want to merge into a European superstate. What they want is irrelevant.

That nasty little scumbag George Osborne was the apotheosis of this ideology, but he was abetted by journalists who report any rise in GDP as "good" - no matter how it was obtained - and any "recession" to be the equivalent of a major natural disaster.

If we go on this way, the people who suffer the most will be the rich, because it will be them swinging from the lamp-posts, or cowering in gated communities that they dare not leave (Venezuela, South Africa). Those riots in London five years ago were a warning. History is littered with them.

, DiscoveredJoys greenwichite , 12 Oct 2016 05:48
You can make a reasonable case that 'Neoliberalism' expects that every interaction, including between individuals, can be reduced to a financial one. If this results in loneliness then that's certainly a downside - but the upside is that billions have been lifted out of absolute poverty worldwide by 'Neoliberalism'.

Mr Monbiot creates a compelling argument that we should end 'Neoliberalism' but he is very vague about what should replace it other than a 'different worldview'. Destruction is easy, but creation is far harder.

, concerned4democracy , 12 Oct 2016 04:28
As a retired teacher it grieves me greatly to see the way our education service has become obsessed by testing and assessment. Sadly the results are used not so much to help children learn and develop, but rather as a club to beat schools and teachers with. Pressurised schools produce pressurised children. Compare and contrast with education in Finland where young people are not formally assessed until they are 17 years old. We now assess toddlers in nursery schools.
SATs in Primary schools had children concentrating on obscure grammatical terms and usage which they will never ever use again. Pointless and counter-productive.
Gradgrind values driving out the joy of learning.
And promoting anxiety and mental health problems.
, colddebtmountain , 12 Oct 2016 04:33
It is all the things you describe, Mr Monbiot, and then some. This dystopian hell, when anything that did work is broken and all things that have never worked are lined up for a little tinkering around the edges until the camouflage is good enough to kid people it is something new. It isn't just neoliberal madness that has created this, it is selfish human nature that has made it possible, corporate fascism that has hammered it into shape. and an army of mercenaries who prefer the take home pay to morality. Crime has always paid especially when governments are the crooks exercising the law.

The value of life has long been forgotten as now the only thing that matters is how much you can be screwed for either dead or alive. And yet the Trumps, the Clintons, the Camerons, the Johnsons, the Merkels, the Mays, the news media, the banks, the whole crooked lot of them, all seem to believe there is something worth fighting for in what they have created, when painfully there is not. We need revolution and we need it to be lead by those who still believe all humanity must be humble, sincere, selfless and most of all morally sincere. Freedom, justice, and equality for all, because the alternative is nothing at all.

, excathedra , 12 Oct 2016 04:35
Ive long considered neo-liberalism as the cause of many of our problems, particularly the rise in mental health problems, alienation and loneliness.

As can be seen from many of the posts, neo-liberalism depends on, and fosters, ignorance, an inability to see things from historical and different perspectives and social and intellectual disciplines. On a sociological level how other societies are arranged throws up interesting comparisons. Scandanavian countries, which have mostly avoided neo-liberalism by and large, are happier, healthier places to live. America and eastern countries arranged around neo-liberal, market driven individualism, are unhappy places, riven with mental and physical health problems and many more social problems of violence, crime and suicide.

The worst thing is that the evidence shows it doesn't work. Not one of the privatisations in this country have worked. All have been worse than what they've replaced, all have cost more, depleted the treasury and led to massive homelessness, increased mental health problems with the inevitable financial and social costs, costs which are never acknowledged by its adherents.

Put crudely, the more " I'm alright, fuck you " attitude is fostered, the worse societies are. Empires have crashed and burned under similar attitudes.

, MereMortal , 12 Oct 2016 04:37
A fantastic article as usual from Mr Monbiot.

The people who fosted this this system onto us, are now either very old or dead.
We're living in the shadow of their revolutionary transformation of our more equitable post-war society. Hayek, Friedman, Keith Joseph, Thatcher, Greenspan and tangentially but very influentially Ayn Rand.
Although a remainer (I love the wit of the term 'Remoaner') , Brexit can be better understood in the context of the death-knell of neoliberalism.
I never understood how the collapse of world finance, resulted in a right wing resurgence in the UK and the US. The Tea Party in the US made the absurd claim that the failure of global finance was not due to markets being fallible, but because free markets had not been enforced citing Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac as their evidence and of Bill Clinton insisting on more poor and black people being given mortgages.

I have a terrible sense that it will not go quietly, there will be massive global upheavals as governments struggle deal with its collapse.

, flyboy101 , 12 Oct 2016 04:39
I have never really agreed with GM - but this article hits the nail on the head.

I think there are a number of aspects to this:

1. The internet. The being in constant contact, our lives mapped and our thoughts analysed - we can comment on anything (whether informed or total drivel) and we've been fed the lie that our opinion is is right and that it matters) Ive removed fscebook and twitter from my phone, i have never been happier

2. Rolling 24 hour news. That is obsessed with the now, and consistently squeezes very complex issues into bite sized simple dichotomies. Obsessed with results and critical in turn of everyone who fails to feed the machine

3. The increasing slicing of work into tighter and slimmer specialisms, with no holistic view of the whole, this forces a box ticking culture. "Ive stamped my stamp, my work is done" this leads to a lack of ownership of the whole. PIP assessments are an almost perfect example of this - a box ticking exercise, designed by someone who'll never have to go through it, with no flexibility to put the answers into a holistic context.

4. Our education system is designed to pass exams and not prepare for the future or the world of work - the only important aspect being the compilation of next years league tables and the schools standings. This culture is neither healthy no helpful, as students are schooled on exam technique in order to squeeze out the marks - without putting the knowledge into a meaningful and understandable narrative.

Apologiers for the long post - I normally limit myself to a trite insulting comment :) but felt more was required in this instance.

, Taxiarch flyboy101 , 12 Oct 2016 05:42
Overall, I agree with your points. Monbiot here adopts a blunderbuss approach (competitive self-interest and extreme individualism; "brutal" education, employment social security; consumerism, social media and vanity). Criticism of his hypotheses on this thread (where articualted at all) focus on the existence of solitude and lonliness prior to neo liberalism, which seems to me to be to deliberately miss his point: this was formerly a minor phenomenon, yet is now writ on an incredible scale - and it is a social phenomenon particular to those western economies whose elites have most enthusiastically embraced neo liberalism. So, when Monbiot's rhetoric rises:

"So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain?"

the answer is, of course, 'western capitalist elites'.

We stand together or we fall apart.

Hackneyed and unoriginal but still true for all that.

, flyboy101 Taxiarch , 12 Oct 2016 06:19
I think the answer is only

the answer is, of course, 'western capitalist elites'.

because of the lies that are being sold.

We all want is to: (and feel we have the right to) wear the best clothes, have the foreign holidays, own the latest tech and eat the finest foods. At the same time our rights have increased and awareness of our responsibilities have minimised. The execution of common sense and an awareness that everything that goes wrong will always be someone else fault.

We are not all special snowflakes, princesses or worthy of special treatment, but we act like self absorbed, entitled individuals. Whether thats entitled to benefits, the front of the queue or bumped into first because its our birthday!

I share Monbiots pain here. But rather than get a sense of perspective - the answer is often "More public money and counselling"

, DGIxjhLBTdhTVh7T , 12 Oct 2016 04:42
George Monbiot has struck a nerve.
They are there every day in my small town local park: people, young and old, gender and ethnically diverse, siting on benches for a couple of hours at a time.
They have at least one thing in common.
They each sit alone, isolated in their own thoughts..
But many share another bond: they usually respond to dogs, unconditional in their behaviour patterns towards humankind.
Trite as it may seem, this temporary thread of canine affection breaks the taboo of strangers
passing by on the other side.
Conversations, sometimes stilted, sometimes deeper and more meaningful, ensue as dog walkers become a brief daily healing force in a fractured world of loneliness.
It's not much credit in the bank of sociability.
But it helps.

Trite as it may seem from the outside, their interaction with the myriad pooches regularly walk

, wakeup99 DGIxjhLBTdhTVh7T , 12 Oct 2016 04:47
Do a parkrun and you get the same thing. Free and healthy.
, ParisHiltonCommune SenseCir , 12 Oct 2016 08:47
Unhealthy social interaction, yes. You can never judge what is natural to humans based on contemporary Britain. Anthropologists repeatedly find that what we think natural is merely a social construct created by the system we are subject to.

If you don't work hard, you will be a loser, don't look out of the window day dreaming you lazy slacker. Get productive, Mr Burns millions need you to work like a machine or be replaced by one.

, Sandra Hannen Gomez , 12 Oct 2016 04:46
Good article. You´re absoluately right. And the deeper casue is this: separation from God. If we don´t fight our way back to God, individually and collectively, things are going to get a lot worse. With God, loneliness doesn´t exist. I encourage anyone and everyone to start talking to Him today and invite Him into your heart and watch what starts to happen. Share Facebook Twitter
, wakeup99 Sandra Hannen Gomez , 12 Oct 2016 04:52
Religion divides not brings people together. Only when you embrace all humanity and ignore all gods will you find true happiness. The world and the people in it are far more inspiring when you contemplate the lack of any gods. The fact people do amazing things without needing the promise of heaven or the threat of hell - that is truly moving.
, TeaThoughts Sandra Hannen Gomez , 12 Oct 2016 05:23
I see what you're saying but I read 'love' instead of God. God is too religious which separates and divides ("I'm this religion and my god is better than yours" etc etc). I believe that George is right in many ways in that money is very powerful on it's impact on our behaviour (stress, lack etc) and therefore our lives. We are becoming fearful of each other and I believe the insecurity we feel plays a part in this. We have become so disconnected from ourselves and focused on battling to stay afloat. Having experienced periods of severe stress due to lack of money I couldn't even begin to think about how I felt, how happy I was, what I really wnated to do with my life. I just had to pay my landlord, pay the bills and try and put some food on my table so everything else was totally neglected. When I moved house to move in with family and wasn't expected to pay rent, though I offered, all that dissatisfaction and undealt with stuff came spilling out and I realised I'd had no time for any real safe care above the very basics and that was not a good place to be. I put myself into therapy for a while and started to look after myself and things started to change. I hope to never go back to that kind of position but things are precarious financially and the field I work in isn't well paid but it makes me very happy which I realise now is more important.
, geoffhoppy , 12 Oct 2016 04:47
Neo-liberalism has a lot to answer for in bringing misery to our lives and accelerating the demise of the planet bit I find it not guilty on this one.

The current trends as to how people perceive themselves (what you've got rather than who you are) and the increasing isolation in our cities started way before the neo-liberals.

It is getting worse though and on balance social media is making us more connected but less social. Share

, RandomName2016 , 12 Oct 2016 04:48
The way that the left keeps banging on about neoliberalism is half of what makes them such a tough sell electorally. Just about nobody knows what neoliberalism is, and literally nobody self identifies as a neoliberal. So all this moaning and wailing about neoliberalism comes across as a self absorbed, abstract and irrelevant. I expect there is the germ of an idea in there, but until the left can find away to present that idea without the baffling layer of jargon and over-analysis, they're going to remain at a disadvantage to the easy populism of the right.
, Astrogenie , 12 Oct 2016 04:49
Interesting article. We have heard so much about the size of our economy but less about our quality of life. The UK quality of life is way below the size of our economy i.e. economy size 6th largest in the world but quality of life 15th. If we were the 10th largest economy but were 10th for quality of life we would be better off than we are now in real terms. We need a radical change of political thinking to focus on quality of life rather than obsession with the size of our economy. High levels of immigration of people who don't really integrate into their local communities has fractured our country along with the widening gap between rich and poor. Governments only see people in terms of their "economic value" - hence mothers being driven out to work, children driven into daycare and the elderly driven into care homes. Britain is becoming a soulless place - even our great British comedy is on the decline.
, wakeup99 Astrogenie , 12 Oct 2016 04:56
Quality of life is far more important than GDP I agree but it is also far more important than inequality.
, MikkaWanders , 12 Oct 2016 04:49
Interesting. 'It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators....' so perhaps the species is developing its own predators to fill a vacated niche.

(Not questioning the comparison to other mammals at all as I think it is valid but you would have to consider the whole rather than cherry pick bits)

, johnny991965 , 12 Oct 2016 04:52
Generation snowflake. "I'll do myself in if you take away my tablet and mobile phone for half an hour".
They don't want to go out and meet people anymore. Nightclubs for instance, are closing because the younger generation 'don't see the point' of going out to meet people they would otherwise never meet, because they can meet people on the internet. Leave them to it and the repercussions of it.....
, johnny991965 grizzly , 12 Oct 2016 05:07
Socialism is dying on its feet in the UK, hence the Tory's 17 point lead at the mo. The lefties are clinging to whatever influence they have to sway the masses instead of the ballot box. Good riddance to them. Share Facebook Twitter
, David Ireland johnny991965 , 13 Oct 2016 12:45
17 point lead? Dying on it's feet? The neo-liberals are showing their disconnect from reality. If anything, neo-liberalism is driving a people to the left in search of a fairer and more equal society.
, justask , 12 Oct 2016 04:57
George Moniot's articles are better thought out, researched and written than the vast majority of the usual clickbait opinion pieces found on the Guardian these days. One of the last journalists, rather than liberal arts blogger vying for attention. Share Facebook Twitter
, Nada89 , 12 Oct 2016 04:57
Neoliberalism's rap sheet is long and dangerous but this toxic philosophy will continue unabated because most people can't join the dots and work out how detrimental it has proven to be for most of us.

It dangles a carrot in order to create certain economic illusions but the simple fact is neoliberal societies become more unequal the longer they persist. Share Facebook Twitter

, wakeup99 Nada89 , 12 Oct 2016 05:05
Neoliberal economies allow people to build huge global businesses very quickly and will continue to give the winners more but they also can guve everyone else more too but just at a slower rate. Socialism on the other hand mires everyone in stagnant poverty. Question is do you want to be absolutely or relatively better off. Share Facebook Twitter
, totaram wakeup99 , 12 Oct 2016 05:19
You have no idea. Do not confuse capitalism with neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a political ideology based on a mythical version of capitalism that doesn't actually exist, but is a nice way to get the deluded to vote for something that doesn't work in their interest at all. Share Facebook Twitter
, peterfieldman , 12 Oct 2016 04:57
And things will get worse as society falls apart due to globalisation, uberization, lack of respect for authority, lacks of a fair tax and justice system, crime, immorality, loss of trust of politicians and financial and corporate sectors, uncontrolled immigration bringing with it insecurity and the risk of terrorism and a dumbing down of society with increasing inequality. All this is in a new book " The World at a Crossroads" which deals with the major issues facing the planet.
, Nada89 wakeup99 , 12 Oct 2016 05:07
What, like endless war, unaffordable property, monstrous university fees, zero hours contracts and a food bank on every corner, and that's before we even get to the explosion in mental distress.
, monsieur_flaneur thedisclaimer , 12 Oct 2016 05:10
There's nothing spurious or obscure about Neoliberalism. It is simply the political ideology of the rich, which has been our uninterrupted governing ideology since Reagan and Thatcher: Privatisation, deregulation, 'liberalisation' of housing, labour, etc, trickledown / low-tax-on-the-rich economics, de-unionization. You only don't see it if you don't want to see it.
, arkley , 12 Oct 2016 05:03
I'm just thinking what is wonderful about societies that are big of social unity. And conformity.

Those societies for example where you "belong" to your family. Where teenage girls can be married off to elderly uncles to cement that belonging.

Or those societies where the belonging comes through religious centres. Where the ostracism for "deviant" behaviour like being gay or for women not submitting to their husbands can be brutal. And I'm not just talking about muslims here.

Or those societies that are big on patriotism. Yep they are usually good for mental health as the young men are given lessons in how to kill as many other men as possible efficiently.

And then I have to think how our years of "neo-liberal" governments have taken ideas of social liberalisation and enshrined them in law. It may be coincidence but thirty years after Thatcher and Reagan we are far more tolerant of homosexuality and willing to give it space to live, conversely we are far less tolerant of racism and are willing to prosecute racist violence. Feminists may still moan about equality but the position of women in society has never been better, rape inside marriage has (finally) been outlawed, sexual violence generally is no longer condoned except by a few, work opportunities have been widened and the woman's role is no longer just home and family. At least that is the case in "neo-liberal" societies, it isn't necessarily the case in other societies.

So unless you think loneliness is some weird Stockholm Syndrome thing where your sense of belonging comes from your acceptance of a stifling role in a structured soiety, then I think blaming the heightened respect for the individual that liberal societies have for loneliness is way off the mark.

What strikes me about the cases you cite above, George, is not an over-respect for the individual but another example of individuals being shoe-horned into a structure. It strikes me it is not individualism but competition that is causing the unhappiness. Competition to achieve an impossible ideal.

I fear George, that you are not approaching this with a properly open mind dedicated to investigation. I think you have your conclusion and you are going to bend the evidence to fit. That is wrong and I for one will not support that. In recent weeks and months we have had the "woe, woe and thrice woe" writings. Now we need to take a hard look at our findings. We need to take out the biases resulting from greater awareness of mental health and better and fuller diagnosis of mental health issues. We need to balance the bias resulting from the fact we really only have hard data for modern Western societies. And above all we need to scotch any bias resulting from the political worldview of the researchers.

Then the results may have some value.

, birney arkley , 12 Oct 2016 05:10
It sounded to me that he was telling us of farm labouring and factory fodder stock that if we'd 'known our place' and kept to it ,all would be well because in his ideal society there WILL be or end up having a hierarchy, its inevitable. Share Facebook Twitter
, EndaFlannel , 12 Oct 2016 05:04
Wasn't all this started by someone who said, "There is no such thing as Society"? The ultimate irony is that the ideology that championed the individual and did so much to dismantle the industrial and social fabric of the Country has resulted in a system which is almost totalitarian in its disregard for its ideological consequences. Share Facebook Twitter
, wakeup99 EndaFlannel , 12 Oct 2016 05:08
Thatcher said it in the sense that society is not abstract it is just other people so when you say society needs to change then people need to change as society is not some independent concept it is an aggregation of all us. The left mis quote this all the time and either they don't get it or they are doing on purpose. Share Facebook Twitter
, HorseCart EndaFlannel , 12 Oct 2016 05:09
No, Neoliberalism has been around since 1938.... Thatcher was only responsible for "letting it go" in Britain in 1980, but actually it was already racing ahead around the world.

Furthermore, it could easily be argued that the Beatles helped create loneliness - what do you think all those girls were screaming for? And also it could be argued that the Beatles were bringing in neoliberalism in the 1960s, via America thanks to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis etc.. Share

, billybagel wakeup99 , 12 Oct 2016 05:26
They're doing it on purpose. ""If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." -- Joseph Boebbels
, Luke O'Brien , 12 Oct 2016 05:08
Great article, although surely you could've extended the blame to capitalism has a whole?

In what, then, consists the alienation of labor? First, in the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., that it does not belong to his nature, that therefore he does not realize himself in his work, that he denies himself in it, that he does not feel at ease in it, but rather unhappy, that he does not develop any free physical or mental energy, but rather mortifies his flesh and ruins his spirit. The worker, therefore, is only himself when he does not work, and in his work he feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor, therefore, is not voluntary, but forced--forced labor. It is not the gratification of a need, but only a means to gratify needs outside itself. Its alien nature shows itself clearly by the fact that work is shunned like the plague as soon as no physical or other kind of coercion exists.

Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

, JulesBywaterLees , 12 Oct 2016 05:08
We have created a society with both flaws and highlights- and we have unwittingly allowed the economic system to extend into our lives in negative ways.

On of the things being modern brings is movement- we move away from communities, breaking friendships and losing support networks, and the support networks are the ones that allow us to cope with issues, problems and anxiety.

Isolation among the youth is disturbing, it is also un natural, perhaps it is social media, or fear of parents, or the fall in extra school activities or parents simply not having a network of friends because they have had to move for work or housing.

There is some upsides, I talk and get support from different international communities through the social media that can also be so harmful- I chat on xbox games, exchange information on green building forums, arts forums, share on youtube as well as be part of online communities that hold events in the real world.

, LordMorganofGlossop , 12 Oct 2016 05:11
Increasingly we seem to need to document our lives on social media to somehow prove we 'exist'. We seem far more narcissistic these days, which tends to create a particular type of unhappiness, or at least desire that can never be fulfilled. Maybe that's the secret of modern consumer-based capitalism. To be happy today, it probably helps to be shallow, or avoid things like Twitter and Facebook!

Eric Fromm made similar arguments to Monbiot about the psychological impact of modern capitalism (Fear of Freedom and The Sane Society) - although the Freudian element is a tad outdated. However, for all the faults of modern society, I'd rather be unhappy now than in say, Victorian England. Similarly, life in the West is preferable to the obvious alternatives.

