Tag Archives: politics

Thoughts on the 99%: A little narrative about overthrow

Occupy Wall Street is happening in my back yard. I’ve been down to offer a warm body and moral support a few times, but I’m not what I’d call involved in the movement. I post news stories and pictures to Facebook and sometimes Twitter, trying to help get the word out, but I’m pretty sure my social base is largely impatient with the idea in general, not to mention hesitant about protesters altogether.

I also follow the blog Information is Beautiful regularly. Everything they do fascinates me, and their presentations go beyond beautiful: they are always interesting and usually helpful, even if only in a very minute sense.

These two threads joined today when Information is Beautiful posted via BusinessInsider.comCHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About… I knew most of the narrative, but I didn’t know most of the information as specifically as they listed it, so I was happy to see it and shared it with a friend and my social networks. But it also made me sick to my stomach with anger, one of the reasons I’m sympathetic towards and participate (even as distantly as I do) in OWS: something is wrong, and the numbers communicate it, and there’s a narrative to the numbers, so not knowing really is about not looking at this point.

So I tried to communicate this with my girlfriend, which may have lead to her asking why I’m so bent out of shape about it, which might have lead to a conversation that included my saying, “That’s like saying Hitler’s Germans didn’t know about the Holocaust.” Hyperboles aside, she later asked me, “So why don’t you participate?” Which is a really good question, to which I only have a really bad answer: I don’t know what to say. But not knowing what to say usually only occurs because one hasn’t tried yet to say anything.

Well. Then. Here’s attempt #1.

**

A new kid arrives at the playground one day and sees all the children playing. Cliques are already formed, and in the corner is a lonely giant trying to catch a grasshopper. The new kid surveys the social groups, picks one for his own reasons, and begins to socialize with all the others. He builds some clout over the next weeks or months until he feels like trying to double-down on his status: he begins to pick on the first group he noticed, using all of his observations to grief and nitpick them until all of the other cliques form into an anti-that-group clique. Then everybody except that group belongs to the new kid; he even befriends the stupid giant in the corner and courts him as a strongman.

But that’s not overthrow, except maybe from nature to structure; that’s normal political functioning. Overthrow comes after the new kid has gotten his clout to mature into something substantive. It’s at this point he defines another anti-that-group group, allowing the first disenfranchised to re-enter the social circle at the expense of another. But this is the only way to collect all of the pawns: to rotate hatred from one group to another to another and so on ad infinitum.

One day the new kid realizes that if he just sacrifices the stupid giant so that he’s always the enemy, he can keep the other social groups all the time, whose social capital is always greater. And so he begins an escalating assault upon the stupid kid in the corner, because everyday the jeers from before lose a little luster, and every day things have to become a little more intense to maintain the feeling of realness. So the big kid stays in his corner, lonely and feeling utterly stupid and without power. He searches for more grasshoppers to pass the time.

But one day the jeers aren’t just jeers anymore. Once, another kid worked up the courage to kick at the stupid giant as he passed, and everyone laughed but no one pointed fingers. And another day, another kid slapped the giant upon the head, and everyone leered with little tight smiles. And these little cruelties continued; the students broke the playground rules in order to solidify their moral alienation of the giant. They increased until the giant was too dejected to even look for grasshoppers anymore. He just sat there in the corner wondering how he had gone from being alone to being so lonely.

And then the real escalation began: The new kid began to hit the giant, too. Before, the new kid had refrained for fear of retaliation, but seeing everyone else do it without so much as getting a swing thrown back at them, he finally worked up the brass. Except once he felt he had implicit permission from the group, he could sanction in his own mind the worst tactics. Instead of a poorly aimed kick here and there, the new kid aimed for the giants knees or kidneys or stomach, always looking to hurt in addition to breaking the rules. He began to throw a pinch or a bite into every attack, just for a little humiliation to spice his enjoyment. But the other kids were watching, and seeing this kind of broke some of their hearts, for though they could agree to alienate the giant and hate him, they still remembered when he was one of them and kind of loved him, and felt his alienation as a kind of participation in them. If this progression continued, though, they may not be able to count him as a friend, even a bad one.

So it came to pass that some of the children felt bad for the giant, and they stopped hitting him and teasing him. Instead, they offered a kind word here or there. Others said that the giant deserved what he was getting and continued to attack him and increased their viciousness to match their leader, the once-new kid. The giant didn’t understand any of it, and he didn’t try to; he just sat in the corner, wondering when the next hit might come but smiling at a few of the nicer children every now and again.

One day, the once-new kid and his little gang attacked the giant all at once. They pushed him to the ground and started kicking him, and he cried and asked them to stop but they didn’t. The other children began to complain, saying that this had gone too far, but the once-new kid’s gang was in the moment, animal, and they wouldn’t let it go until they had to. One of the others threw a rock and hit the once-new kid in the head, and he fell on top of the giant, and there was blood. The once-new kid staggered to his feet, tried to guess which one had been brave enough to throw the stone, and lunged for an attack.

Which, of course, was when the giant finally acted. He grabbed the once-new kid by the ankle so that he fell chin-first into the gravel. The giant climbed on top of the once-new kid and waited for the cue: either the new kid would go slack, or he would struggle. The first meant the fight was already over, the second that it had to be finished.

**

I apologize if it’s first-draftiness obscures any of what I meant to say but will say that I view all politics through the lens of this allegory. Those in control will abuse those not in control up to and including the point where revolution tips from possible to likely to happening. Whether or not those in control recognize the tipping point or can even summon the opposite force to negate the momentum before reaching no-return is decided historical moment to historical moment. I base this understanding of historical turmoil on an intense reading of history’s literature and a light education of world history.

