Life Hacking and the New False Consciousness

Perhaps you’ve seen the plethora of social media feeds and internet buzzings clamoring for your attention in showing you how to life hack.  What is this phenomenon?   Well, mostly just helpful yet useless information like how to get round lunch meat to fully cover square sandwich bread or using the tong of a electrical plug in the absence of a flathead screwdriver.  You know, day-to-day advice that you would never use because putting your dry pasta noodles in a Pringles can doesn’t keep it any fresher than leaving it in the box.

However, I recently came across this article which details some of the pitfalls of the lifehack mentality in a desperately unequal culture.  Blogger "Jendziura” reviews a book called “How to Break All the Rules and Get Everything You Want,” and makes the argument that when the author adovcates for this rule breaking to improve your life, he essentially is telling readers to go forth and use white privliege to their advantage.  I can cut in line at the post office because I only need one quick thing, and because I’m white, or so the article satirizes.

That book, and its discordant review, demonstrate to me the real goal of life hacking.  Or, at least some of the more outlandish tips and tricks which make up

Such as : 

…which is to say that the advice of life hackers is designed to make you feel more in control of your life.  Many of the so-called fixes have to do with money as the source of one’s problems, and attempts to deal with that by saving or earning more money.  Others have to do with home remedies to common problems that one looming specter or another don’t want to you know about.  

This does not address the social root of discord in our time.  Do you really think that it’s possible to achieve a state of enlightened happiness or rid your self of humanity’s most pressing or prevalent problems in 1,000 words or less?  If you could, you would, but lifehacking is a cheap thrill in a long line of cheap thrills which functions to keep the people who seek such advice from a radical transformation in the conceptualization of society.  No matter how many life hacks are designed to help get you out of debt, the fact that we live in a society and a time where having debt is necessary to build credibility in the form of a credit rating (so that you can eventually buy nicer and nicer things), makes this counterintuitive.   Finding cheap upgrades to your current phone only dismisses the giant looming ecological disaster and insane profit margins generated by the planned obsolecence of electronics.

These are problems of a false consciousness - a term often associated with Marx, though he apparently never wrote it.  Rather, later thinkers drew out this term as a problem inherent in a capitalist ideology, which he explained led workers to fetishize products and services which did not actually empower them but rather reinforced the means of their own exploitation.  Engles did use the phrase, which sums this point well:

"Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives” (From his “Letter to Mehring”)

So it is with life hacking as well.  What is the point of hacking an unjust and unequal world if your project to sell all your unwanted crap doesn’t address the consumerism which led you to acquire all that crap in the first place?  It addresses the symptom, not the problem.  Life hacking is simply another form of false consciousness, an ideology which we believe in because of the immediacy of the problems addressed and the solutions derived but unreal because it does not refract upon the core ideology of capitalism as the cause of those problems.

Zach Rubin, 2018