Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves
― Abraham Lincoln
I’d like to be independent empowered and passionate about work, and I definitely used to be. Instead I find that I’m generally disempowered compliant and despondent these days. The actions that manage us have this effect; sending the clear message that we are not in control; we are to be controlled, and our destiny is determined by our subservience. With the National environment headed in this direction, institutions like our National Labs cannot serve their important purpose. The situation is getting steadily worse, but as I’ve seen there is always somewhere worse. By the standards of most people I still have a good job with lots of perks and benefits. Most might tell me that I’ve got it good, and I do, but I’ve never been satisfied with such mediocrity. The standard of “it could be worse” is simply an appalling way to live. The truth is that I’m in a velvet cage. This is said with the stark realization that the same forces are dragging all of us down. Just because I’m relatively fortunate doesn’t mean that the situation is tolerable. The quip that things could be worse is simply a way of accepting the intolerable.
What is going on, and how did we get here?
When you read management theory, and I do, you would think that good management would do the opposite. I certainly like the feeling of being empowered and valued, it makes me feel like coming to work and doing my best. It is good to feel a real sense of purpose and value in work. I have had this experience and it is incredible. When I am creative, my voice is heard and my actions lead to positive outcomes, work is a real joy. I have definitely experienced this, but not recently. If working well, a management system would strive to engage people in this manner. The current management approach acts are pretty much completely opposite to this end. The entire system seems to be geared to putting us into a confined and controlled role. Our actions are limited because of fear, and the risk that something “bad” might happen. We are simply members of a collective and our individuality is more of a threat than a resource.
Today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Why are we managed in such an inherently destructive short-sighted and inhumane manner?
Star Trek introduced us to the Borg, a race of semi-robotic aliens who simply absorb beings (people) into a hive where their basic humanity and individuality is lost. Everything is controlled and managed for the good of the collective. Science Fiction is an allegory for society, and the forces of depersonalized control embodied by the Borg have only intensified in our world. Even people working in my chosen profession are under the thrall of a mindless collective. Most of the time it is my maturity and experience as an adult that is called upon. My expertise and knowledge should be my most valuable commodity as a professional, yet they go unused and languishing. They come to play in an almost haphazard catch-what-catch-can manner. Most of the time it happens when I engage with someone external. It is never planned or systematic. My management is much more concerned about me being up on my compliance training than productively employing my talents. The end result is the loss of identity and sense of purpose, so that now I am simply the ninth member of the bottom unit of the collective, 9 of 13.
Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
― Henry David Thoreau
Increasingly, the forces that have demoralized the blue collar working class world and propelled White Nationalism to the forefront of American politics have worked their way to me. The forces doing this are relentless and bipartisan both the right and left are doing this, but in different ways. Conservatives prize control and order with a horrid authoritarian streak naturally leading to Trump. Fear is a political tool wielded like a scalpel, enslaving the population to the security state. Generally speaking, the rise of the management class at work comes from this side of the spectrum along with their devaluation of the rank and file people. We see a tendency toward command-driven management, and being told what to do. Workers are simply meaningless details interchangeable and disposable. The management class is the heart of importance, and value. The rest of us aren’t really worth much effort simply being necessary cogs to get the work done.
The left has their own crimes to answer for. Much of the right-ward movement is a reaction to the systematic over-reach of the bureaucratic state. Political correctness and the thought police also serve to undermine societal confidence and tolerance in the “elite”. Management is part of this elite so derided to today and each subgroup within the elite has their own axe to grind. The big crime of the left is that they seem to think that every ill and danger can be regulated out of existence. Little or no thought is put into the cost of the regulation or the opportunity lost in the process. This is similar to the behavior of the right with respect to the National Security state. In the process, the individual is lost; the individual is not valued; the individual is not trusted. The value of work and the dignity of labors toward support of the family and the good of society is not honored. Work becomes a complete waste of time. Productivity and meaning in work ceases to be prioritized. Life is too precocious to waste doing this.