On another note, if you’ve read this far and are still interested, I thought I’d share with you that I thought about the 99% before it was cool: Here’s a post I wrote about the problem of profit.

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What Rachel Maddow missed in her interview with Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow spent the better part of their one hour interview discussing Stewart as a media and political figure and how his rally fit into that point. However, they were discussing two separate structures and failed, especially at a point in the conversation 40 minutes into the show, to connect their separate paradigms. However, the difference is simple.

Jon Stewart is a comedian who satirizes the news, in particular the 24-hour news cycle.

Rachel Maddow is a commentator who comments, sometimes with satire, about political conflict in America.

The primary difference between them, and why according to Jon they’re not on the same level, is that Jon’s focus is on the news process while Rachel’s focus is on the political process. However, Jon’s show is so overtly political in nature that it’s hard to separate his content from political content. Jon’s show, at least according to the argument he put forth in the interview, is only accidentally politically focused. He talks about politics because news stations talk about politics. Rachel, on the other hand, talks about politics because she’s a news person, and politics is news. Therefore, her show’s focus on politics is purposeful and limited, basically different from The Daily Show’s purpose.

Therefore, the “game” that Jon references isn’t the political game, to say that he could become a political force. He’s not particularly critical of politics in general. The positive influence he seems to regret not having is on the news process: he regrets that he can’t create a news station from scratch that focuses on conflicts in the country other than the political. Rachel, on the other hand, is part of a major news network and has, presumably, the leeway to use different rhetorical approaches on her show than has been seen in the past. Jon referenced Keith Olbermann as one of the first movers in MSNBC towards the left to take up the polarizing begun by Fox  News. And while MSNBC seems offended at the accusation that they’re trying to be to the left what Fox is to the right, the change that Jon wants to initiate is that MSNBC be something other than the left to Fox’s right: he’s essential asking Rachel and others to find something other than politics and a narrative other than left vs. right by witch to define their news programs. He, being a comedian that comments on the news rather than a journalist who comments on politics, cannot initiate that shift.

Essentially, Jon wants to remain a comedian who satirizes the news, but he wants journalists to grow beyond people who comment on politics. The new conflict Jon proposes is corruption vs. not-corruption, which he seems to think is the primary purpose of news in the first place. Is this the type of news set forward by sites like OpenCongress.org and sites dedicated to the open sharing of governmental data? I’m not sure that’s what he means, because that process would allow the focus to remain only on politics and the political divide. But at least it would make the political conversation a little more complex and thereby a little more realistic.

Perhaps if Jon set out in particular terms what he means by the axis of corruption vs. non-corruption, news stations could pick it up and run with it. He is clear, however, that he is not a news person; he is a comedian that comments on the news. Rachel would do well, in my opinion, to realize that she is not a news-commentator but a news commentator, not one who reacts to the news but one who relays news, and thereby is much more fundamental, as Jon Stewart recognizes, in setting the tone of our nation’s media than Jon, whatever his ratings and media prowess.

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Bridging the Gap: The American question of authority

I sent this @NYBooks article to my father the other day, and he responded that the article was elitist crock. My father supported Ron Paul, the grassroots libertarian  movement among the Republican party that, as I understand it, attempted to take the Republicans back to the party’s idealistic roots from the 40s and 50s: small government and less taxes as opposed to the near-totalitarian powers that George Bush imbued his office with post-9/11.

I thought, when I read the article, that a disenfranchised public would hail the article as an answer, as in “Yes, that’s where our power went, and that’s where those idiots came from.” But apparently that was only my reaction. All things considered, NYBooks must look to old fashioned Republicans like part of the liberal elitist power structure, those nanny-government supporters who want to tell us what to do with our money and are okay with the government ruling us as long as it’s their government–which is the exact same stance as Rush Limbaugh, according to my father. And as long as we have two parties fighting to control what we do with our money when we’d rather do what we damn well please with it, how are we supposed to make a choice?

Our political situation

That’s been the status quo of politics since I began becoming politically aware: the choice is between the better of two evils. We assume, supposedly since Nixon, that politicians are hacks who will disappoint us but someone has to go into office, so it might as well be the evil closest to us instead of a more distant evil. We approach politics like this on a mass level, but it leads to a destructive cycle: whether we know it or not, selecting the better of two evils means that we are already powerless; sensing however obliquely this powerlessness, we become passionate in politics in an attempt to reclaim the lost promise, selecting the voice we feel most closely identifies with us, generally a candidate for the presidency despite that office’s isolated power; that voice fails because the political arena is such that the majority vote is always fleeting while a term lasts for several years; and then the individual who became passionate about politics once again resumes his powerless grumbling. Frustration is the name of the game.

The modern American scene reflects this cycle exactly on all counts even as the political arena suffers several specific changes. The Republican party is no longer (if it ever was) a conservative party. As I see it, the Republican party is focused on centralizing military power it then exercises for economic purposes. The Republicans do not want to tell you what to do with your money, they want to centralize all the world’s wealth into their pockets. This is done through low corporate regulations and high military power, but the military power requires government growth, which we saw under George W. Bush, and the agenda will not have ended with his presidency. Republicans are growing government.

