The Contemporary Artistry of the Oldest Profession: Labor in the Knowledge Economy and A Solidarity of Self-Infliction

For starters, the rise of the “Knowledge Economy” means the emergence of a broad swath of labor devoted to transferring human knowledge to machines intended to wipe out the workers who do the job. This has produced a vagabond existence for many millions of such workers. For them–meaning, frankly, many of us–the vestiges of available human solidarity amount to not much more than proud stylizations of self-infliction.

It is nothing new in the history of labor for workers to seek to escape a burden imposed from above by transforming the imposition into something done immediately to oneself: the internalization of domination is indeed the “Oldest Profession.”

But, these new forms of imposed self-infliction in the “Knowledge Economy” are turning out to present radically new impediments to any possible kind of social organizing.

This seems paradoxical since the products of the “Knowledge Economy” are generically known as “Social Media” and function in the mobilization of a vast population in a “Sharing Economy.” But, it is just these paradoxes—of a ‘social media’ that is more akin to an electronic wind tunnel, and a ‘sharing economy’ that is effectively a socialism of the expropriated—that can best be understood in terms of new structures of self-infliction.

Of special importance is the fact that these workers, when they have a job, often think proudly of themselves as “artists.” Thus, the “contemporary artistry of the oldest profession” is here meant literally.

The SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES in 2015-2016 will host RICHARD GREENWALD—writer, historian, urbanist and critic, and former union organizer (Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Brooklyn College)—who is working on a book on these new forms of work in the “Knowledge Economy” and the corresponding emerging impediments to social organizing to discuss his research in round table seminar with graduate students and faculty.