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”How to Work Through a Coup” – Culture Study

Imagine people trying to teach high school, or work at a grocery store, or file an insurance claim during an attempted coup! But the logic of capitalism – and the way we’ve internalized its mandates for constant productivity – means there is no pausing for national crisis. The last time the gears actually ground to a stop was 9/11, which was nearly twenty years ago.

Since then, we’ve worked through smaller terrorist attacks, through financial catastrophes, through literally dozens of mass shootings, through the police killing of unarmed black men and women, through assaults on water protectors at Standing Rock, through seemingly endless causalities of forever wars, through mass foreclosures, through hurricanes and floods and derechos and wildfires, through a pandemic, and through repeated, coordinated attempts to undermine democracy. And when we struggle to perform at peak productivity levels, we feel bad about it.

This is the black heart of productivity culture: the maniacal focus on the individual capacity to produce elides the external forces that could (and should!) short-circuit our concentration and work ethic. A hyper-productive person isn’t necessarily a focused person so much as a person who’s often hardened or excused themselves from the needs of their immediate and greater community. There’s a lot to admire about the work of Cal Newport, for example – best known for his books Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, and A World Without Email. But his advice is for an imagined worker who’s been able to insulate themselves from so many demands and distractions. Do the same strategies work for someone navigating the world who is not white, male, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, with secure citizenship and a stable living situation?