However, as we repeated under the tutelage of our highschool government teacher, Republican is supposed to mean “small government” (supposedly attached with “big economy”). This contradiction can only be addressed by witnessing the Republican party’s drift into demagoguery vis a vis the Tea Party movement.  Lack of government control is the birthplace of Republican wealth, giving them the assumed advantage in their attempt to claim the voice of the outraged independents. But as the Democrats move left and the Republicans (seemingly) move right, both in attempts to reengage shrinking support bases, we the people don’t trust either the Democrats or the Republicans to build government control that will be worth anything to us in the end. Hence the Tea Partiers, a libertarian movement, therefore supposedly more closely connected with the Republican party, but really just an amalgamation of angry but powerless independent voices.

The recalibration of both major parties has blown a large hole in the echo chamber of our political scene, and while Lilla focuses on Fox News and the Republicans role (he is talking specifically about the Tea Party, loosely and mistakenly affiliated with the Republican party), Americans have lost faith in our political institutions for any number of historic and prgmatic reasons. But I see distrust in politicians and political institutions as two different things. We distrust politicians because we assume they are hypocrites (sort of defines the job) but political institutions because they are bloated and inefficient. Government bureaucracies are all-around stuck in the sixties when they last received a major vote of confidence, according to Lilla. And while the world and private institutions have changed to meet (partly) the capabilities of rising technology, bureaucratic offices themselves have made little or no movement towards convenience or efficiency.

Addressing elitism

The above is, with a little modification, what I take from the article. How can my reading be justified against my father’s?

Perhaps as the common criticism of me states that I am arrogant, I portray myself as part of the elite or at least consider myself a part of the elite. But I don’t take that criticism of my personality seriously, no matter how often it is flung my way, and so let me put move past it.

Perhaps it’s that being young and not living through Nixon or Reagan I never lost faith in authority per se even though I grew up with a complete distrust of politicians. But then what is the definitive split I see between authority and politicians that allows me to trust the one and not the other? I would say it’s my perception of the echo chamber.

First off, as Lilly alludes to, I do not see myself represented in any politician, but all things considered, it would be difficult for a politician to represent me in the face of America’s power structure. I am anti-corporate, I support open use rights’ managements, I believe in transparency on all levels even despite the undirected rage towards the status quo that I see around me. How would you represent that in a Washington so obviously ruled by special interest and corporate agendas?

Second, I sense a difference in having my voice echoed back to me versus finding one of my ideas in another voice. The echo chamber works as sound waves do: when one compression wave is met by another compression wave of equal frequency and force, the compressions negate each other. This type of silence makes me very wary. On the other hand, when I see an idea or observation I’ve had offered by someone else idly or in an argument–even if that argument is not necessarily connected to the way I would have used the observation–I feel that this instance reacts as energy does: transverse waves complement each other just as two flames grow in size when touched together.

I believe that this is the core separation between how I read Lilly’s article and how my father reads the same material. My father is looking for a politician that will offer his ideas back to him wholesale, increasingly difficult as the parties slide away from the independent zone towards a mutual growth of government power. The only politician that still espouses the ideas of my father’s youth is Ron Paul, who he supported emphatically, but Ron Paul failed as a presidential candidate and I do not realistically believe that there is any going back to the age of basic Republicanism he argues for.

The libertarianism of Ron Paul and the Tea Party movement are not directly connected. As Lilly says, the neoconservatives are trying to control the Tea Party by following it, but if this tactic works it will end in more government power, not less. Even while the rhetoric of the Tea Party is less government, the result will be the further increase in military and presidential powers as we witnessed under George W. Bush post-9/11. However, in politics the first party that can use the keyword without impute wins the debate, and as Lilly says it’s only a matter of time before the people who want less government realize that the Republicans onboard with the Tea Party want more government.

I’m not sure it’s all likely the fall out the way Lilly projects, but I do appreciate his analysis. My father does not appreciate his analysis. I will either have to find a way to bridge this gap or relegate myself to the liberal elite and watch my future book sales suffer. What a challenge.

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Sore Wrists

Wednesdays are guest author days. I’m looking for young voices who will fit in with the mold of this blog, discussing frustration, communication, and humanity in terms that encourage the reader to grapple. I am not looking for rants or diatribes; I seek creative work that would help shape the voice of youth, a voice that all its life hasn’t had a home. If you’re interested, please find my email address on the contact page and submit a sample.

Amos Parker will supply next week’s guest post. He’s a colleague and friend, and I cannot state my esteem for his humanity or creativity highly enough.

Now enjoy another piece from James Gregory!

**

He sits in front of an old TV. A TV so old the color is draining out in patches and it’s bigger than him cause it’s a tube projector. It has a videogame system hooked up to it. He’s been sitting in front of it for about an hour.

He’s playing a videogame. His hands are sweaty from how long he’s been playing it. His thumbs feel raw. Twitches run through the backs of his hands and he can’t miss any of the bones rubbing against each other in there.

In the game, he’s a sexy, tan girl with big breasts and a tight butt. The girl possesses enough fighting ability to apparently take on some sort of large ogre monster. The object of the game is simple: hit the ogre till it dies.

She’s been hitting the ogre for close to 45 minutes. Punches, kicks, throws, and a lack of clothing have yet to stop it. She’s come close a few times. The ogre seems to always pull it out of the bag at the last second.

The ogre is large. It’s much bigger than her. It has a giant mouth, scaly skin, and big arms. It knows kung fu and she can only dance around doing break dance style fighting. It always laughs when it wins.

He sitting there playing away. Earlier, he’d seen a girl he liked. She had big breasts and a tight butt too. She dressed like a normal person. Jeans and T-shirt uniform. Her hair color was not what he liked but her face was.

