Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reacting Locally

Reacting Locally, Thinking Globally
© 2009 Ross Williams

There was a reorganization at work a few months ago. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but another layer of management was added into the organization, and the guy who makes up this new layer is more or less generally despised. His preferred method of management is by spreadsheet. Unless you can quantify what you do in ways that spreadsheets allow you to quantify, you didn’t do it.

…which leads to the modern existential ontology: if an analyst’s analysis doesn’t exist in Excel, did the analyst still think?

This new manager took over with a flourish last winter, and threatened everyone’s job within a week. Not content to endear himself to his new staff in that way, he also scheduled two all-day meetings for those of us not considered his star pupils so that we could learn everyone else’s job – presumably for when positions started opening up – and then publicly criticized the staff for being a few days behind on their own work … which may lead to job losses.

He has the knack of generating artificial sincerity, and playing favorites while insisting he does no such thing. As I mentioned, he is generally despised.

Earlier this week, his mother in law died.

And it’s not exactly like anyone wanted granny to kick the bucket – none of us even know her – it’s just that the measure of extended sympathy was somewhat subdued. The most common response I heard was, “Oh … so he’ll be out of the office the whole week? What a shame! We didn’t actually wish ill, but since it showed up anyway … we’ll take whatever benefit we can derive from it. Our silver lining to his black cloud, as it were.

This morning, a sympathy card was circulated and lo! and behold! all the folks who dislike the guy and did the little happy-dance at him being out of the office have signed it. And next week, if the social pattern holds, most of us will engage him in superficial sympathies in the hall.

There’s some amount of hypocrisy in all this – and I would say this whether I signed the card or not [I didn’t] – though it’s not so much hypocrisy as to create a huge ethical dilemma. We can easily feel sympathy for the guy without actually having to like him afterwards. No one is compelled to be his best bud just because we signed a sympathy card for him.

And no one will be. He’s still pretty much despised. His style of leadership is still officious, hands-off micromanagement by proxy. He still gives off unctuous fake sincerity in great greasy dollops.

In short, nothing will change in the individual relationships any of his underlings will have with the guy because they’ve signed his sympathy card or muttered a “sorry for your loss” at the coffee maker. It’s just a social nicety and it means next to nothing.

I’ve gotten birthday cards at work signed by folks I don’t know, that I don’t work with, and sometimes by folks I wouldn’t [and don’t] give the time of day to and who return that favor with gusto. It’s just part of the social dance of the workplace. I know better than to think, “Oh, gosh, Betty Jones[1], who I despise and who despises me, signed my birthday card. She must like me after all; she wants to kiss and make up. We can probably get married next week…”.

When next week comes and goes and Betty Jones and I are back at each others’ throats, I also know better than to think to myself, “Oh dear, I’ve squandered all that good will she extended by signing my birthday card; I’m such a cad. It’s all my fault.”

These social dances occur all over the place, on stages large and small. Each and every one of us who has ever had any meaningful interaction with others has done this, or had this done to him. Fake sympathy and false friendliness in the interest of being polite. And I’d imagine that not many of us mistook the insincerity as genuine. We know better. We’re not stupid.

Yet how many of us didn’t know better and became genuinely stupid about 8 years ago? The platform was different, the stage [and the audience that went with it] was definitely larger, but the phenomenon was identical.

There are many, many nations which despise the United States. They don’t often pretend to be polite about it, either.

Still other nations merely dislike us and are secretly – or not-so secretly – pleased when the US slips on a banana peel and falls flat. As we do from time to time.

Nations which do not like us, just like the people in our office which don’t, will probably sympathize when something bad happens to us, like a Katrina. This does not mean that these nations suddenly like us, or that we are now Best Friends Forever, or anything of the sort. It simply means that someone started a sympathy card and they all signed it.

September 10th, 2001: many nations despised us and many more simply didn’t like us.

September 11th, 2001: some international delinquents knocked down a few of our buildings with a couple commandeered airplanes, and a sympathy card was passed around to be signed by all, including the nations which despised and disliked us.

September 12th, 2001: those nations which despised or disliked us went right back to despising and disliking us – because they’d never stopped.

September 13th, 2001: huge gobs of American self-loathers and other geopolitical neophytes claimed that the US, because of the president, “squandered all the good will” extended towards us, and otherwise advertised that they’ve got almost no familiarity with this planet or the human species dominating it.

November 2008: these neophytes used their voting rights to get themselves a different president who would not irk all those foreign countries which either despise or dislike us.

Currently: those nations which despise or dislike us still despise or dislike us, and the new president hasn’t changed anything. Nor will he. Nor can he. In some cases, those nations despise or dislike us even more.

I feel bad about this. I’ve started a sympathy card for the neophytes on the death of their innocence.


[1] Her name is not Betty Jones, by the way.


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