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.



Fran / Blue Gal said...

If you don't have a fundraiser this month, I'm going to personally come to Chicago and kick your ass.

jabberwocky said...

Wow. Absolutely fantastic. Sweet perfection.
I spent six miserable years working for a major corporation. My biggest lesson: The top executives came straight out of Uncle Joe Stalin's Business School. They were gray humorless thugs sold outrageous expectations by ladder-climbing sycophants. Everyone else paid the price.

Unknown said...

amen to all of that, you deal with that again and again

mahakal said...

There is no salvation of the corporate system. I went Galt in a different sense, back more than two decades ago, and have not accepted "employment" since. I won't work for them. I do not work for money. I work for friends.

Anonymous said...

What Blue Gal said! ! ! ! ! ! !

someofparts said...

amen amen amen
to everything you say in this post

Jenonymous said...

Going through this at work right now; next wave of layoffs comes in a few weeks and I know too much about the right way to run my department to be allowed to live. In the meantime, we're being told that "everything is business as normal until termination notices are given."

As in don't even go NEAR the lifeboats until after we've hit the fucking iceberg AND burst into flames.

Shit like this makes me want to go home and drink.

Yodood said...

Your description of the ineptitude dirving you to go Galt sounds just like tbe management that drove Howard Roark to blow up his building.

Confusing, isn't it?

Satchel Pooch said...

Now THAT was friggin' genius.

::: standing ovation :::

Unknown said...

Great post. Period.

I've been in this situation since I learned five days into the Nam war when someone ordered me to do something suicidal that there are no rules, no laws, no regulations, no truth, no justice. In every case the sole rule is I get out of this alive. I had been a true believer. A real patriot, I went to a war that I was totally opposed to and everything went.

Two things work for me - music, something that I probably won't want to listen to anymore turned up to 10. A dog so there is something that needs you and will love you unconditionally and will comfort you when you cry.

Hang in there lady, what you do on this website is very important to me. I will post my legitimate email on the site so if you need to bail, I'll catch you. I'm just a crazy old nam vet living in a third world portion of a second world country, but the people are human and I sleep over six hours a nite straight through. Good food, excellent doctors and dentists, warm and dry (north end of the driest desert outside of antartica until the weather changed.) I can see the Andes from the compound that I live on. No more glaciers, this town will die within 10 years.

If necessary I will fund your expenses getting here and finding a safe place for you to live. Push comes to shove, I can provide references. I am currently paying the living expenses of one of your fellow bloggers while she goes through chemo in central america. I paid for the flight and the cancer surgery. That country provided insurance on a preexisting condition and pays for her chemo. She should be in pretty good shape by May, so I will have more funds.

I half promised the surgeon at the local hospital children's burn ward that I would get a second hand skin preserving machine so I'll have to go back to the us to liquidate funds (he estimates that the machine will save 25 to 45 lives a year and make the ones that live have better results,) If you need, I can move quicker.

I left my soul in Vietnam but I try to pretend to be a human.

lj said...

Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt. Weird thing is that the most Randian people that I've known are the ones that are running the ships into the icebergs. It's all "Rules? I don't need no stinkin' rules! Rules are for you ordinary suckers!" And then things go boom.

Well, I'm old and I'm tired, Drifty. And thanks for calling old Rand a monster.

Tengrain said...

Ah, I see you worked for Big Blue, too.



Anonymous said...

How unexpected that the Randroids who exalt 'meritocracy' always construct merit in specific terms that emphasise and disproportionately reward the specific dubious 'skills' they possess. The people in charge always turn out to be unique flowers with unmatchable skills that must be vastly rewarded.

Corporate life rewards aggression and brutality and shits on competence and intelligence.

SweaterMan said...

This is my CalvinBall.

Even though there are not any rules, you are not playing my way, right at this minute.

I'm picking up my ball and going home.

Our politics (Left and Right, although 99.99999999% Right, because they read and believed Ms. Rand) are ruled by this.

Adolescent minds that absorb the Randian "philosophy" until it is ensconced in their being such that there is no way they can acknowledge or even presume to exist, any other competing viewpoint.

