Covid -19 has become a mirror to show us the crises in our society. It more clearly visualizes the pathogens that existed before this pandemic. It can be said that we all feel extremely tired. This is the fatigue that accompanies us everywhere, all the time, like our own shadow. During a pandemic, we feel even more tired. Our reluctant lethargy during the lockdown makes us tired. Some people claim that we will rediscover the beauty of leisure, that life will slow down. In fact, time during a pandemic is dominated not by leisure and slowing down but by fatigue and depression.
Why do we feel so tired? Today, fatigue seems to have become a global phenomenon. Ten years ago, I published a book, The Burnout Society, in which I described fatigue as an ill state that plagues neoliberal achievement society. The fatigue we have experienced during this pandemic forces me to reflect on this topic again. Work, no matter how arduous, does not bring about this essential fatigue. We may be exhausted after work, but this burnout is not the same as the fatigue I am talking about. The job, at some point, will end. The urge to achieve something to which we are bound is beyond that mark. It accompanies us during breaks, it tortures us even in our sleep, and often leads to sleepless nights. We cannot recover from this urge to achieve something. It is this very special inner pressure that makes us tired. So there is a difference between fatigue and burnout. A proper state of exhaustion even liberates us from fatigue.
Psychological disturbances such as depression and exhaustion are symptoms of a profound crisis of freedom. They are signals of a sick state, showing that today freedom often turns into an urge. I think I’m free. But actually we exploit ourselves until we fall apart. We realize ourselves, optimizing ourselves until we die. The cunning logic of having to achieve becomes a constant force that pushes us to get ahead of ourselves. Every time we achieve something, we want to achieve more, which means we want to surpass ourselves again. But, of course, how can you get ahead of yourself? This irrational logic eventually leads to falling. The subject of achievement believes he is free, but he is actually a slave. It was a state of absolute slavery as long as he was willing to exploit himself without any master present.
The neo-liberal achievement society made exploitation take place without even needing domination. This disciplined society, with its imperatives and prohibitions, as analyzed by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, does not describe today’s accomplished society. The accomplished society exploits even freedom itself. Self-exploitation is more effective than being exploited by others because it is coupled with a sense of freedom. Kafka made very clear this paradox of the freedom of the slave who thinks he is the master. In one of his parables, he writes: “The beast tries to snatch the whip from its master and the whips themselves in order to become the master, unaware that this is just an illusion created by a Just a new knot on the master’s whip.” It is this constant form of self-punishment that makes us tired and, ultimately, into depression. In a way, neoliberalism is based on this self-punishment.