Fitbit and Corporate Oppression

Fitbit Go365Last week, I watched Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9. It was good — even inspiring. But what most stood out to me was the story of a teacher’s strike in West Virginia. Really, just one part of it. The teachers were forced to buy and wear the Fitbit Go365 just to get insurance. And if they didn’t get sufficient exercise, they were charged $500 at the end of the year.

It’s the Corporations Not the Government

I’ve long been parroting Neil Postman’s idea that our society has turned into Aldous Huxley’s nightmare of a people controlled through pleasure rather than George Orwell’s nightmare of control through terror and pain. But the truth is that neither get at the way control exists in the modern world. We effectively have no government in that it is controlled for the purpose of making our largest corporations profitable. Thus, it is the corporations that control us.

Seen in this light, both Huxley and Orwell were prescient. Corporations use both carrots and sticks on us. And forcing teachers to wear the Fitbit device is a great example of this. Most Americans would be apoplectic if the government directly demanded that people wear a fitness device. But in this case, it is “voluntary”! Teachers don’t have to get health insurance. And if they exercise enough, they won’t face the $500 fine! This, in America, is what we call choice.

Neoliberalism: Tyrany of the Corporations

This is also what the federal government does to states. For example, states didn’t have to participate in the test-obsessed and charter-schools-pushing Race to the Top. But if they wanted extra money for their already under-funded schools, they had to. (Of course, many of them didn’t get much money anyway.)

And this is ultimately what is wrong with neoliberal policy. Private business doesn’t get involved with government in order to make the country better. I’m not sure why people don’t see this. After all, we are constantly reminded that corporations have but one purpose: to make money. Yet as a group, we buy this pseudo-science of the “magic of the market.” Charter schools will save us because of unknown market magic. And never do a statistical analysis! Instead, compare the best charter schools to the worst public schools!

Similarly, we have test-based education because the non-profit foundations of the Gates and Walton families have decided that it is the key to better education. I won’t say they are doing it just to avoid higher taxes, because the truth is that I don’t think it even occurs to them that higher taxes might be necessary. When you have that much money, you just know higher taxes are counterproductive.

There Is No Choice

But the Fitbit story still stands out. You probably remember how the televisions in Nineteen Eighty-Four were two-way. During morning exercise, Winston was chastised for not performing well enough. The power elite don’t need such low-tech systems of control. They can just use technology to see how many steps you take per day.

But don’t, for a minute, think this isn’t coerced. Our society has developed a mythology that obscures coercion. It goes along with the idea that if a woman doesn’t stab a man forcing himself on her, she wasn’t raped. Someone who’s been out of work for a year has the “choice” to not take that job that forces them to accept arbitration. And the teachers at Stonewall Jackson (!) Public School had the “choice” to go without health insurance or work somewhere else.

All of these things are coercive. And no amount of myth-making changes that. But in order for it to matter, people need to recognize that all these “choices” aren’t. They aren’t even real alternatives.[1]


[1] A choice provides you with the ability to pick from all possibilities. An alternative allows you to pick from a set number. People usually don’t make this distinction, but it is profound. In a capitalist system, one rarely gets a choice unless they are rich.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

12 thoughts on “Fitbit and Corporate Oppression

  1. Gates’s “school reform” thing reminds me of a time I was stuck shredding papers at my disability-services company’s corporate office. I read very, very fast, and their shredder was very, very slow, so I saw everything. What the hell else you gonna do while shredding papers for hours? (I also was the only guy who could fix their copier, but that’s a different story.)

    Anyhoo, an HR person had gone to some conference in Kansas or wherever, and the big topic was “employee retention.” This is a major problem. These companies get government money to provide necessary social services. They want to keep as much of it as possible. Also not get fined by regulatory agencies for staff error/abuse resulting in injury/death. The more experienced staff who make fewer mistakes and root out abusers tend to leave, as the job pays badly. How do you retain them?

    Well, “pay them more” is just off the table, isn’t it? So this HR executive had taken notes at the conference, which were astounding. “Encourage team-building exercises such as a shared off day doing volunteer work.” Right, I’m not just supposed to break my fucking back keeping you bloodsuckers from hurting people, I’m supposed to give up my off days, too? It was all shit like that, put nice words in employee reviews and such.

