No Cruelty That Cannot Be Solved Through Cruelty

Amazon's "Wellness" Plan Reveals the Insidious Nature of Exploitation and the Wealthy's Need to Move Beyond Humanity

It isn’t enough that Amazon has evolved into a post-nation entity that controls digital commerce. Or that Jeff Bezos, like his techno-rival Elon Musk, is attempting to use his grotesque wealth to personally pursue a vanity-based space program with the intent to colonize the galaxy in his name and under his control, beginning with space-tourism for other obnoxiously wealthy exploiters. And it’s not enough that revelations that Amazon has operated with abundant awareness that employees, in meeting inhuman quotas, have taken to urinating in bottles and, in other cases, workers have had to step around the dead bodies of their friends and coworkers to continue laboring, and that those revelations have done little harm to the disgusting behemoth.

Now, in order to save some semblance of public face, the company is touting a new plan called “Working Well,” designed to “recharge, reenergize, and ultimately reduce the risk of injury” for its workers, as well as, you know, counteracting the bad press as of late.

To even grant this nonsense a cursory glance is to recognize the abysmal philosophy at work within giants like Amazon, to stare into the black, black heart of exploitation, and recognize that none of these massive projects are capable of even an ounce of actual self-reflection or empathy. Through this attempt at “care,” and its absolute failures, it is obvious how incredibly imperiled we are should Amazon, and companies like it, continue to rule the world.

Dispatches From A Collapsing State is an independent project and the home for Jared Yates Sexton’s political, historical, and cultural writings. Jared depends on your support to keep this project going, free from ads and editorial oversight, all in order to provide an unfiltered and uncensored record of this ongoing crisis. If you haven’t already, please consider becoming a subscriber. Doing so will unlock exclusive content, including a regular Dispatches Mailbag where Jared answers your questions, and makes possible the development of future projects and features.

Since the dawn of capitalism, much of the focus of science and so-called progress has been on the “perfection” of extraction of labor. Capitalism was born on the broken and scarred backs of slaves, on the wrecked and undermined cultures of indigenous peoples, on labor forced by the point of sword and lash of whip to enrich king, country, and corporation.

This enterprise was hidden behind talk of evangelizing the Christian religion and “civilizing” peoples but those were veneers intended to hide the terrible cruelty of reducing human beings to marks in a ledger. Founding studies in the science of labor were primarily focused on stationing of slaves and whether it was more efficient to give them manageable tasks or to work them until they died of exhaustion and then replace them. You don’t need me to tell you which option slavemasters chose.

Following the accumulation of capital and resources necessary to jump start capitalism to the tune and favor of white, wealthy, European men (as well as their offshoots in the United States of America), industrialization and fear of uprisings shifted labor into the factory, but the studies continued until Scientific Management, spurred by men like Frederick Taylor, disciplined the workplace to the tune of the tick of the stopwatch, resulting in alienating division of labor and inhuman “discipline.”

But even climbing profits are not enough as capitalism requires constantly increasing and ballooning profits lest the capitalist wither on the vine. Factories and work floors grew and grew as workers were packed into squalid and cramped quarters. Precautions against hazards, accidents, injuries were seen as impediments to profit until people were consumed by fire or maimed by dangerous machines in dizzying numbers.

The rise of workplace reform, necessary at the tail-end of the Gilded Age to rein in diabolical robber barons and advocate on behalf of the worker, began to establish maximum hours, workplace safety measures, and even ushered children out of the shop in favor of schooling. In recent years, however, corporations, fueled by free trade and accelerated markets, have worked around these measures, rushing their factories and productions to countries with nonexistent standards and then shipping the items back to America to be consumed.

This is all very, very problematic for many, many reasons, but it’s necessary to also discuss what is still happening with the labor that is still occurring within the United States as these corporations continue to feast upon their workforces.

The Amazon wellness plan is an insult to humanity and the values of giants like Amazon are obvious in its outline. To “recharge, reenergize” their employees - note that these employees are being described as digital gadgets or machines - the company is dispatching kiosks, utilizing videos and recorded lectures, displaying calming landscapes and soothing sounds.

Recreations and simulations of other places, other times, other realities.

What Amazon is admitting here, whether consciously or otherwise, is that the hellscape of their order fulfillment centers is unnatural and odious. Humans are not meant to toil within these sterile walls while being managed by artificial-intelligence driven algorithms. It’s torturous. These prescriptions are admissions of guilt that the corporation is subjecting their employees to a wholly artificial torment that is antithetical to what the human body and mind wants and, more importantly, needs.

The insistence on treating them with simulations of nature and calming environments is a “solution” rendered with an understanding of the problem but an unwillingness to really wrestle with the implications. The workplace is inhuman. The workplace is unnatural. The workplace is inherently dehumanizing and traumatic. Any actual remedy lies within the recognition of these facts and the complete restructuring of labor, which was based on an artificial and inhuman practice in the first place.

So. If corporate structures are cruel, unjust, exploitative, and sadistic to human beings, the question is who does this serve and exactly where is this all going?

Bank of America analysts refer to the coming workplace as the “robo sapien” era. More and more robots and automative machines will dominate the work of production, while employing humans to oversee, repair, and quality check them, all the while providing the necessary labor and information needed to continue the evolution of the machine into a self-sufficient operator in a future landscape devoid of human labor.

Since the beginnings of industrialization, this was always considered the endpoint, the question has been what it would mean. Past critics of capitalism, watching the system take shape, believed that technology would eventually save humanity from the scourge of labor and possibly usher mankind into a new and peaceful future, but after years of contradictory evidence and displayed cruelty, it’s hard to imagine this coming to fruition.

Instead, as has been discussed her previously, the fantasy has changed as conditions have changed, leading men like Bezos and Musk to openly court galactic travels and an “escape from Earth” and our fractured societies. In these scenarios, once we allow resources to continue to accumulate in unprecedented ways, and give permission to billionaires to become trillionaires and fund their own transhuman projects, including implanting chips and ushering in the era of singularity, we might one day leave this Earth before the ravages of global climate change - caused, we should mention, by the industrial pursuits we’ve been discussing - and even possibly, freed of dehumanizing labor, live in virtual realities suited to our wildest fantasies.

But these are lies. Convenient fairytales and religious narratives. They are stories told by men who wish to continue their exploitation and consolidation of resources, stories of future utopias that can only be realized should they be allowed to continue their work unabated. The real pursuit of capitalism is always more capitalism and more profit, the vision for the future only as clear as what we see today and possibly tomorrow.

The stories conveniently place the fate and happiness of humanity adjacent with their own personal crusades at immortality and profit. But what we seen from any of these men that tells us they have any of our fates or any of our happiness in mind? The environment they promise to protect us from has been destroyed by them. The political system they want to remove us from has been fractured by their greed and maneuverings.

Again. Humanity is the problem to these men.

Again. Humanity is the thing needing remedied.

All other plans and promises are religion. Requests for faith that the pullers of the levers are actually messiahs and that all of this, any of this, really, is even remotely benevolent.