Interestingly, the ultra conservative Adam Smith Institute yesterday decided to declare themselves 'neoliberal' as some sort of badge of honour:

, eamonmcc , 12 Oct 2016 05:15
Thanks George for commenting in such a public way on the unsayable: consume, consume, consume seems to be the order of the day in our modern world and the points you have highlighted should be part of public policy everywhere.

I'm old enough to remember when we had more time for each other; when mothers could be full-time housewives; when evenings existed (evenings now seem to be spent working or getting home from work). We are undoubtedly more materialistic, which leads to more time spent working, although our modern problems are probably not due to increasing materialism alone.

Regarding divorce and separation, I notice people in my wider circle who are very open to affairs. They seem to lack the self-discipline to concentrate on problems in their marriage and to give their full-time partner a high level of devotion. Terrible problems come up in marriages but if you are completely and unconditionally committed to your partner and your marriage then you can get through the majority of them.

, CEMKM , 12 Oct 2016 05:47
Aggressive self interest is turning in on itself. Unfortunately the powerful who have realised their 'Will to Power' are corrupted by their own inflated sense of self and thus blinded. Does this all predict a global violent revolution?
, SteB1 NeverMindTheBollocks , 12 Oct 2016 06:32

A diatribe against a vague boogieman that is at best an ill-defined catch-all of things this CIFer does not like.

An expected response from someone who persistently justifies neoliberalism through opaque and baseless attacks on those who reveal how it works. Neoliberalism is most definitely real and it has a very definite history.

However, what is most interesting is how nearly all modern politicians who peddle neoliberal doctrine or policy, refuse to use the name, or even to openly state what ideology they are in fact following.

I suppose it is just a complete coincidence that the policy so many governments are now following so closely follow known neoliberal doctrine. But of course the clever and unpleasant strategy of those like yourself is to cry conspiracy theory if this ideology, which dare not speak its name is mentioned.

Your style is tiresome. You make no specific supported criticisms again, and again. You just make false assertions and engage in unpleasant ad homs and attempted character assassination. You do not address the evidence for what George Monbiot states at all.

, heian555 , 12 Oct 2016 05:56
An excellent article. One wonders exactly what one needs to say in order to penetrate the reptilian skulls of those who run the system.

As an addition to Mr Monbiot's points, I would like to point out that it is not only competitive self-interest and extreme individualism that drives loneliness. Any system that has strict hierarchies and mechanisms of social inclusion also drives it, because such systems inhibit strongly spontaneous social interaction, in which people simply strike up conversation. Thailand has such a system. Despite her promoting herself as the land of smiles, I have found the people here to be deeply segregated and unfriendly. I have lived here for 17 years. The last time I had a satisfactory face-to-face conversation, one that went beyond saying hello to cashiers at checkout counters or conducting official business, was in 1999. I have survived by convincing myself that I have dialogues with my books; as I delve more deeply into the texts, the authors say something different to me, to which I can then respond in my mind.

, SteB1 , 12 Oct 2016 05:56

Epidemics of mental illness are crushing the minds and bodies of millions. It's time to ask where we are heading and why

I want to quote the sub headline, because "It's time to ask where we are heading and why", is the important bit. George's excellent and scathing evidence based criticism of the consequences of neoliberalism is on the nail. However, we need to ask how we got to this stage. Despite it's name neoliberalism doesn't really seem to contain any new ideas, and in some way it's more about Thatcher's beloved return to Victorian values. Most of what George Monbiot highlights encapsulatec Victorian thinking, the sort of workhouse mentality.

Whilst it's very important to understand how neoliberalism, the ideology that dare not speak it's name, derailed the general progress in the developed world. It's also necessary to understand that the roots this problem go much further back. Not merely to the start of the industrial revolution, but way beyond that. It actually began with the first civilizations when our societies were taken over by powerful rulers, and they essentially started to farm the people they ruled like cattle. On the one hand they declared themselves protector of their people, whilst ruthlessly exploiting them for their own political gain. I use the livestock farming analogy, because that explains what is going on.

To domesticate livestock, and to make them pliable and easy to work with the farmer must make himself appear to these herd animals as if they are their protector, the person who cares for them, nourishes and feeds them. They become reliant on their apparent benefactor. Except of course this is a deceitful relationship, because the farmer is just fattening them up to be eaten.

For the powerful to exploit the rest of people in society for their own benefit they had to learn how to conceal what they were really doing, and to wrap it in justifications to bamboozle the people they were exploiting for their own benefit. They did this by altering our language and inserting ideas in our culture which justified their rule, and the positions of the rest of us.

Before state religions, generally what was revered was the Earth, the natural world. It was on a personal level, and not controlled by the powerful. So the powerful needed to remove that personal meaningfulness from people's lives, and said the only thing which was really meaningful, was the religion, which of course they controlled and were usually the head of. Over generations people were indoctrinated in a completely new way of thinking, and a language manipulated so all people could see was the supposed divine right of kings to rule. Through this language people were detached from what was personally meaningful to them, and could only find meaningfulness by pleasing their rulers, and being indoctrinated in their religion.

If you control the language people use, you can control how perceive the world, and can express themselves.

By stripping language of meaningful terms which people can express themselves, and filling it full of dubious concepts such as god, the right of kings completely altered how people saw the world, how they thought. This is why over the ages, and in different forms the powerful have always attempted to have full control of our language through at first religion and their proclamations, and then eventually by them controlling our education system and the media.

The idea of language being used to control how people see the world, and how they think is of course not my idea. George Orwell's Newspeak idea explored in "1984" is very much about this.

This control of language is well known throughout history. Often conquerors would abolish languages of those they conquered. In the so called New World the colonists eventually tried to control how indigenous people thought by forcibly sending their children to boarding school, to be stripped of their culture, their native language, and to be inculcated in the language and ideas of their colonists. In Britain various attempts were made to banish the Welsh language, the native language of the Britons, before the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans took over.

However, what Orwell did not deal with properly is the origin of language style. To Orwell, and to critics of neoliberalism, the problems can be traced back to the rise of what they criticised. To a sort of mythical golden age. Except all the roots of what is being criticised can be found in the period before the invention of these doctrines. So you have to go right back to the beginning, to understand how it all began.

Neoliberalism would never have been possible without this long control of our language and ideas by the powerful. It prevents us thinking outside the box, about what the problem really is, and how it all began.

, clarissa3 SteB1 , 12 Oct 2016 06:48
All very well but you are talking about ruthlessness of western elites, mostly British, not all.

It was not like that everywhere. Take Poland for example, and around there..

New research is emerging - and I'd recommend reading of prof Frost from St Andrew's Uni - that lower classes were actually treated with respect by elites there, mainly land owners and aristocracy who more looked after them and employed and cases of such ruthlessness as you describe were unknown of.

So that 'truth' about attitudes to lower classes is not universal!

, SteB1 Borisundercoat , 12 Oct 2016 06:20

What is "neoliberalism" exactly?

It's spouted by many on here as the root of all evil.

I'd be interested to see how many different definitions I get in response...

The reason I call neoliberalism the ideology which dare not speak it's name is that in public you will rarely hear it mentioned by it's proponents. However, it was a very important part of Thatcherism, Blairism, and so on. What is most definite is that these politicians and others are most definitely following some doctrine. Their ideas about what we must do and how we must do it are arbitrary, but they make it sound as if it's the only way to do things.

If you want to learn more about neoliberalism, read a summary such as the Wikipedia page on it.

However, as I hint, the main problem in dealing with neoliberalism is that none of the proponents of this doctrine admit to what ideology they are actually following. Yet very clearly around the world leaders in many countries are clearly singing from the same hymn sheet because the policy they implement is so similar. Something has definitely changed. All the attempts to roll back welfare, benefits, and public services is most definitely new, or they wouldn't be having to reverse policy of the past if nothing had change. But as all these politicians implementing this policy all seem to refuse to explain what doctrine they are following, it makes it difficult to pin down what is happening. Yet we can most definitely say that there is a clear doctrine at work, because why else would so many political leaders around the world be trying to implement such similar policy.

, Winstons1 TerryMcBurney , 12 Oct 2016 06:24

Neo-liberalism doesn't really exist except in the minds of the far left and perhaps a few academics.

Neoliberalism is a policy model of social studies and economics that transfers control of economic factors to the private sector from the public sector. ... Neoliberal policies aim for a laissez-faire approach to economic development.

I believe the term 'Neo liberalism' was coined by those well known 'Lefties'The Chicago School .
If you don't believe that any of the above has been happening ,it does beg the question as to where you have been for the past decade.

, UnderSurveillance , 12 Oct 2016 06:12
The ironies of modern civilization - we have never been more 'connected' to other people on global level and less 'connected' on personal level.

We have never had access to such a wide range of information and opinions, but also for a long time been so divided into conflicting groups, reading and accessing in fact only that which reinforces what we already think.

, John Pelan , 12 Oct 2016 06:18
Sir Harry Burns, ex-Chief Medical Officer in Scotland talks very powerfully about the impact of loneliness and isolation on physical and mental health - here is a video of a recent talk by him -
, MightyDrunken , 12 Oct 2016 06:22
These issues have been a long time coming, just think of the appeals of the 60's to chill out and love everyone. Globalisation and neo-liberalism has simply made society even more broken.
The way these problems have been ignored and made worse over the last few decades make me think that the solution will only happen after a massive catastrophe and society has to be rebuilt. Unless we make the same mistakes again.
A shame really, you would think intelligence would be useful but it seems not.
, ParisHiltonCommune MightyDrunken , 12 Oct 2016 07:19
Contemporary Neo-liberalism is a reaction against that ideal of the 60s
, DevilMayCareIDont , 12 Oct 2016 06:25
I would argue that it creates a bubble of existence for those who pursue a path of "success" that instead turns to isolation . The amount of people that I have met who have moved to London because to them it represents the main location for everything . I get to see so many walking cliches of people trying to fit in or stand out but also fitting in just the same .

The real disconnect that software is providing us with is truly staggering . I have spoken to people from all over the World who seem to feel more at home being alone and playing a game with strangers . The ones who are most happy are those who seem to be living all aloe and the ones who try and play while a girlfriend or family are present always seemed to be the ones most agitated by them .

We are humans relying on simplistic algorithms that reduce us ,apps like Tinder which turns us into a misogynist at the click of a button .

Facebook which highlights our connections with the other people and assumes that everyone you know or have met is of the same relevance .

We also have Twitter which is the equivalent of screaming at a television when you are drunk or angry .

We have Instagram where people revel in their own isolation and send updates of it . All those products that are instantly updated and yet we are ageing and always feeling like we are grouped together by simple algorithms .

, JimGoddard , 12 Oct 2016 06:28
Television has been the main destroyer of social bonds since the 1950s and yet it is only mentioned once and in relation to the number of competitions on it, which completely misses the point. That's when I stopped taking this article seriously. Share Facebook Twitter
, GeoffP , 12 Oct 2016 06:29
Another shining example of the slow poison of capitalism. Maybe it's time at last to turn off the tap? Share Facebook Twitter
, jwestoby , 12 Oct 2016 06:30
I actually blame Marx for neoliberalism. He framed society purely in terms economic, and persuaded that ideology is valuable in as much as it is actionable.

For a dialectician he was incredibly short sighted and superficial, not realising he was creating a narrative inimical to personal expression and simple thoughtfulness (although he was warned). To be fair, he can't have appreciated how profoundly he would change the way we concieve societies.

Neoliberalism is simply the dark side of Marxism and subsumes the personal just as comprehensively as communism.

We're picked apart by quantification and live as particulars, suffering the ubiquitous consequences of connectivity alone . . .

Unless, of course, you get out there and meet great people!

, ParisHiltonCommune jwestoby , 12 Oct 2016 07:16
Marxism arose as a reaction against the harsh capitalism of its day. Of course it is connected. It is ironic how Soviet our lives have become.
, zeeeel , 12 Oct 2016 06:30
Neo-liberalism allows psychopaths to flourish, and it has been argued by Robert Hare that they are disproportionately represented in the highest echelons of society. So people who lack empathy and emotional attachment are probably weilding a significant amount of influence over the way our economy and society is organised. Is it any wonder that they advocate an economic model which is most conducive to their success? Things like job security, rigged markets, unions, and higher taxes on the rich simply get in their way.
, Drewv , 12 Oct 2016 06:30
That fine illustration by Andrzej Krauze up there is exactly what I see whenever I walk into an upscale mall or any Temple of Consumerism.

You can hear the Temple calling out: "Feel bad, atomized individuals? Have a hole inside? Feel lonely? That's all right: buy some shit you don't need and I guarantee you'll feel better."

And then it says: "So you bought it and you felt better for five minutes, and now you feel bad again? Well, that's not rocket should buy MORE shit you don't need! I mean, it's not rocket science, you should have figured this out on your own."

And then it says: "Still feel bad and you have run out of money? Well, that's okay, just get it on credit, or take out a loan, or mortgage your house. I mean, it's not rocket science. Really, you should have figured this out on your own already...I thought you were a modern, go-get-'em, independent, initiative-seizing citizen of the world?"

And then it says: "Took out too many loans, can't pay the bills and the repossession has begun? Honestly, that's not my problem. You're just a bad little consumer, and a bad little liberal, and everything is your own fault. You go sit in a dark corner now where you don't bother the other shoppers. Honestly, you're just being a burden on other consumers now. I'm not saying you should kill yourself, but I can't say that we would mind either."

And that's how the worms turn at the Temples of Consumerism and Neoliberalism.

, havetheyhearts , 12 Oct 2016 06:31
I kept my sanity by not becoming a spineless obedient middle class pleaser of a sociopathic greedy tribe pretending neoliberalism is the future.

The result is a great clarity about the game, and an intact empathy for all beings.

The middle class treated each conscious "outsider" like a lowlife,
and now they play the helpless victims of circumstances.

I know why I renounced to my privileges.
They sleepwalk into their self created disorder.
And yes, I am very angry at those who wasted decades with their social stupidity,
those who crawled back after a start of change into their petit bourgeois niche.

I knew that each therapist has to take a stand and that the most choose petty careers.
Do not expect much sanity from them for your disorientated kids.
Get insightful yourself and share your leftover love to them.
Try honesty and having guts...that might help both of you.

, Likewhatever , 12 Oct 2016 06:32
Alternatively, neo-liberalism has enabled us to afford to live alone (entire families were forced to live together for economic reasons), and technology enables us to work remotely, with no need for interaction with other people.

This may make some people feel lonely, but for many others its utopia.

, Peter1Barnet , 12 Oct 2016 06:32
Some of the things that characterise Globalisation and Neoliberalism are open borders and free movement. How can that contribute to isolation? That is more likely to be fostered by Protectionism.
And there aren't fewer jobs. Employment is at record highs here and in many other countries. There are different jobs, not fewer, and to be sure there are some demographics that have lost out. But overall there are not fewer jobs. That falls for the old "lump of labour" fallacy.
, WhigInterpretation , 12 Oct 2016 06:43
The corrosive state of mass television indoctrination sums it up: Apprentice, Big Brother, Dragon's Den. By degrees, the standard keeps lowering. It is no longer unusual for a licence funded TV programme to consist of a group of the mentally deranged competing to be the biggest asshole in the room.

Anomie is a by-product of cultural decline as much as economics.

, Pinkie123 Stephen Bell , 12 Oct 2016 07:18

What is certain, is that is most ways, life is far better now in the UK than 20, 30 or 40 years ago, by a long way!

That's debatable. Data suggests that inequality has widened massively over the last 30 years ( ) - as has social mobility ( ). Homelessness has risen substantially since 1979.

Our whole culture is more stressful. Jobs are more precarious; employment rights more stacked in favor of the employer; workforces are deunionised; leisure time is on the decrease; rents are unaffordable; a house is no longer a realistic expectation for millions of young people. Overall, citizens are more socially immobile and working harder for poorer real wages than they were in the late 70's.

As for mental health, evidence suggest that mental health problems have been on the increase over recent decades, especially among young people. The proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in ten for girls (

Unfortunately, sexual abuse has always been a feature of human societies. However there is no evidence to suggest it was any worse in the past. Then sexual abuse largely took place in institutional settings were at least it could be potentially addressed. Now much of it has migrated to the great neoliberal experiment of the internet, where child exploitation is at endemic levels and completely beyond the control of law enforcement agencies. There are now more women and children being sexually trafficked than there were slaves at the height of the slave trade. Moreover, we should not forget that Jimmy Saville was abusing prolifically right into the noughties.

My parents were both born in 1948. They say it was great. They bought a South London house for next to nothing and never had to worry about getting a job. When they did get a job it was one with rights, a promise of a generous pension, a humane workplace environment, lunch breaks and an ethos of public service. My mum says that the way women are talked about now is worse.

Sounds fine to me. That's not to say everything was great: racism was acceptable (though surely the vile views pumped out onto social media are as bad or worse than anything that existed then), homosexuality was illegal and capital punishment enforced until the 1960's. However, the fact that these things were reformed showed society was moving in the right direction. Now we are going backwards, back to 1930's levels or inequality and a reactionary, small-minded political culture fueled by loneliness, rage and misery.

, Pinkie123 Stephen Bell , 12 Oct 2016 07:28
And there is little evidence to suggest that anyone has expanded their mind with the internet. A lot of people use it to look at porn, post racist tirades on Facebook, send rape threats, distributes sexual images of partners with their permission, take endless photographs of themselves and whip up support for demagogues. In my view it would much better if people went to a library than lurked in corporate echo chambers pumping out the like of 'why dont theese imagrantz go back home and all those lezbo fems can fuckk off too ha ha megalolz ;). Seriously mind expanding stuff. Share
, Pinkie123 Pinkie123 , 12 Oct 2016 07:38
Oops ' without their permission... Share Facebook Twitter
, maldonglass , 12 Oct 2016 06:49
As a director and CEO of an organisation employing several hundred people I became aware that 40% of the staff lived alone and that the workplace was important to them not only for work but also for interacting with their colleagues socially . This was encouraged and the organisation achieved an excellent record in retaining staff at a time when recruitment was difficult. Performance levels were also extremely high . I particulalry remember with gratitude the solidarity of staff when one of our colleagues - a haemophiliac - contracted aids through an infected blood transfusion and died bravely but painfully - the staff all supported him in every way possible through his ordeal and it was a pivilege for me to work with such kind and caring people .
, oommph maldonglass , 12 Oct 2016 07:00
Indeed. Those communities are often undervalued. However, the problem is, as George says, lots of people are excluded from them.

They are also highly self-selecting (e.g. you need certain trains of inclusivity, social adeptness, empathy, communication, education etc to get the job that allows you to join that community).

Certainly I make it a priority in my life. I do create communities. I do make an effort to stand by people who live like me. I can be a leader there.

Sometimes I wish more people would be. It is a sustained, long-term effort. Share

, forkintheroad , 12 Oct 2016 06:50
'a war of everyone against themselves' - post-Hobbesian. Genius, George.
, sparclear , 12 Oct 2016 06:51
Using a word like 'loneliness' is risky insofar as nuances get lost. It can have thousand meanings, as there are of a word like 'love'.
feeling abandoned

To add to this discussion, we might consider the strongest need and conflict each of us experiences as a teenager, the need to be part of a tribe vs the the conflict inherent in recognising one's uniqueness. In a child's life from about 7 or 8 until adolescence, friends matter the most. Then the young person realises his or her difference from everyone else and has to grasp what this means.

Those of us who enjoyed a reasonably healthy upbringing will get through the peer group / individuation stage with happiness possible either way - alone or in friendship. Our parents and teachers will have fostered a pride in our own talents and our choice of where to socialise will be flexible and non-destructive.

Those of us who at some stage missed that kind of warmth and acceptance in childhood can easily stagnate. Possibly this is the most awkward of personal developmental leaps. The person neither knows nor feels comfortable with themselves, all that faces them is an abyss.
Where creative purpose and strength of spirit are lacking, other humans can instinctively sense it and some recoil from it, hardly knowing what it's about. Vulnerabilities attendant on this state include relationships holding out some kind of ersatz rescue, including those offered by superficial therapists, religions, and drugs, legal and illegal.

Experience taught that apart from the work we might do with someone deeply compassionate helping us where our parents failed, the natural world is a reliable healer. A kind of self-acceptance and individuation is possible away from human bustle. One effect of the seasons and of being outdoors amongst other life forms is to challenge us physically, into present time, where our senses start to work acutely and our observational skills get honed, becoming more vibrant than they could at any educational establishment.

This is one reason we have to look after the Earth, whether it's in a city context or a rural one. Our mental, emotional and physical health is known to be directly affected by it.

, Buster123 , 12 Oct 2016 06:55
A thoughtful article. But the rich and powerful will ignore it; their doing very well out of neo liberalism thank you. Meanwhile many of those whose lives are affected by it don't want to know - they're happy with their bigger TV screen. Which of course is what the neoliberals want, 'keep the people happy and in the dark'.
An old Roman tactic - when things weren't going too well for citizens and they were grumbling the leaders just extended the 'games'. Evidently it did the trick. Share
, worried Buster123 , 12 Oct 2016 07:32
The rich and powerful can be just as lonely as you and me. However, some of them will be lonely after having royally forked the rest of us over...and that is another thing
, Hallucinogen , 12 Oct 2016 06:59

We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.

