Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why do people even need to be normal anyway?

Reading "The Dictionary of Bullshit" by Nick Webb, I saw a reference to "lovably eccentric aristocrats" in an explanation about some political BS about the alleged golden ages of the past. Why, I started to wonder, were aristocrats of the past allowed to be eccentric, while today's middle and lower classes are expected to all be clones of each other?

Then I remembered back to Alfie Kohn's book "No Contest" (which my boyfriend regretted pointing out to me in the bookstore because it solidified my aversion to competitive games, which he likes to play because they're one of the few ways he knows to really engage with people, but I liked the book because it validated my feelings as a lifelong sore loser.) Kohn asserts that the nature of competition promotes conformity: we all have to try to be the best example of the same thing if we want to win the same prize in the same contest.

So insofar as we want to play these commercial games, in this large economy that can apparently afford to willfully expend people as long as the corporate leaders can adequately pad their paychecks (compare to what Sigrun writes about people in old Northern Europe needing everyone to contribute in whatever way they could given their abilities), we have to try to conform to some narrow standard. Society often - but not always, given the expendability factor - rewards people who are most able to fit the narrow standards that are necessary to win the contest. If you can play office politics just right, dressing like and mingling with people above you and making sure not to offend anyone or miss anyone's birthday or whatever, you climb the corporate ladder. May the best the consolation prize. Winning is only for those who are already winning and cheat to maintain it, or who are endowed with enormous luck, charm, and craftiness and diminutive conscience.

People probably well as anyone in the social class they were born into could less competitive and less heavily populated societies, whether they showed their quirks or not. Communities were small and geographically bound (or in hunter-gatherer days, kinship bound), so everyone in the community would interact with and have a chance to get to know those who had more trouble mastering superficial charm. And if they cultivated talents, then they would put those talents to use in whatever way was appropriate for their social class.

Since the business sector seems to dominate our society, employing very large percentages of the middle and lower classes, and we have factories to do the kind of work that individual craftsmen and craftswomen used to do, the demands of business seem to dominate popular culture. And business jobs tend to require a lot of conformity, and especially in the white-collar sector, superficial charm. So these qualities seem to be valued by society in general to a certain degree. It's harder to employ people who can't fake the factory standard of business well enough to ditz about in a white collar job until their sociopathic boss decides to fire them to increase his or her bonus during a bad or average year.

Schools are set up, mostly, to train people for these kinds of business jobs.

I don't know how hard it would be to develop a more cooperative society where the disabled and those who can't hide their quirks well (everyone has quirks, but some are better at hiding them than others) can thrive, and those who can play the "normal" game don't have to and can thus enjoy more of what their own personalities have to offer. At this point, it might require a dangerous and costly revolution against the CEOs of all the major American-based megacorporations.


Chuck said...

Two problems with your last statement:

1) American-based megacorporations are not the majority of global megacorporations.
2) More then 50% of legal jobs in the USA are not in megacorporations.

So your supposed revolution would probably not help anyone, and would probably just cause chaos in most of the world’s economic markets, doing more harm and no good.

reform_normal said...

Well, it's not like I would actually plan a revolution. But yeah...corporate conspiracy theorizing is kind of lazy thinking on my part. There do seem to be a lot of things that suck about commercial and corporate culture. And if viable alternatives are unthinkable, that sucks even worse: it's a defeat of human creativity and flexibility.