I am a salesman, I sell things for a living. What I sell has no importance. Selling is always the same process, with only minor adjustments according to whether you sell cars or paintings, films or hams. What remains the same is the distinctive manner in which the consciousness of a salesperson tends to disembody itself out of the living flesh which hosts it, and to re-embody as part of an ethereal, immaterial entity. A new body, a new narrative made of numbers.
We all know too well how unfaithful our consciousness is towards the blood and guts that provide it with its physical nourishment. Any excuse is good enough for our consciousness to separate itself from our physical selves and find refuge in other, external bodies, may they be the celluloid characters of a movie, the invisible imaginations of an evocative piece of music, or even the neighbouring land of another human being with whom we feel a degree of empathy.
Consciousness is the self-reflecting activity of our thoughts, and in such self-reflection, in their looking back towards themselves, it often happens that our thoughts see themselves as belonging to different entities than our physical bodies. They re-embody elsewhere. Sometimes they see themselves as part of a pantheistic whole, sometimes as part of imaginary animistic creatures, sometimes as part of an abstract narrative.
As a salesperson, it often happens that your consciousness drifts away from its original place, towards a re-embodiment within the narrative of sales figures. Your thoughts look back at themselves, and see themselves as the tip of an iceberg made of numbers, targets, sales, losses, percentages. Your thoughts look back at their time, and they see their time expanding and contracting in the trench-war cycle of sales, torn between the anxious boredom of waiting and the frantic adrenaline of actual sales. They look back at their environment, at their peers, and they see a strange and silent land of abstract figures.
It would be enough to describe the dis/re-embodiment that typically occurs to salespeople as a brief psychedelic nightmare, were it not that such a process has more long-lasting consequences than a short-lived bad trip.
The dynamics of the embodiment of our consciousness are always highly flexible processes. It is only through a constant feedback between physical body and self-reflective thought that consciousness decides to locate its primary belonging within one’s own human flesh. If such feedback is too often interrupted, or diverted, towards a different one (possibly, always the same one), then the identification of our consciousness as part of our biological organism becomes at first uncertain, and then dissolves into other identifications. This is typically what happens with certain mental disorders, but it is also what increasingly takes place in the lives and in the minds of an overworked population.
What is at stake here is not simply a conservative diffidence towards new embodiments of human consciousness. What is at stake is the possibility of maintaining empathy and responsible economics as defining characters of our lives.
When consciousness identifies with a specific body, it simultaneously decides on the possible network of empathic connections, and on the available range of resources over which it has control. On the one hand, since empathy is only possible between bodies which are part of the same plane of existence, a disembodiment from the biological form (even from its representational, celluloid simulacra) towards a re-embodiment in the abstract immateriality of numbers removes any possibility of intra-biological empathy. Such dis/re-embodied consciousness simply does not recognise the other biological creature, not even as an ‘other’ within the same plane of existence. On the other hand, different embodiments give consciousness different perceptions about the resources which it can master and of which it can dispose: any attempt at affective generosity vanishes as soon as our consciousness leaves the affecting body towards the translucent body of abstract numbers.
As our lives sink ever more deeply within fully immersive, numerical work environments, our consciousness (and consequently, our empathic and economic potential) faces a decisive challenge in terms of its bodily identification. And this is not just a matter of interest for stock-brokers, salespeople or programmers, and not even just for those workers defined as the ‘cognitariat’. It’s a challenge for everybody bound to the demands of the contemporary work regime, that is, for everybody in employment, as well as in the obsidian mirror of unemployment.
In our relationship with work, it is not just our freedom or boredom that are the stakes: it is us, who we are, what we can feel, what we can do, that we negotiate every day within ourselves. We often enter such negotiations without even realising, since it is exactly the anchor of our rationality and sanity, our own consciousness, which is affected by this game of changes and tides. Each one of us, in his or her working environment, can detect what currents are pulling their consciousness away from their physical body, form their human empathy and practical economy. It is for each one of us a different challenge, and a daily exercise of dancing through illusions, to decide what body we want to give to ourselves. And to live with the consequences.
By Federico Campagna | @FedCampagna