The closest that most of us come to direct experience of the centrelessness of capitalism is an encounter with the call centre. As a consumer in late capitalism, you increasingly exist in two, distinct realities: the one in which the services are provided without hitch, and another reality entirely, the crazed Kafkaesque labyrinth of call centres, a world without memory, where cause and effect connect together in mysterious, unfathomable ways, where it is a miracle that anything ever happens, and you lose hope of ever passing back over to the other side, where things seem to function smoothly. What exemplifies the failure of the neoliberal world to live up to its own PR better than the call centre? Even so, the universality of bad experiences with call centres does nothing to unsettle the operating assumption that capitalism is inherently efficient, as if the problems with call centres weren’t the systematic consequences of a logic of Capital which means organizations are so fixated on making profits that they can’t actually sell you anything.
The call centre experience distils the political phenomenology of late capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object, since – as is very quickly clear to the caller – there is no-one who knows, and no-one who could do anything even if they could. Anger can only be a matter of venting; it is aggression in a vacuum, directed at someone who is a fellow victim of the system but with whom there is no possibility of communality. Just as the anger has no proper object, it will have no effect. In this experience of a system that is unresponsive, impersonal, centreless, abstract and fragmentary, you are as close as you can be to confronting the artificial stupidity of Capital in itself.
- Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism