The post-industrial pysche

Complementing what I thought were excellent thoughts by Jeremy Paxman on Britain’s post-agricultural society, here are excerpts from a thought-provoking article, which resonates for me, on how there is a new social order in the post-industrial world, just as uprooted as that created by the industrial revolution, but perhaps more psychically disoriented:

…in the first industrial era, the capitalist labour market created a different kind of humanity out of the wasting peasantry of an impoverished countryside, as people streamed towards the new industrial towns of the early 19th century. A different kind of human being, never before seen in history, was born – the industrial worker, created by the necessities of a national division of labour, which sent its children into mills, mines, forges and manufactories, to learn there a cruel pedagogy of survival.[… Many, such as Engels and George Orwell] tried to make sense of the strange and perverse character of people whose lives had long ago forsaken the cycle of seed-time and harvest, and had been remade by the harsh rhythms of industrial discipline.

In our time, the temper of industrial humanity has been dismantled, no less thoroughly than that of an archaic peasantry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The epic disturbance in our age has dissolved a national division of labour, sent industrial work to distant countries, and left at a loss people who had never doubted their function and reason for existence…

The political vacuum has been filled by identities provided by consumer markets, in which people have searched for meaning, now that the factories have been ploughed into the earth, the great workshop of the world has fallen silent, its rusting machinery exported to distant third world factories, its products outsourced to young factory women in Mexico, Bangladesh or Indonesia…

We have seen [the] undoing [of the working class], and the reincarnation of the popular sensibility in a form for which no collective name exists. Whatever it is called, it represents a distinctive psychic structure from anything that preceded it. This remaking is now a fait accompli.

It remains the endeavour of conservatives of all stripes to restore the status quo ante, to place the new kind of human being into a familiar, recognisable and controllable context. This is impossible.

The “post-industrial” reality of contemporary Britain is not emancipated from industry, indeed, is even more deeply embedded within it globally, for even basic necessities in daily use are brought in from all over the world; but we look in vain if we seek continuities in the politics that grew out of derelict pit-villages, wasted city suburbs and provincial towns left high and dry by the extinction of the labour they performed.


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