Sunday, March 27, 2011


Post forthcoming, but I realized that I could empty out the ruck sack of "earn" in one utterly depleted phrase: "No pain, no gain."
"It hurt while I got it, and the amount of pain is the amount of deserving to the acquisition" is one of the full statements of "earning" in the United States. Therefore, the woman who can eat all she wants and never lose a curve or gain a lump has not earned her figure, but the woman who frets at the gym and diet counter has, and the man who lifts barbells has earned his muscles more than the man whose body is simply large and hung with muscles.

This grand, well thought out principle leads us to wonderful conclusions. From this basis, we gather that all things difficult are deserved more than those easy, including torture. The information obtained by torture is better than that obtained by discourse because it had so much pain and danger in it. The sport that involves least protective gear, highest speeds, and most violence is the most "athletic." The artwork that looks like a daubed hand of a five year old had made it but is comprised of chiseled granite and diamond over a space of a mile is praiseworthy. Why, just look how much sweat went into it.

It also leads to the Lexis driver going across three spaces in the parking lot. It cost a lot of money to buy that car, and therefore that car has more rights than others. It hurt. It's worth.

Go on, Johnny, and push at that weight stack, and remember that there is no gain without pain, and pain is a sign of being deserving, except, of course, in some cases.

The principle that durance is the measure of justice in acquisition is absurd, of course, but that's how we clowns think and act. The actual standard that we perverted to get here is the principle of sacrifice. Sacrifice cannot be equated with pain, nor with unpleasantness, nor money. I dare say that the gym rat is choosing that pain and has some pleasure in it. Sacrifice would be duty without compensation. That would create worthiness, alright, but we don't see it anymore.

No, we stick to 'if it feels bad, it must be special,' and then we lie. After all, the person who cleans out septic systems has a more unpleasant job than the man who writes advertising. The woman or man who works in the weather on a framing crew has a more unpleasant and painful job than the one who works in an accounting house. The one who pulls weeds, sprays pesticides, and gets a face full of chemicals so that others may have lawns in insane weather endures far more than the people with the lawn who lead teams of engineers. In each case, though, we say that the richer person has "earned it." The poorer person, who will pay more in taxes, will not complain about government services, but we will hear unendingly from some of those others about how "their" "hard earned" money is being taken. It was earned, after all, because they endured for it.

The gamblin' man is rich, and the workin' man is poor, as Woody Guthrie said, but today we actually pretend that they earned the same.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Haunted Words 2: "Consumer"

Oh, yes, the consumer. Isn't the consumer horrible? It is a plague, like a tent caterpillar, eating up the substance of its own host. The consumer is Moloch, devouring the children of the nation and purifying the economy of its waste thereby. The consumer consumes, leaving nothing.
Gobble, gobble.

This word, "consumer," is of a more recent vintage than other haunted words. Unlike "labor," it does not go back into the pre-history of language. In fact, you can see its usage history here, if you'd like (great site). When we see the word's base, "consume," prior to the 20th century, it is always with "destroy" implied, and "waste" actually denoted. It was in the 1970's that the word got into the collective Business head. (This time, I do not plan to attack business schools.) I can remember, as a child, people objecting to the term. "How dare you call me a consumer," people said.

They don't say that anymore.

Nor do I wish to act as if we need to run for our aluminum foil deflector beanies. No. My point is merely to discuss the term itself, what corpse it carries with it into our mouths and minds, and the effect of speaking and thinking such defilement on us may be. (Photo at right shows, incidentally, and I mean incidentally, some of the difficulties we should have had already. Go to its source and read that essay, if you'd like.)

Conceiving of the consumer, inventing the consumer as an abstracted force in economic transactions, performs the same moral deferral that "labor" does. A crime against your neighbor would be punished by the neighbor, by the state, and by your conscience, but an action against "labor" is "necessary" by "laws" of "the market." In other words, each of these forces that is cited as a compulsion is an abstraction derived inferentially from repeated observations of actual exchanges of goods. An historian, essentially, observes how exchanges have gone, analyzes and infers common principles, and these descriptions are presumed to be predictive of future exchanges. From this scientific basis, we get such concepts -- all linguistic shorthand for massive assumption and deduction -- as "labor, production, material, consumer," and then we act according to "laws of the market" that are not laws. They are habits of humans. Humans are only partly predictable.