A big part of the overall problem is the value of my time. For every single thing I do, I trade it against doing something else. Increasingly, my time is spend doing unproductive and useless things. Every useless thing I have to do displaces something else. Time is a valuable resource, and today my management, my institutions treat my time with flagrant disregard and outright disrespect. This is the rotten core of the problem, the disregard for the cost of making me do stupid useless things. We engage it pointless, wasteful box checking exercises rather than reject pointless activities. It is not the stupid things as much as the valuable things they displace. Almost all the time at work I could spend doing something more valuable, or more gratifying, or more satisfying, or simply something that brings me happiness and joy. I could create, solve problems, learn and find meaning and value. Instead I am enslaved to someone’s idea of what I should do. I am saddled with numerous “terms of employment” based tasks that have no value or meaning. Those saddling me always have the excuse of “it is a good idea to do this”. This sentiment is valid except it completely and utterly discounts what that time could be spent doing that is better.
The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I spend complete days doing nothing, but bullshit. It is mostly what other people think is a good idea, or worse yet some sort of ass covering exercise. I can spend an entire day doing nothing productive at all, and yet I’m doing exactly what I supposed to do. This is a huge problem! Managers do this almost every day. They rarely do what they need to do, actually manage the work going on and the people doing the work. They are managing our compliance and control, not the work; the work we do is mere afterthought that increasingly does not need me any competent person would do. At one time work felt good and important with a deep sense of personal value and accomplishment. Slowly and surely this sense is being under-mined. We have gone on a long slow march away from being empowered and valued as contributing individuals. Today we are simply ever-replicable cogs in a machine that cannot tolerate a hint of individuality or personality.
All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.
― Noam Chomsky
Work place education exemplifies all of these trends. My training is almost 100% compliance oriented. Nothing I am ever trained on is job related, it is all telling me what I shouldn’t do. This training is a good avatar for priorities, and my actual work is not a priority at all. All the training that develops a person is management related. For the rank and file personal development is completely optional and hardly prioritized. We are there to get our stuff done, and the stuff we do is increasingly shit. They have lots and lots of training, and from what I see use almost none of it. It is full of the best theory that cannot be applied to the workplace. Their training would tell them to harness my passion and empower me, yet none of that ever happens. The entire system is completely oriented toward the opposite. The training system signals very clear values to all of us, the rank and file need to comply and submit, managers are the only employees’ worth developing even if the development is all delusional.
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum…
― Noam Chomsky
The management literature is full of the gospel of the value of human talent. It sounds great, and I believe in it. Management should be the art of enabling and working to get the most out of employees. If the system was working properly this would happen. For some reason society has removed its trust for people. Our systems are driven and motivated by fear. The systems are strongly motivated to make sure that people don’t fuck up. A large part of the overhead and lack of empowerment is designed to keep people from making mistakes. A big part of the issue is the punishment meted out for any fuck ups. Our institutions are mercilessly punished for any mistakes. Honest mistakes and failures are met with negative outcomes and a lack of tolerance. The result is a system that tries to defend itself through caution, training and control of people. Our innate potential is insufficient justification for risking the reaction a fuck up might generate. The result is an increasingly meek and subdued workforce unwilling to take risks because failure is such a grim prospect.
People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.
― Assata Shakur
One of the key things that drives the system is a complete lack of cost-benefit analysis
. The cost of a given measure to control a risk is rarely accounted for. The TSA is a prime example. One asshole tries to blow up a shoe, and forever we can’t take toothpaste on a plane. It is patently absurd on the face of it. We give up freedom, we give up time and we expend enormous effort to control minuscule risks. In the process, we have made a wonder of technology and the modern world, something to be hated. So much of the wonder of the modern world is being sacrificed to fear designed to control risks that are so small to be ridiculous. In the process, the vast benefits of modernity are lost. The vast benefits of easy and convenient air travel are overrun by a system designed to control irrational fears. Our fears are things that are completely out of control, and the vast opportunity cost is never considered. The result is a system that destroys our time and productivity in a disproportionate manner.
If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The same thing is happening to our work. Fear and risk is dominating our decision-making. Human potential, talent, productivity, and lives of value are sacrificed at the altar of fear. Caution has replaced boldness. Compliance has replaced value. Control has replaced empowerment. In the process work has lost meaning and the ability for an individual to make a difference has disappeared. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.
To be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
― Toni Morrison