Self-help, self-care & grind culture are coercive systems disguised with "positivity"
How we became eternally success-chasing, self-optimizing projects under capitalism
When capitalism says jump, we say “how high?” But how do we say “f*** you” and survive with our self worth intact & a will to live? How can we know we matter in this world?
Hey friends, today’s newsletter was inspired by 2 things:
How guilty & ashamed I’ve been feeling lately for not “producing” enough or “excelling” by capitalist standards— including at this newsletter.
My recent 1 on 1 sessions with folks where we ALL seem to be grappling with the pain of capitalism attaching our worth to ‘success’ or career ‘growth’
So let’s breakdown how our personal crises under grind culture come from a hidden, covert form of oppression under capitalism that is much harder for us to bear because it is disguised as freedom, growth & “positivity”. Traditional violent coercion under power structures used to always be overtly “negative” & repressive but this is different, more subtle, and we are all feeling the repercussions.
We’ve gone from being oppressed subjects to eternally success-chasing ‘projects’. We’re always trapped in a state of ‘doing’ self-optimizing & fine tuning ourselves- trying to desperately ‘heal’, meditate, jog, fix our way to appeasing capitalism. We therapeutically treat the traits that don’t conform & enable success (I.e. accumulation of capital). How can we create meaning & purpose outside the system grounded in community?
Some housekeeping before we dive in:
Work with me: I’m grateful to work 1 on 1 as a mentor & praxis coach with many incredible people who are dedicated to working thru their shit by applying political values to their daily life & relationships. Learn more here. More time slots will open up soon as I know my work schedule in Nashville.
Thank you to the kind souls that pay to support this newsletter, it exists because of you. This month, I’m moving from Chile back to the U.S. & navigating immigration hurdles which is a soul crushing & financially draining process. Your funds will help sustain me & my political work. To upgrade your plan and become a paid subscriber, follow these simple steps.
P.S. Video coming tomorrow for paid subscribers of me answering some of the questions y’all submitted. You can always submit questions anonymously here.
When oppression is served to you as freedom
Western liberal “democracies” have the highest rates of depression & anxiety. As I move back to the U.S., I’ve been thinking about the consequences of living in the heart of the empire. It is a paradoxical existence- these countries tout themselves as beacons of freedom, liberty, democracy & hope while people on the ground are miserable and trapped in exponentially increasing social inequity, instability. Of course, neoliberal capitalism is the global world order so everyone feels the ripple effect but there is something so deeply insidious about being oppressed under a blanket of ‘positivity’. It’s an elegant, effortless illusion designed to make us think we are free as we live weekend to weekend or vacation to vacation, desperate for the next moment of relief.
From being oppressed subjects to willing & enthusiastic projects
I recently read “Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power” by Byung-Chul Han, a South Korean philosopher who talks about how oppression in fast-paced, technology-driven late-stage capitalism is seductive, not negative or repressive. Our crisis of burnout & psychological distress which is pathologized is driven by an excess of positivity. We ambitiously drive ourselves to overachieve, persevere against all odds to not fail, enthusiastically try to ‘climb the ladder’ & make ourselves more efficient everyday. We’ve been socialized to be enticed by money, social status, power & superiority so much so that we’re willing to self-exploit.
We are both the master & the slave as our inner critic forces ourselves to fall back in line- we are doing the systems job for them and this is why neoliberal capitalism is so insidious. It is stealthy & deceptive because we’re turned into “achievement-subjects” which is a more efficient form of subjugation. As workers, we are constantly refashioning & reinventing ourselves, compulsively achieving entrenched in the “growth mindset”. Growth of what? Capital. We always want to better ourselves ultimately so we can continue to accumulate capital & accolades which we hope will be enough for us to be perceived as worthy, valuable humans in society.
Social media & smartphones as an authoritarian tool of self-correction
On social media- everyone is seemingly thriving, living their best lives, even making the best out of their pain where adversity & failure have been reduced to good stories of eventual success under capitalism- rags to riches. It’s an endless contradiction- a part of us knows that people curate the picture perfect brand to give the illusion of constant positivity or happiness and yet when we’re at our lowest, we compare ourselves to others. We self-correct based on the recommendations of self-help guides & let the algorithm shape our behavior to fit norms, displaying only what adds to “our image”.
The reality is some people seem to be rolling in luxury and opulence, flaunting it all over social media. Others even curate a ‘working class’ aesthetic but their struggles never seem to really incapacitate them like they do to you- they still excel. The rest is horrific news about brutality, bloodshed & oppression- to process these polarities we numb ourselves. How are so many seemingly always “fine” while others are always suffering & dying? Scroll, desensitize, scroll, numb, *endlessly seek stimulation unable to get off the smartphone*.
Self-help culture is vile because it makes us feel as we are ‘free’ of external limitations or systemic constraints & only holding ourselves back from our happiness. However, the implicit assumption it forces us to make is that our happiness is contingent on our conformity to capitalism as though maximum productivity & 'GAINS’ will liberate us. So we begin to police ourselves & each other claiming we CAN have it all if we want. Oddly, CAN is a more effective authoritarian tool than SHOULD. When those in power tell us what we should do, it comes as prohibitions & threatening commands- it’s all so NEGATIVE. But- capitalism tell us we are free to achieve as much as we want, that we can do anything. The achievement-subject deems itself free while being enslaved to labor. We’re told no one is forcing us to work & over deliver. But alas, they are. Get bread or get dead. Under capitalism- everything we do is for a “purpose”. Even friendships are reduced to social networking & vacations are about relaxing so you can maximize your productivity at work- a mere means to an end.