- Fight Club
People need a tribe to feel purpose. We need conflict, it's essential for our species... psychological health improved in New York after 9/11.
, ParisHiltonCommune , 12 Oct 2016 07:01
Totally agree with the last sentences. Human civilisation is a team effort. Individual humans cant survive, our language evolved to aid cooperation.

Neo-liberalism is really only an Anglo-American project. Yet we are so indoctrinated in it, It seems natural to us, but not to hardly any other cultures.

As for those "secondary factors. Look to advertising and the loss of real jobs forcing more of us to sell services dependent on fake needs. Share

, deirdremcardle , 12 Oct 2016 07:01
Help save the Notting Hill Carnival

It's importance for social cohesion -yes inspite of the problems , can not be overestimated .Don't let the rich drive it out , people who don't understand ,or care what it's for .The poorer boroughs cannot afford it .K&C have easily 1/2billion in Capital Reserves ,so yes they must continue . Here I can assure you ,one often sees the old and lonely get a hug .If drug gangs are hitting each other or their rich boy customers with violence - that is a different matter . And yes of course if we don't do something to help boys from ethnic minorities ,with education and housing -of course it only becomes more expensive in the long run.

Boris Johnson has idiotically mouthed off about trying to mobilise people to stand outside the Russian Embassy , as if one can mobilise youth by telling them to tidy their bedroom .Because that's all it amounts to - because you have to FEEL protest and dissent . Well here at Carnival - there it is ,protest and dissent . Now listen to it . And of course it will be far easier than getting any response from sticking your tongue out at the Putin monster !
He has his bombs , just as Kensington and Chelsea have their money.
(and anyway it's only another Boris diversion ,like building some fucking stupid bridge ,instead of doing anything useful)

, Lafcadio1944 , 12 Oct 2016 07:03
"Society" or at least organized society is the enemy of corporate power. The idea of Neoliberal capitalism is to replace civil society with corporate law and rule. The same was true of the less extreme forms of capitalism. Society is the enemy of capital because it put restrictions on it and threatens its power.

When society organizes itself and makes laws to protect society from the harmful effects of capitalism, for example demands on testing drugs to be sure they are safe, this is a big expense to Pfizer, there are many examples - just now in the news banning sugary drinks. If so much as a small group of parents forming a day care co-op decide to ban coca cola from their group that is a loss of profit.

That is really what is going on, loneliness is a big part of human life, everyone feels it sometimes, under Neoliberal capitalism it is simply more exaggerated due to the out and out assault on society itself.

, Joan Cant , 12 Oct 2016 07:10
Well the prevailing Global Capitalist world view is still a combination 1. homocentric Cartesian Dualism i.e. seeing humans as most important and sod all other living beings, and seeing humans as separate from all other living beings and other humans and 2. Darwinian "survival of the fittest" seeing everything as a competition and people as "winners and losers, weak or strong with winners and the strong being most important". From these 2 combined views all kinds of "games" arise. The main one being the game of "victim, rescuer, persecutor" (Transactional Analysis). The Guardian engages in this most of the time and although I welcome the truth in this article to some degree, surprisingly, as George is environmentally friendly, it kinda still is talking as if humans are most important and as if those in control (the winners) need to change their world view to save the victims. I think the world view needs to zoom out to a perspective that recognises that everything is interdependent and that the apparent winners and the strong are as much victims of their limited world view as those who are manifesting the effects of it more obviously.
, Zombiesfan , 12 Oct 2016 07:14
Here in America, we have reached the point at which police routinely dispatch the mentally ill, while complaining that "we don't have the time for this" (N. Carolina). When a policeman refuses to kill a troubled citizen, he or she can and will be fired from his job (West Virginia). This has become not merely commonplace, but actually a part of the social function of the work of the police -- to remove from society the burden of caring for the mentally ill by killing them. In the state where I live, a state trooper shot dead a mentally ill man who was not only unarmed, but sitting on the toilet in his own home. The resulting "investigation" exculpated the trooper, of course; in fact, young people are constantly told to look up to the police.
, ianita1978 Zombiesfan , 12 Oct 2016 08:25
Sounds like the inevitable logical outcome of a society where the predator sociopathic and their scared prey are all that is allowed.
This dynamic dualistic tautology, the slavish terrorised to sleep and bullying narcissistic individual, will always join together to protect their sick worldview by pathologising anything that will threaten their hegemony of power abuse: compassion, sensitivity, moral conscience, altruism and the immediate effects of the ruthless social effacement or punishment of the same ie human suffering. Share
, Ruby4 , 12 Oct 2016 07:14
The impact of increasing alienation on individual mental health has been known about and discussed for a long time.

When looking at a way forward, the following article is interesting:

"Alienation, in all areas, has reached unprecedented heights; the social machinery for deluding consciousnesses in the interest of the ruling class has been perfected as never before. The media are loaded with upscale advertising identifying sophistication with speciousness. Television, in constant use, obliterates the concept under the image and permanently feeds a baseless credulity for events and history. Against the will of many students, school doesn't develop the highly cultivated critical capacities that a real sovereignty of the people would require. And so on. The ordinary citizen thus lives in an incredibly deceiving reality. Perhaps this explains the tremendous and persistent gap between the burgeoning of motives to struggle, and the paucity of actual combatants. The contrary would be a miracle. Thus the considerable importance of what I call the struggle for representation: at every moment, in every area, to expose the deception and bring to light, in the simplicity of form which only real theoretical penetration makes possible, the processes in which the false-appearances, real and imagined, originate, and this way, to form the vigilant consciousness, placing our image of reality back on its feet and reopening paths to action."

, ianita1978 Ruby4 , 12 Oct 2016 08:18
For the global epidemic of abusive, effacing homogenisation of human intellectual exchange and violent hyper-sexualisation of all culture, I blame the US Freudian PR guru Edward Bernays and his puritan forebears - alot. Share Facebook Twitter
, bonhee Ruby4 , 12 Oct 2016 09:03
Thanks for proving that Anomie is a far more sensible theory than Dialectical Materialistic claptrap that was used back in the 80s to terrorize the millions of serfs living under the Jack boot of Leninist Iron curtain.
, RossJames , 12 Oct 2016 07:15
There's no question - neoliberalism has been wrenching society apart. It's not as if the prime movers of this ideology were unaware of the likely outcome viz. "there is no such thing as society" (Thatcher). Actually in retrospect the whole zeitgeist from the late 70s emphasised the atomised individual separated from the whole. Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" (1976) may have been influential in creating that climate.

Anyway, the wheel has turned thank goodness. We are becoming wiser and understanding that "ecology" doesn't just refer to our relationship with the natural world but also, closer to home, our relationship with each other.

, Jayarava Attwood RossJames , 12 Oct 2016 07:37
The Communist manifesto makes the same complaint in 1848. The wheel has not turned, it is still grinding down workers after 150 years. We are none the wiser. Share Facebook Twitter
, Ben Wood RossJames , 12 Oct 2016 07:49
"The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
You can't let go and you can't hold on,
You can't go back and you can't stand still,
If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will."
R Hunter Share Facebook Twitter
, ianita1978 Ben Wood , 12 Oct 2016 08:13
And far too many good people have chosen to be the grateful dead in order to escape the brutal torture of bullying Predators.
, magicspoon3 , 12 Oct 2016 07:30
What is loneliness? I love my own company and I love walking in nature and listening to relaxation music off you tube and reading books from the library. That is all free. When I fancied a change of scene, I volunteered at my local art gallery.

Mental health issues are not all down to loneliness. Indeed, other people can be a massive stress factor, whether it is a narcissistic parent, a bullying spouse or sibling, or an unreasonable boss at work.

I'm on the internet far too much and often feel the need to detox from it and get back to a more natural life, away from technology. The 24/7 news culture and selfie obsessed society is a lot to blame for social disconnect.

The current economic climate is also to blame, if housing and job security are a problem for individuals as money worries are a huge factor of stress. The idea of not having any goal for the future can trigger depressive thoughts.

I have to say, I've been happier since I don't have such unrealistic expectations of what 'success is'. I rarely get that foreign holiday or new wardrobe of clothes and my mobile phone is archaic. The pressure that society puts on us to have all these things- and get in debt for them is not good. The obsession with economic growth at all costs is also stupid, as the numbers don't necessarily mean better wealth, health or happiness.

, dr8765 , 12 Oct 2016 07:34
Very fine article, as usual from George, until right at the end he says:

This does not require a policy response.

But it does. It requires abandonment of neoliberalism as the means used to run the world. People talk about the dangers of man made computers usurping their makers but mankind has, it seems, already allowed itself to become enslaved. This has not been achieved by physical dependence upon machines but by intellectual enslavement to an ideology.

, John Smythe , 12 Oct 2016 07:35
A very good "Opinion" by George Monbiot one of the best I have seen on this Guardian blog page.
I would add that the basic concepts of the Neoliberal New world order are fundamentally Evil, from the control of world population through supporting of strife starvation and war to financial inducements of persons in positions of power. Let us not forget the training of our younger members of our society who have been induced to a slavish love of technology. Many other areas of human life are also under attack from the Neoliberal, even the very air we breathe, and the earth we stand upon.
, Jayarava Attwood , 12 Oct 2016 07:36
The Amish have understood for 300 years that technology could have a negative effect on society and decided to limit its effects. I greatly admire their approach. Neal Stephenson's recent novel Seveneves coined the term Amistics for the practice of assessing and limiting the impact of tech. We need a Minister for Amistics in the government. Wired magazine did two features on the Amish use of telephones which are quite insightful.

The Amish Get Wired. The Amish ? 6.1.1993
look Who's talking . 1.1.1999

If we go back to 1848, we also find Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, complaining about the way that the first free-market capitalism (the original liberalism) was destroying communities and families by forcing workers to move to where the factories were being built, and by forcing women and children into (very) low paid work. 150 years later, after many generations of this, combined with the destruction of work in the North, the result is widespread mental illness. But a few people are really rich now, so that's all right, eh?

Social media is ersatz community. It's like eating grass: filling, but not nourishing.

ICYMI I had some thoughts a couple of days ago on how to deal with the mental health epidemic .

, maplegirl , 12 Oct 2016 07:38
Young people are greatly harmed by not being able to see a clear path forward in the world. For most people, our basic needs are a secure job, somewhere secure and affordable to live, and a decent social environment in terms of public services and facilities. Unfortunately, all these things are sliding further out of reach for young people in the UK, and they know this. Many already live with insecure housing where their family could have to move at a month or two's notice.

Our whole economic system needs to be built around providing these basic securities for people. Neoliberalism = insecure jobs, insecure housing and poor public services, because these are the end result of its extreme free market ideology.

, dynamicfrog , 12 Oct 2016 07:44
I agree with this 100%. Social isolation makes us unhappy. We have a false sense of what makes us unhappy - that success or wealth will enlighten or liberate us. What makes us happy is social connection. Good friendships, good relationships, being part of community that you contribute to. Go to some of the poorest countries in the world and you may meet happy people there, tell them about life in rich countries, and say that some people there are unhappy. They won't believe you. We do need to change our worldview, because misery is a real problem in many countries.
, SavannahLaMar , 12 Oct 2016 07:47
It is tempting to see the world before Thatcherism, which is what most English writers mean when they talk about neo-liberalism, as an idyll, but it simply wasn't.

The great difficulty with capitalism is that while it is in many ways an amoral doctrine, it goes hand in hand with personal freedom. Socialism is moral in its concern for the poorest, but then it places limits on personal freedom and choice. That's the price people pay for the emphasis on community, rather than the individual.

Close communities can be a bar on personal freedom and have little tolerance for people who deviate from the norm. In doing that, they can entrench loneliness.

This happened, and to some extent is still happening, in the working class communities which we typically describe as 'being destroyed by Thatcher'. It's happening in close-knit Muslim communities now.

I'm not attempting to vindicate Thatcherism, I'm just saying there's a pay-off with any model of society. George Monbiot's concerns are actually part of a long tradition - Oliver Goldsmith's Deserted Village (1770) chimes with his thinking, as does DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

, proteusblu SavannahLaMar , 12 Oct 2016 08:04
The kind of personal freedom that you say goes hand in hand with capitalism is an illusion for the majority of people. It holds up the prospect of that kind of freedom, but only a minority get access to it. For most, it is necessary to submit yourself to a form of being yoked, in terms of the daily grind which places limits on what you can then do, as the latter depends hugely on money. The idea that most people are "free" to buy the house they want, private education, etc., not to mention whether they can afford the many other things they are told will make them happy, is a very bad joke. Hunter-gatherers have more real freedom than we do. Share
, Stephen Bell SavannahLaMar , 12 Oct 2016 09:07
Well said. One person's loneliness is another's peace and quiet.
, stumpedup_32 Firstact , 12 Oct 2016 08:12
According to Wiki: 'Neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.'
, queequeg7 , 12 Oct 2016 07:54
We grow into fear - the stress of exams and their certain meanings; the lower wages, longer hours, and fewer rights at work; the certainty of debt with ever greater mortgages; the terror of benefit cuts combined with rent increases.

If we're forever afraid, we'll cling to whatever life raft presents.

It's a demeaning way to live, but it serves the Market better than having a free, reasonably paid, secure workforce, broadly educated and properly housed, with rights.

, CrazyGuy , 12 Oct 2016 07:54
Insightful analysis...

George quite rightly pinpoints the isolating effects of modern society and technology and the impact on the quality of our relationships.

The obvious question is how can we offset these trends and does the government care enough to do anything about them?

It strikes me that one of the major problems is that [young] people have been left to their own devices in terms of their consumption of messages from Social and Mass online Media - analogous to leaving your kids in front of a video in lieu of a parental care or a babysitter. In traditional society - the messages provided by Society were filtered by family contact and real peer interaction - and a clear picture of the limited value of the media was propogated by teachers and clerics. Now young and older people alike are left to make their own judgments and we cannot be surprised when they extract negative messages around body image, wealth and social expectations and social and sexual norms from these channels. It's inevitable that this will create a boundary free landscape where insecurity, self-loathing and ultimately mental illness will prosper.

I'm not a traditionalist in any way but there has to be a role for teachers and parents in mediating these messages and presenting the context for analysing what is being said in a healthy way. I think this kind of Personal Esteem and Life Skills education should be part of the core curriculum in all schools. Our continued focus on basic academic skills just does not prepare young people for the real world of judgementalism, superficiality and cliques and if anything dealing with these issues are core life skills.

We can't reverse the fact that media and modern society is changing but we can prepare people for the impact which it can have on their lives.

, school10 CrazyGuy , 12 Oct 2016 08:04
A politician's answer.
X is a problem. Someone else, in your comment it will be teachers that have to sort it out. Problems in society are not solved by having a one hour a week class on "self esteem". In fact self-esteem and self-worth comes from the things you do. Taking kids away from their academic/cultural studies reduces this.
This is a problem in society. What can society as a whole do to solve it and what are YOU prepared to contribute. Share
, David Ireland CrazyGuy , 12 Oct 2016 09:28
Rather difficult to do when their parents are Thatchers children and buy into the whole celebrity, you are what you own lifestyle too....and teachers are far too busy filling out all the paperwork that shows they've met their targets to find time to teach a person centred course on self-esteem to a class of 30 teenagers. Share Facebook Twitter
, Ian Harris , 12 Oct 2016 07:54
I think we should just continue to be selfish and self-serving, sneering and despising anyone less fortunate than ourselves, look up to and try to emulate the shallow, vacuous lifestyle of the non-entity celebrity, consume the Earth's natural resources whilst poisoning the planet and the people, destroy any non-contributing indigenous peoples and finally set off all our nuclear arsenals in a smug-faced global firework display to demonstrate our high level of intelligence and humanity. Surely, that's what we all want? Who cares? So let's just carry on with business as usual!
, BetaRayBill , 12 Oct 2016 08:01
Neoliberalism is the bastard child of globalization which in effect is Americanization. The basic premise is the individual is totally reliant on the corporate world state aided by a process of fear inducing mechanisms, pharmacology is one of the tools.
No community no creativity no free thinking. Poded sealed and cling filmed a quasi existence.
, Bluecloud , 12 Oct 2016 08:01 Contributor
Having grown up during the Thatcher years, I entirely agree that neoliberalism has divided society by promoting individual self-optimisation at the expensive of everyone else.

What's the solution? Well if neoliberalism is the root cause, we need a systematic change, which is a problem considering there is no alternative right now. We can however, get active in rebuilding communities and I am encouraged by George Monbiot's work here.

My approach is to get out and join organisations working toward system change. is a good example. Get involved.

, SemenC , 12 Oct 2016 08:09
we live in a narcissistic and ego driven world that dehumanises everyone. we have an individual and collective crisis of the soul. it is our false perception of ourselves that creates a disconnection from who we really are that causes loneliness. Share Facebook Twitter
, rolloverlove SemenC , 12 Oct 2016 11:33
I agree. This article explains why it is a perfectly normal reaction to the world we are currently living in. It goes as far as to suggest that if you do not feel depressed at the state of our world there's something wrong with you ;-) Share Facebook Twitter
, HaveYouFedTheFish , 12 Oct 2016 08:10
Surely there is a more straightforward possible explanation for increasing incidence of "unhapiness"?

Quite simply, a century of gradually increasing general living standards in the West have lifted the masses up Maslows higiene hierarchy of needs, to where the masses now have largely only the unfulfilled self esteem needs that used to be the preserve of a small, middle class minority (rather than the unfulfilled survival, security and social needs of previous generations)

If so - this is good. This is progress. We just need to get them up another rung to self fulfillment (the current concern of the flourishing upper middle classes).

, avid Ireland HaveYouFedTheFish , 12 Oct 2016 08:59
Maslow's hierarchy of needs was not about material goods. One could be poor and still fulfill all his criteria and be fully realised. You have missed the point entirely. Share Facebook Twitter
, HaveYouFedTheFish David Ireland , 12 Oct 2016 09:25
Error.... Who mentioned material goods? I think you have not so much "missed the point" as "made your own one up" .

And while agreed that you could, in theory, be poor and meet all of your needs (in fact the very point of the analysis is that money, of itself, isn't what people "need") the reality of the structure of a western capitalist society means that a certain level of affluence is almost certainly a prerequisite for meeting most of those needs simply because food and shelter at the bottom end and, say, education and training at the top end of self fulfillment all have to be purchased. Share

, HaveYouFedTheFish David Ireland , 12 Oct 2016 09:40
Also note that just because a majority of people are now so far up the heirachy does in no way negate an argument that corporations haven't also noticed this and target advertising appropriately to exploit it (and maybe we need to talk about that)

It just means that it's lazy thinking to presume we are in some way "sliding backwards" socially, rather than needing to just keep pushing through this adversity through to the summit.

I have to admit it does really stick in my craw a bit hearing millenials moan about how they may never get to *own* a really *nice* house while their grandparents are still alive who didn't even get the right to finish school and had to share a bed with their siblings.

, Loatheallpoliticians , 12 Oct 2016 08:11
I prefer the competitive self interest and individualism.

Really I do not want to be living under a collectivist state society thanks. Share Facebook Twitter

, poppetmaster Loatheallpoliticians , 12 Oct 2016 08:21
there is a civilised compromise...we just have to keep searching Share Facebook Twitter
, Pinkie123 Loatheallpoliticians , 12 Oct 2016 08:25
There is no such thing as a free-market society. Your society of 'self-interest' is really a state supported oligarchy. If you really want to live in a society where there is literally no state and a more or less open market try Somalia or a Latin American city run by drug lords - but even then there are hierarchies, state involvement, militias.

What you are arguing for is a system (for that is what it is) that demands everyone compete with one another. It is not free, or liberal, or democratic, or libertarian. It is designed to oppress, control, exploit and degrade human beings. This kind of corporatism in which everyone is supposed to serve the God of the market is, ironically, quite Stalinist. Furthermore, a society in which people are encouraged to be narrowly selfish is just plain uncivilized. Since when have sociopathy and barbarism been something to aspire to?

, LevNikolayevich , 12 Oct 2016 08:17
George, you are right, of course. The burning question, however, is not 'Is our current social set-up making us ill' (it certainly is), but 'Is there a healthier alternative?' What form of society would make us less ill? Socialism and egalatarianism, wherever they are tried, tend to lead to their own set of mental-illness-inducing problems, chiefly to do with thwarted opportunity, inability to thrive, and constraints on individual freedom. The sharing, caring society is no more the answer than the brutally individualistic one. You may argue that what is needed is a balance between the two, but that is broadly what we have already. It ain't perfect, but it's a lot better than any of the alternatives.
, David Ireland LevNikolayevich , 12 Oct 2016 08:50
We certainly do NOT at present have a balance between the two societies...Have you not read the article? Corporations and big business have far too much power and control over our lives and our Gov't. The gov't does not legislate for a real living minimum wage and expects the taxpayer to fund corporations low wage businesses. The Minimum wage and benefit payments are sucked in to ever increasing basic living costs leaving nothing for the human soul aside from more work to keep body and soul together, and all the while the underlying message being pumped at us is that we are failures if we do not have wealth and all the accoutrements that go with it....How does that create a healthy society?
, Saul Till , 12 Oct 2016 08:25
Neoliberalism. A simple word but it does a great deal of work for people like Monbiot.

