Amazon has recently introduced a strange new feature into their workplaces. It is a giant, human-sized box.
The box is referred to, rather hilariously, as “AmaZen,” and the online retail titan has encouraged those of its employees who feel themselves overstressed or who are experiencing other sorts of mental health issues to go and sit inside of that box for a while.
Inside the box, people can watch various sorts of videos about mental health. Apparently, Amazon believes that subjecting people to this will calm them and help to ease their stress.
As you can imagine, people all over social media instantly ridiculed and ripped into the idea. Among other things, the internet has taken to calling the AmaZen a “despair closet.”
Out of Touch Corporate Culture
Amazon has been facing growing criticism over allegedly mistreating its workers. It’s said that workers at Amazon facilities are paid poorly, are not given enough bathroom breaks, are made to spend all day on foot, and so on. The AmaZen appears to be Amazon’s way of helping its workforce with these difficulties.
Needless to say, social media savaged this idea, calling it a “despair closet.” All sorts of hilarious videos and memes emerged on Twitter and on other social media sites mocking this idea. Many critics were especially angry that Amazon could be wasting money on useless fripperies like this instead of paying its workers better wages.
Given the manifest absurdity of this idea, what could have possessed top management at Amazon to implement it? Part of the answer probably has to do with the kinds of people who are in charge of Amazon and with the culture of America’s current ruling class more generally.
As David Brooks explained in his book about the American upper class, Bobos in Paradise, those who are in charge of our country — be they top politicians, corporate CEOs, political activists, academics or what have you — are living, breathing, walking contradictions.
Brooks calls this class “Bobos” — short for “bourgeois bohemians.” The name reveals the contradiction at play.
On the one hand, our ruling class wants to think that it is “cool” and “rebellious,” that it is in touch with the struggles of ordinary people and that it takes a critical stand towards the society that it inhabits. This attitude is a legacy of the ’60s counterculture.
On the other hand, our ruling class likes being rich and powerful, and it wants to enjoy those advantages. This is the “bourgeois” aspect of the duality. Of course, nothing could be more foreign to the ideals of the ’60s counterculture than running a massive multi-billion dollar corporation. That’s called “selling out.” The elite are keenly aware of this tension, and it silently drives them insane.
This explains Amazon’s “despair closet.” An out-of-touch elite is attempting to convince itself in a weird, hippy-dippy way, that it cares about those below it. It doesn’t matter if this crazy contraption does nothing to minister to the real needs of ordinary people. Its real purpose is to assuage the guilt of the elite and allow the people in that class to convince themselves that they haven’t sold out.
This dynamic also explains “woke capitalism” and many other things about our current situation.