How our pitches lift capitalism higher
If you have ever tried to pitch a business idea for a potential investor or yourself at a job interview, you'll know it's not an easy task and the mere thought of it can cause quite a bit of anxiety. It's the art of persuasion and the skill of boiling something really complex into a few light-felt sentences that must impress your audience both intellectually and emotionally.
In the book from 2008 Life's A Pitch by Roger Mavity and Stephen Bayley the pitch is described as "the essence of modern business" and that the skills of the pitch "can apply to just about every significant personal transaction in your life". In a recent piece on openDemocracy writer Paul Walsh is very critical of this pitch culture and make the claim that "today’s economy has reduced life to a never-ending pitch"? Essentially, Walsh does not disagree with Mavity & Bayley: life's a pitch but that is not a good thing and we should no longer play along. He expounds:
We parade before bosses and clients for work. We position ourselves on social media for friendship, love, sex—or just attention. We work longer hours for less pay, and due to technology and globalization, fewer jobs mean workers can demand less and bosses more. As the hotelier Conrad Hilton says to Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men, “When I say I want the moon, I expect the moon.”
Yet the colonization of life by the ‘pitch’ is a symptom: unionised jobs with social benefits have disappeared, and without the fixed ropes enjoyed by a previous generation the marketing of ourselves and our souls has become required rather than chosen. “The painful truth is that, at work, we’re on trial all the time” as Roger Mavity and Stephen Bayley write.
Now, pitching has expanded way beyond the world of work and into social media, dating apps, and reality television. Life is experienced through the prism, or prison, of pitching. How did this happen, and what can be done?
Later he makes a suggestion:
In her book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, Zeynep Tufekci emphasizes the crucial importance of capacity within social movements, and reminds us of the importance of place. Artists and free-thinkers fleeing the First World War had Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire (perhaps including a young Lenin); the New Left in England had the Partisan Coffee House; the American Civil Rights Movement had a network of churches and homes for activists to stay in.
But where are the places of the precariat? Where can people go to share stories, empathise and organise? Outside of online there are few places to gather. Pitch culture drowns out solidarity; online organising builds more barriers than bridges; and by pitching our problems into corporate servers we’re merely providing the fuel for our own destruction. Our pitches lift capitalism higher and higher.
So here’s my pitch. Today’s workers need places to organise offline, so let’s combine the ideas of the hacker community with the needs of the precariat to establish them. For want of a better word I’ll call them ‘Precär-Spaces:’ Prekär is German for precarious, and Precär is my English-German compromise. Let’s put a Precär-Space in every town and city, spaces where precarious workers can gather together, share stories, build empathy and organise for better working conditions and better lives.