The simple statistical data on quality of life differences between generations is absolutely nowhere to be found in this article, nor are self-reported findings on whether people today are happier, just as happy or less happy than people thirty years ago. In reality quality of life and happiness indices have generally been increasing ever since they were introduced.
It's more difficult to know if things like suicide, depression and mental illness are actually increasing or whether it's more to do with the fact that the number of people who are prepared to report them is increasing: at least some of the rise in their numbers will be down to greater awareness of said mental illness, government campaigns and a decline in associated social stigma.

Either way, what evidence there is here isn't even sufficient to establish that we are going through some vast mental health crisis in the first place, never mind that said crisis is inextricably bound up with 'neoliberalism'.

Furthermore, I'm inherently suspicious of articles that manage to connect every modern ill to the author's own political bugbear, especially if they cherry-pick statistical findings to support their point. I'd be just as, if not more, suspicious if it was a conservative author trying to link the same ills to the decline in Christianity or similar. In fact, this article reminds me very much of the sweeping claims made by right-wingers about the allegedly destructive effects of secularism/atheism/homosexuality/video games/South Park/The Great British Bake Off/etc...

If you're an author and you have a pet theory, and upon researching an article you believe you see a pattern in the evidence that points towards further confirmation of that theory, then you should step back and think about whether said pattern is just a bit too psychologically convenient and ideologically simple to be true. This is why people like Steven Pinker - properly rigorous, scientifically versed writer-researchers - do the work they do in systematically sifting through the sociological and historical data: because your mind is often actively trying to convince you to believe that neoliberalism causes suicide and depression, or, if you're a similarly intellectually lazy right-winger, homosexuality leads to gang violence and the flooding of(bafflingly, overwhelmingly heterosexual) parts of America.

I see no sign that Monbiot is interested in testing his belief in his central claim and as a result this article is essentially worthless except as an example of a certain kind of political rhetoric.

, Rapport , 12 Oct 2016 08:38

social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat .... Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people.

Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day:

it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%

Why don't we explore some of the benefits?..

Following the long list of some the diseases, loneliness can inflict on individuals, there must be a surge in demand for all sort of medications; anti-depressants must be topping the list. There is a host many other anti-stress treatments available of which Big Pharma must be carving the lion's share.

Examine the micro-economic impact immediately following a split or divorce. There is an instant doubling on the demand for accommodation, instant doubling on the demand for electrical and household items among many other products and services.

But the icing on the cake and what is really most critical for Neolibralism must be this:

With the morale barometer hitting the bottom, people will be less likely to think of a better future, and therefore, less likely to protest. In fact, there is nothing left worth protecting.

Your freedom has been curtailed. Your rights are evaporating in front of your eyes. And Best of all, from the authorities' perspective, there is no relationship to defend and there is no family to protect. If you have a job, you want to keep, you must prove your worthiness every day to 'a company'.

[Apr 06, 2017] Alienation in neoliberal healthcare system

Notable quotes:
"... The spike in reported burnout is directly attributable to loss of control over work, increased performance measurement (quality, cost, patient experience), the increasing complexity of medical care, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), and profound inefficiencies in the practice environment, all of which have altered work flows and patient interactions. ..."
"... The rest of the items seem more plausible. However absent from the post is consideration of why physicians lost control over work, have been subject to performance measurement (often without good evidence that it improves performance, and particularly patients' outcomes), and have been forced to use often badly designed, poorly implemented EHRs ..."
"... In fact, we began the project that led to the establishment of Health Care Renewal because of our general perception that physician angst was worsening (in the first few years of the 21st century), and that no one was seriously addressing its causes. Our first crude qualitative research(8) suggested hypotheses that physicians' angst was due to perceived threats to their core values, and that these threats arose from the issues this blog discusses: concentration and abuse of power, leadership that is ill-informed , uncaring about or hostile to the values of health care professionals, incompetent, deceptive or dishonest, self-interested , conflicted , or outright corrupt , and governance that lacks accountability , and transparency . ..."
"... We have found hundreds of cases and anecdotes supporting this viewpoint. ..."
"... However, the biggest cause of physicians' loss of control over work may be the rising power of large health care organizations, in particular the large hospital systems that now increasingly employ physicians, turning them into corporate physicians . ..."
"... We have also frequently posted about what we have called generic management , the manager's coup d'etat , and mission-hostile management. Managerialism wraps these concepts up into a single package. The idea is that all organizations, including health care organizations, ought to be run people with generic management training and background, not necessarily by people with specific backgrounds or training in the organizations' areas of operation. Thus, for example, hospitals ought to be run by MBAs, not doctors, nurses, or public health experts. Furthermore, all organizations ought to be run according to the same basic principles of business management. These principles in turn ought to be based on current neoliberal dogma , with the prime directive that short-term revenue is the primary goal. ..."
Apr 06, 2017 |

Here is what the blog post said about the causes of burnout:

The spike in reported burnout is directly attributable to loss of control over work, increased performance measurement (quality, cost, patient experience), the increasing complexity of medical care, the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), and profound inefficiencies in the practice environment, all of which have altered work flows and patient interactions.

We dealt with the curious citation of inefficiencies as a cause of burnout above.

The rest of the items seem more plausible. However absent from the post is consideration of why physicians lost control over work, have been subject to performance measurement (often without good evidence that it improves performance, and particularly patients' outcomes), and have been forced to use often badly designed, poorly implemented EHRs . Particularly absent was any consideration of whether the nature or actions of large organizations, such as those led by the authors of the blog post, could have had anything to do with physician burnout.

Contrast this discussion with how we on Health Care Renewal have discussed burnout in the past. In 2012, we noted the first report on burnout by Shanefelt et al(2). At that time we observed that the already voluminous literature on burnout often did not attend to the external forces and influences on physicians that are likely to be producing burnout. Instead, burnout etc has been addressed as if it were lack of resilience, or even some sort of psychiatric disease of physicians.

In fact, we began the project that led to the establishment of Health Care Renewal because of our general perception that physician angst was worsening (in the first few years of the 21st century), and that no one was seriously addressing its causes. Our first crude qualitative research(8) suggested hypotheses that physicians' angst was due to perceived threats to their core values, and that these threats arose from the issues this blog discusses: concentration and abuse of power, leadership that is ill-informed , uncaring about or hostile to the values of health care professionals, incompetent, deceptive or dishonest, self-interested , conflicted , or outright corrupt , and governance that lacks accountability , and transparency .

We have found hundreds of cases and anecdotes supporting this viewpoint.

... ... ...

Finally, the Health Affairs post mention of "loss of control over work" deserves special attention. It could represent a catch-all of more "system factors" as noted above. However, the biggest cause of physicians' loss of control over work may be the rising power of large health care organizations, in particular the large hospital systems that now increasingly employ physicians, turning them into corporate physicians .

In the US, home of the most commercialized health care system among developed countries, physicians increasingly practice as employees of large organizations, usually hospitals and hospital systems, sometimes for-profit corporations. The leaders of such systems meanwhile are now often generic managers , people trained as managers without specific training or experience in medicine or health care, and " managerialists " who apply generic management theory and dogma to medicine and health care just as it might be applied to building widgets or selling soap.

We have also frequently posted about what we have called generic management , the manager's coup d'etat , and mission-hostile management. Managerialism wraps these concepts up into a single package. The idea is that all organizations, including health care organizations, ought to be run people with generic management training and background, not necessarily by people with specific backgrounds or training in the organizations' areas of operation. Thus, for example, hospitals ought to be run by MBAs, not doctors, nurses, or public health experts. Furthermore, all organizations ought to be run according to the same basic principles of business management. These principles in turn ought to be based on current neoliberal dogma , with the prime directive that short-term revenue is the primary goal.

... ... ...


I am glad that physician burnout is getting less anechoic. However, in my humble opinion, the last thing physicians at risk of or suffering burnout need is a top down diktat from CEOs of large health care organizations. The CEOs who wrote the Health Affairs post not have any personal responsibility for any physicians' burnout. However, the transformation of medical practice by the influence of large health care organizations run by the authors' fellow CEOs, particularly huge hospital systems, often resulting in physicians practicing as hired employees of such corporations likely is a major cause of burnout. If the leaders of such large organizations really want to reduce burnout, they should first listen to their own physicians. But this might lead them to realize that reducing burnout might require them to divest themselves of considerable authority, power, and hence remuneration. True health care reform in this sphere will require the breakup of concentrations of power, and the transformation of leadership to make it well-informed, supportive of and willing to be accountable for the health care mission, honest and unconflicted.

Physicians need to join up with other health care professionals and concerned member of the public to push for such reform, which may seem radical in our current era. Such reform may be made more difficult because it clearly would threaten the financial status of some people who have gotten very rich from the status quo, and can use their wealth and power to resist reform.

[Jan 20, 2017] Loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning

Notable quotes:
"... At the dawning of the Cold War, a worried Arthur Schlesinger Jr. looked out on a bleak horizon. The Soviet Union was a threat, but Schlesinger concluded that the roots of the crisis ran much deeper. "Our lives are empty of belief," he wrote in his 1949 book, The Vital Center. "They are lives of quiet desperation." ..."
"... So too would the concerns he dwelled upon: loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning. Even the poem he selected for his book's epigraph became a touchstone in the turbulent years to come: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." ..."
"... "loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning. " That's called alienation. ..."
"... The American sociologist C. Wright Mills conducted a major study of alienation in modern society with White Collar in 1951, describing how modern consumption-capitalism has shaped a society where you have to sell your personality in addition to your work. Melvin Seeman was part of a surge in alienation research during the mid-20th century when he published his paper, "On the Meaning of Alienation", in 1959 (Senekal, 2010b: 7-8). Seeman used the insights of Marx, Emile Durkheim and others to construct what is often considered a model to recognize the five prominent features of alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement (Seeman, 1959).[19] Seeman later added a sixth element (cultural estrangement), although this element does not feature prominently in later discussions of his work. ..."
Jan 20, 2017 |
Peter K. : , January 19, 2017 at 01:19 PM

Dead Center

Jonathan Chait's new book shows the failure of "grown up" liberalism.


January 10, 2017

At the dawning of the Cold War, a worried Arthur Schlesinger Jr. looked out on a bleak horizon. The Soviet Union was a threat, but Schlesinger concluded that the roots of the crisis ran much deeper. "Our lives are empty of belief," he wrote in his 1949 book, The Vital Center. "They are lives of quiet desperation." Figures he looked to for guidance-Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus-would become staples in the rhetoric of student protesters a generation later.

So too would the concerns he dwelled upon: loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning. Even the poem he selected for his book's epigraph became a touchstone in the turbulent years to come: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."


Any book published in the last month of a president's tenure is forced to reckon with the political scene that will form in his wake. While Chait was prescient on Trumpism in 2012, he underestimated its force in 2016, and was similarly blindsided by the success of Bernie Sanders's campaign. According to Chait, "The case for democratic, pluralistic, incremental, market-friendly governance rooted in empiricism-i.e., liberalism-has never been stronger than now." It is an odd claim to make in a season of populist upheavals. As the most bloodless technocrat should have long ago recognized, no policy achievement is complete without political legitimacy.

Deference to the status quo has always been a consequence of vital centrism. So is a propensity for self-important monologues on pragmatism. Schlesinger described his politics as "less gratifying perhaps than the emotional orgasm of passing resolutions against Franco, monopoly, or sin, but probably more likely to bring about actual results." But sentimental realists are never more utopian than when they try to banish idealism from politics. Democratic leadership does not consist of lecturing voters on what they should want. The intersection of politics and policy, briefing books and ideology, is where transformative candidates stake their claims.

Obama understood that in 2008, and it made him president. The passions inspired by his first run for the White House long ago slipped out of his control. A right-wing version of that democratic spirit gave Trump the presidency, but it could not have happened without Clinton's antiseptic liberalism-Obamaism minus Obama. Now Republicans are poised to eviscerate the achievements Chait celebrates. Reality has broken the realists.

Peter K. -> Peter K.... , January 19, 2017 at 01:19 PM
" But sentimental realists are never more utopian than when they try to banish idealism from politics."
libezkova -> Peter K.... , January 19, 2017 at 06:38 PM
"loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning. " That's called alienation.

...German sociologists Georg Simmel and Ferdinand Tönnies wrote critical works on individualization and urbanization. Simmel's The Philosophy of Money describes how relationships become more and more mediated by money. Tönnies' Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Community and Society) is about the loss of primary relationships such as familial bonds in favour of goal-oriented, secondary relationships. This idea of alienation can be observed in some other contexts, although the term may not be as frequently used. In the context of an individual's relationships within society, alienation can mean the unresponsiveness of society as a whole to the individuality of each member of the society. When collective decisions are made, it is usually impossible for the unique needs of each person to be taken into account.

The American sociologist C. Wright Mills conducted a major study of alienation in modern society with White Collar in 1951, describing how modern consumption-capitalism has shaped a society where you have to sell your personality in addition to your work. Melvin Seeman was part of a surge in alienation research during the mid-20th century when he published his paper, "On the Meaning of Alienation", in 1959 (Senekal, 2010b: 7-8). Seeman used the insights of Marx, Emile Durkheim and others to construct what is often considered a model to recognize the five prominent features of alienation: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement (Seeman, 1959).[19] Seeman later added a sixth element (cultural estrangement), although this element does not feature prominently in later discussions of his work.

[Jan 18, 2017] Open offices are a real nightmare to work in IMO.

Notable quotes:
"... Open offices are a real nightmare to work in IMO. ..."
"... So that management can spy on employees (which is ironic because studies show that people are more productive when they think people are not looking at them) ..."
"... What about the phone yakkers? I've been in the cubes, and some of the folks had quite a hearty style on the phone, being in sales or service type positions. Fine people, no animosity with them but loud continuous phone calling distracting. And it was their job, after all! ..."
Jan 18, 2017 |
Altandmain , January 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

On that BBC article, it's no surprise about open offices. Open offices are a real nightmare to work in IMO.

Study after study shows that open offices are terrible.

1. High worker anxiety
2. Easier to spread illnesses (so higher sick leaves)
3. Distractions (hard to focus with noises)
4. They communicate the idea of lack of trust
5. Those who get closed offices are resented
6. Terrible for introverts

They are terrible for that reason.

Regarding open offices, the reason why management likes them is because:

1. Save real estate costs
2. So that management can spy on employees (which is ironic because studies show that people are more productive when they think people are not looking at them)
3. Management needless to say can retreat to privacy where needed

This is a trend that needs to be killed with fire IMO, but won't die because management is frankly, more interested in domineering than productivity.

Jay M , January 15, 2017 at 2:04 pm

What about the phone yakkers? I've been in the cubes, and some of the folks had quite a hearty style on the phone, being in sales or service type positions. Fine people, no animosity with them but loud continuous phone calling distracting. And it was their job, after all!


Notable quotes:
"... "The social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force", wrote Marx, appears to people "not as their own united power but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and end of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control." ..."
"... This leads to the sort of alienation which Marx described. This is summed up by respondents to a You Gov survey (pdf) cited by Earle, Moran and Ward-Perkins, who said; "Economics is out of my hands so there is no point discussing it." ..."
Jan 05, 2017 |
Peter K. : January 05, 2017 at 08:05 AM , 2017 at 08:05 AM

January 05, 2017


by Chris Dillow

"The social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force", wrote Marx, appears to people "not as their own united power but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and end of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control."

I was reminded of this by a fine passage in The Econocracy in which the authors show that "the economy" in the sense we now know it is a relatively recent invention and that economists claim to be experts capable of understanding this alien force:

As increasing areas of political and social life are colonized by economic language and logic, the vast majority of citizens face the struggle of making informed democratic choices in a language they have never been taught. (p19)

This leads to the sort of alienation which Marx described. This is summed up by respondents to a You Gov survey (pdf) cited by Earle, Moran and Ward-Perkins, who said; "Economics is out of my hands so there is no point discussing it."

In one important sense such an attitude is absurd. Every time you decide what to buy, or how much to save, or what job to do or how long to work, economics is in your hands and you are making an economic decision.

This suggests to me two different conceptions of what economics is. In one conception – that of Earle, Moran and Ward-Perkins – economists claim to be a priestly elite who understand "the economy". As Alasdair MacIntyre said, such a claim functions as a demand for power and wealth:

Civil servants and managers alike [he might have added economists-CD] justify themselves and their claims to authority, power and money by invoking their own competence as scientific managers (After Virtue, p 86).

There is, though, a second conception of what economists should do. Rather than exploit alienation for their own advantage, we should help people mitigate it. This consists of three different tasks:

The difference between these two conceptions has been highlighted, inadvertently, by Jeremy Warner. He says economists have had a "terrible year" because their warnings of a Brexit shock were wrong. Maybe, maybe not. But this allegation only applies to economists as priests. In our second conception, economists have had a good year. For example, most actively managed UK equity unit trusts have under-performed trackers, which supports our longstanding advice in favor of passive management.

I should stress here that the distinction between economists as priests and economists as dentists is separate from the heterodox-orthodox distinction. Orthodox economics, when properly used, can both serve a radical function and help inform everyday decisions.

You might object here that my distinction is an idiosyncratic one. Certainly, economists as dentists earn less than economists as priests: I know as I've done both. But there are reasons for that, which have little to do with economists' social utility.

* OK, I do it sometimes – but only to keep my editor happy.

[May 28, 2015] 5 reasons why you shouldn’t work too hard

The Washington Post

Forget Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia spinning in a blur with her leg impossibly held straight up against her ear. The sight of skier Bode Miller collapsing with emotion at the end of a race dedicated to his brother while NBC cameras lingered uncomfortably on the long shot. Or even jubilant Noelle Pikus-Pace climbing into the stands to race into her family’s arms after her silver medal finish in the Skeleton.

The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.

“Why do we work so hard? For stuff?” actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. “Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. “Off,” he says again, to reinforce the point.

“Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t WE like that?”

The first time the commercial aired during the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, the slight pause after those two questions made me hopeful. I sat up to listen closely.

Was he about to say – we should be more like that? Because Americans work among the most hours of any advanced country in the world, save South Korea and Japan, where they’ve had to invent a word for dying at your desk. (Karoshi. Death from Overwork.) We also work among the most extreme hours, at 50 or more per week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American works about one month more a year than in 1976.

Was he going to say that we Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of “work-and-spend” – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all?

Would he talk about how we Americans, alone among the advanced economies, whose athletes are competing between the incessant commercials with such athleticism and grace, have no national vacation policy. (So sacrosanct is time off in some countries that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2012 that workers who get sick on vacation are entitled to take more time off “to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.”).

American leisure? Don’t let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They’re becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.

Americans don’t have two “nurture days” per child until age 8, as Denmark does. No year-long paid parental leaves for mothers and fathers, as in Iceland. Nor a national three-month sabbatical policy, which Belgium has.

Instead of taking the entire month of August off, the most employers voluntarily grant us American workers tends to be two weeks. One in four workers gets no paid vacation or holidays at all, one study found. And, in a telling annual report called the “Vacation Deprivation” study, travel company Expedia figures that Americans didn’t even USE 577 million of those measly vacation days at all last year.

Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013

So as I watched the Cadillac commercial, hanging onto that rich white guy’s pause, I was hoping he’d make a pitch to bring some sanity to American workaholic culture. It wouldn’t have been a first for the auto industry. Henry Ford outraged his fellow industrialists when he cut his workers’ hours to 40 a week. (Standards in some industries at the time were for 12-hour workdays, 7 days a week.) Ford did so because his internal research showed 40 hours was as far as you could push manual laborers in a week before they got stupid and began making costly mistakes. He also wanted his workers to have the leisure time to buy and use his cars.

The rich guy takes a breath and smirks. We work so much “Because we’re crazy, driven hard-working believers, that’s why.”

Bill Gates. The Wright Brothers. Were they crazy? He asks. We went to the moon and, you know what we got? Bored, he says.

“You work hard. You create your own luck. And you’ve gotta believe anything is possible.” Fair enough. “As for all the stuff?” he says as he knowingly unplugs his luxury electric car, “that’s the upside of only taking TWO weeks off in August, n’est ce pas?”