I would never cost my neighbor his job, but I can feel morally absolved by "market forces" and laws, even though these forces and laws are people en masse. The moral action on my part has been absolved by numbers, not by a real force. (I'm trying to avoid being obvious or obscure. What I mean is that "the market" does not let me off the hook. The "market" does not exist. It is simply a description of a mass of people and a set of assumptions about their behavior. The morality of actions remains, whether there is a market present or not. You still fired people.)

If a side effect of abstractions like "labor" and "consumer" and "manager" is to create a false sense of laws and forces that will absorb the impact of moral actions, then it is because each word carries extra freight. None of these words is innocent. None is actually a pure economics term. Each one has something strapped to its back. In the case of "labor," it is "uneducated, obdurate, obstreperous." With "manager," it is "executive, brain, judgment." What is it with "consumer?" What does using the word "consumer" do to our moral acts after it has given us a giant marshmallow to absorb the good and evil of them?

Ah, Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights

A "consumer" is a glutton. Gluttony is, of course, a sin. It is a sin in nearly every faith on earth. It is a sin in non-faiths, too. In Christianity, gluttony includes eating too much and simply wasting substance. In Buddhism, it is attachment. In Hiduism, the same. In Islam, the same as Christianity, and in Judaism, it is forbidden. In contemporary culture, gluttony means fat, and fat is bad, but, then again, it is alright if it is in the name of being a consumer, because over consumption is wealth.

A consumer creates nothing. A consumer is an end point for culture. A consumer is a toilet, a garbage can, and a dump. It is an efficient absorber. Now, we all know and accept the truth that no consumer consumes completely, that there is waste, but when we accept the term "consumer," we accept the inherent quality of the big bad wolf who 'ate them all up.' We also accept the fact that being a consumer is being sinful, that consumers are making demands, that consumers are baby birds screeching, mouths open and eyes closed, for more, more, more.

From Thorstein Verblein's thesis in The Theory of the Leisure Class, we have moved on considerably. For him, the leisure class was a form of actual class structure. Since those days, our productive model has inverted. Luxury has become increasingly cheap, and staple goods have become increasingly dear. There is no question that an iPod/Pad is a luxury good, that a 4G phone is a luxury, and yet those are cheap in real dollars, while housing has moved up in real dollars of income for average income. This is because leisure and luxury do not constitute class any longer, but basics do.

When a company makes its product and its managers make decisions (for the dumb hands and feet and mouths that are incapable of 'executive' function), it considers "the consumer." It wants to know how to appeal to the consumer, not how to serve the consumer, how to be known to the consumer, not pleasing to people, how to offer perceived value per unit to the consumer, rather than quality goods for long use, and they want to build brand loyalty among consumers rather than consistent products. By considering this creature -- this vaccuous, voracious and wicked thing called "the consumer" -- as a target for psychological analysis, focus group study, predictive statistics and the like, the company is treating people with contempt, ignoring their product, and focusing on an amoral universe that must be immoral.

Why must a society ordered around labor, management, and consumers be immoral? It must be because the one using the term is included in the term. The problem with the analysis is that same as the morality: there is no way to remove the observer. The producer is a consumer. The manager is labor. The consumer is a producer. The company that has scorn for consumers and works hard to psych them out is being targeted by a supplier, and the executive goes home to be targeted by a luxury maker or a staple maker, and the whole country turns into a game of liar's poker where no one can win the stakes.

Then again, some people just prefer to steal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Haunted Words 1: "Labor"

Apparently, there is a loophole in Genesis 3:19 that lay silent in grievous oblivion for centuries. Where God told Adam,
"By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (NRSV),

it appears that modern business schools have made the discovery that only some people are sweaty dust. Other people are management material.

This distinction between management and labor is antique and an antique, a revenant or malingerer. We have had laborers, and the class of 'labor,' as long as there have been corners, and hence corner offices, but for us it probably dates to a difference bred of widespread illiteracy and innumeracy, as well as legally defined class and college being unavailable. Even in those days, the difference between the labor and the management was education, not nature. Today, though, the difference is nothing but the distinction. I will return to this.