Personality was a different matter. She always laughed when she won and she always won especially when it came to him. He would look at her and say, “Hey Alex,”(because Alexandra was much too long too say for anyone) and the laugh would begin almost immediately, small and beautiful. She would say hi back then turn her head back toward a different person in whom she had a much more vested interest, and the laugh would come in full.

It wasn’t that she was cruel. She just couldn’t comprehend him. She didn’t understand what went through his head. He couldn’t possibly expect her to care about him.

She would watch him walk up in clothes that were either too tight or too loose and begin to cringe. She’d fight it. His hair would be a mess. Sometimes, it was greasy like he hadn’t showered in days.

She was always impressed by how clean his skin was. His head was dirty and so were his clothes, but his face and the bits he kept mostly hidden were the cleanest she’d seen. She looked at his clothes like at a poor disguise.

His voice was a sticking point, an odd combination of male and vaguely feminine. The words he used were always the most needlessly vague and complicated. She knew he did it cause he was shy. She also knew that when he calmed down enough his voice was smooth and even. It was never high or cracking. Just calm and rather enjoyable. She also knew it would only take her talking to him for five straight minutes before he would calm down around her. So she would limit the time to only three minutes.

He loses again and the ogre laughs. A curse leaves his lips. He’s gone and clocked in another fifteen minutes.

Her elbow attacks combined with her flipping kicks have done the most damage so far. The ogre’s life bar dropped down to about quarter left. He has this move that gives him health back that saved him in the end.

He thinks she’s the most beautiful woman on the planet. He thinks her hair isn’t even a problem. It takes a lot for him to get past a girl’s hair color. He thinks her eyes are perfectly shaped and that her lips curve in perfect ways.

He likes the way she talks. It’s the plain words that suggest way more than he thinks she’s saying. It might be in his head.

She knows just like he knows that he won’t leave cause of her. She knows she should have never been nice to him. He knows she will never be that kind to him again. She knows he won’t give up and that he’ll keep talking to her. He knows he wants to feel like someone actually cares about him and that he probably isn’t going to find it there again. She knows she can’t give him what he wants.

He’s been playing for an hour and a half now. Still hasn’t won. His wrists and hands are sore and his feet are falling asleep. He keeps playing. He doesn’t know what else to do.

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Author: James Gregory

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Filed under Features, Fiction, Guest author, Writing

Why William Gibson’s _The Gernsback Continuum_ was right

I empathize. Empathy is my core character trait. I strive to identify with people, to speak their language, to understand their ideals. Sometimes people react by leveling with me, by telling me that I’m wise beyond my years or that I’m easy to talk to, that I have an honesty not often seen in this world. Other times, most times, it gets me labeled as arrogant. People ask me who I think I am to act like I know their story, like it might be something comprehendable, comprehensible. I don’t know them or where they came from except insofar as they’ve told me, it’s true. And still I try to empathize, and even with those who pull away, even those who insult me to keep their fair distance, I try to understand.

Why do I hold empathy in such high esteem if it causes me more problems than simply letting people alone? I honestly believe that empathy makes one see the world more honestly and brings one closer to “the truth of things.” This drive empowers my writing, drives my editing, and supports nearly single-handedly my lifestyle and my worldview. To me, in ways immeasurable yet definable, empathy is everything.

This blog is my brainchild; it carries the most true expression of me outside of myself even in this experimental infancy. And nothing will explain me to you so well as explaining the connection between empathy and a frustration that stems from a failure to communicate how deeply the author understands the individual, especially when the audience isn’t aware that the work is the author’s attempt at understanding their audience. However, these frustrations generally inspire better and more honed arguments and writing, which is what I want to attract.

I want to create a steam-valve for authors who, like me, have spent their lives under the burden of miscommunication and misunderstandings. Empathy is something that gets far too little sympathy in this world. I don’t want to publish or to create a safe-haven; I want to vent frustrations that are similar to the ones I’ve carried with me all my life as a burden, when it should be anything else. For us, writing is catharsis, is release, but never is it a lightening of the load.

With that purpose in mind, let me introduce you to James Gregory.

**

I have a pointless story to tell you. I used to tell it to get people to go to Austin with me. It didn’t ever really work. People seemed to want to go to Dallas because Dallas was supposed to be a conservative city, unlike Austin. It’s an incorrect distinction.

Dallas is a really liberal city. They put up the veneer of a right wing dullard just so that people feel safe. It’s real liberalism at work. You know the classless society by making everyone equal; everyone in Dallas is equal by their lack of having any discernable differences.

The buildings are made of only the newest and cheapest of last year’s space aged materials and wrapped in glass so that all you see is a reflection. If you live in Dallas, you are probably older than most of the glass boxes we pass off as architecture. They are tall and that’s the only defining feature. They build tall to dwarf you. You’re insignificance in palatable next to an unnecessarily tall building with an army of suited creeps coming out of it.

He's talking Dallas. I'm showing New York. Make sense? Yeah, it does.

He's talking Dallas. I'm showing New York. Make sense? Yeah, it does.

Austin on the other hand talks a liberal game but really they can’t have real liberalism happen to them. Classes are heavily apparent in Austin. You got the trannies, the queens, emo kids, punks, hardcore kids, mall core, UT students, rich kids, poor kids, hot girls, skanks, virgins, fat chick skanks, redheads, and so many more. You can even move between them. At one point, I was probably mistaken for a high school emo kid. A bad hair cut was to blame. I’d probably be able to fit in pretty well as a UT student or given the right clothes a rich kid, queen, hardcore kid, or whatever. It’s much too democratic to be a one class society there.