Speed Kills -- Fast is never fast enough By Mark C. Taylor

October 20, 2014 | The Chronicle of Higher Education | Comments (59)

"Sleeker. Faster. More Intuitive" (The New York Times); "Welcome to a world where speed is everything" (Verizon FiOS); "Speed is God, and time is the devil" (chief of Hitachi’s portable-computer division). In "real" time, life speeds up until time itself seems to disappear—fast is never fast enough, everything has to be done now, instantly. To pause, delay, stop, slow down is to miss an opportunity and to give an edge to a competitor. Speed has become the measure of success—faster chips, faster computers, faster networks, faster connectivity, faster news, faster communications, faster transactions, faster deals, faster delivery, faster product cycles, faster brains, faster kids. Why are we so obsessed with speed, and why can’t we break its spell?

The cult of speed is a modern phenomenon. In "The Futurist Manifesto" in 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marionetti declared, "We say that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed." The worship of speed reflected and promoted a profound shift in cultural values that occurred with the advent of modernity and modernization. With the emergence of industrial capitalism, the primary values governing life became work, efficiency, utility, productivity, and competition. When Frederick Winslow Taylor took his stopwatch to the factory floor in the early 20th century to increase workers’ efficiency, he began a high-speed culture of surveillance so memorably depicted in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Then, as now, efficiency was measured by the maximization of rapid production through the programming of human behavior.

With the transition from mechanical to electronic technologies, speed increased significantly. The invention of the telegraph, telephone, and stock ticker liberated communication from the strictures imposed by the physical means of conveyance. Previously, messages could be sent no faster than people, horses, trains, or ships could move. By contrast, immaterial words, sounds, information, and images could be transmitted across great distances at very high speed. During the latter half of the 19th century, railway and shipping companies established transportation networks that became the backbone of national and international information networks. When the trans-Atlantic cable (1858) and transcontinental railroad (1869) were completed, the foundation for the physical infrastructure of today’s digital networks was in place.

Fast-forward 100 years. During the latter half of the 20th century, information, communications, and networking technologies expanded rapidly, and transmission speed increased exponentially. But more than data and information were moving faster. Moore’s Law, according to which the speed of computer chips doubles every two years, now seems to apply to life itself. Plugged in 24/7/365, we are constantly struggling to keep up but are always falling further behind. The faster we go, the less time we seem to have. As our lives speed up, stress increases, and anxiety trickles down from managers to workers, and parents to children.

There is a profound irony in these developments. With the emergence of personal computers and other digital devices in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many analysts predicted a new age in which people would be drawn together in a "global village," where they would be freed from many of the burdens of work and would have ample leisure time to pursue their interests. That was not merely the dream of misty-eyed idealists but was also the prognosis of sober scientists and policy makers. In 1956, Richard Nixon predicted a four-day workweek, and almost a decade later a Senate subcommittee heard expert testimony that by 2000, Americans would be working only 14 hours a week.

Obviously, things have not turned out that way. Contrary to expectation, the technologies that were supposed to liberate us now enslave us, networks that were supposed to unite us now divide us, and technologies that were supposed to save time leave us no time for ourselves. Henry Ford’s adoption of the policy of eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, eight hours of rest seems a quaint memory of a bygone era. For individuals as well as societies, these developments reflect a significant change in the value and social status of leisure. During the era Thorstein Veblen so vividly described in The Theory of the Leisure Class, social status was measured by how little a person worked; today it is often measured by how much a person works. If you are not constantly connected, you are unimportant; if you willingly unplug to recuperate, play, or even do nothing, you become an expendable slacker.

Nowhere is the impact of speed more evident than in the world of finance. Since the 1960s, information, media, and communications technologies have given rise to a new form of capitalism. Financial capitalism involves a fundamental change in the way economic value is calculated: not by determining the relation of monetary and financial signs to real commodities, products, or assets like inventory, a factory, or real estate, but rather by their relationship to other financial signs like currencies, options, futures, derivatives, swaps, collateralized mortgage obligations, bitcoins, and countless other so-called financial innovations.

With the advent of Big Data and high-speed computers and networks, where more than 70 percent of the trades are algorithmically executed in nanoseconds, financial markets no longer function primarily to provide the capital necessary to keep factories running and businesses operating. The virtual economy of Wall Street has been decoupled from the real economy of Main Street. The value of fungible bits is determined by infinitesimal price differences that human beings cannot recognize fast enough to execute trades. Algorithms can program other trading algorithms to adapt on the fly without human intervention.

Though the importance of high-speed, high-volume trading is widely acknowledged, its political and social implications have not been adequately understood. The much-discussed wealth gap is, in fact, a speed gap.

In the past 50 years, two economies that operate at two different speeds have emerged. In one, wealth is created by selling labor or stuff; in the other, by trading signs that are signs of other signs. The virtual assets scale at a speed much greater than the real assets. A worker can produce only so many motorcycles, a teacher can teach only so many students, and a doctor can see only so many patients a day. In high-speed markets, by contrast, billions of dollars are won or lost in billionths of a second. In this new world, wealth begets wealth at an unprecedented rate. No matter how many new jobs are created in the real economy, the wealth gap created by the speed gap will never be closed. It will continue to widen at an ever-faster rate until there is a fundamental change in values.

One of the most basic values that must be rethought is growth, which has not always been the standard by which economic success is measured. The use of the gross national product and gross domestic product to evaluate relative economic performance is largely the product of the Cold War. As the battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union expanded to include the economy, the question became whether capitalism or communism could deliver more goods faster.

The preoccupation with the rate of growth did not end with the Cold War. In December 2012, Jared Bernstein, former chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., concluded a New York Times op-ed entitled "Raise the Economy’s Speed Limit" by arguing, "The first thing to do is to keep applying the accelerator on pro-growth policies that strengthen near-term demand."

There are only three ways markets can expand to keep the economy growing: spatially—build new factories and open new stores in new places; differentially—create an endless variety of new products for consumers to buy; and temporally—accelerate the product cycle. When spatial expansion and differential production reach their limits, the most efficient and effective strategy for promoting growth is to increase the speed of product churn. In fast food, fast fashion, fast networks, and fast markets, time has become money in ways Benjamin Franklin never could have anticipated. The highly touted virtues of innovation and disruption are merely the latest version of Joseph Schumpeter’s "creative destruction," which advocated growing the economy by accelerating obsolescence. Out with the old and in with the new, and the faster the better.

The obsession with speed now borders on the absurd. In the world of high-speed trading, investors in Chicago, for example, can no longer trade on New York markets because of the additional nanoseconds required to transmit buy and sell orders over networks that can never be fast enough. Far from making place irrelevant, speed has made location more important than ever. Financial firms, following a practice known as "co-location," now build facilities for their servers located as close as possible to the servers of the markets on which they trade.

But speed has limits. As acceleration accelerates, individuals, societies, economies, and even the environment approach meltdown. We have been conned into worshiping speed by an economic system that creates endless desire where there is no need.

The world that speed continues to create is unsustainable. Contrary to Thomas L. Friedman’s insistence that today’s high-speed global capitalism creates a flat world whose horizons are infinitely expandable, the world is both literally and figuratively round and, as such, imposes inescapable constraints. On this finite earth, there can no longer be expansion without contraction—any more than there can be growth without redistribution. When limits are transgressed, the very networks that sustain life are threatened.

To understand why we are approaching the tipping point, it is necessary to take a systemic approach. Financial capitalism is an example of a general principle for highly connected complex systems. Every such system has, as a condition of its possibility, that which eventually undoes it. In this case, the commitment to the policies of growth that has enabled the U.S. economy to prosper for decades now threatens its collapse. High-speed, high-volume markets have created unprecedented wealth for the .01 percent, but, as the 2008 financial meltdown and the 2010 Flash Crash demonstrate, they have also made the global economy much more volatile.

The problem is not only, as Michael Lewis argues in Flash Boys, finding a technological fix for markets that are rigged; the problem is that the entire system rests on values that have become distorted: individualism, utility, efficiency, productivity, competition, consumption, and speed. Furthermore, this regime has repressed values that now need to be cultivated: sustainability, community, cooperation, generosity, patience, subtlety, deliberation, reflection, and slowness. If psychological, social, economic, and ecological meltdowns are to be avoided, we need what Nietzsche aptly labeled a "transvaluation of values."

As a lifelong educator, I would like to think that this process might begin in the classroom. Unfortunately, many of the developments that have changed our economic system have also transformed our educational system. People often ask me how higher education and students have changed in the four decades I have been teaching. While there is no simple answer, the most important changes can be organized under five headings: hyperspecialization, quantification, distraction, acceleration, and vocationalization.

As I have noted, technologies that were designed to connect us and bring people closer together also create deep social, political, and economic divisions. The proliferation of media outlets has led to mass customization, which allows individuals and isolated groups of individuals to receive personalized news feeds that seal them in bubbles with little knowledge of, or concern about, other points of view. This trend also infects higher education.

Since the early 1970s, higher education has suffered from increasing specialization and, correspondingly, excessive professionalization. That has created a culture of expertise in which scholars, who know more and more about less and less, spend their professional lives talking to other scholars with similar interests who have little interest in the world around them. This development has led to the increasing fragmentation of disciplines, departments, and curricula. The problem is not only that far too many teachers and students don’t connect the dots, they don’t even know what dots need to be connected.

The emergence of the Internet creates the possibility of eroding these barriers and breaking down divisive silos, but the vested interests of nervous administrators and tenured faculty members committed to obsolete ways of organizing knowledge and teaching have blocked that promising prospect. Rather than expanding universes of discourse, networking technologies have, in many cases, narrowed the boundaries of conversation. Dealing with the problems created by a wired world will require a radical restructuring of the educational system at every level.

The growing concern about the effectiveness of primary, secondary, and postsecondary education has led to a preoccupation with the evaluation of students and teachers. For harried administrators, the fastest and most efficient way to make these assessments is to adopt quantitative methods that have proved most effective in the business world. Measuring inputs, outputs, and throughputs has become the accepted way to calculate educational costs and benefits. While quantitative assessment is effective for some activities and subjects, many of the most important aspects of education cannot be quantified. When people believe that what cannot be measured is not real, education and, by extension society, loses its soul.

Today’s young people are not merely distracted—the Internet and video games are actually rewiring their brains. Neuroscientists have found significant differences in the brains of "addicted" adolescents and "healthy" users. The next edition of the standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will very likely specify Internet addiction as an area for further research. The epidemic of ADHD provides additional evidence of the deleterious effects of the excessive use of digital media. Physicians concerned about the inability of their patients to concentrate freely prescribe Ritalin, which is speed, while students staying up all night to study take Ritalin to give them a competitive advantage.

Rather than resisting these pressures, anxious parents exacerbate them by programming their kids for what they believe will be success from the time they are in prekindergarten. But the knowledge that matters cannot be programmed, and creativity cannot be rushed but must be cultivated slowly and patiently. As leading scientists, writers, and artists have long insisted, the most imaginative ideas often emerge in moments of idleness.

Many people lament the fact that young people do not read or write as much as they once did. But that is wrong—the issue is not how much they are reading and writing; indeed they are, arguably, reading and writing more than ever before. The problem is how they are reading and what they are writing. There is a growing body of evidence that people read and write differently online. Once again the crucial variable is speed. The claim that faster is always better is nowhere more questionable than when reading, writing, and thinking.

All too often, online reading resembles rapid information processing rather than slow, careful, deliberate reflection. Researchers have discovered what they describe as an "F-shaped pattern" for reading web content, in which as people read down a page, they scan fewer and fewer words in a line. When speed is essential, the shorter, the better; complexity gives way to simplicity, and depth of meaning is dissipated in surfaces over which fickle eyes surf. Fragmentary emails, flashy websites, tweets in 140 characters or less, unedited blogs filled with mistakes. Obscurity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, which are the lifeblood of art, literature, and philosophy, become decoding problems to be resolved by the reductive either/or of digital logic.

Finally, vocationalization. With the skyrocketing cost of college, parents, students, and politicians have become understandably concerned about the utility of higher education. Will college prepare students for tomorrow’s workplace? Which major will help get a job? Administrators and admission officers defend the value of higher education in economic terms by citing the increased lifetime earning potential for college graduates. While financial matters are not unimportant, value cannot be measured in economic terms alone. The preoccupation with what seems to be practical and useful in the marketplace has led to a decline in the perceived value of the arts and humanities, which many people now regard as impractical luxuries.

That development reflects a serious misunderstanding of what is practical and impractical, as well as the confusion between the practical and the vocational. As the American Academy of Arts and Sciences report on the humanities and social sciences, "The Heart of the Matter," insists, the humanities and liberal arts have never been more important than in today’s globalized world. Education focused on STEM disciplines is not enough—to survive and perhaps even thrive in the 21st century, students need to study religion, philosophy, art, languages, literature, and history. Young people must learn that memory cannot be outsourced to machines, and short-term solutions to long-term problems are never enough. Above all, educators are responsible for teaching students how to think critically and creatively about the values that guide their lives and inform society as a whole.

That cannot be done quickly—it will take the time that too many people think they do not have.

Acceleration is unsustainable. Eventually, speed kills. The slowing down required to delay or even avoid the implosion of interrelated systems that sustain our lives does not merely involve pausing to smell the roses or taking more time with one’s family, though those are important.

Within the long arc of history, it becomes clear that the obsession with speed is a recent development that reflects values that have become destructive. Not all reality is virtual, and the quick might not inherit the earth. Complex systems are not infinitely adaptive, and when they collapse, it happens suddenly and usually unexpectedly. Time is quickly running out.

Mark C. Taylor is chair of the department of religion at Columbia University. His latest book, Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left, is just out from Yale University Press.

No self-respect cognitive dissonance in the office...

2/10/06 | Guardian

How do you avoid becoming a corporate drone? Firstly, it helps to accept that if you spend most of your waking hours confined to the office, it will eventually get to you. Anyone starting an office job expecting to escape the politics and petty bureaucracy is in for a shock. You can't expect to remain dignified in that environment. It's better to recognize your inevitable deterioration into something contemptible. The only alternative is to join the ranks of the deluded, seek opportunities and aspire to professionalism – but that's the action plan of the trainee drone.

Of course, jobs are supposed to give people self-respect, not take it away. But due to the nature of the typical workplace (authority hierarchies, miscommunication, chaos), employees end up behaving in undignified ways: concealing things from their bosses, redirecting blame, feeling resentment over trivial matters, reporting that everything's fine when it isn't, hiding in the toilets, etc.

Obviously this behavior doesn't fit our beliefs about ourselves as essentially rational and well-adjusted. The result is cognitive dissonance, which occurs when our self-image is contradicted by our actions. How can you come to terms with your 'guilty' behavior if you see yourself as honest and dignified? You think you're above it all, but the evidence of your own actions shows that you're immersed in it. Faced with the horror of your out-of-character behavior, you rationalize and make excuses. You turn into an office drone.

Any smart person with a meaningless job suffers the crippling cognitive dissonance of: "I am intelligent, my waking hours are spent in stupidity". Rationalizations are used to mask the frustration: "I'd be bored without my job" (if you really believe that, it's probably time to consider entering a nursing home). According to Leon Festinger, creator of dissonance theory, the less you are paid to do stupid work, the more you will attempt to rationalize it ("well, it was fun"), rather than admit to doing it for the money. Remember this next time you hear someone claim to "enjoy" their underpaid desk job.

As an office worker, don't expect to have any dignity. Perhaps the only way to stay sane is to accept that you'll turn into something despicable. Don't fall for the office management propaganda about integrity and professionalism. In the corporate workplace, self-respect is out of the question – it exists only in the delusions of drones.

[Aug 29, 2012] Work-Related Stress

Recently, the commander of Canada's military, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, left his work to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he didn't lose his ability to cope until two years after the mission to Rwanda, when he became suicidal.

"Sometimes I wish I'd lost a leg," he says on a video produced for counselling of soldiers.

"You lose a leg, it's obvious and you've got therapy and all kinds of stuff. You lose your marbles ... very, very difficult to explain, very difficult to gain the support that you need."

This military commander's testimony lends credibility to the crushing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, which arises from experiencing one or more extraordinarily horrific and life-threatening events.

By contrast, teachers' stress typically arises gradually over many years, resulting in accumulative stress disorder or ASD-commonly called burn-out or exhaustion. Recently a teacher of 22 years described it this way: "I'm not sleeping through, waking in the night with panic attacks, loss of memory, on edge at home and school, mind racing. Calmed myself with a few drinks in the evening; that made me more edgy, so I quit that. I'm getting more and more distant from my wife and kids, and I'm burnt out of my career. I don't even know who I am anymore."

What major factors contribute to teachers' accumulative stress? Take an idealistic, mission-oriented teacher who tries to meet everybody's needs; place this teacher in a hurried, time-bound, ever-evolving school system that can ask for the best on the one hand, and can erode character and destroy trust on the other; set the school system in communities and among families who question authority; and add the aging process and the family life events that will inevitably occur with that teacher. The result: numbers of teachers experience the extreme effects of accumulative stress on themselves, their work and, eventually, on their families.

As a counsellor with NSTU, I am privileged to meet some of the most dedicated teachers in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, by the time I meet them in counselling, they are often extremely exhausted, suffering from ASD. This is understandable, for as General Dallaire says, "You lose a leg, it's obvious." ASD creeps up. Teachers lose their energy, their sleep, their desire and capability to care, their identity as a good teacher. They wait and wait, hoping the next weekend, holiday or vacation will fully restore them. Their families and friends share the burden. Sometimes it is only when these teachers notice the effects on their families and friends that they take corrective action.

Without breaching confidentiality, this article gives voice to exhausted, disheartened teachers and the effects of accumulative stress on their families. These teachers offer a message of courage for us all.

As teachers gradually accumulate stress, families can lose teachers to teaching. A husband stands at the back door on August 20 with the family pet beside him. His wife, a teacher, is going to school to set up her classroom. He mutters to the dog, "Say good-bye to her, Skippy. That's the last we'll see of her until next July 1."

Just as family stress goes to school with teachers, so too does work-related stress, and no scalpel exists that could divide the stress created in the two main centres of our lives.

Teachers express stress many ways in families. Consider the following:

Does teaching in today's school affect teachers' home life more than in past years? Many teachers would say, "Yes, definitely." One male high school teacher aptly explains, "I'm overwhelmed with kids' problems. They're dealing with probation, pregnancy, drugs, you name it. The system is designed to burn you out if you're too conscientious in care of the kids. It's stacked against you. You can't do the job the way you know is best for the kids. I know I was a good teacher. I don't know any more if I can even be a decent husband or father."

Teachers commonly describe the burden of guilt and neglect of their own families. "I put more time and effort into my students than into my own children. And when I do spend time with my kids, I'm often correcting their behaviour and trying to control them to live up to my perfectionist standards. Is it possible to just enjoy my own kids?" asks one beleaguered teacher.

The stress on the family can become extreme when sick leave has been used up. One anxious teacher put it this way, "I just don't know how we're going to manage while waiting for the salary continuation decision. And if it doesn't come through, I'm just going to have to go back to the classroom, even if it ruins my health for life. My family depends on my income; I have no choice."

Of course, some of the effect of teachers' work stress on their families is inevitable. As caring persons, teachers take students' needs to heart and may be unaware of the costs of caring. Teachers may minimize the costs of work-related stress on families and glibly accept the cost as "part of the price of doing a good job." For the idealistic teacher, "caring too much" is an oxymoron.

For the exhausted teacher, "caring too much" smacks of reality. And the threat of breakdown of health, or of couple and family relationships, is often the bell that tolls the heavy cost of teachers' accumulative stress. As one teacher observed, "I didn't know my partner meant so much to me till we temporarily separated. It's funny too-the first time in years that I told my kids how much they meant to me was when I was down and out. I'm reunited with my partner now, so I guess this work exhaustion had a silver lining for me with my family."

Teachers daily walk the shoreline of social change, where past ways of thinking and relating meet future ways of doing and being. This presents both danger and opportunity: the danger of losing values of the past, and the opportunity of participating in co-creating the future. Travelling this shoreline throughout a teaching career requires a delicate balance.

Teaching entails a great deal of planning for tomorrow and evaluating yesterday. Hence, for teachers it's a struggle to live "today." While evaluating students' work, teachers are implicitly evaluating themselves, and often coming out feeling they are less than superb. This can induce considerable self-pressure. By comparison, most of the working public undergo only annual performance evaluations.

Since most teachers want to create both healthy families and healthy school environments, how can teachers reduce work-related stress in their homes and foster healthy work-styles in their schools?

First, recognize accumulative stress as a reality. Don't wait for the possible breakdown of health or couple-family relationships to toll your alarm bell. Refuse to live at work. Limit your work time by your energy level and the clock, not by the time demands of the task.

Contribute to healthy work styles among staff. Support time for self-care, setting limits and saying "no" as warranted. Share resources, ideas and mutual appreciation.

Here are four suggestions from teachers recovering from exhaustion.

Teachers often describe the peak of accumulative stress as a breakdown. Later in the healing process, they may describe it as a breakthrough. It's a breakthrough to choose a liveable balance of work and play, family life and school life. It's a breakthrough to the courage to be.