Let me pretend for a minute that I have a business reader, that somewhere and some time such a coincidence occurs. That person, trained in business, learned in business, is hardly going to learn anything from me. After all, I don't know anything about business, not having read the same things nor been to the same places. However, I do know from experience certain things about my own behavior. I know why I dropped a local medical supply company for my mother. I did it because the moron who came out to install things did "elder talk" to my mother. He was patronizing, lying, and infuriating. I know why I have paid more for a guitar at one shop than another. I know it was because the bored teenager on the floor at the inexpensive place wanted to shove a heavy metal shreddddder experience in my face, and the more expensive shop actually asked me what I wanted. I know that a local pizza place does not get my business because the teenagers who man the phones are unmotivated and unhappy.

The lowest paid person is the person who is in contact with me, and the person mistreated the most, disposed of most often, least trained, least respected, least cared for by the company is the person who is the only face of the establishment for me.

I am sure that the guitar shop manager had an MBA. I'm sure the pizza shack owner manager had a great business plan. I know the corporation had a clever way of allocating profits. However, each of them treated workers as "labor costs," and the workers knew where they stood and acted accordingly. Shat upon, they shat back.

In the modern Business School, we study business. Business, you know. Not trade, nor psychology, nor accounting, but "business." Think about that, as it may be the first time anyone has asked you to do so. What is "business" divorced from all of the other things? What is "management" divorced from the things managed? What are the things, after all? Are they people or objects?

As it turns out, Business people study how to get inventory, generate profit, manage brands, diversify, and invest. They learn, in short, about a series of abstracted operations that come from case studies. In all of these, they are eager to turn the humans involved into abstract forces that can be predicted, either with game theory or statistical correlation. From these inductions, they come to names, and from the names they come to laws, and from the laws they generate book sales. The people involved are all learning about managing a "business," but none of them are learning about humans who are working, using, disposing of, or depending upon.

(This last point is a critical flaw: I might study how to make shavers, but the premise of "business" is the free market. No one thus trained has studied what to do if her product is a staple good, like electricity, or food. As a consequence, in order to justify market behaviors, people who wish to apply Business to utilities, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture must adopt libertarian lies.)

So, let's suppose that some case study eventually shows, ten years or so after B-School fiends have been monkeying with life, that workers who are shat on shit back and that customers see the lowest paid person. That makes no dent in the idea that there is "labor" and that "labor" is a "cost" (that's how it was taught in B-school!). Instead, "managers" react by creating "customer service scripts" and "decision trees" for people dealing with customers or -- dream of dreams -- getting sophisticated A.I. to man the phones. It's better than training the workers or treating them like they're part of the company.

The truth, of course, is that there is no such thing as labor, or there is nothing except labor. The company is the labor. Business school talks about the product as if it is already always existing. It teaches as if raw materials need no extraction or refining. It teaches as if the product comes in ex nihilo, like words in a text book, as a "widget," and there is a big box on the flow chart for "making it" that acts as a drain on the real business -- the part You the MBA have been trained for -- which is all that stuff about allocating units and game theory. Of course, there is no company without the product, and there is no difference between the person working to advertise and the person working to make. The "executive" (naming themselves as if they were brains!) is a laborer.

Finally, when companies or organizations decide that they need to make more "profits," they seek to reduce "costs." "Costs" include materials and "labor." Since B-school fools have propagated in themselves the lie that there is a difference between themselves and 'labor,' because they think that there is such a thing as 'labor' distinct from 'executive,' they see labor as that same square on the flow chart, and it's a square that costs. Why, just look at how much "we" pay "it" in benefits (what is it that "we" made, again? and how did they come to be "it," anyway?)!

When college is available to all, thanks to community colleges, and when literacy is at a high, and when the Americans with Disabilities Act is ensuring that there are no disabilities making people settle for demeaning positions, the only thing between the "unskilled" and "executive" class is education, and education can be obtained. It's true that we are not alike intelligent, but it's also true that not very many "executives" are brains -- either in or out of college. However, they still speak as if they are one thing and "labor" is another.

This has consequences. Because "labor" is over there, and "labor costs" should be reduced, while top executive pay is an "incentive," when cuts come along, the axe falls with gravity down the chart. No man thinks, "You know, I'm not worth much. I should lose my job." No woman says, "I think my division could get by with half its budget." No. The top says, "Cut 10%," and the next executive says, "Cut 10%," and the next group says to the lower ones, "Cut 10%." The command falls and falls until there is no one in charge -- the workers. The workers get fired, the work gets left not done, and the business goes along with more executives and no product.