I went to Austin to go see a movie a few years back. Election 2 was not playing in Dallas; it was foreign and involved gangsters. I drove four hours to Austin listening to Rilo Kiley ’cuz I think Jenny Lewis is hot. But I think all redheads are hot.

I got to Austin and we had time to kill before the movie. We went to go watch Slaughter House 5 while we waited. It was not the best movie, but I hadn’t expected much since the book wasn’t so good, either. America has a strong science fiction tradition with Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. We show our bad taste by holding up Vonnegut and Asimov as good examples.

The movie thankfully ended after two and a half hours. I got hungry. The paramount movie theater/play house is right by 6th Street in Austin, the fun part. In Austin, though, you see the gorgeous downtown buildings and can’t help noticing they put Dallas to shame. We wanted to get some pizza at one of those crappy places that sell less than stellar pizza. that still manages to taste amazing after you get a few in you.

We walked down the street and ran into Leslie the Tranny. Leslie is down there all the time. He has a head like Grizzly Adams. His body resembles a Frankenstein of Pamela Anderson with a steroid induced Larry King. I will never hold it against my friend for giggling. But the giggling was why Leslie started following us. He was frighteningly quiet outside of the other giggles he was eliciting due to a combination of stealthy sneakers and the loud and proud bikini. Thankfully, he ran into a hot woman and began to talk to her. It was at that point that I realized that even me and Leslie have something we agreed on. She was not a red head, though. Dark black hair is almost as good.

The pizza was not the best looking thing either me or my friend had seen so food was still not happening. Also, we suddenly realized we needed to get all the way across town to see the other movie. The movie I drove four hours to see. We started walking back to the car, back across 6th. But we’re being followed by a bunch of cute naughty school girls. A few of them were Asian, and I have to say wonder why they would play into their own stereotype. Probably, college kids trying to make dad Dad mad, or they were going to one of the many self declared modeling agencies around Austin.

All this is happening as I’m walking in front of a massage parlor with an ATM out front. The name of the business is Midnight Cowboys Massage Parlor. No, I did not make that up. I also see something named along the lines of Heavy Metal Pizza and half expect there to be a dungeon master in there with the way it looks from the outside. It probably had good pizza.

About as non-corporate as you get

About as non-corporate as you get

Eventually, we got across town, found a Chipotle, and saw the movie, which was amazing. Johnnie To is one of the best directors in the world, and thankfully I live in a country where you can see his movies.

The movie could’ve gotten him killed. It’s about the Chinese government’s involvement in the triads, the Hong Kong mafia. He had debuted the movie in France so that the Chinese censors couldn’t take all the flavor out of the movie. (They have a tendency to destroy the original footage of things they don’t like.)

We had a great time at the movie. When that one dude got turned into dog food, my friend said we had a winner. Afterwards we went to get snacks, since Austin has great food. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to some glorious hole in the wall but to a place my friend called the Shady Shell. It was appropriately named since it was a shady looking Shell gas station with a drug deal going on out front. Reason for the Shady Shell experience was for me to meet my clone, who turned out to be gay with too much make up and in possession of a crack nail that I could only label impressive. My clone was ready to be swept off it’s feet by once it noticed me, only I wasn’t willing. I think we parted on good terms, and I’ve certainly glimpsed the Andy Warhol version of myself.

The night went on. We watched another movie where Pierce Brosnan armed with a knife flew out of a dead horse screaming like a girl. It was fun and funny. I’m not making that one up either. Name of the movie is Seraphim Falls.

The next morning I woke up, said good bye to my friend, and drove back to Dallas. I listened to the same CD again. I kept thinking how hot redheads are.

Our country is becoming Dallas when it used to be Austin. We’ve always had a strong anti-democracy streak thanks to farmers and Southern landed-gentry types. The current problem began around FDR when he declared war on the free economy, which if anything is the ultimate freedom of a shark pit.

He was determined to make the nation controllable. He made a system where everyone answered to him. His pet project was communes that were made out of only white people that all had the same house. A few of these blights still stand in the south.

We’ve never recovered from it. You see a few gasps here and there at the sort of fun we used to have in this country. We had Woodstock. We had Orson Welles. Russ Meyer cranked out movies in the 60s and gang banging people into the theaters with promises of topless women. Drive ins showed movies with names like Kiss Me Deadly, which is an amazing movie (go see it!), and Mondo Topless (not so much).

Obama wants to make us more like Dallas. His plans always encompass everyone. He wants us all to be accountable only to him. He seems determined to make us a place where the old and established rule with an iron fist and any sort of freedom must be squelched in favor of the bland, Godless whole.

House of God, meet tower of phallus.

House of God, meet tower of phallus.

You won’t be able to drive four hours to see a movie because your gas will be too high to pay for cause they will have to tax gas to pay for the deficit that will be through the roof on universal healthcare. You will not get a single foreign movie because tariffs are soon going to have to come into play to keep corporations from leaving America in favor of out sourcing. Places like heavy metal pizza, Midnight Cowboys, the paramount theater, and the Shady Shell will go away to be replaced with faux European-style concrete blocks staffed with angry, entitled middle agers.

Everyone complains about the Me mentality of people. The problem is that we don’t have a Me mentality. We have a childish one. People elected Obama because he said he would be their daddy. No one likes living with their parents, trust me on that. The Me mentality produces movies like Election 2, 500 Days of Summer, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. It makes books like Brideshead Revisited and Pale Fire. It makes pizza like Heavy Metal Pizza. Obama’s universal this and that is an attack on the individual. It’s an attack on Me, and, as Austin proves time and time again, Me is the one you’d rather spend time with.

