The accursed share is what Georges Bataille called the waste and excess generated by any economy or society – that part of any economy which is destined either to be spent luxuriously and without gain (in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments), or in outrageous and catastrophic outpourings (war, sacrifice and religion).
“All social and human processes produce waste, refuse, shit. Bataille was the champion of this human truth. In fact, he claimed that this waste was our very raison d’être, our accursed share. Our ancestors lived fairly pleasant lives. With few people in the world, and food plentiful, work was minimised as there were no real ends to pursue. What drove them to ‘develop’? Bataille argues that it was because we desired feasts, fetish-objects, rituals and merrymaking; that progress isn’t driven by necessity, but by the tendency of all systems to create eruptions of energy, magnificent waste and sacred excess.
We didn’t need to start storing grain, but did so because we wanted to organize huge drunken feasts in which our saved surplus could be gloriously wasted (and in which we could get wasted). We developed complex logistics in order to lay our hands on trinkets and frivolities such as gold and spices, to arrange huge events – such as wars or the Olympics – without apparent purpose. Waste, glorious waste!
In organisations, we celebrate innovation and creativity, knowing full well that for every successful idea, weeks and years have been ploughed into unsuccessful ones. We look to entrepreneurship as the prime example of value-production, knowing that most entrepreneurial projects fail, often spectacularly. Office life is rife with frivolous time by the water cooler, just as project work contains overlaps, redundancies and slippage. In fact, organizations might be the greatest time-wasters we’ve ever created.” Alf Rehn and Marcus Lindahl:Georges Bataille: On His Shoulders
There are multiple implications for employers and for society at large. Perhaps the most obvious relates to the questions being asked by numerous commentators about the role of capitalism in a world where the pursuit of profit threatens at any moment to bring our ecosystem to its knees. Take Michael Porter writing about the principle of shared value and the problem of capitalism:
“How else could companies overlook the well-being of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell? How else could companies think that simply shifting activities to locations with ever lower wages was a sustainable ’solution’ to competitive challenges? Government and civil society have often exacerbated the problem by attempting to address social weaknesses at the expense of business. The presumed trade-offs between economic efficiency and social progress have been institutionalized in decades of policy choices.” Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer:The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value
And here are two other related ideas covered by our own authors:
1. For organisations, the shadow-side represents a large part of the accursed share.
“In fact, most organisational problems have more to do with the shadow side: departmental rivalries, personal jealousies, ambition, greed, power struggles, self-interest groups, people not on speaking terms, politics, intimidation and fear. Even sexual attractions, liaisons and favours account for much of what does and doesn't get done 'according to plan'. Unfortunately, few managers are good at seeing and understanding, let alone managing, this real-life side to work. It is usually beyond the bounds of training, often out of bounds completely. Yet it is the real backcloth for much of what goes on inside organisations.” William Tate: The Organisation Shadow-Side Audit
2. For the ‘heritage industry’, the accursed share is what has turned heritage and tourist sites into tragic-comic utopias. It also drives the idea of counter-tourism, which is:
“…the practice of disruption with the intention of transforming these [heritage and tourist] sites into full blown and uncontainable heterotopias. As the finest ‘creations’ (and bondages) of a machine of spectacle, these sites are both strong and weak points for the system of spectacle; for counter-tourism they constitute strategic opportunities for leverage - they are tipping points – and honey traps, too. Generally regarded by their users as (almost by definition) ‘beside the point’ and unproductive, the counter-tourist can take advantage of the system’s ideological burden of going along with this illusion, deploying the cloak of irrelevance and the tactical ‘right cover’ of playfulness and whimsy while exploiting (and re-channelling) the waste and excess (to steal from Bataille) in these spaces to its own purpose.” Phil Smith:Mythogeography