Let no person, ever, accept this word. There is no "labor" in a post-industrial nation. We are ALL labor or capitalists, and you are definitely not a capitalist. The capitalists are very few in number, very low in value, and very worthy of our hate. The rest of us are laborers lying to ourselves and committing suicide.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Plackard

Just a notice of what's to come. Of course, with the oddness of blog posting, this notice will be at the bottom of the list, so it will act less like a menu or table of contents than a ridiculous testimony of intentions. That being as it may, the next three essays, barring sudden Ideas, are:

The Three Fallacies

1. The Consumer

2. Labor

3. Earn

I have said in other places, other times, things about these concepts, and I worry that I'll not say anything new and trust, at the same time, that these are inexhaustible funds of outrage. I hope to convince readers to not use these words again without giving them serious thought, at the very least.
I'm sure everyone knows that I think
"earn" is meaningless. I said so not two
posts ago. As for "consumer," I think it
was the same post that mentioned it and
"labor" as ghosts, so that may give a
gist -- and never let it be said that I
don't give a gist for my readers.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Long Apology

"No one undergoes a stronger struggle than the man who tries to subdue himself." -- Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ 3, iii

Shame is the theme for some authors, and yet it is a feeling that is at once elementary and advanced. There is the basic form, which is actually regret mixed with fear, and then there is an advanced form, which takes that as its based and tunes its song with added notes of memory, inevitability/doom, and awareness. The last one is so refined and piquant a feeling that it can, in its wake, leave us with a shattering sense that all awareness is shame, that any further awareness would result in further shame. I suspect that James Joyce, at least in his Dubliners phase, had this conviction, and a good many of us who read him have to agree.

I recall the first... no, I won't speak of that, as it was not what any of you would expect and is not actually embarrassing at all... sense of reflexive shame, the shame that requires apology to no one, came when I was in the library. I cannot recall now whether it was elementary or high school, but to me there is not much difference in the two, as only the earliest years of the combined experience were tolerable. The girls were outside the glass of the cube where the tables were, and I was inside the study terrarium with a couple of friends. I say "the girls," because they were interchangeable in my mind at that time. They were the Bub Club. Since I had no sisters and was fed a daily diet of pejoration by my older brother, I was even more unequipped to handle what came next with poise.

They giggled. They giggled at me. It had to mean something. I canvassed all my female friends, demanding that they explain the coded signals of the giggle. Boys would be purposeful in such a thing. It would mean sex or violence, which were the only two possibilities in boy world. Was I being laughed at, or was one of them being laughed at for liking me? Either way, I was there as a body, and I didn't like it.

“Can you imagine the pain, the dull imprisoned suffering, hewn into the matter of that dummy which does not know why it must be what it is, why it must remain in that forcibly imposed form which is no more than a parody? Do you understand the power of form, of expression, of pretense, the arbitrary tyranny imposed on a helpless block, and ruling it like its own, tyrannical, despotic soul? You give a head of canvas and oakum an expression of anger and leave it with it, with the convulsion, the tension enclosed once and for all, with a blind fury for which there is no outlet. The crowd laughs at the misery of imprisoned matter, of tortured matter which does not know what it is and why it is, nor where the gesture may lead that has been imposed on it for ever.” – Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles, “Treatise on Tailor's Dummies.”

I had thought little of myself as a being. My brother, for instance, had considered his looks, his demeanor, his musculature, and his goals. I had considered my personality, my misery, my soul, my anger at religion, my impatience with my teachers, my desire to create an alternate science fiction universe where I was in control. Neither my brother nor I had considered our selves. Few people do, after all. It's too time consuming, when we're young, and it's too boring, when we're old.

The full self is not merely body, nor mind, nor soul, nor some layer cake, nor even the batter in the blender of all three, but all three with a knowledge of their heterogeneity and friction. Coming to that is a long, long trek. At the time of the giggles, I had managed soulfulness, and mind was on its way, but at the cost of, as Dave Thomas says, thinking of my body "as a way of getting my head from place to place" (said on a "Tonight Show" appearance many years ago). When the girls giggled, they made me think about the fact that I had flesh, that I was occupying space, that my desires had to be fulfilled through body, that the body, which had always seemed, had always, in fact, been the thing I had no power over, would have to be reckoned with. I was ashamed. I wanted to apologize.

