3 08 2009

Here’s a good column from the August 2, 2009, New York Times by economist Paul Krugman. It’s on the latest excesses of some of the more rapacious of our major banks:


to which one smart commentator responded thus:

George O’Conner
August 3rd, 2009
6:14 am
“Fascinating read Prof. Krugman. Why do we allow this happen? I understand it is hard to write a good enough law to stop it, but they should at least try. It is unfathomable that they don’t.
In his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude La Boetie says: “For the present I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him…” (The quote is too long to continue it here but it continues in an interesting discussion on Pandalous on voluntary servitude of hostesses).
I think the reason we allow this to happen is we feel weak. Each person alone is weak. We see the hugeness of what we are facing, but not the hugeness of all of us together. We get upset, but we feel powerless in face of such prowess.”


Mr. O’Conner’s answer probably goes a long way toward answering a question I put to a friend recently:

“Having lived a more normal life than me, what do you think of Thoreau’s famous saying,

‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation’?

I believe I see signs of that desperation in many of the people imprisoned with me in that big state office building downtown. Many of them/us do unimaginably boring clerical duties. In addition, the place is run like a prison camp. You are never consulted as they move you around physically, and in terms of administrative placement, at will. And they do so often, and for no good reason beyond mere whim.

Few of the workers ever resist these arbitrary changes. It is the oddest thing! We have civil service status and so are not easily fired, yet we all consent to be treated like emotionless tools. I am tentatively guessing that this incongruity is due to the fact that this is the deep South, where most people have never worked in a union setting, with a shop steward to complain to, etc. In addition, this is a very poor state, and these jobs are oppressive but fairly secure.

So the cubicle dwellers only know one model of employment — strictly a paternalistic one, requiring unquestioning obedience from employees, especially low-level ones like me.

But I’ve seen attorneys who work there treated in essentially the same way!

The convention of daily interaction is that the boss speaks to you respectfully, but it is exclusively at his discretion whether, beyond how he speaks to you, he takes any pains to consider what you need or want.

And this is America, the self-proclaimed land of individualism and “freedom”. The irony is immense.

Since I normally want things just the way I like them, I am constantly becoming miserable over this extraordinary supine employee behavior.

I wonder if things are different in a small office/organization?”


I didn’t get any answer from my friend. I suspect the answer is too obvious to need stating. But I’m a bit dense about things like this. Can anyone out there give me a bit of clarification?

Is it, “I have to work to live, so I have to put up with a certain amount of shit.”?

Is it, “Hey, stop being a mope! That’s just the way life is.”?

What other reasons are there, folks?





5 responses

6 08 2009

I think it often comes back to fear. Fear of repurcussions, fear of making decisions which might lead to repurcussions, fear of taking responsibility for those decisions.

Fear can be crippling, and it requires intelligence to see that you are in its grip, and energy, honesty, effort and courage to free yourself from it. Freeing yourself from fear often requires putting your beliefs, your actions, and your expectations of life and yourself under a microscope. As my Mom once said to me when I was puzzled by someone’s insistence on being angry and miserable in the life they had chosen to live, “No one digs up their trash and goes through it if they don’t have to.”

Sometimes if things aren’t bad enough, there is no impetus for change.

6 08 2009

Yes ma’am, and that’s the hidden factor I conveniently forgot to mention.

There’s plenty of room for fear of change in my personal cubicle-land. It’s a government job in Louisiana, and it has low pay but fine benefits. There are few jobs with such benefits in this very poor state.

Plus, because one is locked into the state’s retirement system after a few years working for it, all one can do then is just look elsewhere within the system.

Will the culture of any new agency one that might go to be any less oppressive than the old? How do you find out before accepting a transfer offer? What if you guess wrong?

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

And so misery ensues.

26 08 2009

I think the above is true for state as well as corporate workers. I actually think corporate workers are abused even more than state and city workers. 20 years to retirement, nice overtime pay, real lunch breaks, etc. is not so shabby. Meanwhile, people who went to college thinking they would make a better life for themselves end up slaving until they are 65 working 12 hours a day with no overtime pay and shove food in their mouth as they work in their cubicle. Maybe a select few get rich but the majority won’t make much more than a state or city worker. There are many days that I think I should not have bothered going to college and paying student loans until I am 40. I could have been a sanitation worker and retired at 40 and collected a pension the rest of my life and maybe start a side business like most do. At least I wouldn’t have to sit behind a desk all day!
Both state/corporate workers can definitely move to new positions, however it’s the same sh!t anywhere you go! So whats the difference??

I agree that it is fear, because many people who have the courage to pursue their passions, and/or start their own business do wake up looking forward to going to work every day. I read a quote I forget where that said something like “Do what you love and you won’t work a single day in your life.” Taking on this risk is certainly more difficult then shutting your mouth and saying “yes sir” to the man every day. But the payoff can be huge. Failure is also scary. At the same time some people are just not smart enough to do it on their own. Also, many artists/singers/dancers have the courage to pursue their passions and struggle and live poor for the majority of their life but they get to do what they love every day. Things get more complicated when people start a family because you are then responsible to take care of life aside from yourself. People then get stuck again because of fear that they won’t be able to provide for their family or have health benefits. Health benefits can cost an average family well over $1000 a month if you pay on your own, which is not even close to affordable! Basically, the middle class is always getting screwed. The poor get free health insurance and free education, subsidized housing. The middle class have to struggle and work for everything, and the rich (although many work very hard) don’t have to worry as much.

1 09 2009

Greetings fellow Redneck! Based on my absorption of information over the 40 years since my youth, and some actual research over the past year (Please see my earlier post titled, “So THAT’S Why We Both Have to Work!”), I can say with confidence that life is much worse now than it was in the 1960s for most middle class people.

It doesn’t matter much whether you work in the public or private sector. There has been a huge redistribution of wealth (money and assets) up the income scale; and, on the income side, middle class incomes have only grown a little over that period, while higher incomes have grown a LOT. In general, the higher the income level relative to the rest, the more it has grown. Meanwhile, jobs in the private sector have become immensely more insecure, largely due to the weakening of unions and the outsourcing of ever more jobs–both changes that our government connived in.

But I see another factor at work. It is really true that in the 1940s through the 1970s and ’80s people routinely got jobs, white- and blue-collar both, and then had a career with that employer that lasted until they retired. Employers may have felt a loyalty to their workers, and so would not lay them off at the drop of a share price. Or, more likely, employers felt afraid to exploit workers too grossly because the capitalist West was in a battle with Communism for the hearts and minds of the world, and the message our capital-holding class would have sent the world if they had treated employees as they do now would have essentially been, “Yep, we are about like the Commies say we are!”

Now there is nothing whatsoever left to make employers consider your feelings or needs, so they don’t. They simply use you as an asset like any other, and discard you when you become inconvenient to keep around. I have read of many, many cases where a company has been making good profits and has still laid people off in great numbers just because shareholders weren’t seeing the kind of returns they’d hoped for.

In government employment the progress toward a survival-of-the-fittest state has been slower because of the absence of shareholders. For example, I have a defined-benefit, rather than the inferior defined-contribution, kind of retirement plan. Private employers have been making that switch in ever-increasing numbers for decades, and now some state governments are doing so.

I don’t think your employment life will get better in the next few decades. I personally am just hoping to make it to a modest retirement fairly soon, before employers become even more malevolent.

13 09 2009



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