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Photo by Katerina Jerabkova. Source: Unsplash

How Byung-Chul Han foresaw the toxic positivity of coaches and the wellness industry

Disclaimer: This article was originally published at TAB UOL in Portuguese.

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Scene from the Goop Lab.

“The discipline society is a society of negativity. It is defined by the negativity of prohibition. Its leading modal verb is “cannot.” (…) The achievement society increasingly is in the process of discarding negativity. The increase deregulation is abolishing that. The unlimited “should” is a positive modal verb of this society of achievement. (…) Prohibitions, command and laws are exchanged by projects, initiatives and motivation. The discipline society is still ruled by the “no”. Its negativity fabricates madmen and criminals. In contrast, the achievement society fabricates depressive people and losers.”

Byung-Chul Han does not specifically address the case for coaching or female issues, but rather the idea that everyone is part of this achievement logic. If once we were forbidden to do something, now we are encouraged: it is always possible to achieve a better version of yourself, meaning that, on the other hand, nobody is never good enough, after all, we can never stop our process of improvement. Han mentions, for instance, that during the times when factories worked under Fordism, people (generally men) started to work for some company and there they remained as employees for decades, for the rest of their lives. Later on, this stagnation became something unhealthy or even boring to some people, so we asked for a flexibilization of work hours and legislation, until we reached to the point of the so-called gig economy with all its economic, social, and psychological consequences. On one hand, we definitely solved the problem of “stagnation” found in Fordism, but now we drown in an “excess of freedom” in which the worker has a feeling of control over its work hours and procedures, but it is an illusion.

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Street art that says “the obligation to produce alienates the passion of creation”

“He is the predator and the prey at the same time. The self, in the main sense of the word, still represents an immunological category. However, depression iludes all the immunological barriers. It overflows at the moment when the achievement subject is no longer able to be able. First and, more importantly, depression is the fatigued creativity and an exhausted ability. The complaint of a depressive subject that “nothing is possible” can only happen in a society where “nothing is impossible”. Not being able to be able generates a self-destructive and self-aggressive state.”

Slavoj Zizek and Frederik Jameson’s phrase that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, therefore, gets an additional layer after Han’s considerations: we are too exhausted to even think something that goes beyond capitalism. The wellness industry does not want to make its consumers more productive, but it is based on the toxic positivity addressed by Han, which is another symptom of this era and which contributes to our self-exploitation, self-expectation and self-destruction.

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Photo by Lutchenca Medeiros. Source: Unsplash

Written by

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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