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Author: James Gregory

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Features, Guest author, Humanistic, Statement of purpose, Writing

Manager, a character sketch

I read this piece at Emerson’s Graduate Reading Series in Spring 2009, and the audience received it well. Enjoy!

**

Give anger a body, a well-crafted superbly sculpted male, screaming and tense. … In the moments where the veneer of pursuit wears thin, when the film and crust of years of wasted life begin to dry and crack from overuse and abuse, humans revolt, find their lack of faith and their faith’s lack of substance disgusting. Too scared to recognize their dilemma, too overwhelmed to reasonably place blame, they rage. … They will define themselves in terms of their distraction in order to again pull their mind away from their pain. When I craft them, they light themselves afire and scream to heaven, “See? I have virtue, too! I give off my own light, and it is beautiful!” The pain distracts them from the fact that their light is fueled by their skin, the energy is borrowed from a system that is not their creation nor was ever under their control.

**

Underappreciated. Unappreciated. I had so much energy at the start of this job, this step forward in my life, this salaried position, this point in the American dream. I had so much hate when I was younger, half my lifetime ago; is that the key to it all? Lazily, I watch the walls, my chin resting in the crook of my left arm. Or I watch the internet, same position, trolling websites. People online are so cruel; it makes me laugh. I can’t match their cruelty. I rarely even have the energy to respond. That’s why I’m a troll: I watch and crawl and envy. If I ever do decide to try and join in, the ridicule is so brash that I can’t possibly continue to care or to follow through.

Work isn’t much different. I used to care, young and hopeful and dreamily wet-eyed. My parents were so proud, and so was I. The gap between graduation and employment had seemed like torture, so gratuitously long. I had dreams of walking up to the suits, those people in charge, and convincing them with merely my passion that I was the one for the job. Interviews, though, are so much more difficult than dreams. I went through plenty of them before an offer was made, and when one was, I jumped at it. I was ravenous for work; the desire to prove myself had so much weight, more even than the desire to separate myself from my parent’s pocketbook. What happened to it? I can’t even be bothered to recall; that was years ago, so very long ago.

Exercise used to help. After a long day of mind-numbing work, for no position I have ever filled has required much thought, I’d rush off to the gym. The weights I lifted felt so much more like an accomplishment than almost finishing my inbox, only to watch the work pile up again right in my face. No matter how fast I typed, how efficiently I stampeded through and pushed forward, the mail just kept flying in. Weights were different. One hundred and fifty pounds; one eighty; two hundred: Look at the increase! Look at the progress!

The energy it generated was only mechanical in nature, and the more I exercised the more I wanted to exercise until eventually I couldn’t give it anymore time. I was running, weightlifting, sweating. My body worked until I didn’t really control it anymore, not scheduling my workout around work but working around my workout. But God I looked beautiful! The women I picked up at the gym or out at the bar with friends were nearly as beautiful as me, almost identical in mindset. I wish it could have lasted.

Inexplicably, I lost interest. A void appeared in my schedule, which for all of my late-twenties had been so tight, and it’s not like I was bored for an hour and then had something else to do; I had nothing to do. That’s when my internet trolling began, but my decline in interest at work was already well established. My youthful zeal had spurred me to produce high-quality content on-time and ahead of schedule, but I hadn’t learned how to balance a salaried position and the demands of life: finding a place to live, buying and cleaning clothes, my exercise and social routine, etc. My production came in bursts, mostly when life was calm, and life has a tendency to work in waves, calm only between trough and crest. Slave drivers, my bosses wanted to get out of me all the time what I gave them at my most prolific. I suppose that’s where the burnout began. I fought, trying to reason with them, imploring their sympathy as my apartment lease ran out, as my friends got married or divorced, as life presented many and various obstacles. I shouldn’t have expected their pity, and I certainly didn’t get it.

The hours at work became longer as I tried to make my productivity consistent, stretching like a rubberband where the tension is never released. The exercise compensated for the unfulfilled desire of punching my bosses in the face. Eventually I began to hope that they would fire me, end my necessity to try to please them. I could slouch, then, and complain about the injustice of my termination. Everyone would listen, I fantasized. Everyone would buy it. Instead, I received a promotion. Now I had underlings to produce for me, and it was my responsibility as manager to make them produce. The employees looked so much like I had at first: hopeful and ambitious. I would have quit if I had known at the time that their career paths would have been exactly like mine, if I had known it was my face they would picture punching during their workouts.  I did not quit, however; I watched the drones crawl towards their futures.

Sometimes I see myself in my employees, or maybe I recognize the way they understand me. I know their feelings; I can see them through the salty whites of their eyes. I anticipate the pitiful shaking of my fearful employees, the way their irises contract under pressure. Their legs tremble under their pleated slacks, and they worry too much about whether I can see their shaking, too much over their individual humiliation, to truly listen. The young seem to harbor a perpetual and almost preternatural inability to focus. But that’s alright; my reprimands ceased to help them be better employees shortly after I gained the authority to give them. Tears well in their eyes, washing away the old, bitter salt which deposits anew when they dry. My underlings guarantee their lack of salience with a pool of saline. But no, they’ll not cry, not in front of me; Employees never transgress professionalism openly.

And here I am. I can’t distract myself from my employees’ fates without the truth of my own progression breaking my concentration and ruining the numb experience of it all. At home, I can’t pick a show to watch, and when I do settle I pay it little attention or far too much. I’ve stopped sleeping well. I get little to nothing out of it, the six to eight hours dwindling away regardless of their productivity. My dreams haunt me.