Peter Mullally is a Therapist of Counselling Services at the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

[Apr 28, 2012] Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week

You may think you're getting more accomplished by working longer hours. You're probably wrong.

There's been a flurry of recent coverage praising Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, for leaving the office every day at 5:30 p.m. to be with her kids. Apparently she's been doing this for years, but only recently "came out of the closet," as it were.

What's insane is that Sandberg felt the need to hide the fact, since there's a century of research establishing the undeniable fact that working more than 40 hours per week actually decreases productivity.

In the early 1900s, Ford Motor ran dozens of tests to discover the optimum work hours for worker productivity. They discovered that the "sweet spot" is 40 hours a week–and that, while adding another 20 hours provides a minor increase in productivity, that increase only lasts for three to four weeks, and then turns negative.

Anyone who's spent time in a corporate environment knows that what was true of factory workers a hundred years ago is true of office workers today. People who put in a solid 40 hours a week get more done than those who regularly work 60 or more hours.

The workaholics (and their profoundly misguided management) may think they're accomplishing more than the less fanatical worker, but in every case that I've personally observed, the long hours result in work that must be scrapped or redone.

Accounting for Burnout What's more, people who consistently work long work weeks get burned out and inevitably start having personal problems that get in the way of getting things done.

I remember a guy in one company I worked for who used the number of divorces in his group as a measure of its productivity. Believe it or not, his top management reportedly considered this a valid metric. What's ironic (but not surprising) is that the group itself accomplished next to nothing.

In fact, now that I think about it, that's probably why he had to trot out such an absurd (and, let's face it, evil) metric.

Proponents of long work weeks often point to the even longer average work weeks in countries like Thailand, Korea, and Pakistan–with the implication that the longer work weeks are creating a competitive advantage.

Europe's Ban on 50-Hour Weeks.

However, the facts don't bear this out. In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it's illegal to demand more than a 48-hour work week. You simply don't see the 50-, 60-, and 70-hour work weeks that have become de rigeur in some parts of the U.S. business world.

If U.S. managers were smart, they'd end this "if you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming to work on Sunday" idiocy. If you want employees (salaried or hourly) to get the most done–in the shortest amount of time and on a consistent basis–40 hours a week is just about right.

In other words, nobody should be apologizing for leaving at work at a reasonable hour like 5:30 p.m. In fact, people should be apologizing if they're working too long each week–because it's probably making the team less effective overall.

Knuth Recent News

Wanted: A Name For High-Tech Grief

A rapidly spreading kind of trauma now affects millions of people every day, but the English language hasn't yet been extended to deal with it.

Well-known neologisms like `jet lag' and `road rage' describe well-known phenomena. But what do we call the combination of helplessness and agony that affects us when our computers or computer-based appliances do inexplicable things, for which there's no apparent workaround?

TG Daily - Man throws his computer out the window, police sympathize

I've often seen secretaries in tears when they're trying to cope with name-brand operating systems. My computer-savvy friends tell me that their vacations with relatives tend to be occupied mostly by the need to fix hardware and software glitches. I myself have often cried out for help to colleagues who have generously made house calls, in order to unwedge my highly customized Linux system.

Recent discussions with friends have led to several good suggestions, including:

In a few random conversations I found that the first of these was most likely to provoke instant recognition and a lively response. But my sample size has been small.

What to do? I suggest that, the next time you're attacked by this malady, you run through the list above and see which term best characterizes your feelings. Then blog about it. The best term should soon rise to the top, and become integrated into our common vocabulary.

[Jan 15, 2007] Job Burnout - A Summary by Dr. Beverly Potter

Adapted from the book by Beverly A. Potter "Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work", May 15, 2005, 238 pages. Ronin Publishing ISBN: 1579510744 (978-1579510749 )

... ... ...

To understand the causes of burnout it helps to understand what sustains motivation. Just as the body needs vitamins and protein for optimal health, certain "nutrients" are also essential to sustain high motivation: (1) Rewards for good work, and (2) Feeling you can control things that influence you. These factors nourish motivation and help overcome burnout.


Personal power, the capability to influence the world around you in the ways you desire, is the opposite of helplessness, which causes burnout. Personal power is empowering and combats burnout. Personal power is a feeling of I-Can-Do - a belief that you can act to control your work. While we have little control over other people, we do have control over ourselves - something we tend to forget when we're feeling helpless. As we develop our capabilities, we gain a sense of mastery and control.

The experience of mastery changes everything. Because striving for mastery focuses your attention on areas in which you are skilled, a sense of confidence and being in command of yourself develops. Building personal power comes from developing your capabilities, your powers. It means learning how to get what you need. To the extent you are able to do this, you are powerful.

[Jan 15, 2007] Don’t let on-the-job stress lead to burnout By Deanne DeMarco

Burnout usually occurs when stress builds and a person feels they are no longer able to control their world, and lack motivation to proceed. Sometimes the physical and psychological problems can become severe enough to cause illness and the inability to function on the job. The worker feels overwhelmed and his or her career is actually threatened.


1. Use Humor. Change your perspective on your situation. Learn to smile, look for the humor in the workplace. Sometimes looking at a situation or a problem in a different light can help you to feel differently about the event. A recent UCLA Medical Center study suggests that laughter and humor can help to reduce stress. Laugh: it’s good for you!

2. Pace Yourself. Maintain a practical schedule with your expectations. Identify job activities that could be simplified, and plan thoroughly to prevent last minute problems. Use good time management strategies to help pace the workload.

3. Reinforcement. Value yourself and your contribution to the company. Do the best work you can, even if you feel no one is noticing. Keep reinforcing positive thoughts in your mind.

4. Release Stressful Emotion. Being frequently angry, filled with rage or anxiety, is not healthy. Taking a brisk walk or some other physical activity using the large muscles will help release pent up emotions and aid the body to eliminate harmful chemical responses.

5. Practice Good Nutrition. Stress robs your body of needed vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B and vitamin C, potassium, calcium and zinc. A number of research studies have concluded that stress increases susceptibility to illness. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, maintaining a balanced diet and limiting the amount of caffeine, nicotine and sugar promotes health and improves your ability to handle difficult situations.

6. Talk to Someone. Share your burden; discuss stressful events with another person. Often an associate, friend or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor can help you see the lighter side or offer a fresh approach to the problem.

7. Take Time for Yourself. Take stress breaks during the day. Stretch at your desk. Take short vacations at least twice a year. It is important to take time off for yourself especially during stressful periods.

[Jan 15, 2007] Reversing Burnout

Stanford Social Innovation Review

... ... ...

Burnout reflects an uneasy relationship between people and their work. Like relationship problems between two people, those between people and their work usually indicate a bad fit between the two, rather than just individual weaknesses, or just evil workplaces. And so reversing burnout requires focusing on both individuals and their organizations to bring them back into sync with each other.2

Beating burnout is not just a matter of reducing the number of negatives. Indeed, sometimes there is not a lot you can do about the negative aspects of work. Instead, it is often more useful to think about increasing the number of positives, and of building the opposite of burnout, engagement. When burnout is counteracted with engagement, exhaustion is replaced with enthusiasm, bitterness with compassion, and anxiety with efficacy

The Six Areas of Burnout

How do individuals and organizations move from burnout to engagement? How do they make sense of what's going wrong, and figure out how to make things right? Our surveys and interviews of more than 10,000 people across a wide range of organizations in several different countries have revealed that most person-job mismatches fall into six categories: workload (too much work, not enough resources); control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power); reward (not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction); community (isolation, conflict, disrespect); fairness (discrimination, favoritism); and values (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks).3

We originally developed this six-category framework as a way of organizing the vast research literature on burnout. Our subsequent work then showed that both individuals and organizations could use the framework to diagnose which categories are especially troublesome for them, and then to design interventions that target these problem areas.4 The six-area framework has now been incorporated into assessment programs for organizations5 and for individuals.6

To fix burnout, individuals and organizations must first identify the areas in which their mismatches lie, and then tailor solutions to improve the fit within each area. In Mark's case, his core problem is work overload. Workers in the nonprofit sector are distinctly vulnerable to work overload for two reasons. First, nonprofit organizations may often have fewer resources than organizations in other sectors, leaving workers with too little time and too few tools with which to handle their workload. Second, nonprofit employees have high expectations and are attempting to solve truly monumental problems. Their idealism can lead them to overextend themselves and take on too much.

Mark is also experiencing an imbalance in the area of values. Although workers in the nonprofit sector may not face the same ethical dilemmas that many workers in for-profit companies do, they often feel value conflicts of a different sort: between the loftiness of their ideals and the realities of their day-to-day work. This is what is going on with Mark, who often feels so bogged down in the details of organizing volunteers and coordinating actions that he loses sight of the larger goal of environmental preservation. His work no longer feels meaningful to him

Mark also feels a lot of dissatisfaction in the area of rewards. No one goes into the nonprofit sector to get rich, but Mark expected to enjoy his activist activities more. He also expected more appreciation and praise from his colleagues and from the communities he serves.

In contrast, Susan's core problem is in the area of community. 7 In her work setting, she is excluded from her colleagues' circle of support, and she spends a lot of time feeling isolated and lonely. Being left out of the loop introduces a second mismatch for Susan, this time in the area of control. By the time an issue appears on a meeting's formal agenda, the matter has already been settled in the informal conversations in which Susan could not participate. As a result, Susan does not feel that she has an adequate say in how she does her work.

As time wears on, Susan has begun to suspect that her lack of community and control at work are due to a third area of mismatch: fairness. She wonders whether the male doctors in the ER are discriminating against her because she is a woman. Because of this hint of injustice, Susan feels not only anxious and uncertain about how best to do her job, but also angry and hostile toward her colleagues.

Two Paths to Engagement

There are two paths to banishing burnout: the individual path, and the organizational path. Both Mark and Susan took individual approaches; they first identified the mismatches leading to their burnout, and then enlisted their colleagues and organizations in addressing those mismatches.8

An organizational approach, in contrast, starts with management first identifying mismatches that are commonly shared, and then connecting with individuals to narrow these person organization gaps.9 The sidebar (left) describes how this organizational approach was used in a large organization. This strategy of working collaboratively on shared problems can be used in organizations of any size, even those nonprofits that are small and that have limited resources.

No matter the path to engagement, it is important to keep in mind that positive changes don't just happen. Instead, people must take action, and well-informed action, at that. Rather than assumptions and "best guesses" about what the problem is, the six-area diagnostic tool can help pinpoint it more accurately. Solutions that don't address the problem can be worse than no solutions at all.

For example, we recall attending a meeting of teachers for which the school superintendent had hired a motivational speaker to inspire them and help them deal with stress. As the speaker reeled off stories from his own days as an athletic coach, we watched the teachers sitting silently, their venom rising with each minute. They did not lack motivation. Decent pay, adequate supplies, parents' support, a manageable workload, yes. But not motivation. The superintendent's well-meaning attempt to nip burnout in the bud only nurtured it.

Lightening Mark's Load

Having identified workload as his main relationship problem with his work, Mark is finding ways to relax during strenuous times. He now takes regular breaks in which he gets away from the job, either physically (e.g., by jogging around the neighborhood) or mentally (e.g., by reading a book that has nothing to do with his activist interests). Even more effective for him are temporary changes in work, in which he "downshifts" to some less demanding task (e.g., taking care of routine paperwork, sweeping the floor) before returning to the more challenging jobs.

Another critical discovery for Mark is that he really didn't have to be the center of his activist universe. Instead of being the lone person who does everything, he is learning to delegate tasks, to train others to do what he did, and to get them to share the responsibility. "Now I don't struggle against the feeling of burnout," he says. "I'll say to myself: 'Oh, I'm burned out, I'll just sit here for a while. Let somebody else do it.' And you know what? Somebody else does."

Mark's new perspective on his place in his activist organization reflects the wisdom of an older colleague who told him: "When I was younger, I was convinced that I needed to drive myself every single minute. Now I feel that I can go to the sauna, and I'll still hate imperialism in an hour and a half. And that's helped me to stay an activist."

By addressing his workload problem, Mark has simultaneously improved the fit between him and his activist work on the dimension of value. To relieve stress, he took several long hikes in the wilderness, which renewed his feelings of awe at the beauty of nature -- feelings that fueled his commitment to environmental activism in the first place. "I felt in love. It was a passion I hadn't felt in a long time. There was very little burnout. Instead there was a craving."

Building Susan's Community

After zeroing in on community as her primary area of self-work mismatch, Susan first took a few minutes at the start of her next shift to talk with Tom, one of the most approachable of the doctors. Tom told Susan that he was amazed that she could feel left out, and assured her that no one intended to exclude her. Susan didn't quite buy Tom's assurances, but nevertheless replied that she was pleased to hear this, because she certainly didn't want to go through the complicated, time-consuming, and awkward process of making a formal complaint. She was confident that before too long, the ER doctors' clique would know all about their conversation.

Susan took the second step toward narrowing the gap between her expectations and her work reality at the next meeting of the ER medical staff. She told the staff that she was feeling left out of important decisions, and requested that they include her in all discussions about clinical matters and hospital issues during her shift. There were a few furtive glances, but overall most people nodded and said, "Of course."

With Tom and a few other doctors, Susan has smoothly moved into relaxed conversations. She refers to her feelings of burnout only within the context of working on better ways of working together. With the other doctors, it has been more of an uphill battle, but is still an improvement over silence. Since Susan took her complaints to her colleagues, there have been a lot fewer surprises at medical staff meetings, making Susan feel like she has more say in her work environment. She also now realizes that the doctors' previous exclusive patterns were more a matter of thoughtlessness than a concerted campaign to exclude her -- thereby assuaging her fears of sexism.

Feeling that she is part of a community, respected, and in control is giving Susan a renewed enthusiasm for her work. The end of the shift brings the same familiar pattern of aches and pains from the hours on her feet. But the dullness of feeling is now rare.

"Looking back now, I'm shocked to think of how close I was to losing my connection to the work that I love and that I do very well," she says. "It's not just about working with the patients. It's taking on colleagues and relationships to make sure you're included and respected."

By confronting the situation in an informed and focused way, Susan has been able to repair the relationship between herself and her work. An important principle in Susan's situation is that unfair treatment is difficult to sustain after it has been brought into the open. There were no defensible grounds for excluding Susan from professional discussions at work. But the situation persisted until Susan called her colleagues on their actions.

Shining On

Mark and Susan have had different experiences of burnout, reflecting the unique qualities of their work settings. Each situation involved a different area of mismatch, and each called for distinct solutions. Note that neither attempted to address all of their mismatches at once. Rather, each first identified and addressed his or her core area of concern.

Both had also begun to feel the personal costs of burnout, which include poorer health and strained private lives. But at least as important, Mark's and Susan's organizations had also begun to suffer. When employees shift to minimum performance, minimum standards of working, and minimum production quality, rather than performing at their best, they make more errors, become less thorough, and have less creativity for solving problems. They are also less committed to the organization and less willing to go the extra mile to make a real difference.

Burnout is not a problem of individuals but of the social environment in which they work. Workplaces shape how people interact with one another and how they carry out their jobs. When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work, and there are major mismatches between the nature of the job and the nature of people, there will be a greater risk of burnout. A good understanding of burnout, its dynamics, and what to do to overcome it is therefore an essential part of staying true to the pursuit of a noble cause, and keeping the flame of compassion and dedication burning brightly.


  1. "Mark" and "Susan" are pseudonyms.
  2. For our review of the psychological literature on burnout, see Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B., & Leiter, M.P. "Job Burnout," in Annual Review of Psychology 52, eds. S.T. Fiske, D.L. Schacter, & C. Zahn-Waxler (2001): 397-422.
  3. Maslach, C. & Leiter, M.P. The Truth About Burnout (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).
  4. Leiter, M.P. & Maslach, C. "Areas of Worklife: A Structured Approach to Organizational Predictors of Job Burnout," in Research in Occupational Stress and Well- Being 3, eds. P.L. Perrewe & D.C. Ganster (Oxford: Elsevier, 2004): 91-134.
  5. Leiter, M.P. & Maslach, C. Preventing Burnout and Building Engagement: A Complete Program for Organizational Renewal (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).
  6. Leiter, M.P. & Maslach, C. Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship With Work (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).
  7. See also De Jonge, J. & Kompier, M.A.J. "A Critical Examination of the Demand- Control-Support Model From a Work Psychological Perspective," International Journal of Stress Management 4 (1997): 235-258.
  8. Leiter & Maslach, Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship With Work.
  9. Leiter & Maslach, Preventing Burnout and Building Engagement: A Complete Program for Organizational Renewal.

[Jan 15, 2007] Feature: Job burnout can affect anyone by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe

Air Force News Service

WASHINGTON -- Job burnout normally afflicts people in helping or service professions -- such as ministry or medicine -- but it can affect anyone.

Psychologist Herbert Freudenbeger, who claims credit for the term, defines burnout as a depletion of energy and a feeling of being overwhelmed by other peoples' problems.

The condition is analogous to combat stress in that it occurs when a person has "seen too much, done too much, and had to contend with a situation for too long," said Col. (Dr.) Karl O. Moe, chairman of the psychology department at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Job burnout, he said, results from prolonged work stress. Symptoms include digestive upsets; a constant sense of fatigue, coupled with insomnia; and an extreme anxiety over proving one's self-worth.

If not treated, burnout can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts, Freudenbeger said in his book "Burn-Out."

He lists warning signs that people should watch for:

Once a person is burned out, the solution could be in changing jobs. "It doesn't have to be out of their career field," Moe said. For example, he said an emergency room nurse could work in a different section of the hospital, "somewhere that doesn't cause such an emotional drain." After a period of time, the person could go back to the emergency room, Moe said.

Since prolonged stress leads to burnout, the No. 1 buffer against stress is social support, Moe said.

"You need to have someone at work whom you can talk with and blow off steam. You don't even have to talk about the problem, as long as you have enough of a relationship to know you could talk about it if you wanted to," Moe said.

If support at work is not possible, "talk with someone in your family or from church, or one of the organizations you belong to," said Moe.

Burnout victims also need to take care of their physical needs with rest and proper nutrition, according to Drs. Frank Minirth and Paul Mier in their book "How to Beat Burnout."

Additionally, they recommend that the person talk about his or her negative feelings rather than bury them. This will help the burnout victim see the situation more realistically, they said, and move on.

For more information about stress or job burnout, people can contact the base mental health clinic, Moe said.

[Jan 15, 2007] Burnout

Burnout is a cluster of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion reactions. It is the result of constant and repeated emotional upheaval associated with people at home and in the work place. It is created by an environment with too many pressures and not enough support. People who burn out develop negative self-concepts and job attitudes, while becoming detached, apathetic, angry or hostile.

Burnout is a major problem in the helping occupations, where people give a lot to others but fail to take care of themselves in the process. Professionals in medicine, social work, law enforcement and education are especially prone to burnout symptoms.

Of course, burnout can also affect people in other types of careers as well. Jobs that promote burnout include ones in which workers do repetitive or routine tasks, never get much feedback or have a lot of responsibility but very little control.

Employees who are suffering from burnout feel they are answerable for everything that happens. They feel they receive very little cooperation from co-workers, and they personally feel powerless to change things. These feelings tend to make them assume a martyr-like position, become resigned and apathetic, and focus on the worst aspects of the job. Persons suffering from burnout often blame others or the situation, rather than taking action for change. How does burnout happen? It can begin when a person who has difficulty setting priorities and putting life into balance is confronted with a stressful home or work environment. Some common sources of job-related stress include:

Many people learn to with job-reowonists, idealists and workaholics. They start out enthusiastic about their work, dedicated and committed gh energy levels, positive attitudes and are high achievers.

Over time, stress and the inability to cope with it lead to pessimism and early job dissatisfaction. Workers in the early stages of burnout feel fatigued, frustrated, disillusioned and bored. They may suffer from symptoms of stress, such as:

As burnout progresses, work hgin to deteriorate. Affected workers arrive late and leave early. Productivity drops. They become isolated and withdrawn and avoid contact with co-workers and supervisors. They become increasingly angry, hostile and depressed. Most suffer from physical symptoms of stress such as: In the final stages of burnout, workers experience an irreversible feeling of detachment and a total loss of interest in their jobs. Self-esteem is very low. Feelings about work are totally negative and chronic absenteeism becomes a problem. At this point, the only course of action is to change careers.

Burnout doesn't happen overnight, and it can be reversed with the right steps. Managers can help by:

Baptist Hospital East's Center for Behavioral Health offers Building Healthy Employees, a program which provides on-site training on topics such as team building, communication, assertiveness, stress management and relaxation, workplace wellness, conflict resolution, self-esteem and peak performance, and accessing strengths. The Center for Behavioral Health also offers Relaxing in the 90s: A Stress Management Workshop for individuals who want to learn more about stress management and relaxation techniques. For more information, call (502) 896-7105.

