Thursday, January 26, 2012

Occupy as Form: Lauren Taylor

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Lauren Taylor, artist and graduate student at California College of the Arts.

Keyword: Crisis

Every crisis is an opportunity to sell something. You can buy yourself out of environmental crisis by purchasing organic, local, naturally raised, eco-friendly, free-range, zero-waste, green, green, green. If the economy is the catastrophe that is bringing you down, you are obviously looking at this from the wrong angle. Interest rates are so low, you can’t afford NOT to buy! What about starving children? What about girls who can’t go to school? What about endangered animals? Donate to a charity, you will feel better! You can spend yourself out of this situation. And if you still feel like shit, take a pill. Everyone else is doing it. According to Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, in giving you the power to take care of these problems yourself, “any question of social systemic causation is ruled out.” Fisher is specifically addressing mental illness in this passage, but it could clearly be applied to any of the above listed crises. Creating a culture of crisis creates a sense of urgency to alleviate not the issue, but our responsibility to care, the guilt and pain we feel as a result, and our seeming lack of control to do anything other than throw money at the problem. Are we really personally responsible for everything that is wrong in the world? By encouraging us to buy our way out of this hole, the answer that we are given is YES.  Is there a coping strategy that is more sustainable? How can we step back and look at the system that is causing these crises, without feeling like we are evading blame? If we fail to do so, we continue the cycle that causes our impotence. We are not just individuals with the responsibility and power to fix the crisis through capital, we are the system, with the responsibility and power to fix the crisis. Let’s figure out how. Occupy the system!


  1. Your reflections on individualism as an effective erasure of social (political economic) structure are important. Several of the actions of Occupy Public Health seek to reframe public health not as concern about the risks of living in tents (or homeless) in occupy encampments but rather as the recognition of the role of social and political economic structures (such as those that produce homelessness) in producing sickness.
    Resources from a Recent SFSU Occupy Public Health Teach-In

  2. I am waiting to get a copy of the book Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism by Eva Illouz. I am including the book description here because it is so compelling to me right now!

    This book dispels some conventionally received ideas: namely, that capitalism has created an a-emotional world dominated by bureaucratic rationality; that economic behavior conflicts with intimate, authentic relationships; that the public and private spheres are irremediably opposed to each other; and that true love is opposed to calculation and to self- interest.This book argues that the culture of capitalism has fostered an intensely emotional culture, in the workplace, in the family, and in our own relationship to ourselves. More: this book argues that economic relations have become deeply emotional, while close, intimate relationships have become increasingly defined by economic and political models of bargaining, exchange, and equity. This dual process by which emotional and economic relationships come to define and shape each other is called "emotional capitalism. " Emotional capitalism has been carried through one major social group: clinical psychologists. Throughout the twentieth century, psychology increasingly put emotions at the centerstage of the public arena, of our relationship to our own self, and to others. Academia, movies, self-help literature, women's magazines, talk shows, support groups, for-profit workshops, and the professional practice of therapy have become mobilized to make us, men and women, primarily concerned with and defined by our emotions. How did this happen? What are the social consequences of such widespread preoccupation with emotions? How does it change the way in which we express suffering? This book addresses these questions and offers a new interpretation of the reasons why the public sphere is saturated with the spectacle of private emotions and why so many people define their identity in terms of psychic suffering.