What Lurks in the Shadows

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an ex-colleague who was looking for a new job. Her reason? The company she is currently working for are requiring staff to come back to the office three days a week. This has been happening across the IT and broader office-based industries for some time. Now that the corona “pandemic” is officially over, the justification for working-from-home has also disappeared.

Way back at the start of the “pandemic”, there were the calls for a new normal. Those calls invariably came from the salary class. The salary class, of course, were the ones working from home while the working class were either furloughed or, if they were deemed essential, required to show up to work as normal. If ever there was a case of class discrimination, it was that.

But we don’t talk about class anymore and a big part of the reason is that the political parties who used to represent the working class sold their souls to neoliberal economics back in the 80s. It might seem hard to believe now, but once upon a time there used to be an actual two-party system in most western nations. The left wing represented the interests of the workers while the right wing represented the interests of capital and small business. The result was a public discourse that revolved around real issues related to the real differing interests of workers and capital.

One of the more useful concepts from the left side of politics back in those days was one which can help shed light on the issue now facing office workers who are being dragged back to the office kicking and screaming: shadow work.

Shadow work is the unpaid work you have to do in order to carry out paid work. A classic example is commuting. A worker is not paid to commute to their place of employment. They are only paid from the time they arrive til the time they leave. Commuting is the unpaid work you need to do in order carry out the paid work of your job. It’s shadow work.

The phrase shadow work has a nice Jungian ring to it. To use terminology I’ve become very fond of in the last year, paid work is exoteric. It is officially recognised. It appears on your pay slip and in your bank account. Shadow work is esoteric; secret. It’s the work that has been pushed into the individual and collective unconscious.

Back when there was a real left wing party that represented the interests of the workers, the question of shadow work was a real issue that was up for negotiation in pay disputes and the wider public discourse. Now that we don’t have any real left wing parties left, shadow work itself has been relegated to the shadows. That’s a big problem because shadow work has been on the rise in the last few decades.

Here in Melbourne and other Australian cities, population growth has outstripped infrastructure capacity during that time. Australian governments have inverted the old saw – build it and they will come – to something like let them come and then build it (based on the money they bring).

The result has been a steady decline in the quality of all forms of commuting (with the exception of cycling). Commuting now takes longer and is more stressful. Because commuting belongs to the domain of shadow work, a reduction in the quality of commuting increases the burden of that work. That burden is borne silently by employees.

Prior to corona, the commuting problem here in Melbourne had been getting ridiculous. The system was well beyond capacity and people would regularly show up late to work complaining that they simply couldn’t get on a train or tram. If you were lucky enough to get on, you were squeezed in like a sardine.

What happened with the corona lockdowns was that the pressure was released. That was what was behind the strange feeling of exhilaration that came from the salary class during the lockdowns. All of a sudden, the burden of shadow work had been lifted from their shoulders.

That burden is not insignificant. For most office employees, their commute here in Melbourne would be somewhere between 5-10 hours per week. If you consider that the total work time is usually 37.5 hours per week, shadow work makes up a large percentage of overall work done and that percentage had increased in the years before corona.

None of this was recognised by employers, government or the public discourse. It was pushed into the shadows just like many other real economic issues. Psychically speaking, it then becomes part of the esoteric. In Jungian terms, it is the shadow esoteric. The more shadow work, the more negative psychic energy builds up and looks for an outlet.

It’s tempting to say that all this is just politicians trying to avoid accountability. But there is another dynamic to this which has also been building for a number of decades. Modern politics increasingly operates in the psychic domain. The manipulation of psychic energy is increasingly done by governments to achieve political goals.

Cynical politicians throughout the ages have always used religion to help them govern. But at least religion is exoteric and out in the open. The manipulation of esoteric psychic energy by both corporate and government interests in recent decades is itself esoteric; hidden.

The result is a shadow government – aka the deep state. This shadow government has arguably more power than the exoteric government which it nominally serves. It has that power precisely because there is so much free-floating psychic energy looking for something, anything, to latch onto.

This has created a positive feedback loop. Politicians get elected by manipulating psychic energy. The decisions they make increasingly unleash more psychic energy which gives them more power to manipulate the public.