[Aug 03, 2001] IT staff cracking up under pressure By James Middleton

IT managers may well be on the brink of burn-out, according to research which found that many technical staff are being pushed beyond the limits in terms of working hours.

The results found that a quarter of IT managers work a 60-hour week, which represents almost four hours overtime per day. Also, 90 per cent of IT managers typically exceed the 48-hour working week set out by the European Working Time Directive.

Government sector workers are hardest hit, with 100 per cent of respondents working above and beyond the call of duty. Retail was second worst with 93 per cent working overtime, followed closely by the education, finance, manufacturing and hi-tech sectors.

The main reason behind the extra hours was a lack of resources, according to 28 per cent of the respondents. Another 22 per cent said that the pressure of development work accounted for extra time, with 10 per cent highlighting unrealistic deadlines as a major problem. A further 14 per cent said that they were expected to be available for out of hours support calls.

David Godwin, vice president of strategy at Attenda, the internet outsourcing company responsible for the research, said that "UK companies needed to adopt a 24-hour culture if they were to succeed in the internet economy".

But he added that the UK was going about it the wrong way by putting the "responsibility for maintaining a 24-hour presence onto in-house IT departments on top of already heavy workloads".

Almost all IT managers in the south of England, excluding those in London, said they were affected by extra working hours, with the next worst spot being the Midlands. Around 86 per cent of London managers said they were affected, with 75 per cent in Scotland and 71 per cent in the north of England.

Godwin likened the IT manager working day to that of a junior doctor. "While burn-out among IT managers is not a matter of life or death, the potential to cause damage to their companies' online presence is great," he said.

Breakaway Careers Is That Overwork Or Just Enthusiasm

May 28, 2001 | InformationWeek

What a recent study considers overwork in the U.S. workforce at large may be little more than business-as-usual for the IT professional. Working "12 to 14 hour days and over the weekend is just the status quo for IT," says Russell Clark, director of E-commerce and portals for OAO Technology Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm with a staff of 2,200, in Greenbelt, Md.

But Clark agrees with the Families and Work Institute survey of 1,003 workers that it's not just the amount of work that determines whether someone feels overworked. Hard work paired with personal control over the work--for example, working to advance in a career, or saving toward college--can give a feeling of satisfaction. Overwork is more likely when people work longer hours for external reasons, such as needing to meet management expectations or because the workload requires that much time.

Or maybe it's boring. IT professionals generally work on a project basis, and for Clark there's a thrill akin to winning a race in reaching project milestones and hitting the big deadlines. "You love it," he says. "but if it's a project you're not interested in, once you get past eight hours, you get upset."

Some say no matter what the job, consistent long hours still add up to overwork. John Drake, author of Downshifting (Berrett-Koehler, 2001), and founder of an HR consulting firm known now as Drake Beam Morin, says IT is probably the worst area for overwork abuse. "IT is a key piece in most companies; long hours and dedication are expected--especially in small startups where it's 'we give you stock, you grow the company, work 12 to 16 hours a day,'" he says.

To avoid employee burnout, Clark rotates the work among his 20 staffers, and encourages a team environment where it's easy to have fun. In a previous job at Disney/ABC Sports, his group created sports games for PCs and PlayStations. Project deadlines coincided with the start of each major league season: baseball was due by April, football by August. "Even if you're not into sports, you'd get into it," he says. "Staying late and on weekends was just fun to us. If I were by myself doing the same work, it would've been no fun."

Longer work hours are becoming the norm, though not by choice. The average American employee works 42 hours a week and would prefer to work just under 35. A recently released InformationWeek Research 2001 Salary Survey finds that on average, IT staffers work 45 hours a week plus 24 hours of on-call time. Managers are working 50 hours a week, and on-call time is up 60% from last year's 15 hours a week to 24 hours.

Beth Devin, senior VP of retail technology, Charles Schwab & Co., says IT systems are partially to blame for the longer on-call hours. More systems are 24-by-7, she says, "more are customer-facing, so they can't go down. Before, you could do lots of background work during hours when the business is closed."

Drake says there's a cost to overwork: It can lead to costly mistakes, resentment, anger, and even workplace violence. His bottom line: Companies will only do something about the problem if they see a payoff. Drake expects the big payoff to be greater retention of good employees and lower recruiting costs.

Technology 'workaholics' sabotaging America by Paul Farrell

LOS ANGELES (CBS.MW) -- In a recent column, "No Thanks, I Don't Want To Be A Millionaire," we reviewed an AARP survey of Americans' attitudes toward getting rich. Interestingly, they discovered that lots of Americans are saying: "No, I don't want to get rich. I don't want to be wealthy. I don't want to be a millionaire."

Why? Because it's just not worth it to them. The price is too high, too much of a loss of their humanness. However, for a majority of Americans, getting rich is a major goal -- but they are paying a high price.

Sorry, too busy for Workaholics Anonymous!

"The more we become connected, the more detached we become to the more
human elements of life."

U.S. News &
World Report

And unfortunately, the price is getting even higher. Listen to how subtle and deep the problem has become. A recent U.S. News & World Report tells of a software engineer who was "too busy" to drive some distance to Workaholics Anonymous meetings for help with his addiction.

So he set up an Internet chapter of the organization. Now he's got time to spend kvetching online with more than one hundred workaholics worldwide who attend these digital meetings.

But that's hardly scratching the surface. Turns out that 44% of Americans call themselves workaholics, well over 100 million. No wonder U.S. News is concerned about this new addiction:

"Can we keep working harder and harder indefinitely?" Americans are now working an average of 47 hours a week, an increase of 4 hours in two decades. We're working longer and harder, and yet a recent Gallup poll shows that 77% of us "enjoy the time away from work more than they do their time on the job." In short, most Americans are not "doing what they love." Most are "doing what they don't love," assuming the money will follow. But at what price?

Will technology sabotage the new economy?

These surveys are interesting. America's economy, our markets, our companies, our labor force are all focused on increasing productivity, output, returns, wealth. And one of the great benefits of technology was supposed to be as a labor-saving tool.

Technology was supposed to increase the efficiency of human effort per production unit, make life easier, and (we were promised) give us more time for our personal lives. What a joke! The opposite is the truth. Listen to Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter:

This issue is not going away. In fact, it is absolutely guaranteed to become a much bigger problem for Americans. Moreover, at some point it is likely to backfire and sabotage many of the positive gains technology is clearly adding to our new economy, as Roach hints.

Scary stuff! We know technology's promises are already backfiring on a strictly materialistic level, forcing us to work harder, not less. But, in addition, they are also taking away our intangible humanness, especially with Internet technology, because, "the more we become connected, the more detached we become to the more human elements of life."

When programmers can write no more

It happened to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams. All wrestled with monumental cases of writer's block. Now you can add Jon Bentley and thousands of other modern-age writers to the list.

But Bentley isn't a writer of plays or poetry. He, first and foremost, is a writer of code. And in the digital age, his affliction is called programmer's block. The "I've hit the wall" feeling is just the same as writer's block, however, it happens when the programmer's brain is unable to fathom where that next line of code will come from.

When Linux enthusiast site Slashdot earlier this week conducted a programmer's block session online, hundreds of developers chimed in with their favorite antidotes. The question: "What do you do if your productivity drops to two lines of code a day, and you just sit and stare at the code and feel like you don't know how to do it anymore?"
coder's block (Score:5, Insightful)
by macpeep on Tuesday August 01, @07:38AM EDT (#28)
(User #36699 Info)
I just came back to Finland from something of a nightmarish project in Singapore. Me and a fellow coder wrote almost 1MB of code in a month (and even documented a large part of it in the same time). I spent some 330 hours coding during that month and quite often I would hit this very problem for whatever reasons, stress, fear, anxiety, lack of sleep. Since we were under a very tight deadline, I had to figure out a way to get around it and I actually came across something that worked for me. Hopefully someone else will find this useful.

Finding myself unable to code, I started writing the code in english on paper. I would sit down in a corner of the room and start writing in english. "check the user permissions. if the guy is an admin, show this and that screen. for each line in the screen, make sure it's bla bla." and so on. Once I was done and saw that I had something that could work, I took the text, pasted it into the existing source code and started translating it to code (Java in this case). Maybe it won't work for everyone, but it did wonders for me and I was able to overcome my block several times this way

Sleep, lotsa caffiene and a little research. (Score:2)
by BoLean ( on Tuesday August 01, @07:39AM EDT (#32)
(User #41374 Info)
Been there tons of times. What usually works for me is getting lots of sleep, drink lots of caffiene and do a little "research". the first to will get your mind into a state where you can focus better and the research can help you see the possibilities. Newsgroups are good for this. Lots of examples to peruse while you are thinking. Getting started is the toughest part when you are stuck, so just start trying things and a solution will usually come to you.

Coder's block seems the biggest problem for me when I don't have confidence with what I'm doing. Recently a large Intranet project I am working on did a 180 degree turn when I was asked to reimplement my work in VBA/ASP instead of PHP. I hit a wall. I felt like I was being asked to "dumb down" my application and implement it in a buggy language. What finally got me going was what I mentioned above. It's really a lot like running. Sometimes you have to push through the low points to keep going.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein

The Truth About Burnout How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It

Technostress and the Reference Librarian by John Kupersmith

Reference Services Review 20 (Summer 1992), 7-14,50. -- All rights reserved. (mirror Fatigue)


In a sense, all reactions to stress--from initiating a self-instruction program to hiding under one's desk--are forms of coping. Some, however, are more constructive, more appropriate to the reference workplace, and more likely to succeed than others. Coping with stress is a highly individual matter; different people react to a situation in different ways. Here are some guidelines for individuals facing technostress:


It is easy to get so involved in reference problems, or so drawn into the cerebral, precise, high-speed world of the computer, that you forget the intimate connection between body and mind. Some of the most effective techniques for immediate relaxation work through the body: for example, breathing deeply and regularly, or alternately tensing and relaxing muscles. Other techniques free the mind from mechanical routine: for example, visualizing yourself in an idyllic, peaceful setting. Disciplines such as yoga and t'ai chi combine both aspects, and can be very rewarding; but even the simplest relaxation methods are vastly better than no relaxation at all. [17]

Stay Healthy

Sound general health may be an individual's greatest ally in coping with technostress, as it is with other forms of stress. Taking care of one's self naturally includes getting proper nutrition, exercise, and rest. [18] The more intense the work environment, the more important it is to place this in perspective and make sure one's off-the-job activities and interests are sufficient to provide both physical and mental variety. Whatever your preference--climbing rocks, listening to Mozart, petting the cat, or just sitting barefoot on the back porch with a glass of iced tea--the injunction to "get a life" has special meaning for those overburdened with high tech.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

While reading articles about technostress is not recommended as a prime relaxation technique, it certainly helps to realize that you are not alone. Recognizing that stress is natural, that ambivalent feelings toward technology are acceptable, and that many others in the profession have the same problems, opens the way to a more relaxed and positive attitude.

Cognitive psychologists have demonstrated the importance of "self-talk"--the internal monologue of self-evaluating statements that forms a large part of most people's mental activity. Seemingly simple techniques, such as replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations, can be very effective in overcoming self-doubt and perfectionism. [19] If you find yourself thinking "I'll never get the hang of these CD-ROMs," try replacing this with "I can help most people who come to the desk with CD-ROM questions." When faced with a new challenge, think back and visualize your past successes in similar circumstances.

Finally, cultivate a sense of humor--specifically, the ability to laugh at your own situation (as opposed to waxing sarcastic about computers or library users). This may be the most important technique of all; it is certainly the best barometer of psychological health.

Manage Your Time

As the notion of negative self-talk implies, technostress can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; the perception that one is a victim can get in the way of constructive choices and actions. Conversely, positive steps that move a person away from victim status are likely to improve a stressful situation.

An excellent first step is to devote some time each week to learning and exploration. Since there is never enough time, and since urgent everyday demands will always be competing for attention with long-range learning goals, this will probably require a conscious setting of priorities and some skillful time management. To reduce external interruptions and demands, set aside some personal space and time for learning, with the understanding that calls are to be returned later, visitors asked to come back at another time, and E-mail not monitored.

Set Realistic Goals

No one can be an expert at everything. To guide the learning process, pick an area where you can make a contribution and concentrate your efforts there. Approach this personal territory with a spirit of exploration but also with tangible goals in mind, such as preparing for a demonstration to other staff. When you reach a goal, celebrate!


Clearly, the individual initiatives described above are most likely to succeed in an organization that encourages and rewards these efforts, placing an explicit value on professional development and adaptation to change. Here are some concrete steps that department heads, online coordinators, and administrators can take to support front-line staff: [20]

Believe in Each Individual

Some people on any reference staff have special aptitudes for searching, some for teaching, some for pioneering, and some for applying established methods. Each has his/her individual starting point for development. One may be ready to explore the Internet, while her colleague may need to take a typing class to become an effective searcher. All are worthy, and each can make a contribution if given the proper support. Especially where a staff member's self-esteem is on the line, an attentive and positive attitude on the part of a department head or coordinator can make a significant difference. This is one area in which "management by wandering around" pays real dividends.

One way to make people more comfortable with new technologies is to provide a low-anxiety setting for learning. For example, at The University of Texas at Austin General Libraries, a "Prototype Information Workstation" [21] was set up for testing and demonstration purposes, and staff were invited to sign up for individual practice sessions. When few responded, the online coordinator began offering individual guided orientation sessions using this machine. The usual agenda consists of a quick review of the workstation's capabilities, followed by whatever the learner wants to explore; other universities' online catalogs and various Internet resources are common topics of interest. The sign-up rate is still low, but so far at least one person per department has taken advantage of this opportunity.

Foster Cooperation

While some people work and learn best on their own, many can benefit from the mutual support of a team setting. One useful technique for helping new searchers overcome their initial anxiety is the "buddy" or "mentor" system in which the novice is guided by a more experienced colleague--first watching some actual searches, then "soloing" under the mentor's supervision.

Most reference department heads and library managers have learned the value of involving staff in planning for new technologies and services: to foster a sense of control and ownership, and (pragmatically) because they know a lot. Designated groups and task forces can be especially valuable when the initiative comes directly from the staff. At UT Austin, for example, the library administration recently began inviting staff to submit proposed charters for "Innovation Teams ... to explore library-related problems and issues in a creative manner and to seek solutions that will benefit the organization." [22]

Organize and Filter the Information Barrage

Department heads and online coordinators are responsible for seeing that staff get current information about new technologies and systems. However, as anyone with a full in-basket knows, merely routing printed information does not guarantee that people will pay attention to it, let alone act on it. There may not be time to sit down and write digests or reviews for the staff, but some selectivity in routing materials, and some indication of what is most important, can help. Other typical means of communication include searchers' meetings and forums featuring guest speakers, demonstrations, or discussions of service issues.

Provide Opportunities for Hands-on Practice

Developing and retaining computer skills requires application of the proverb "I hear and forget; I see and remember; I do and understand." Not surprisingly, researchers have found that experienced searchers perform better than novices, and that "even a brief acclimatization can result in significantly enhanced results." [23] While many libraries take advantage of online training provided by vendors and database producers, effective learning requires ongoing, hands-on practice.

Typical practice opportunities include use of DIALOG's ONTAP files, EPIC practice files, and equivalents on other systems; offline practice on CD-ROMs that operate like their online counterparts (e.g., DIALOG OnDisc); and where equipment permits, the chance to "work out" on new CD-ROM systems before they go public. A good case can also be made for offering each qualified searcher a certain amount of subsidized searching on actual online databases, for purposes of practice, demonstrations, and individual research. Experience with a $50/searcher/year subsidy at UT Austin suggests that not all searchers will take advantage of it (a help at budget time!), and that those who do appreciate this useful "perk."

Distribute the Expertise

In today's complex environment, it is unrealistic to expect each librarian to completely master every information system. All reference staff need to have a basic level of competence on major end-user systems, and possibly on some mediated systems as well. [24] Beyond that level, it makes sense to divide up the territory, putting specific people in charge of certain technologies, vendor systems, or databases.

This distribution of responsibility benefits the individuals involved, by letting them concentrate their energies and attain mastery in specific areas. It benefits the online coordinator, who can draw on the assigned "experts" for advanced assistance. It also benefits staff and users in general, since reference staff and administrators alike will know where to go with questions or referrals.

The classic example of this strategy, as applied to new technologies, is the Library Technology Watch program at the University of California at Berkeley. In this program, six staff members serve as volunteer "topic experts" specializing in "Optical Disk Technology (including CD-ROM), Hypermedia and Multimedia, Information Transfer (including downloading from databases and catalogs into personal bibliographic databases), Networks and Networking (BITNET, the Internet, etc.), Expert systems and Artificial Intelligence, [and] Emerging and Miscellaneous Technologies."

Participants devote five hours per week to this program, with their other responsibilities shifted accordingly. They are expected to "read current literature in the field, summarizing and routing to other Library staff as appropriate; contribute to a monthly attachment to CU News of annotated citations of current literature; draft position papers as required for Library policy advisory committees and/or Library administration; give presentations to Library groups or staff at large; consult with peers at other institutions; serve on appropriate task forces or committees; [and] cultivate contacts with faculty engaged in information technology research and with appropriate Information Systems and Technology staff." These duties emphasize serving as an information resource in the chosen area, rather than troubleshooting, training, or being the sole provider of direct services. The first year's experience with this program reportedly has been very positive. [25]

Simplify the Technicalities

Librarians who are reluctant to do online searches often complain that the process is cumbersome, with too many technical details to remember. While lobbying vendors to streamline their systems and adopt the NISO Common Command Language may have salutary long-term effects, there remains much that online coordinators can do in the short term to improve the local interface for searchers. Paul Heckel's advice to software designers is applicable here: "The effective communicator looks for simplicity as it will be perceived by his audience, and he will do complex things to achieve that simplicity." [26]

Are your searchers learning logon sequences that could be built into "auto-logon" scripts, one for each vendor? Most communications programs have this capability. Once this is accomplished, consider providing a menu-based environment that presents a list of online systems and lets staff initiate a search by selecting the one they want. On an MS-DOS machine, this can be done with batch files or specialized programs such as Automenu; on a Macintosh, with careful arrangement and naming of windows and icons.

Once searchers are logged on, one-page "cheat sheets" are a speedy, convenient, and anxiety-reducing alternative to lengthy printed manuals. Several vendors now provide this kind of documentation under such names as bluesheets, aidpages or reference cards. Similar sheets are worthwhile for the communications software itself, or for particular search activities such as duplicate removal, output formatting, or downloading from CD-ROMs. The goal is to change these situations from "emergencies" to routine matters.

Lower the Anxiety Threshold

Another common complaint from searchers is the "ticking meter" phenomenon. Particularly in a mediated search when the customer is present, the buildup of online costs creates psychological pressure that can distract the searcher and result in mistakes.

To reduce this pressure, searchers at UT Austin have a financial "safety net." If a searcher makes an error or encounters a system problem that significantly increases the search cost, he/she has the option of having the library pay for that portion of the search, charging the customer only for the successful portion. Having this option available manifestly reduces anxiety; when it is exercised, explaining the situation to the customer provides some immediate positive public relations. Reports of such "charge-offs" give the online coordinator an indication of possible training needs. Since it is seldom invoked more than once or twice a month, this policy has proved to be affordable.

Online systems can also be designed to reduce anxiety. DIALOG's recently announced "set notice" command, which causes a warning message and cost estimate to appear whenever the searcher gives a command that would generate output costing more than a preset amount, should have a salutary effect. [27]

Set Priorities

Operating library services with a static or decreasing staff and budget is a challenge that requires explicit setting of priorities at the individual, departmental, and library levels. This process must include specification of low as well as high priorities. In the environment of the 1990s, inability to make these choices (even when masked by a "we do it all" attitude) is a sure way to intensify stress among staff.

One way to delineate priorities is to specify the levels of service to be given to various user groups. Many libraries have policies in place regarding eligibility for online search services. An example of a more comprehensive approach is the "Library Service Priority Program" recently announced by UC Berkeley.

As new service patterns emerge, libraries need to consider how their markets for computer-based information are segmented and which services should be supported by various kinds of staff activity. This process involves both philosophical and pragmatic questions. What is the library's responsibility to ensure the quality of search results--and, given differing user needs, what is "quality" in the first place? Should users of "full-service" (mediated) search services, online end-user services, or public CD-ROM terminals have priority for staff time? Given clear and realistic instructional objectives for each type of user, what is the most cost-effective means of delivering instruction in each case? Is the demand for equipment troubleshooting great enough to justify dedicated staff? The answers to these questions will vary from one institution to another. The important thing is that they be asked and that locally "correct" solutions be implemented.