And that would be fine except for the fact that not acknowledging isn't good enough; they seek to actively repress; similar to the destruction of buildings (Roarke??) or stepping out of the economic pathway (Galt)...


I remember when I would halt everything, stomp on the brakes, lay the kibosh down, JUST TO PROVE MY POINT!!!!

And I believe that was roughly when I was between the age of 12 to 16. It could have been even later in my teens but I'd like to think that I'd outgrown that impulse by then.

Not so these Rand-luvin'-tea-baggin' fools. They can be in the 30+ age group, but are still sitting around thinkin they can throw down with their bad-ass John McClain/Jack Bauer bullshit, whether it belongs to bringin' heat or bringin' policy (in the form of teabags).

There is no way to counter but through intelligence. Think Harry Tuttle versus the doofus A/C repairmen. The best that can be done is to continue to point out the hypocrisy until everyone is aware.

And if they never become aware? Well, that's when we push the 'Up' button on the space elevator and leave this place behind...

Unknown said...

And that, boys and girls, is why they invented whisky.

kmh said...

That was SO depressing, and I mean that in the best possible way.(and beautifully written I might add) This is not limited to the corporate world. You try to have integrity and do the right thing, and you end up by yourself without a job. Ultimately it is me, me, me. Perhaps The Myth of Sisyphus could help counter the feelings of despair...

StonyPillow said...

In that moment I once again understand the adolescent allure of Ayn Rand.

And then you go back to Valhalla and lift the lid yet once again.

The nose is sometimes a dispenser of infallible truth. A is A. Stench is stench.

Palamedes said...

1) Yup. My personal narrative on that front isn't as dramatic, but I've a piece or two of wreckage as keepsakes, as reminders, of similar events.

2) The smell of burning PowerPoints and flipcharts.

I love the smell of viewfoils in the morning....

3) Where is the Paypal tag, friend?

4) If the day job situation in Chicago is becoming untenable, let's work out something where I get your resume and I shop it out. The Puget Sound may seem weird to you in that we have less corruption (and less that gets done), among other things, especially that snow is usually up where the skiers like it most of the time, and what you would call a typical Chicago summer is only about two weeks long (intense heat, intense humidity, by our standards, but then air conditioning is typically only in our cars and nowhere else, so....), but it's not a bad place hereabouts, having been from where you now reside and able to make a reasonable comparison.

My two bits, and my good wishes...

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

I am afraid that once you get beyond the society which follows leaders because they are good at hunting, good at farming, good at finding the stuff to eat, you run into the bullshit described herein. Your post is brilliant in the cycling back to Rayndian meritocracy and it reminds me of many Psalms("How long, O'Lord will the wicked prosper while I get shat upon????) loose paraphrase.

Montag said...

Ah, yes, understand this well.

Every company for which I worked either failed or failed to thrive sufficiently to avoid being sold at discount prices.

Even the private college for which I once taught.

The biggest idiots were the ones who never expressed doubt or uncertainty, never tried to anticipate problems with their plans. There's a theory in psychology today that the greatest institutional damage is done by people who are just smart enough to convince others to put themselves at great risk, and whose plans and ideas invariably take no notice of risk.

Hell, I spent forty-five years in that working world. Didn't need a study to tell me that....

Anonymous said...

I think of you as Howard Roark. Damn, Drifty. - mac

driftglass said...

Blue Gal/Mermaid
Message received.

Many thanks

Charles/ someofparts
Glad I could lend a few words to the cause.

Too bad my friends are broke too :-)

I am very sorry to hear it.

Roark did what he did because he believed the buildings were his and he had the right to do what he wanted with them.

Satchel Pooch,
Thank you very much.

Thank you for your kind words. And although you misread my gender, thanks too for the kind offer. Hang in there,

Most of the Randites I know would be wearing paper hats and asking if I want fries with my burger if we lived in anything close to a meritocracy.


For Objectivism, there is no cure but time.

the rev. paperboy,

High praise. Thanks.

Thank you

PayPal is on its way, and thank you so much for your offer.

equa yona(Big Bear),
I'm still holding out for a gig as tribal grio :-)

Montag ,
It never changes, and we have run out of places to hide.

I'll shoot for a happier ending :-)

Professional Left Podcast #602

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” -- Zen saying Don't forge...