So the New York Times article on what it’s like to work at Amazon has apparently struck a nerve. On Sunday, the New York Times published a massive exposé of Amazon's "punishing" work culture. The company, the Times alleged, "is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable."
Of course, Amazon is only the most extreme case, working in any “professional” job today is pretty much the same drill anywhere you go now, albeit at a lower level of abuse (and pay). You’re constantly watched, constantly assessed, constantly harassed, constantly browbeaten, constantly under pressure, and constantly under review by your “peers,” You have to show up bright and bushy-tailed every single day and display the right “attitude” or else be castigated for your “morale.” You have to look a certain way (white, upper-class), act a certain way (cheery, upbeat, outgoing, backslapping, glad-handing), dress a certain way (office casual), have the appropriate lifestyle (2.5 kids, minivan, suburban white picket fence), have the appropriate hobbies (golf, skiing, lawn care, spectator sports) and the right beliefs (Republican) to advance. You must constantly be on guard for what you say and what you do. It’s a high-tension atmosphere of paranoia and fear that only Stalin’s inner-circle would have had to deal with sixty years ago, and now it’s the new workplace normal. Working brutal hours is required unless you want to be “let go” in the next “redundancy.” You’ve got to love those corporate terms. Orwell was off; private industries are far closer to his dystopia than any government (Newspeak, Big Brother, two-minute hates), and it’s there that we spend most of our time. Like everything else, even despotism has been privatized. And all this just to work!
Welcome to work in the twenty-first century. Here’s what our sociopathic masters in Wall Street and Silicon Valley have in store for all of us. It’s a culture specifically designed to promote monsters in the name of “efficiency.”
Now, no longer can you just show up and get the paycheck that you need to live, you must show “enthusiasm” in order to get a job “opportunity” and then display the proper “attitude.” It’s like training a dog.
Employees are expected to have an overweening, Messianic sense of “mission,” no matter how mundane their job, heroically sacrificing everything in the service of…what exactly? No wonder the “human resources” in these corporations are soulless, dull, one-dimensional idiot-savants who think of nothing but staying on the gravy train and climbing the corporate ladder and making sure their immediate genetic offspring are positioned to remain in the appropriate social stratum (the right school district, music lessons, sports, helicopter parenting, tiger moms, etc.). It’s like they’re not even human. It’s a fair bet that the next generation of “high achievers” will be even more sociopathic.
And thanks to being instutionalized from birth, the “successful” are carefully selected for their devotion to overwork, blind enthusiasm, and hoop-jumping, while the skeptical and critical thinkers are weeded out and cast aside, no matter their innate intelligence or talent. That explains everything from the early start times (which make no logical sense), to the crushing amounts of homework, to the constant assessment exams, to the extracurricular activities as a sign of “leadership,” to the obsession with GPA, to the “pep rallies” in dystopian American schools. The sheep are weeded from the goats early on, and all the goats can look forward to is a jail sentence, or maybe earning just enough to have a studio apartment and a meal at Little Caesars. It’s social engineering on a massive scale. Of course, you can always be drugged into submission. This probably explains the inability of our clueless, cloistered leaders inside the bubble to see the collapse coming; after all the “best and brightest” are promoted to be meritocratic technocrats, and the rest of society who can’t keep up will just roll over and die, right?
The psychological damage done to workers and students is immense. Now, instead of breaking their bodies, capitalists are determined to break workers’ souls.
Of course, apologists will say that since we no longer die of black lung in the mines anymore or crush children between the gears of machinery, we have nothing to complain about. That is, only corporal pain and punishment matter. But any psychologist will tell you that mental suffering and anguish is far, far worse than physical pain. And for what? Remember, Amazon is the company that stationed ambulances outside its warehouses to treat heatstroke instead of paying for air conditioning. And we should be thankful for it because otherwise they will just buy robots and kick us out on the street. “Any labor that competes with slave labor must accept the conditions of slave labor.” Don’t worry, I’m sure Amazon is doing their best to get a few laws repealed so that they won’t need the ambulances anymore, just shovels.
Work must consume your entire life, both inside and outside of work. I call it “the cult model of the corporation,” and I’ll use my own workplace as an example. Once a month on Monday we have these Nuremberg-like
Extracurricular activities are almost constant – last week it was the company golf outing, this week the it’s company picnic. Then there are the alcohol fueled “social “events” practically every other week. Eager beavers sign up for the softball league, the bowling team, the paintball outing, and anyything else they can get their hands on. Now that the football season is starting, ”fantasy football” will become the (sole) daily topic of obsessive conversation (followed up in spring by “March Madness”). Soon will come the pumpkin decorating contests and Halloween costumes, potlucks, bake sales, and the execrable “holiday party” (which I’ve never attended). The golf-obsessed got to take clients to the PGA tour, a sure sign of being “chosen.” At our annual “performance reviews” we are forced to come up with feedback and goals, like some sort of self-criticism session from Mao’s China. People even walk around dressed in clothing “branded” (like a steer) with the company logo.
One company I worked for wanted us all to be walking unpaid salesmen for the company in our off-hours by memorizing an “elevator speech.” In another, the owners would menacingly walk past the desks at 8:00AM sharp to make sure everyone was there and working (the office was in a distant exurb in the middle of a cornfield – literally. Most workers were there by 7AM). At my company they’re even doing “biometric testing,” supposedly so we can “take change” of our health, and hectored to hit the gym and eat the right foods, despite the fact that we’re chained to a desk eight fucking hours a day and served high-carbohydrate processed crap at work lunches. We even have blood drives. If you’re blue-collar, expect to be drug tested. So your company will even monitor your blood pressure and precious bodily fluids, something even the most despotic dictators of the twentieth century would never even contemplate.
I did not expect any of this just to have a fucking job. I was naively oblivious to the fact that my political skills, “personality” and Stakhanovite work ethic mattered far more than any ability or talent. It’s a tough lesson to learn. I feel sorry for the feckless youth taking on college debt burdens who will learn this the hard way Such is life in a country where most people are ground up and spit out in the service of hard men’s profits. That’s the real “American Way™,” and the only thing this country has consistently stood for since its inception. Let’s face it, we’re practically cattle at this point.
I’m not kidding. Often times when I go out for lunch and walk around, I will see the pale (unless they’re Indian), sallow, sunken-eyed IT workers in their khakis and button downs on temporary furlough from their windowless, fluorescent cubicles roaming around freely downtown during the lunch hour with RFID tags hung around their necks or clipped to their belts. And every single time what am I reminded of?
|I believe Dilbert originated the term cow-worker|
Of course, the corporations can only fire you, they cannot kill you, but the politicians and businesspeople are doing their best to shape society such that it is a distinction without a difference. Hence the shredding of the social safety net, asset stripping, automation of work, outsourcing, tying health care to your job, elimination of workplace regulations and minimum wages, temporary contracts, “right to work” laws, and demonization of the unemployed as “scroungers” and “parasites” (when they’re not murdering them outright). Any rat who refuses to run the maze will be fed to the biodigester by the research scientists. You’ll forgive me if I don’t buy the rhetoric about how now is “the best time ever to be alive!!!!” and skeptical that capitalism has made us so much more moral and less violent. You can keep your cell phones.
No wonder people want the whole fucking system to burn down. As I’ve often heard, it is the pessimistic view that see this system continuing and continuing to ratchet up, collapse is actually the optimistic outcome.
But what do I know? I’m just a loser.
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