Positive feedback loops are inherently unstable. Eventually something breaks. At the rate we are going, we are headed for a collective psychic breakdown on a mass scale. Corona was one of the first psychic earthquakes but it almost certainly won’t be the last.    

15 thoughts on “What Lurks in the Shadows”

  1. Simon – this makes good sense. And the fact that the burden of shadow work has grown w/ increased commuting times, & pay for exoteric work hasn’t kept pace w/ rising living expenses, while many workers have had to spend more on healthcare in the wake of jabs required to keep their jobs, means lots of shadowy free-floating rage & resentment.

  2. Shane – true. I think that’s showing up in seemingly unrelated places too. For example, the shortage of workers at the moment is partly caused by the fact that people are unmotivated to work due to the fact that the amount of shadow work required to do a job is too high.

  3. G’day mate,

    that is an interesting take on the madness we call politics here and the rest of the western world.
    What do you make of immigration figures for the next years? It is hard to come up with a worse policy at this time in history. Some shadow at work there too you think?
    While there is no shortage of incompetence and stupidity in the political class, I think something more is required as an explanation. Incompetence has it’s limits.

  4. People got a taste of what life used to be like before the industrial revolution; home based, slower and less stressful. I don’t blame the office fauna for wanting something like that all the time, but the whole structure of the salary class doesn’t fit well to it, as individually they produce little of actual value.

    Our education system has been set up to straight jacket the best and brightest into service of the system, with high school and University producing a production line of laptop warriors. As a unit they work together well in their context, but what is a middle manager or HR person without the corporate ecosystem around them? Not much.

    Although it’s obvious they are the preferred class politically, I really do feel sorry for them as they have individually been put into (well paid) service of something that uses and exploits them, while also making them highly dependent on this employment through specialisation. I have many friends in this bracket and they seem like press ganged slaves a lot of the time, sullen and resigned to their fate.

  5. Roland – I think this pyramid sums it up not just for companies but for all the “elites”.


    But I also think that Toynbee was right that when the “elites” turn into a Dominant Minority they start to mimic the proletariat. So, the psychological manipulation (I would call it Magic in the technical sense) also works on the “elites”. They are True Believers too. Although, there’s no doubt a few genuine psychopaths in there too.

    As for immigration, I dunno if you saw that video of Albanese in Tasmania unveiling the new football stadium. He was interrupted by one of the protestors complaining they couldn’t get a house to live in and told her to shut up so he could talk about the C-grade celebrity wedding he was attending that night. I couldn’t think of a more perfect symbol of modern Australian politics than that. The people running the show no longer even pretend to care anymore about the average folk.

    Skip – that’s a fair assessment. Middle managers really are in the worst position. I don’t know how anybody does that job especially these days where the ideological aspects is getting more and more extreme. I think “new normal” really was a cry for help from that demographic. Many of them got sucked in with the investment property scam too and so really are trapped with no parole paying off enormous debts which makes them perfectly loyal employees. Ideological slaves.

  6. It always makes me chuckle re immigration that Labor federal governments tend to push the accelerator the hardest, when the founders of labour movements where virulently anti immigration to keep wages up.

    The framing of immigration in this country is a bit silly too because people tend to picture immigrants from Asia or Africa, but the ones most likely to take desirable high paying jobs off Australians are educated Europeans which have always formed the majority of Australia’s immigration intake. This also in my opinion keep us in a Faustian/euro centric/Empire metaphysical framework rather than letting this country become something new.

  7. Saw that video now. No surprises there. I think you’re right. They dont care about the average Joe. What I dont understand is what do they actually care about? Because their actions are optimised to destabilise society. This cannot be what they want on a conscious level. It would harm them and their families too. So something else must be going on here.

  8. Skip – Labor decided in the 80s and 90s that it wanted to get rid of manufacturing and get high-paying “services” jobs instead. I suppose you could argue that that is what has been delivered. I think the main reason it has been seen to work better here than in the US is that we’ve propped up the workers side of the equation with housing and construction and that’s all been run through the unions which is how the left side of politics got bought off. But, you’re right, we’re not bringing in any actual working class people. I know of two small manufacturing businesses that have shut down in recent months as they couldn’t find anybody to work. I suppose the immigrants who might have worked there wouldn’t have earned enough money to pay their rent anyway. I’d say corona and the subsequent inflation will finish off much of what was left of small manufacturing. If/when the housing and service economy bubbles burst, we’ll be in a world of pain. Pretty sure they’ll try something like Universal Basic Income to prop everything up. After all we had helicopter money for the GFC and then corona.

