Productivity And Society

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life)

Pouring the chai (tea) to the cup Varma ji answered, “I sent him away.” His words are always interrupted with long pauses. Taking the cup in my hand I started sipping tea. I had asked him where his assistant- a boy aged 12 or 13- was. The boy looked above his age. A well built boy he was. It had been a few days since he was not visible “Why will I keep him here when he doesn’t work? It was an unnecessary expense for me,” said Varma ji after his long pause.

Yes, why would anyone keep someone as an employee if he/she did not move the wheels of production? “Shall I keep him here to increase the human crowd around my shop? If there were goons who would trouble me I might have kept the boy here just to give the goons a feeling that I have some people with me,” explained Varma ji. Why would anyone, leave alone Varma ji, keep someone who was unproductive?

The next morning the result of class 10 in Karnataka was announced. My cousin scored some 93 per cent. There was a celebration mood in the entire family. I too was happy. But my cousin was crying as she spoke to me over the phone. She said that she expected more. To make her feel better I had to tell her that she had performed well and to say so I spoke a lot including how badly I had performed in class ten and how I had just managed to pass.

As I was speaking to my cousin explaining her how marks do not matter I told her how I was never asked for my marks anywhere in my life- for my degree admission, for my post graduation admission, during my interview at both the places of my work and then even during my admission for M.Phil. Saying all this I narrated an incident which took place recently in the school where I studied.

It was the diamond jubilee celebration of our school. I went and my teachers all recognized me. They still remembered me because I was naughty as a student, I was good when it comes to extra-curricular activities and because I was extremely bad in academics. It was nice to meet some teachers and I had to meet some others even if I did not feel like. One of them asked me, “What are you doing now?” in a tone which almost assumed the answer to be, “I am a sweeper in the municipality corporation.” Quite annoyed I said what I was doing. Suddenly the tone the gesture and everything of the teacher changed. The change communicated the importance of being something good for a student to gain acceptance from his/her teacher. Why did the very same teacher humiliate me and many like me? Why did she show an acceptance now? Because I show some sign of productivity now and I did not show ten years ago? Why did my family and I celebrate the result of my cousin but not of mine? Is it because we too attach the same kind of value towards productivity?

While in the profession of teaching I closely witnessed many in the same profession being intolerant of some students who were, “waste” and who we had to “get rid” of soon.

Michel Foucault in one of his lectures (Madness and Society) showed us the relationship between the discipline of psychiatry and industrial society. Foucault argues that prior to industrial society mad people did exist in the society but it was only in the industrial society that the discipline of psychiatry comes into existence. Just before psychiatry wards came up, in the wake of industrial society mad people, old people, idlers, unemployed, prostitutes people all who were non productive were all caged in an institution. In these institutions there was forced labor. But when the need for laborers increased most of them except the mad men were released from these establishments and the mad men were seen as patients for the first time. So Foucault’s arguments show the roots of psychiatry being in a problem that the sane world has with non-productivity. Incapacity to work, writes Foucault, is the first criterion of madness. Aren’t the mad men given vocational training in the psychiatric wards? Isn’t there a focus of work therapy? The medical certificates issued by psychiatrists usually end with the note saying the patient has recovered and is fit for work.

[Is the intolerance towards non-productivity is directly linked to a capitalist society and a capitalist mindset?

When Karl Marx made the statement, “Wealthy is the one who IS much and not the one who HAS much” was he referring to productivity?]

08 May 2010

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