Don't imagine that there was something particular that I needed to apologize for. I was in no way outstanding. I was purely average, in fact. Aside from, at that point, a big chip and an aggressive brain, there was nothing to notice, save for naivete.

Since that very early experience, which I have discovered many young men shared with me, the body has been my particular weak spot. It is not, of course, the only avenue. For me, it remains the dog whistle, because it is what I will soonest forget. Tell me about how my food causes uncountable death, pollution, and unthinkable misery, and I will feel that same sudden awareness, that awareness undesired, that fear mixed with guilt and a need to apologize for no particular act, but for simply being. Tell me how the iPod or apple I purchase involved a million miles of diesel fumes, how Gilbert eating a grape meant transgenic Monsanto killer tomatoes, and I will flush red. Nor, of course, is my sex a help in this. Young girls get the body shame far earlier and never have it let up. (The reason that the body was something always beyond my control was that, although I look like a very healthy animal now, I was a very, very, very sickly runt of the litter when young. I was born with birth defects in my heart that seemed to have a Eugene O'Neill sort of determinism for me. Biorhythms and biofeedback was of limited success, and pyramid power didn't work out.) In fact, the reason that the anecdote I began with is notable is merely that it is novel for boys. For girls, it would be one flea bite amid an amputation.

I have seen, since I have fallen into the modern life of apologizing for being where I am and who I am, that others sometimes do so when the pathway is the mind, but more rarely, and they virtually never do when it is the soul.

And when the hourglass has run out, the hourglass of temporality, when the noise of secular life has grown silent and its restless or ineffectual activism has come to an end – when everything around you is still, as it is in eternity – then eternity asks you, and every individual in these millions and millions, about only one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not.” – Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

I can leave you to your own scenarios and let my clever reader get ahead of me, if she wishes. However, essentially it comes down to the fact that some people find themselves being forced to become aware of their mental pathways, their mental development and process, when they had managed to avoid thinking about it. When they do, they feel shame. I am not speaking of the, "Shucks, I don't know nothing about no quadrilateral equations" dodge. I mean someone silent at the side of the table, unnoticed by everyone else, suddenly feeling very small, very sad, afraid, and aware. In the United States, it's not so easy to find these situations -- partly because of anti-intellectualism, of course -- mainly because the mind is inside, and the body is outside. It's not easy to see or prove someone's mental process, and therefore it's not likely that the other person will be compelled to be aware, if he doesn't want to be aware. For the soul, the scenarios are non-existent.

What I can say is that I'm sorry. I can further say that I am sorrier still for the fact that, at this point in my life, when the hero of Steppenwolf was about to get out his straight razor, I go back to the most fallacious folly of them all. I envy.

While we who have flashes of involuntary awareness experience complex shame and thereafter feel the need to apologize for ourselves, justify ourselves, make up for ourselves, other people seem impervious. They are in the same situations, but they do not have the shame. We, some time around the age of twenty, decide that they are enviable. "I should have been a mobile home dweller like X," we say, "because then I'd have no idea that I wasn't happy." That's bull, of course, and we'd be terribly miserable, or dead. We are tailor's dummies in our own shape, and were we pressed into another we would spring back into this (Bruno Schulz's father was wrong). The people who feel no shame manage their trick not by being stupid, but by being without a self.

If you do not develop your soul, you cannot feel another's pain. If you do not develop your soul, you cannot engage God as a living being. If you do not develop your soul as part of your self, you can only hate your parts.

So, follow me down this road for a moment, just out of morbid curiosity. I have no answer, but I have a hypothesis. Suppose that a person is active all the time. A situation occurs like mine in the library. The boy in the box in this case hears the giggle and puffs up. He knows he is the center of attention, assumes it's because the girls all love him and struts over. He does not become aware of self, because he is not thinking out. The same person in a meeting who is unable to keep up with the thinking going around him just waits for the answers. There is no awareness involved, because he wants answers, and these people should come up with them. Now a woman finds that her food involves peasants suffering. She thinks that someone should do something about that, probably. It's not her problem. Those people should move, she might think.

The point is not that these are stupid people. They aren't even selfish people, per se. Instead, they are not selves. They are not integrating the components of self to be in touch with the moral, the social, the physical, and the mental. They act. We, on the other hand, inhabit and must therefore be conscious and aware. We are better off, but we live out one very, very long apology.