    Roland – as Toynbee said, every Dominant Minority ends up committing suicide. I might also add that shadow archetypes (the Devouring Mother/Tyrannical Father) are also associated with the Death Drive. And then there’s the fact that Faustian culture probably wants to go out with a bang. Think of how many Shakespeare characters end up committing suicide. It all makes sense theoretically but, I agree, it is still hard to believe that such stupid and clearly self-destructive ideas can go unchallenged. But here we are. I guess it’s a bit like living in Germany in the 30s and watching the train wreck unfold in slow motion.

  9. I’d argue that basically all traditional “women’s work” has been relegated to shadow work: cooking, cleaning, laundry, keeping an organised and tidy house that is actually a pleasure to come home to at the end of the day. Not to mention teaching children their manners, and healthy emotional regulation of the entire household. Fulltime childcare and school/care are one of those “great in theory but substandard in reality” things, and we are reaping the consequences with a generation or more of fragile, un-self-aware young people. Elder care is degenerating ever more as well. I rather expect the crisis of care work on all levels will feed into a coming mass breakdown, and it’s going to get nasty.

  10. A – yes. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the old-school second-wave feminists are being thrown under the bus at the moment. There’s been a high profile case here in Melbourne recently where a feminist lecturer at Melbourne Uni, Holly Lawford-Smith, has been targeted by students and also hung out to dry by the university administration. We can’t have any of that pesky biological reality getting in the way of our transhumanist utopia, can we 😉

  11. Hi Simon,

    Back in the day, it used to be called ‘kitchen tabling’. 🙂 In related news the health industry has had to face what it means for all manner of university educated folks to first work 1,000 hours of unpaid internship as part of their education requirements before they can graduate. That’s a lot of unpaid work.

    I’ve seen some things over the years at the top end of town. Talk about strange days. Hmm. At the very tail end of the recession we had to have, I can assure you that with 10% unemployment, the pressure to work very long hours was real. A brutal system, which I eventually walked away from. Fortunately, economically we now hang upon a knife edge, and such pressure would be hard to bring to bear, without incurring losses for the elites. This does in no way suggest that they won’t try, old habits being hard to break and stuff. My thinking is that plain old greed will tip over the apple cart.

    It’s no coincidence.



  12. Chris – I remember talking to a trainee doctor once and was amazed to learn that they have to work a whole year for free. You’d think at least a salary big enough to cover their living expenses would be more appropriate.

    I suspect small business owners probably work longer hours than the average employee but that doesn’t count as shadow work since you reap the benefits of your own labour. A lot of the people who are unhappy about the return to hte office are more unhappy about the way in which it is done. It is simply announced that those are the rules and no correspondence shall be entered into. The joys of working for corporations. Another reason why I prefer small business. Even as an employee, you get to negotiate directly with the owner and come to a mutually satisfactory agreement based on human understanding.

  13. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the laughs. It’s almost a perfect example of what is known as ‘guerrilla marketing’. The comment was pretty good. One of the other comments suggested that the singing induced difficulties with their sensory perceptions in such an environment. Far out! Can you imagine asking for a bit of quiet? Or critiquing… That last note was slightly off-key. Did you notice that?

    It’s not just trainee doctors either facing that predicament. In a slightly related note, here are some statistics worth taking note of: ATO data shows 66 millionaires paid no income tax in 2020-21, with eastern Sydney postcodes home to the richest people. Look at the industry which employs the top five. The cynic in me suggests that it takes a lot of interns to pay for such huge salaries, whilst still making that system work. It’s not good.



  14. Chris – yeah, having to listen to someone sing a song ironically just increases the shadow work of the commute. So, they’re making it worse while thinking they are making it better, which is true of practically every government idea these days.

    The only way I can think that the medical intern thing makes sense is because being a doctor is a high stress job and maybe it’s not a bad thing to weed out those who can’t cut it early on. Still, I never knew surgeons were top paid profession. Interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *