Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Sunday, December 22, 2002; Sunday, December 22, 2002

Work vs. Holding a job; becoming courtiers to psychopaths

Over a decade ago I finished my last big job: one of the products was a MIL-SPEC quality document set for a system that would land aircraft in a white-out blizzard if need be; three volumes ... one of them 750 pages ... hundreds of illustrations and figures, many hundreds of complex tables. What I'm proud of is the fact that the project was completed on budget and just slightly late, even though it was severely in the ditch when I took it over.

That experience along with another situation left my psychologically incapable of holding down a job, of doing all what we do to maintain a position. What traumatised me so deeply was that the corporate culture I encountered had nothing to do with doing the work and everything to do with co-conspiring to keep pulling pay-cheques. I've rarely talked about it, and never had any part of it acknowledged and affirmed. Never, that is, until this evening, when I found this in a blog:

The times I have been employed by corporations I was always puzzled by the fact that most people weren't really doing anything terribly productive, and it made relatively little difference what amount of work people actually were putting out. I several times had the task of making a computer system that would automate what a certain company was doing, so I specifically had to study what it was that actually took place. And along the way I noticed how rather little it had to do with doing work and accomplishing finished work. For example, it is with some embarrassment I note that I once hired a guy to document a program I had written. He had an impressive resume, and the company had to pay above the norm to acquire him. After a year he left to join a big consulting company, and everybody shook his hand and congratulated him on his great career move and his excellent service to the company. I and everybody else knew, at least via our peripheral vision, that the tangible product of his 1 year of work was 1/2 written page of a suggested outline for the manual. We're talking about an expense of maybe $70K for 1/2 page of writing, which I could just as well have jotted down in five minutes instead of hiring him. But nobody cared, because none of it really matters that much. The company was busy and the organizational chart looked good and the money flowed somehow. And this guy had great relationships with everybody. He was very supportive. I enjoyed working with him.

It is not all crazy. The point is that it is relationships people want, rather than giving or receiving quantities of work. And in some mysterious way, that's actually working. With the people I work for today, I'm an independent contractor, but I've insisted on arrangements where I get paid fixed amounts of dollars per month, but I don't promise any hours of work, and there are no deadlines or anything like it. If they or I are unhappy, we'll change the amount or stop the agreement. But it is not about work. It is about paying attention. It is about being present for whatever comes along in a certain area.

Yes indeed, it's about being pleasant ... like courtiers ... attendants to power "being present for whatever comes along" ... smiling and charming and glib and entirely unconcerned by the actual work of producing. Toil is for another class of people, apparently! I, on the other hand, am neurotically unfit for this scenario: I believe that pulling a cheque has some relation to prodcuing a good ... call me crazy!

But my personal malaise is the least of it; there's a broader consequence to this pathological scenario. Whether it's the cliche $20K dinner for 5, or the cliche $8k brooch purchased on a whim, the extravagance of corporate executives floats on an ocean of petty larceny; our society is managed in large part by individuals whose personal lives are bankrupt on the level of integrity (and of course personal debt is astronomical). Coincident with this is a booming market for quick-fix spirituality.

I have for years asked "how do the psychopaths recruit us to serving their agendas"; the question has always been rhetorical. The psychopaths enlist those whose ethics include contempt for fundamentals. Those who seem to dignity their positions as courtiers to the psychopaths of power are doomed, even as they leech our economy white.

''Fallen Angels'', my rather dusty page on psychopathy.