In one, I am a teenager again, screaming at my parents, blaming them for my future. I reach out to beat my father who assures me that I cannot know what the future holds, yelling savagely back at him exactly what my life is like, tears streaming down my face. My fists won’t hit him; my screams reach deaf ears. I punch and punch and punch, and he laughs at me and my claims of clairvoyance. My mother looks at me sympathetically, but she assures me that if that’s what life has in store for me, I should be glad for it. I could strangle her, but my hands won’t touch her. I grab and grab, but they always miss. I wake up sweating and furious, but the effects are always gone by the end of my morning shower.

Another has me as some gargantuan glutton. I feast on my underlings, their succulent fingers first. I throw the rest to a disposal, which grinds the leftovers and does away with them. I wake with my stomach in knots, and I often wretch. If anything does come up, I’m glad to see bile only.

These nightmares torment me much more thoroughly than my hopeful dreams of employment filled my youth. I rarely go a night without soaking the bed in my sweat. I rarely wake without disgusted chills so severe I nearly lose my feet in the morning on the way to the shower.

Mostly, I hate them. My waking hours are filled with dreams where my nightmares are books. They line the wall behind my desk, elegant proof of my technical proficiency and industrial wherewithal. I unconsciously imagine myself ripping them to shreds. I burn them. If only they’d be destroyed so easily! I hate them. I can’t be rid of them!

What is it I’ve done differently than everyone else that makes me deserve these things? I’m just a man, and I’ve done all the things that are expected of me! But no, I’m not just a man: I’m me, and I’ve lived my life and done my actions, but I’m just a manager among managers. I’ve never heard other people complain of such horrible visions! Why must they plague me? Why? Why me?

I’ve never complained of them. What would people say if I confided? See a shrink, who has a mind for such things. But my war isn’t with myself, but with my dreams! If they’d just leave, I’d have nothing to be angry about!

Ugh, but I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t empty my mind! I can’t live my life! What is this that I can’t avoid? Why can’t I ignore it? I hate it all! I hate it!

I’m too good to be so tormented. I work my job. I pay my way. I have friends. I’m a debt to no one! Why, then, do I feel so twisted and so alone? Why do these haunting thoughts make me see myself so wicked? I’m not wicked! I’m not evil! I don’t force corruption on anyone! I’m a consumer! I’m a worker! I’m what a man should be!

I’m fucking disgusting. But I don’t hate myself. I love myself, unappreciated as I am in this world. If I were appreciated, I wouldn’t dream these horrible dreams. My employees should respect and thank me for the effort I spend on them! I should be proud of the life I lead! I should love my proud parents and be happy that they are pleased for me, but I hate, hate, HATE, HATE these fucking dreams! If only I could sleep.

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Author: Greg Freed

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A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy

“Sharing power is not the ideal of some ‘utopian’ future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.” – Mark Pesce

**

In my search to uncover blogs about copyright issues, I discovered The Human Network. Mark Pesce’s video presentation to the Personal Democracy Forum and transcript both struck me as worthy of the attention of internet community members and people interested in the new organizational structure we’ll see soon; a new structure seems a nearly necessary outcome to the victory of efficiency, a consistent human pursuit.

For example, the ideal corporate workplace is an hierarchy: you know via network or job title who is responsible for what and how they should be approached, and you also know to whom you and they are responsible. Therefore, when an assignment falls to you, you track down the people you need in order to complete the task under budget and ahead of schedule. You have to negotiate the political struggles that exist in large workplaces as people strive to either make their name or shirk any work possible without standing out as a slacker. If you do this successfully, your project will likely succeed. Situations of this type gave rise to my favorite capitalist maxim: Successful business is not about money; it’s about pooling together the correct assortment of talent to fulfill a need and the money you need to do that.

However, anyone who has worked in a corporation long enough to dry their wet ears and withdraw their big eyes knows that luck plays a larger role in whether you’re equipped to handle any given project than coordination and that the budget and schedule have as much tendency to be unmanageable as they have to be set by someone other than you. You also know that the larger a company is, the more difficult it is to find the person you’re looking for. Instead, you become complacent with your social circle within the company and rely on them to either help you complete your project or to put you on the path to a person who can probably help. Initiative, while praised, is your prerogative, and you learn thatmore often than not its only reward is hours spent tracking down a person who’s too busy to help you anyway.

And while sometimes it’s assumed that the smaller the company the more efficient because people do more tasks than their job title allows, there are obvious flaws that small businesses constantly evidence. Job-title creep breaks the ideal of division of labor and results in shoddy jobs that require more time than an expert would take. In addition, sometimes the relevant expert simply isn’t available, and the financial position of the company makes tracking down an expert either impossible of futile.

Even in the best of all corporate hierarchies, when we let go of the fallacies and human error that plague all communities and look at them at their most sublime, politics, ignorance, and misinformation exist as constant variables in the equation of efficiency that downsizing attempts to get around and networking tries to nullify. Yet they persist.

Adhocracies are communities whose networks are far less structured than hierarchies and yet are more capable of sustaining efficiency for several reasons. Examples include Wikipedia–where a crowd (hence the term crowdsourcing) generates information that, through editing, supposedly reaches an unbiased state–and open source communities such as SourceForge.

