Working for little reward to have others enrich themselves, even in situations of slavery, and to do so convinced that this is normal and it makes us worthy, is a clear indicator of suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm Syndrome is a disease suffered by those who identify with their oppressors, sympathising with the cause of those who cause them harm and preferring not to flee from when they could do so, while moving away from those who can help them.
The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined in 1973 in Stockholm (Sweden), when one of the hostages during a robbery to a bank preferred to stay next to their captor instead of going with the police. Today, this term is used for cases of abduction, gender abuse, within companies and in a few more cases.
The specialists in the subject say that this is a temporary pathological phenomenon. In the case that we are going to study today, unfortunately, it is a phenomenon that has been maintained over centuries and whose root and symptoms pass from generation to generation. Now, we are faced with the possibility of healing from it, of freeing ourselves from this Biblical curse, given the socioeconomic circumstances of the historical moment that we happen to live in.
We speak of a type of Stockholm Syndrome that Humanity has been suffering from for many centuries and which, as in most mental diseases, is not recognised by the patient. We refer to the value we give to employment as the element or means that allows us to live or survive, that gives us dignity, that liberates us and that can make us happy, with all the consequences that this entails.
When talking about employment, we mean paid work. And we will use the term ’employment’ intentionally to differentiate it from work, which encompasses almost every activity of the human being.
And why do we talk about Stockholm Syndrome when we talk about paid work? This is the question that we will try to explain in this short writing.
We have taken ownership of the discourse of those who enslave us
Imagine for a moment that we can ascend in space and observe our planet and its habits. How do we explain that a few people accumulate wealth and more wealth and the vast majority of us work voluntarily so that those few continue to accumulate it thanks to our efforts? How is it possible that the great majority of the population assumes that this wealth, which belongs to everyone, since it corresponds to natural resources or the historical accumulation by thousands of generations, has become the property of those few?
They will tell us that millions of people are happy with their work, that others are not so much but are forced to do it … The truth is that it is a habitual question, when two individuals get to know each other, “What do you do?” And the other answers “I’m a bricklayer, a journalist, a greengrocer, unemployed, retired …”. We assume that our “essence” is given by our profession. The value of employment has reached such a degree.
This is a problem to say the least. Not only because in this society to develop a profession or another gives you power depending on the prestige and money to which it is associated, but also because it is accepted by a large majority that what dignifies the human being is employment, as noted above . Of course, this discourse orchestrated by those who hold power – after having usurped it from the social whole – was and is still necessary for the current system to be maintained.
How we have made ours the discourse of the powerful
In order to maintain it over time, it was necessary to do something other than simply imposing it by force, as it probably happened in the early moments of this form of relationship between human beings.
More important elements were needed. We will comment on some that operate today:
1.- A myth that is rooted in the deepest beliefs of individuals and societies, a myth that is usually religious. In this particular case, we find that at the base of this myth in our Western culture, and that has been forced upon the rest of the planet in many cases, it is clear when the Bible says “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”.
Whether the defenders of certain ideologies like it or not, this myth is at the base of our culture and it is supported by both liberals and Marxists, men and women who call themselves right or left wingers, believers or agnostics … We are all affected by the myth and the mental form that accompanies it.
2. But politicians are also needed to serve the interests of the great economic powers.
3. And a media that help build, defend and feed the discourse that maintains this state of affairs.
There will be no more full employment
This situation is becoming untenable. Full employment no longer exists and it will never do. Millions of jobs are disappearing replaced by machines, something that, as we know, generates every day more wealth. From a different perspective it seems to us deeply positive and encouraging.
Back to our subject, what do millions and millions of human beings whose value depends on their employment do, if they lack it or it does not give them acceptable living conditions? What happens is that every day we find that the unrest is becoming widespread, that personal and social tensions increase, that the future closes for millions of people and that those affected develop physical and mental diseases, leading to suicide in some cases, In addition to a long list of negative consequences.
It is paradoxical – of course – that when the wealth on the planet would allow the entire population to live in decent conditions, a “crisis” appears and this justifies that more and more people are left without employment or the one they had becomes devalued and poorly paid, whilst a minority’s wealth increases exponentially.
Answers to the present moment
Faced with this scenario in which there is no future in the medium and long term no matter how much it is said and believed otherwise, different answers are given.
Some European governments, for example, have chosen to legislate more blatantly in favour of large corporations by lowering taxes, whilst raising them for the rest of the population, eliminating in passing fundamental rights related to freedom of expression or assembly, whilst cutting down basic rights such as education, health, pensions … by privatising these services or by cutting their budgets.
On the other hand, the traditional left continues to defend full employment as the only solution. Something that is not going to happen, but probably they do not see another way out because they also suffer from this type of Stockholm Syndrome or, if they realise, they prefer not to express it because its mode of operation would plummet.
Now, for a few decades (although it comes from further away) and especially in recent years a good number of people and groups defend, among other measures, a universal and unconditional basic income for each person.
We will take this proposal as an example to get out of the unsustainable situation in which we are, because today it is in the limelight and because it would be a measure that could respond to the situation of systemic poverty, while it would be a first step in the direction of redistributing wealth which, as we said at the beginning, belongs to everyone.
But, oh surprise! The majority of the population does not agree with the implementation of this measure, probably because they only have access to manipulated information, but the fact is the current disagreement with its application. It is important to clarify that a good part of this population is at the same time a victim of technological development, of the much talked about crisis, of the robbery of its resources, etc.
“Would it be good to give money to someone for doing nothing? To feed you lazy bones!?” They wonder, “where will the money be coming from?” They ask themselves, repeating the discourse of the powerful, of those who accumulate wealth without being employed in anything other than doing this, of those who exploit and violate them.
We insist that we are setting this example because it allows us to see clearly how a great majority of the population has taken the “abuser’s or exploiter’s” discourse and sees other victims like themselves as their enemies (for example, immigrants).
We will not enter into the whole process of how we got here, how property that belonged to all or no one became privatised. We only wanted to talk about this disease that still affects the majority of the population and the importance of the myth, which continues to feed from the hands of politicians, legislators, opinion formers … those who work to keep this vertical and violent system, along with the media, that perform better every day the role of means of propaganda in favour of the powerful.
Today more than ever, it is vital to claim the humanist vision about the human being, a vision that explains that a human being has value just for the fact of having been born, and that no value may be placed over their life and freedom.
Conclusions: there exists the real possibility of the human being’s liberation
“They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from the sordidae artes and from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty”, wrote Paul Lafargue in 1883.
Because there will be no more full employment, on the one hand, and because we are facing the historical possibility of liberating ourselves from work as an element of control and slavery, on the other, it is fundamental that we question our beliefs about the subject, the look we have toward ourselves and towards others, and the fear of poverty, demanding that the wealth of everyone be redistributed, which would allow the whole of humanity to live in dignified living conditions.
Let us stop making the discourse of the powerful, that there is no wealth and that it is normal for them to rob us and enslave us. Let us rid ourselves of this disease that we have fed for centuries without realising it. Today there is the real possibility of freeing ourselves.
For this, we can start by claiming a universal and unconditional basic income, among many other measures.
About Stockholm Syndrome
On the questioning of employment:
The right to be lazy. Paul Lafargue. 1882. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lafargue/1883/lazy/index.htm
Translated from Spanish by Silvia Swinden