Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Monday, December 23, 2002; Monday, December 23, 2002

Some folks are talking my language!

Nearly 30 years ago I realized my cohort in uniform didn't really give two hoots about the fact that Pinochet and his neo-fascists were overthrowing the elected government of Chile with our help ... we "special breed of cats" had the secure delusion of fighting to make the world safe for democracy, but part of that comfort was the impunity of not looking at what was there for all to see. (Needless to say by brothers' wilfull ignorance was topped by the civilian population's.) A decade ago I was was shocked beyond sanity to find that, though I was doing the 60-hour week thing for years to get our quality product out ontime (a system that would land aircraft safely in the worst of storms), my fellows had a simpler agenda: max the buck. Now I ask you, how do people expect this global system to produce other than death, disease, and devastation when they have gutter ethics? (Masquerading behind the usual plausible denials, of course ... hey, everyone's busy! truth is relative! who the fuck do I think I am, anyway?!

Richard Sennett's Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism is a real clarion call. (Now don't get me wrong ... it's all there in Plato's Republic, of course ... Chapter XVII is it? where Socrates describes how, generation after generation, parents' vices dishearten and distort you. And, a good deal more recently [1993] M. Scott Peck wrote that "Our illness is incivility: destructive patterns of self-absorption, callousness, manipulativeness, and materialism ... ingrained in our routine behaviour". But while Sennett lacks Peck's elegance, "Corrosion" cuts like a newsmagazine feature.) Have a glance at Chapter One ... the "cultural conservative" Sennett describes gives me the whillies; sophisticated, arrogant, and self-righteously heartless ... a real "winner", and just the sort that would press an aggressive agenda of globalizaation.

I spent this afternoon with a young couple on the street ... just kids, just street kids, and certainly not thriving in any sense ... but still twinking with something like affection. These I can see being open to the authenticity and honest engagement that makes for a basic bliss. The "winners" of new capitalism? vampires, sychophants, sociopaths, hypocrits ... pathological, if not actually psychopathic. And really, what part of this is so hard to understand?

Like spoiled children, the majority of our community think they can shrug off their civil responsibilities and still benefit from civil society ... they want their slothful indulgence and their peaceful security too. Isn't that sad?! (Over the past three days I've been having a running discussion/argument with a software guru in Europe ... his notion of anti-globalization is that it's made up of people who are against the internet. A brilliant fellow, and succesful businessman, but practically brain dead when it comes to the consequences of rampant top-down development.)

p.s. I spend a fair amount of time puttering around the Mozilla project. Yesterday I happened across the webpages of one of the early Netscape programmers (and Netscape was a pretty damned kewl project in its day). At the end of one of his essays on how programming can be done well, he offers this glimpse into the consequences of "new capitalism":

"But now I've taken my leave of that whole sick, navel-gazing mess we called the software industry. Now I'm in a more honest line of work: now I sell beer. Specifically, I own [a nightclub] in San Francisco."
In a longer piece on the same subject, this prince among hackers [/jwz/] wrote:
"you can divide our industry into two kinds of people: those who want to go work for a company to make it successful, and those who want to go work for a successful company. Netscape's early success and rapid growth caused us to stop getting the former and start getting the latter.

Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Sunday, December 22, 2002; Sunday, December 22, 2002

Work vs. Holding a job; becoming courtiers to psychopaths

Over a decade ago I finished my last big job: one of the products was a MIL-SPEC quality document set for a system that would land aircraft in a white-out blizzard if need be; three volumes ... one of them 750 pages ... hundreds of illustrations and figures, many hundreds of complex tables. What I'm proud of is the fact that the project was completed on budget and just slightly late, even though it was severely in the ditch when I took it over.

That experience along with another situation left my psychologically incapable of holding down a job, of doing all what we do to maintain a position. What traumatised me so deeply was that the corporate culture I encountered had nothing to do with doing the work and everything to do with co-conspiring to keep pulling pay-cheques. I've rarely talked about it, and never had any part of it acknowledged and affirmed. Never, that is, until this evening, when I found this in a blog:

The times I have been employed by corporations I was always puzzled by the fact that most people weren't really doing anything terribly productive, and it made relatively little difference what amount of work people actually were putting out. I several times had the task of making a computer system that would automate what a certain company was doing, so I specifically had to study what it was that actually took place. And along the way I noticed how rather little it had to do with doing work and accomplishing finished work. For example, it is with some embarrassment I note that I once hired a guy to document a program I had written. He had an impressive resume, and the company had to pay above the norm to acquire him. After a year he left to join a big consulting company, and everybody shook his hand and congratulated him on his great career move and his excellent service to the company. I and everybody else knew, at least via our peripheral vision, that the tangible product of his 1 year of work was 1/2 written page of a suggested outline for the manual. We're talking about an expense of maybe $70K for 1/2 page of writing, which I could just as well have jotted down in five minutes instead of hiring him. But nobody cared, because none of it really matters that much. The company was busy and the organizational chart looked good and the money flowed somehow. And this guy had great relationships with everybody. He was very supportive. I enjoyed working with him.

It is not all crazy. The point is that it is relationships people want, rather than giving or receiving quantities of work. And in some mysterious way, that's actually working. With the people I work for today, I'm an independent contractor, but I've insisted on arrangements where I get paid fixed amounts of dollars per month, but I don't promise any hours of work, and there are no deadlines or anything like it. If they or I are unhappy, we'll change the amount or stop the agreement. But it is not about work. It is about paying attention. It is about being present for whatever comes along in a certain area.

Yes indeed, it's about being pleasant ... like courtiers ... attendants to power "being present for whatever comes along" ... smiling and charming and glib and entirely unconcerned by the actual work of producing. Toil is for another class of people, apparently! I, on the other hand, am neurotically unfit for this scenario: I believe that pulling a cheque has some relation to prodcuing a good ... call me crazy!

But my personal malaise is the least of it; there's a broader consequence to this pathological scenario. Whether it's the cliche $20K dinner for 5, or the cliche $8k brooch purchased on a whim, the extravagance of corporate executives floats on an ocean of petty larceny; our society is managed in large part by individuals whose personal lives are bankrupt on the level of integrity (and of course personal debt is astronomical). Coincident with this is a booming market for quick-fix spirituality.

I have for years asked "how do the psychopaths recruit us to serving their agendas"; the question has always been rhetorical. The psychopaths enlist those whose ethics include contempt for fundamentals. Those who seem to dignity their positions as courtiers to the psychopaths of power are doomed, even as they leech our economy white.

''Fallen Angels'', my rather dusty page on psychopathy.