    (The wily old vets stuck employee reviews right in the shredder without opening the envelope. We knew exactly how much the company appreciated us; the numbers were right there on our paychecks, like stats on a baseball card.)

    What’s weird with Gates is that his charity actually has done good work getting vaccines to poor people. Which is simply a matter of money. They spent it, they saved lives, and that’s terrific. You’d think he’d be able to put 010 + 010 together and realize teachers need more money. But because that would involve raising taxes on people like him, it’s a non-starter. So it goes, so it goes.

    • Yeah, for companies raises are always out of the question because it isn’t about money — your salary, obviously; because what they do is only about money.

      The Gates Foundation does some good work. But again: it is all about them. Even the Waltons now give money. It’s because otherwise, they get bad press and look bad to their other rich friends. But what you said about employee retention reminds me of this the Jim Steinman song “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” The “that” is provide raises or benefits.

      • Always liked that song. Meat Loaf can definitely belt out a tune, and Steinman’s writing is terrific.

        What, though, is the “that”? It’s unclear. Maybe Steinman hates washing dishes, there have been stranger kinks. “I would do anything for love, but I won’t soak/scrub a baking dish.” At least he’s making it clear when the relationship starts, that’s helpful.

      • In my telling? Yeah. I’ll do anything to get great employment but I won’t do that: anything that might actually get good employees. I will smile at them each day, but I won’t offer more money. I will give them a great job title, but not health insurance. I will give them more hours, but not profit sharing.

        • I’m full-on deep-dive mode, now. What, exactly, did Steinman mean by “that”? Snow-shoveling? Joining a cult? Downward-facing dog? Clearly, there’s a “that” he draws the line on, and I want to know what it is. I generally don’t bug people about their private lives, but dude, you wrote the song, it begs the question.

          • I think he is making the distinction between loving and being loved. He’s saying, “I would do anything to get your love but not if it requires that I stop loving you.” Steinman is, at base, an emotional marshmallow. I think he’s been so successful because in an age of irony he stands tall in his earnestness. People may make fun of “MacArthur Park” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” but they really love that stuff.

            • If so, that’s actually profound. In a goofy Meat Loaf way. “Objects In The Rearview Mirror Can Appear Closer Than They Are.” This is 100% true.

              • Steinman could get a hit out “Objects…” Actually, I suspect that Steinman meant for “Anything” to be ambiguous. But I think most people see it in a concrete way, “I would do anything for love but I won’t renounce my family.” Or whatever. But the lyrics indicate the kind of obsession that isn’t so easily stopped. And, as you know, I define all meaning!

    • Right. I think it is all about control. It isn’t about improving health. It is about a tangible sign of compliance.

  2. Also — I want that West Virginia roughneck guy from “11/9” to run for President. Which he’s doing! He has absolutely no chance, but he’ll be up there. I hope he lasts long enough through the debates to have it out with Biden, Booker etc. Probably won’t, but that’d be a fun thing to see.

    Early stages, primaries are a year away, but if I’m voting today, it’s Warren. She apologized to the Cherokee Nation for what Trump called the “Pocahontas trap.” He straight-up admitted it was a trap, and he’s more terrified by her than anybody else the Democrats have. If it scares Trump, it’s good by me.

    • My opinion of Warren has gone way up in the last week. I think she handled the Native American controversy perfectly. I also learned that a number of Native American groups always supported her. It was primarily the Cherokee Nation (there are two other Cherokee tribes) that had a problem with it. Of course, now there is her bar application where she said she was Native American. What’s most frustrating about this is that the people pushing this stuff are the same people who provide apologetics for the Native American genocide. The question is if the media will turn this into Warren’s email server. They can’t seem to get enough of letting the Republican Party setting their agenda. But I think she’s apologized and if the right wants to make this an issue while supporting Trump they are only talking to the choir.

      A lot of liberals I know don’t like left-wing populists like that. But I love them. As I always tell people: these are the people we need! Indeed, if white working men would get over being bitter about powerless people, they’d see that it is only the left that is on their side. The right exists only because it can get people to hold the powerless accountable for what the powerful are doing to them.

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