When was the last time you did nothing or did something purposeless?
The words ‘freedom’ and ‘friendship’ have the same root in some languages. Freedom is about having the time & free will to engage in regenerative reciprocal relationships not only to feel joy but be able to build a village that can handle pain. Happiness comes from sharing, cooperating, & merely BEING with each other. We give each other meaning when we validate each others existence independent of our stature in the system. Under neoliberalism, everything we do from communication to play is exploited to generate capital. Self-help meditation, somatic apps are about getting you to further double down on your individualism & make you believe that you are all that you need. We’ve gone from just being workers to eternal entrepreneurs building our own exploitative enterprise. Our isolation, loneliness & solitude makes us self-combative- we voluntarily & happily self-destruct under the guise of personal ambition. If we fail according to arbitrary metrics of success in this society, we feel intense shame instead of questioning the society itself & the systems we operate in.
How many of your wants & needs are really yours?
Most people don’t work to satisfy their own needs but we perceive the needs of capitalism as our own. Our bosses, companies or institutions goals become our goals & we end up attaching our worth to our ability to achieve them. We feel guilty when we’re not achieving these goals at fast-paced rates. Capitalism also relies on individualism- narcissism is encouraged & rewarded. We begin to build lives around ourselves, our success, our needs without interrogating why we believe in the things we believe in. This is why I focus on dissecting how systems of oppression trickle down to create cultures of oppression & shape the infrastructure of our lives- so we can wake up to realizing how we’ve been socialized & traumatized as a result. This is when we realize we do have agency to be more intentional about our wants.
We need validation & support to live knowing we matter
Except we’ve attached our worth to systems & seek meaning or purpose from them. However, we can microdose on change & gradually shift to finding meaning in exchange with other components of our ecosystem. You know those random convos with a stranger at a coffee shop that is a moment of real authenticity where you skip the BS & almost go “do you see the madness we exist? do you see the matrix too?”. You know those moments where you forget about work as you’re immersed in a cultural tradition, cooking a new dish, listening to a song where you can feel the instruments & the 808s pumping in your soul, planting seeds or propagating a plant and those roots shoot out or the baby thrives in response to the time & energy you’ve poured into it, or a pet boops you on the nose reciprocating your care for them, or a friend gives you that much needed hug as you talk about shit in your life without a filter? We need constant exchanges with our ecosystem to know we matter- but any rapid change is unsustainable & scary so break the daily monotony of capitalism by doing 1 or 2 things that genuinely feels enjoyable & regenerative- that’s purposeless.
Personal realizations & thoughts on how I want to do things differently
The more my follower count increased on Instagram, the less connected I’ve felt to people, the lonelier I got & the more I began feeling worthless as I created for consumption driven by numbers. It became impossible to humanly interact with people & be able to sift thru the nonsense, rage & hate mail to find the gems. I am first & foremost a community organizer. My writing, creativity, art, education- all developed in that context in political movements, out of a necessity to do this for our survival. 2020’s fiasco thrust what I did for the movement into the public sphere. However, with that I lost much of the joy & meaning I got from people telling me that my work is impactful to them. I’ve done workshops for a decade, driven strategy in grassroots spaces, worked with folks on praxis, served as an abolitionist care provider, mentor, an accountability guide, conflict mediator, facilitator, etc— that is the work I am now crawling back to that I find incredibly rewarding to do WITH my writing.
Lately any post on IG feels like I’m screaming into the ether with no real way of knowing if I’m reaching & resonating with people besides attaching my worth to numbers. The endless shadow bans & suppression doesn’t help because it artificially acts as coercion to get you to self correct if you’d like more engagement. But selling out isn’t my thing so I’ve been thinking hard about how to cultivate the dynamics of community organizing virtually because no human should have a following of >105,000 people. But y’all here in my cosmic anarchy corner- this I can sustain. You choose to be here & many of you financially contribute to help sustain me- this is meaningful. I can read all your comments & emails from here. I can show up with you instead of me just giving & giving endlessly where I’m left depleted, drained & desperate for someone to tell me I matter. I know many of you think I matter & resonate with my work, but I’d like to be able to hear you.
I don’t have it all figured out & I still struggle constantly- I’m just learning to be more accepting that I can fall apart & still help people.
I am not a good story. I still grapple with finding more meaning in life. I question things constantly, sometimes don’t have any will to live & its community that saves me each time. I think this is why I can do this work with less of a power dynamic because even in our 1 on 1s, I’m not telling you how to live your life. I’m committed to working thru this with you. The only way we can do this work is together where we can catch each other. If we don’t know how to handle the darkness, we’ll never know the value of light.
I will be channeling my focus to cultivating community via my substack. Keep an eye out for discussion threads where I’d love for you to share your experiences so we may co-create. I’m moving this month from Chile to Nashville & the process is miserable honestly. But starting again in July, I will resume monthly Heal in Community sessions, workshops, etc. I will also start monthly group meet & greet sessions where subscribers can show up to share feedback on how my work has impacted you and what topics would you like to see covered because I want to get to know you & need to be able to engage with you to keep doing this.
Always in solidarity,