Friday, February 05, 2010
The Monster's Sweet Perfume
One of the reasons I can ably take apart Randite twaddle without breaking much of a sweat is that I've read just about everything Ayn Rand ever wrote. Biographies (both the authorized ones and the true ones.) The frightfully bad newsletter. The fearfully bad collections of essays. The Very Big, Frightfully Bad Science Fiction robot bible, the svelte, frightfully bad post-apocalyptic science fiction, and almost everything in-between.
And then I hit puberty :-)
It all happened centuries ago, and while Rand’s economic and philosophical offerings are pure, self-serving, laissez-faire gangsterism, if you don’t understand the powerful allure of it’s meritorcratic siren’s song, you will always miss the point.
Looking back over my professional life -- from delivering papers in the pre-dawn cold to today, writing this -- I see a landscape littered with lessons. I see the remnants of lost jobs and aborted careers; some small or predictable (say, working for a company that went out of business), but a disturbing number times the end came when dimwits with power let hucksters con then into playing with the lives and fortunes of the people who worked for them like Gomez Addams
playing with toy trains.
Most of my adult life I have been playing dime-store Cassandra at one organization or another, arguing for intelligent solutions based on realistic expectations and built on a boring, methodical, data-tested implementation strategy that pays close attention to the negative feedback loop.
Hideously unsexy stuff, but it works.
In virtually every fucking case, I found myself completely outgunned by people who were more connected, more ruthless, completely unfettered by conscience and more willing to promise a credulous, frightened, inept boss magical, transformative, quantum-leapy results, packed deep inside sleek, focus-group-tested adjectives.
Then came the next recession or funding cut or management fad, some functionary hands me my walking papers, and I find myself back on the road -- broke, screwed, angry, scared, forced to start all over again, and watching as the party boat sails on over the horizon without me.
Then in 3…2…1…
Organizational shrapnel flying into the sky. Distant screams. The smell of burning PowerPoints and flipcharts. A flood of emails from friends still aboard the doomed vessel hinting at new, unspeakably Caligulan outrages. Having bet the farm on the Latest Crackpot Idiocy and having driven out of the monkey house everyone who tried to warn them that the Latest Crackpot Idiocy wouldn’t work, management can no longer back out of its Faustian bargain without a fatal loss of face.
So they go all-in and give the douchbags the keys to the kingdom; the weasels can have anything they want – they can eat the organization alive and dance in its skin – as long they promise to save the necks of the goofs who steered the ship into disaster in the first place.
And they do: the great, smothering arms of the Confederacy of Dunces reach out to enfold and protect another one of their own.
And it all begins again.
And you know what? Some morning I get up, looking in the mirror and my first coherent thought is that I am fucking tired of it.
Politically and professionally, I am heartily tired of being right, and losing, over and over and over again.
I’m tired of warning people not to give the keys to the shitwhistles, then watching them do it, then watching my nightmares come true, then watching them lie about it.
I am tired of drowning in a flood of other people’s self-absolving bullshit.
Tired of being a head smarter than primates who tell me to shut up and sit down while they fuck things up beyond repair.
Tired going broke while I watch people who have been wrong forever about everything prosper.
Tired of finding out – always too late – that there was another, secret rule book. Another, secret, organization chart. Another, secret list of the Clout Protected. Another, secret clique of insiders or brothers-in-law or made-media-men or A-lister’s who had already held their own Yalta Conference behind closed doors and have already divvied up the Brave New World I thought I was fighting for long before the battle was over.
Tired of finding out that while I was sweating my ass off, the game had been rigged against me by people who I thought were on my team.
Tired of finding out that the two ironclad rules of Illinois politics (Rule One: There is a club. Rule Two: You are not in it.) also apply to virtually every other institution.
Tired of finding out, yet again, that in the Valley of the Blind, the One-eyed Man gets fired.
And in that exhausted, angry moment when I can see so clearly how the world could be if it weren’t being driven to ruin by thieves and hacks and aldermen, I understand the appeal of Going Galt.
The attraction of once and for all turning my back, stepping aside and letting it burn.
In that moment I once again understand the adolescent allure of Ayn Rand.