New technologies also call for libraries to set priorities, lest our reach (what is technically possible) exceed our grasp (what staff are actually equipped and trained to deliver on a daily basis). At UT Austin, for example, a current priority is to get searchers set up with the software, information, and skills required to telnet to other online catalogs and information systems on the Internet. A similar program to foster use of Internet file transfers (via ftp, WAIS, etc.) is being deferred until this first step is accomplished. Generally, we will promote a new technology to users only after staff are sufficiently familiar with it. This may not always place us on the cutting edge of progress, but it does allow staff to master proven techniques at a reasonable pace, thus helping to ensure that we can deliver what we promise

Drowning in Paperwork

Being Evaluated - Is There ANYTHING more Time-Wasting or Aggravating at The Median Sib

The paperwork is mind-numbing.  What are my areas of strength as a teacher, and what are my reasons for selecting those areas of strength?  What are my areas for growth and the reasons for selecting those areas for growth?  That comprises the first two pages of paperwork.  I haven’t started on anything yet because I just hate it.

Then I must answer the following questions about the lesson I will teach on Tuesday morning - notice the explanations in parentheses for anyone who can’t figure out the first part:

(1)  What is the student goal(s)/objective(s) for the lesson?  (What is the ultimate desired outcome of this lesson?)  In the event that students are working on individual objectives, choose 2 or 3 students and provides their objectives.

(2) What information do you have regarding your students’ current abilities in relation to this objective(s) and how has this impacted the design of this lesson?

3.  What teaching strategies will you use to teach this objective? (How will you accomplish your objective(s)?)

4.  What are the student indicators of success within this lesson?  (What behaviors will you look for to determine whether or not the students are meeting the objective(s)?)

5.  Identify the data which will be collected to evaluate the students’ achievement of the goal(s)/objective(s).

6.  What future assessments will you use to determine the retention and ongoing application of today’s learning?

7.  What is the relationship of this lesson to the larger unit of study and to your annual goals?

8.  Do you have any concerns at this point regarding this lesson or these students?

Then there is another page for the “Reflecting Information Record” that has seven more questions to be done after the evaluation/observation.  I won’t bore you by writing those out.  Then there are (I SWEAR it’s true) SIX more pages of paperwork to finish after that.  There’s an “Educator Information Record” and “Professional Growth Plan” and a “Future Growth Plan.”  Right now I have no idea what the difference is in those last two.  Guess I’ll find out soon.

Yes,  I’m procrastinating by writing this post instead of working on the work (that’s a joke that some of my readers may get - depending on what books your school system requires you to read).  But REALLY, is all this paperwork crap necessary?

Common Good What Matters Most

Reading the teachers’ diaries is an exercise in frustration: Tales of breaking up fist fights; confiscating scissors from one student threatening to stab another; a student threatening to slash a teacher’s tires — and time and time again, there are no consequences for misbehavior. The offending students are simply returned to the classroom.

Standardized testing has consumed increasingly larger parts of the day. Some teachers were pulled from their regular teaching assignments for up to five weeks as they administered and graded tests. One teacher wrote: “This situation emplifies what education in New York City has become — preparing for tests, testing, and grading tests. What has happened to teaching?”

Mandated teaching requirements also created some frustration for the teachers — especially the veterans. “Sometimes I feel like I’m a robot regurgitating the scripted dialogue that’s expected of us day in and day out,” one writes. Another teacher restates her day despondently: “Teach mini-lesson... Student raises hand with question. Tell him to put hand down. Students not allowed to ask questions during mini-lesson. Feel guilty.”

The report also describes constant interruptions during class time — administrators calling seeking paperwork, PA announcements and parent visits. One Common Good researcher observed a teacher who was interrupted sixteen times in a single day. A certain amount of test preparation, disciplinary action and paperwork can and should be expected in a typical workday for any teacher, but the situations described in the diaries can’t possibly be what anyone truly intended. Layer upon layer of new mandates developed without a teacher’s voice — much less a real collaboration between classroom professionals and those who supervise them — have resulted in a system that substitutes time- consuming bureaucratic routines for quality teaching and learning.

This is not unique to New York. If we are serious about improving America’s schools, we need to listen carefully to what teachers are telling us. We must bring order and safety to our schools, because learning suffers in an environment that is neither safe nor secure. We need to strike a healthy balance between teaching and testing, because students are denied important opportunities or new learning when testing is excessive. And we must respect the skill and commitment of our educators, providing them with the professional latitude they need to do their jobs, rather than drowning them in paperwork and micromanagement.

That’s just common sense.

Work Overload of Netslaves

[Nov. 5, 1999] NetSlaves ~ Usually ships in 2-3 days
Bill Lessard, Steve Baldwin / Hardcover / Published 1999 Our Price: $13.97 ~ You Save: $5.98 (30%) Average
Prudloe Vensigian from Deep Run Mobile Home Park, Maryland , November 1, 1999
These guys are nuts, and that's great! Oh yeah! From reading Netslaves it's easy to tell that these guys have been on the front lines of the new media wars for a long, long time. Not in the Generals' tents, but out where the layoff bullets fly and talented employees are more often rewarded by watching their kiss-ass co-workers get promoted over their heads than by anything else. If you are in, or want to get into, the fast-paced Internet go-go economy, you must read this book. No, you're not the only one who has found (or will find) that the pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow has already been emptied by investment bankers and other leeches, and that your share is just big enough to rent a studio apartmen, pay your ISP bills, and buy takeout pan pizzas every few days. I create Web site content for a living, so I live what these guys write, and dammit, I still love my work as much as ever despite the fact that doing the scut work behind the Internet is just as horrid as Steve and Bill say it is. As the late songwriter and newspaper humorist Sylvia Miller put it, "If misery loves company, then you're the one for me. You like to cry into your beer, wine always makes me shed a tear."

Slashdot Book Reviews NetSlaves

A pretty naive review,  but good discussion
If you read newspapers, books, or follow Net-business coverage on TV, you might well think work on the Net is mostly about the billionaires who found Hotmail or Yahoo or Netscape, or the clean, benefit-laced, campus-like work environments they provide. You'd have no way of knowing the much more pervasive and unnerving reality: for every one of those there's a zillion companies that come into the world still-born, fail miserably, make and sell crummy stuff, and hire countless miserable, exploited, harassed and burned-out programmers, techies, geeks and nerds.

Baldwin and Lessard are combat veterans of the Net, both in terms of writing and personal experience. They are also long-standing Truth Tellers.

In addition to writing about computing for a number of magazines and websites, they also run the guerilla website NetSlaves, a running testimonial to real life for many in the hi-tech workplace.

"NetSlaves" is a terrific extension of the site, one of the few books to come off of a website that really works as a book. Lessard and Baldwin have a powerful story to tell, and they do it with a lot of punch. "NetSlaves" ought to be handed out to every graduate of every tech school, and given to every new employee of every Net company.

Baldwin and Lessard say their grand "pre-alpha" statement about the Nature of Net-Slavery is this:

"Technology has changed, but human nature hasn't. Whether it's the Gold Rush of 1849 or the Web Rush of l999, people are people. More often than not, they're miserable, nasty, selfish creatures, driven by vanity and greed, doing whatever they can to get ahead, even if it means stepping on the person next to them, crushing the weak, and destroying themselves in the process."

The authors don't have a particularly high regard for many forms of Net work, which they lambaste as the New Media Caste System, but they care about Net workers, and the book is curiously affectionate, even loving about them, as well as a hoot to read.

Both concede that one of their purposes in writing "NetSlaves" is to have the book serve as a quasi-historical, quasi-anthropological reflection of a particular moment in the culture.

Although the tone of "NetSlaves" is informal and funny, the point is pretty serious. "NetSlaves" has done what legions of reporters and authors have so far failed to do: paint a truthful picture of about the new nature of work in the techno-centered world.

For all of the media blabber about Net commerce and hi-tech startups, life in this fast lane can be brutal - insane hours, almost no employee-employer loyalty, greed and moral cowardice, help-desk geeks driven mad by enraged customers, back-stabbing, savage pressure, competiveness and the many resultant neuroses from all of the above.

Baldwin and Lessard make no pretense of objectivity. They write with almost ferocious authority and persuasiveness. They describe themselves as "two angry, cranky bastards out for blood" on behalf of their exhausted selves and the countless burnouts, geniuses, thieves, opportunists, workaholics and losers they've encountered along the way.

"NetSlaves" gives us a whole new language for the villains and back-stabbers who make up the hi-tech workplace. Particular venom is reserved for the "Fry Cooks," the "get it done at all costs" project people of the New Media Caste System. (There's also the "Garbagemen," the workers who have to get servers up and running when they crash).

My favorite chapter is about the "Cab Drivers," the haunted and hunted itinerant Web freelancers who design sites, followed closely by "Gold Diggers and Gigolos," a scathing portrait of the ambitious, night-crawling, hard-partying, butt-kissing movers and shakers and wannabees of hi-tech work world.

"Most Web sites are designed by itinerant, restless young people who have given up the constraints of working for one company in particular, in exchange for the self-determination of pursuing their own path. The rationale is that they can earn a higher hourly rate and pick and choose their projects.

"The reality, however," write Lessard and Baldwin, "is that these Cab Drivers have to constantly hustle for work and their passengers, or clients, who are also cash-crunched, are notorious for skipping out on their fares. Added to this is the lack of health benefits that Cab Drivers face - a plight which has forced many to simply neglect themselves." This is a world in which workers are terrified or despondent when forced to take a few weeks off, convinced they'll fall behind forever.

"NetSlaves" succeeds wonderfully in its goal to tell the truth about a particular culture at a critical juncture in time. It is, in fact one of the few telling looks inside the new kinds of workplaces springing up in the hi-tech, global economy. Workers beware.

[July 27, 1999] The High Tech Sweatshop

Comments are much more interesting than the story. The latter  is kind of suspect ;-)


Its 4:30 am on a Friday and I just finished the last Mountain Dew. We ran out of coffee hours ago, the remains of it now black sludge at the bottom of the pot. The buildings air conditioning went off sometime the previous night and its up to almost 90 degrees in the server room. The two volunteer hackers on the staff went home after 12 hours, leaving me and the sysadmin… 

This is a normal day for me. 

I‘m a systems engineer in the client services division of a network security software company. Basically what that means is that when networks break, I fix them. 

I am 22 years old, I make a large multiple of the national average salary, and if I cashed in my stock options I could buy a very nice house. I’m also sixty pounds overweight, I sleep an average of four hours a night, and I have several ulcers. I usually spend about 60 hours a week at the office, but I’m on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. If I was honest with myself Id probably say I worked about one hundred hours last week. This is a normal life for someone working in this industry.

We live in a world today that runs on information. And people want all of it now. When was the last time you actually wrote out a personal letter to someone, on paper, in pen? Why bother when E-mail is so much faster and easier? But what goes on behind the scenes when you hit the “send” button? There are thousands of people out there just like me who have titles like “Network engineer” and “Systems administrator”. We keep that information flowing, and we get paid what seems like a lot of money to do it. If you’ve been in the market for a good network admin lately you know what I mean. The market is pushing the salary into the 100k+ plus range for someone with the necessary experience to handle even a relatively small network, never mind what the really large companies like State Farm insurance or Wells Fargo bank have.

I started work on this problem with the sysadmin on Thursday before the close of business, getting things set up, preparing for the changes etc… The company was switching internet service providers that night because the previous one hadn’t provided the level of service they needed. This entailed changing the IP addresses, and DNS configurations of every machine in the building, running three different operating systems, probably two hundred machines all told, then setting up the servers, routers, and switches necessary to get it all running. It’s a big job, but with six people working on it we figured we could get it done before start of business the next day. Normally you would do this kind of thing over a weekend, but the ISP could either do the changeover tonight, or wait till next week, and we needed to be online before Monday. 

Getting back to what happens when you press the send button. You expect the computer to send the message, and that the person it was sent to will receive it. What happens to the message then is an incredibly complex series of storage, sending, routing, switching, redirecting, forwarding and retrieving, that is all over in a fraction of a second, or at most a few minutes. But you don’t care how or why it gets there, only that it does, and this is all you should care about. After all you don’t have to know how your cars engine works in order to drive it right. But someone has to know in case it breaks. And when your email breaks you expect someone to fix it. It doesn’t matter what time it is, or where the message is being sent, you want it to get there now. 

Its now 8 am and the network is still down. We’ve managed to isolate a routing problem and are in the process of fixing it. The ISP gave us the wrong IP addresses and now we have to go back and redo all two hundred machines in the building. The router was crashing and we couldn’t figure out why. Two hours on the phone with the vendors support, and three levels of support engineer later we fix it. People are starting to come in to work and ask why they can’t get their email. The changeover process takes us about three hours and finally everyone has the right IP, but things still aren’t working right. A bunch of people use DHCP for their laptops and the DHCP people cant get out to the net. The CEO of the company is one of those people…

So what do we do? Well we hire people to take care of the network. And we give them benefits and pay like any normal employee. We also give them pagers, cell phones, a direct phone lines to their houses so that any time, any where, we can get them, because the network could go down, and we DEPEND on that network, and those people. This is where things go skew from the normal business model. 

All compensation is basically in exchange for time. The only thing humans have to give is their time. When I pay you a salary it is in exchange for me being able to use your abilities for a certain period of time every year. The assumption is that the more experienced or knowledgeable you are the more your time is worth. This works fine when you are being paid a wage, but salaried employees aren’t. They exist under the polite fiction that all their work can be done in a forty hour period every week, no matter how much work there is. We all know this isn’t the case of course. And when it comes to Systems administrators and network engineers that polite fiction isn’t so polite. In exchange for high salaries and large stock options the company owns you all day and all night, every day and every night. You are “Mission critical”. High salaries become an illusion because when it gets down to it your hourly rate isn’t much better than the assistant manager of the local Pep Boys. 

I finally went home at 1 that afternoon. I couldn’t stay awake any more and if I didn’t leave right then I wouldn’t have been able to drive home. The funny thing is I felt guilty for leaving. Things still weren’t working quite right, and I felt like I should have stayed until they were. Even funnier is that I volunteered for this. The only part of the job that I actually had to do was to change a few IP addresses and configure the firewall, but I thought I’d lend a hand, and I couldn’t do the firewall till everything else was working anyway. My wife hadn’t seen me in two and a half days, and I could barely give her a kiss when I walked through the door and collapsed on my bed. The SysAdmin was fired a few hours after I left. Back to work Monday morning.

From reader comments:

like furnace stokers (Score:2, Funny) by ( on Monday July 26, @06:57AM EDT (#2) (User Info) i sometimes liken system and network admin to being a coal stoker in the basement of a big building, just shoveling coal into the furnace 24/7 to keep the business above running.  punchline of your story is that they fired the (only?) full time system administrator. personal and professional info on homepage: Amen Brother (Score:1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 26, @06:58AM EDT (#3)

Been there. All I can suggest is that you make a serious effort to spend more time playing and less time working. When I left my last job, I had 8 weeks vacation accrued, and a real bad attitude. I took two months off working, and now I limit my work week to 50 hrs on regular weeks, and anytime I work more than that, I take off a day or half day in the following week.  This has really helped me be a lot nicer person overall (and my wife REALLY likes that). I have always met folks in high positions who DO appreciate my effort, and have thus always had stellar reviews and reccomedations for future employment.  Good luck, and stay sane.

[July 15, 1999] Information overload can be coupled with real overload, that is characteristic of startups.

 As one Slashdot reader put it (ArticlesHome Sweet Sweatshop):

They think that because they work 18 hours a day, neglect their home life, end up divorced, have kids that don't know them, and few real friends, they are "Heroes". They gave their all, 110%. Guess what, for that 110%, you will get a watch and maybe a small pension when you retire. You will dye alone, and no one that ever worked with you will care. There is so much more to life than the grind. People who overwork themselves aren't heroes, they are idiots...

Another reader stated about WEB-related jobs

I work in "the Industry" and telecommute from home (very small apartment on the 5th floor). I have 10+ people over me and a few below me, and I've never met any of them face to face -- I only know them by e-mail, though I work with them every day for 18+ hours, sleeping on a futon in between.

Pay is good, but it's very isolated -- no human contact at all, and I get very tired of staring at the same Netscape, Emacs, and shell windows all day, every day.

I go through 150+ ounces of dew and coke every day, and there's nothing directly outside but traffic and other buildings. Time pressure is also fairly high. Everything must always be done "within 24 hours" because that's the way the Web works, I guess. I'm getting fairly tired of working this way.

Another interesting quote:

You know, media companies aren't the only ones. ANY sort of internet startup, and I've worked for MORE than one, has so many unreasonable demands that it's absurd.

And in my experience, most of it's the people in charge. I'm working for a startup now. Hating every minute of it. I'm expected to work 80 hour weeks, be on call, do customer tech support (I'm the system administrator), and do seven other people's jobs while I'm at it.

Which *NECESSITATES* a 70 hour work week. Every.. freaking.. week! And to add insult to injury, I'm not even paid 1/4th of what I'm worth according to every salary survey out there. And of course, I'm going to be the first one asked to take a pay cut or vacation when the VC runs out. Which I expect to be very soon.

The company is a management disaster. Ignorance and blatant lack of record keeping and blatant lack of research has already wasted over $4 *MILLION*. And of course, in typical "let's get ready for that day far FAR away when we make an IPO" fashion, we have a CEO, CFO, CTO, and COO already. Who's combined salaries could buy me *two* RS/6000 SP2 Advanced Switches (which, last check, are over $100k/ea) *AND* a Lexus!

Yet another:

Why DON'T you take your own advice? I've left two companies so far, when the management got absolutely intolerable--when the 'con' list got longer than the 'pro' list.

Two truths I've learned in my first two internet jobs (since '94, when I graduated university):

Burn Rate : How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet

Michael Wolff / Paperback / Published 1999 Our Price: $11.20 ~ You Save: $2.80 (20%) Average Customer

 A reader from Dallas, Texas , August 21, 1999

Simple, targeted revenge for mistakes he made in business I struggled to force myself to finish this book in hopes that somewhere, maybe even on the last page there would be a reason for having ever purchased this book. I was wrong. I felt like the entire purpose of this book was to make others look worse than the writer, and thereby raise himself up in the process. It didn't work. The internet has only just begun, yes there were early days, but it's a fast growing medium that, unlike any other medium, the masses can control. There are big players, there are major corporations in the game, but people still have control over what they do. Arrogant editors and writers & VCs miss the point. The medium is about people, community, tribal aspirations, connections, ideas, concepts or the simplest truth of them all.......the internet is a campfire, pure and simple enough for even this author to somehow have understood from the earliest days of his internet struggles. I enjoyed reading AOL.COM, had high hopes this book would be in that class, it was/is not.

A reader from Pune, India , August 20, 1999

Excellent narravative of startups and VC-Owner relationship Among the various books available on the topic of startups, etc, this book most closely and frankly puts across the relationship between the Founder of a startup and the VCs who finance it. Also recorded the life and death of a internet startup. At times, the author seems almost aplogogetic, but that is always better than cockiness.

A very good buy!

A reader from Indianapolis , August 11, 1999

Business Blinders Michael Wolff's attack on the the Internet Business world is interesting, but he makes the one mistake every business person seems to make: there is more to the world than making money. There is more to the Internet than how it is commercialized. If there are NO businesses on the Internet in the future, it still is going to be important. Since Wolff never get's beyond Television asumptions, he overlooks some of the most interesting things that Internet has to offer in Many to Many communication: the regular guy is just as accessable as the huge corporation. The regular guy can probably make money EASIER than the big corporation. There is more to life than being the organization man...

Common Signs of Burnout Dr. Beverly Potter

Negative emotions

Interpersonal problems

Health problems

Below-par performance

Substance abuse

Feelings of meaninglessness

Recommended Links

Softpanorama hot topic of the month

Softpanorama Recommended

Improve your supervisor relationship and reduce stress -

The battle with burnout

Burnout Inventory (Test)

Burnout Self-Test -- from Baptist Hospital East

Show Me Careers - Burnout -- very good have great references

Top 10 Signs you have job burnout -- humor

ACoA and Job Burnout -- story

Baptist Hospital East - Health Information - Burnout on the Job


Preventing Job Burnout

by Susan Friedmann

ExhibiTips, Volume 3. #3, March 1995, Professional Development

Copyright Trade Show Exhibitors Association

(Feature) Job burnout can affect anyone -- Airforce news


Top 10 Signs That You Have Job Burnout

10. You're so tired, you now answer the phone with just: "Hell."

9. Your friends call to ask how you've been, and you immediately scream, "Get off my back!!"

8. Your garbage can is your "In" box.

7. You wake up to discover your bed is on fire, but go back to sleep because you just don't care.

6. You have so much on your mind, you've forgotten how to logon to your 401K account.

5. Amount of staff in your mailbox helps you make it from Saturday to Monday.

4. You don't set your alarm anymore because you know the cellphone will go off before the alarm does.

3. You leave for a party and instinctively bring your badge and secure ID token with you.

2. You keep your sleeping bag in the car just in case you can't make the commute.

1. Sometimes you think about how relaxing it for prison inmates to do nothing for days and weeks.


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Last modified: April 21, 2017