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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay on Alienation and Estrangement

            The 21st Century is a period marked by technological progress, improvement in communication and infrastructure and advancement in the Internet and Information Technology.  While these developments are desired by everyone, these changes also triggered certain problems for the common man.  Some are lucky enough to notice this problem while some go on living their lives not knowing and realizing that they are trapped and enslaved by these technological changes.  On the other hand, it is also possible that those who do not realize their wretched condition are more fortunate compared to those who are not conscious of their condition.  The problems of alienation and estrangement in today’s society have been revealed by a number of existentialist philosophers.  They attempted to awaken man from toil and drudgery of living in the modern society. 

            Alienation and estrangement can be defined as the social and economic condition resulting from capitalism.  On the other hand, there are those who define alienation as psychological or even spiritual malaise which is pervasive in the society.  Because the concepts of alienation and estrangements are inextricably linked in these two senses, this essay will refer to the concepts of alienation and estrangement as a social and economic condition and as a psychological and spiritual malaise. 

            Alienation and Estrangement are the sum total of the description of man’s condition in the modern society.  It refers to man’s limited and distorted vision of himself and of his needs and desires which are defined in accordance with what is dictated by others.  Alienation and estrangement may also mean the loss of sense of self by man as a result of increasing reliance on everyday technology.  Alienation and estrangement could also be the effect of man’s search for economic improvement.  Man, according to the existentialist philosophers, has lost relationship to himself as a result of the changes that have happened in his external environment.  As man continuously searches for economic progress he continuously loses himself in the midst of these struggles.  The reality however is that not everyone who works hard and searches for economic progress reaches his goal.  A handful of people will achieve what they are searching for but a large majority of the population will fail.  They will realize that slowly they are losing control of the product of their labor and that they are continuously being subjected to the will of others.  The goal therefore of man is to be able to transcend this alienated condition. 

            The problems of alienation and estrangement are ably described in the story “The Metamorphosis” which is an exposition on the absurdity of human life as written by Franz Kafka.  The absurdity is evident in the theme on the economic effects on relationships with people.  The economic reality is that people need to work.  Oftentimes, a person does not only work for himself but for other persons as well.  The worse part is when a person ceases to work for himself but only for other people, like his family.  The question is does the people whom a person supports and provides for their needs see him as human being who also have his own needs.  Is his contribution the family being recognized as an act of kindness or does the other members of the family see this as an act of duty to them?

            The story speaks of a person who one day wakes up and realizes that he has transformed into a bug.  The funny thing is that while reading the story, the reader will immediately conclude that the story does not dwell on how Gregor Samsa physically transformed to a giant bug.  In fact, it is surprising that the main character was hardly interested about how he physically transformed instantaneously into bug and instead he immediately accepted his situation. If the physically transformation is not issue in this story, then the only conclusion is that it is something other than the physical transformation but a mental one.   Gregor Samsa did not actually turn into a bug but rather he was only awakened to the reality that he had been a bug for a long time.  He reached a state of awakening or realization.  Just like other insects which are purposely designed by nature to work for the survival of the entire colony, Gregor Samsa has been living a life of an insect as he himself had been working for the survival of his family.  In the process he lost sight of his relationship with them.  He has no friends.  He hates his boss, his work and his colleagues.  He has no life.  He does not even have a pleasant relationship with his family.  He could not even see the external world as he attempts to look at it through the window.  He realizes that he had alienated himself from his society and from himself.  The real transformation actually happened is in his mind as he was awakened to the reality that he has been a slave of his family. 

            The tragic situation of Gregor Samsa is similar to the situation of Sisyphus.  Both have been toiling day in and day out hoping that they will be able to accomplish their goals.  Both however are trapped in an endless cycle.  The greatest tragedy is that characters are conscious and aware of their condition and that they could not do anything about it. 

Alienation in the 21st Century   
            The employees in the 21st Century share the same fate as Sisyphus in “The Myth of Sisyphus” and Gregor Samsa in the story “The Metaphor.”  The employees in the modern society have to toil day in day out just so they could reach their goal of someday attaining economic prosperity.  Instead of spending their money, eating good food or wearing fancy clothes or living a comfortable life, they save their money hoping that someday they will be able to save more.   

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            They have failed to realized that time has changed.  In the past, the corporate world was a symbol of progress.  Anybody who worked hard has the same chance as anybody of becoming rich or at least living a comfortable life.  In the past, rest periods, week ends were respected by employers as these are periods where the employees get to spend their time with their family.  In the past, privacy rights in the workplace were respected. 

            The work environment of today has dramatically changed compared to the last decade.  In today’s society only the rich becomes richer while the poor becomes poorer.  The competitive nature of the work environment coupled with the demands of the employers has caused a dramatic change in the way work is done within the workplace.  The advent of technologies such as laptop computers, increasing access to the Internet and other communication devices such as Blackberries and Cellular phones also contributed to the enslavement of the employees.  Now, every employee is within the reach of his employer no matter where he is and no matter what the time of the day or night is.  The line between work hours and rest period has become blurred.  Every employee can be required to work even during week ends or holidays or even when he is on vacation.  As technology improves, more employers will take advantage of these developments resulting in more time for work but less time for rest and recreation for the employees and less time for himself and his family.  As a result, employees reached a state of social and psychological state of separation not only from himself but also from other people. 

            With the advent of globalization and the explosion of Information Technology, the privacy of every employee in the workplace is slowly being eroded.  Employees are always under the threat of being subjected to electronic eavesdropping, video and sound recording, telephone conversation recording posed by computer technology.

            On one hand, employers want to make sure that their employees are performing efficiently and that their skills and talents are maximized.  With this goal in mind, the need to monitor the activities of the employees in the workplace becomes imperative on their part.  Thus employers may monitor and record the conversations of their employees or make a record of the phone numbers dialed by them.   The problem however is that employees desire to have some space and they do not want every activity they do in the workplace to be monitored and recorded by their employer.                

            As a rule, employers may monitor and listen to telephone conversations of their employees with the customers.  This is imperative considering the business interest that they need to protect and the quality of service that they need to maintain.  However, there are state laws which provide that when the parties to a call are in the same state, employers are required to inform the parties that the conversation is being recorded and monitored by the company.  However when the telephone conversation is between parties who are outside the state, laws allow the monitoring and recording of the conversation even without notice by the employer. 

            The question that must answered is, is it ethical for an employer to eavesdrop on the conversation of its employees?  Do employees have to give up their privacy and allow their personal communications to be recorded against his will? Does this not affect the moral and productivity of the employees?

            Unlike the right to privacy, the right against unreasonable search and seizure is more explicitly provided for in the US Constitution under the Fourth Amendment.  There however is no hard-and-fast rule in weighing the reasonableness of the employer’s right to search an employee’s computer files.  In determining the right of the employer to make a search in the computer files of the employer, due consideration must be made to the particular circumstances of the case.  In the case of Biby v. Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, et al., the Supreme Court ruled that a university has the right to look into the computer files of its employees if there is a university policy allowing it to look into the computer files of its employees, the employees are aware of it and have manifested their agreement to it and prior notice have been given to the employee concerned that the employer will look into his computer files.  The point is if any of these requirements is absent, the act of the employer in searching computer files of its employees poses serious constitutional challenge and may expose the employer to cases of tort and a liability for damages.  
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