The Precariat: A New Class Defined by Insecurity and Loss of Rights


Hatched by Thati

Jun 28, 2024

5 min read


The Precariat: A New Class Defined by Insecurity and Loss of Rights

In recent years, the concept of the precariat has gained significant attention in discussions about social and economic inequality. Coined by economist Guy Standing, the precariat refers to an emerging class characterized by high job turnover and reduced labor rights. This class is composed of individuals from various social and economic backgrounds who are forced to accept a life of unstable employment and limited occupational identity.

The precariat is a socially and economically diverse group, internally divided into three distinct categories. The first group, referred to as the "Atavics," consists of individuals who feel excluded from the communities of the old working class. They long for a lost past of industrial capitalism, where they or their predecessors enjoyed a variety of labor rights. This group tends to support populist neofascist leaders such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

The second group within the precariat is the "Nostalgics." Comprised mainly of immigrants and ethnic minorities, these individuals feel disconnected from conventional society and have lost their sense of belonging. They yearn for a sense of home and identity in the present.

The third group, known as the "Progressives," consists of the more educated members of the precariat. They were promised a future when they entered universities, only to realize that it was a gamble. These individuals are seeking a renaissance of enlightenment values and a renewed sense of hope for the future. It is this group that will shape progressive policies in the coming decade.

The precariat faces numerous challenges in today's society. They are exploited both within and outside of traditional employment structures. They lack paid vacations, retirement prospects, and often struggle with low, volatile, or unpredictable wages. Many are burdened with debt and live in constant fear of sudden income loss.

Moreover, the precariat is experiencing a loss of all forms of rights, including civil, cultural, social, economic, and political rights. They feel unrepresented by political parties and leaders, further exacerbating their sense of marginalization.

One of the factors contributing to the growth of the precariat is the technological revolution. Advances in technology have facilitated the fragmentation of employment structures, allowing corporations to shift their divisions of labor. This has led to increased job turnover and further insecurity for the precariat. The rise of the gig economy and platforms such as Uber exemplify this trend.

The demands of employers and the state for "flexibility" are often unfair, as they require millions of people to accept a life of continuous social and economic insecurity. To address this issue, some propose the implementation of a universal basic income, which would provide everyone with a guaranteed income throughout their lives. This would allow those who are tired or in need of a break to do so on their own terms or to pursue alternative endeavors.

Ultimately, the precariat's main enemy is the state. This includes not only the government but also other institutions that shape social policies, forcing the precariat to behave in certain ways or blocking certain activities. The lack of representation from political parties further compounds their sense of disenfranchisement.

In parallel to the concept of the precariat, philosopher Byung-Chul Han has explored the idea of the "Society of Fatigue." Han, a South Korean philosopher living in Berlin, discusses the impact of technology on society and the paradoxical nature of freedom.

Han's reflections on mortality and his experiences in Germany have influenced his understanding of the societal issues he observes. He describes South Korea as an extreme example of the Society of Fatigue, where exhaustion, burnout, and even suicides are common. This is a result of the rapid industrialization and growth the country has undergone.

The negative effects of technology, particularly smartphones, are also discussed by Han. He highlights the phenomenon of information fatigue syndrome, where the constant exposure to digital information leads to mental exhaustion. Additionally, the obsession with digital exposure and self-exploitation has become prevalent in South Korean society.

Han delves into the contradictions of freedom, emphasizing how the pursuit of individual freedom can lead to internal compulsions and control. He exemplifies this through the prevalence of surveillance and self-exposure on social media platforms. Han argues that when taken to the extreme, freedom can result in exploitation and compulsions.

The parallels between the precariat and Han's analysis of the Society of Fatigue are striking. Both highlight the negative impacts of technological advancements on individuals and society as a whole. They shed light on the loss of rights, the erosion of social connections, and the increasing pressure to constantly perform and adapt in a rapidly changing world.

To address the challenges faced by the precariat and combat the societal fatigue described by Han, three actionable pieces of advice can be suggested:

  • 1. Advocate for robust labor rights and protections: It is crucial to fight for stronger labor rights and protections to combat the exploitation and insecurity faced by the precariat. This includes fair wages, paid vacations, and retirement benefits. It also involves advocating for legislation that addresses the specific needs and vulnerabilities of gig economy workers.
  • 2. Foster a sense of community and belonging: To combat the isolation and disconnection experienced by both the precariat and individuals in the Society of Fatigue, efforts should be made to foster a sense of community and belonging. This can be achieved through initiatives that promote social cohesion, encourage meaningful interactions, and provide support networks for those who feel marginalized.
  • 3. Embrace a balanced approach to technology: While technology has undoubtedly brought many benefits, it is important to recognize its limitations and potential negative impacts. Encouraging individuals to adopt a balanced approach to technology use, setting boundaries, and promoting digital well-being can help mitigate the harmful effects of information overload and digital exposure.

In conclusion, the precariat and the Society of Fatigue are two interconnected concepts that shed light on the challenges faced by individuals in today's society. Both highlight the erosion of rights, the impact of technological advancements, and the paradoxical nature of freedom. By addressing these issues and implementing actionable solutions, we can work towards a more equitable and balanced society that prioritizes the well-being and rights of all its members.

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