First, unlike the top-down hierarchical structures of corporations whose efficiency depends upon the trickling down of responsibility and the ability of the lower castes to find proper function-matches within their own castes (about as reliable as Malcom’s demonstration of water falling down your hand in Jurassic Park), adhocracies post jobs and users volunteer. Whether or not the job gets done on time and according to parameters is guaranteed only by the community’s ability to organize itself around a set of priorities, which, since their communication tool is the internet, specifically their website and whatever design functions are built into the core site, users tend to fulfill reliably.

Second, the pure universality exposure of posts and searchability of online communities resolves the hassle of finding the right member with the right skill set to complement your project. Rather than your cubemate Bill telling you that Janice from tech support might be able to assist you, plop your requirements into a search bar and go–as any seasoned HR personnel can tell you, if you have a specific problem and need a specific skill, you’ll find everything you need is hotword coded, thereby searchable–or let the talent pool come to you.

The end game of adhocracies is a more dynamic community layout able to complete projects more efficiently than hierarchical structures. Some problems will remain.

First, and most obvious, is human error on a small scale, including typos and erroneous information or algorithms. It exists and can only be mitigated by assuming it will occur. Wikipedia, for one, has this angle covered in more ways than by reminding you that they make no claims of accuracy. Many of the tools they have on their website including a cache of previous pages, editor tracking tools, and their editorial team all work to mitigate human error from their site. Also, the flexibility of their project (due largely to their disclaimer about accuracy but also to the community’s commitment to accuracy) allows them to update pages long after a corporate campaign would have to have moved on.

Second are the major snags that that bog down all projects. Scope creep will not disappear due to a more efficient allocation of resources. Volunteers or even whole communities biting off more than they can chew due to ambition or greed cannot be wholly mitigated.

Therefore, what’s truly at stake in the discussion between hierarchies and adhocracies is the way in which projects are managed. This situation is not, though I enjoy Mark’s rhetoric, a meeting of the finite and infinite, but rather a clash between an old paradigm and a new one where the business world is awaiting a widespread shift from one to the other. If we assume that these stated management problems will continue even after the widespread adoption of the new project management paradigm, are we left with the cataclysm Mark discussed in the linked entry? No; rather, we’re left with an old question which wants to guarantee security in an endeavor (That is, Who is responsible for completing the project?) to a question that seems to have less though actually implies more security (Namely, Can the project be accomplished?).

Having said that, I must admit that I see the inherent power shift to which he’s referring, and I must assume that those in power will resist the necessary transference. For all the badgering about Communism that techies and internet junkies receive, the paradigm into which we’re moving is community-based. However, when you hear about the power of communities to organize themselves and complete a task, do not think about Stalinist Russia, which was in itself an hierarchical power structure where responsibility trickled down from, well, Stalin. Instead, imagine a thousand separate and independently functioning Craigslists where DNSs define the national lines and Google checks all the passports. Somewhere in one of these communities, someone posts, “I need y” and a multitude responds, first from within the community and then from without, “I can supply y” and the poster is left to pick out of the responses who he’ll trust to fill his need including but not limited to accepting all offers for help.

Money, along with other project limitations, will and must exist and sets limits to the amount of effort a community contributes to any particular project. For nonprofits, which most adhocracies are today, the community acts on passion and does all things at all times. As the paradigm shift occurs, however, money will become a prime concern for adhocracies as people become professional rather than volunteer, as we can see occurring with Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk and on Craigslist itself. In these instances the efficiencies of adhocracies remain and yet the community’s desire to do all things is severely limited by their desire to eat and to guarantee such necessities as housing.

Because adhocracies will accomplish tasks more efficiently than an hierarchical management structure, money will become an issue. I will not engage in the folly so early on as to think that such communism will mount outside the bounds of the internet; we have seen that it will not. Also, such communism is not done in the name of communism as an ideal but rather, as it stands now with nonprofits, for passion, and later, as corporations adopt adhocracy as a management style, for money.

This exact issue will demand the power shift that Mark mentioned, a shift of power from the hands of managers into the hands of the community, or, for rhetoric a lay readership may more readily appreciate, a shift from facetime to efficacy. The community will demand and have the power to secure absolute transparency within corporation as they have with the current nonprofits, especially when their efforts are combined with other communities whose sole stated purpose will be to establish said transparency; the adhocracies currently in existence have already set the tone for what users will expect from new communities in the future. The power and efficiency of adhocracies come from hyperawareness and hypervigilance spawned by a community’s open access to all relevant information, keeping account of all aspects within a company; thus, force will shift from the hands of managers, who for the large part will cease to exist, into the hands of the communities crunching and reviewing the numbers.

I have no doubt, as we have already seen, that managers will fight the elimination of their class at large. However, the shift of business from a worse to better solution will facilitate the shift over and despite their moaning. But don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge them their moment of complaint. Managers are people who have spent their entire lives developing a set of skills that in one fell swoop will become obsolete, and I pity the frustration that moment must cause. But happen it will, if only in the pursuit of efficiency.

I expect a class of community analysts to rise up in place of managers. Their main function will be–rather than spurring workers to get the project done, for that will happen of its own accord do to the nature of an adhocracy–to make sure that the resources are available within the community to solve the problem put before it. This will not be a source of governance but rather a source of publicity, or rather of recruitment. Multiple communities with the same aim already exist, and competition between online communities will rise as management structures shift into the new paradigm. Community projects will be posted and completed with little or no oversight, drastically reducing the overhead cost of corporations in addition to the simple benefit of efficiency increase brought about by shifting from an hierarchy to an adhocracy.

What will happen to governmental hierarchies… well, that’s another fun question. But that’s for another time and another post.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Workplace