Tipped off to this one by Graeber’s latest. Ames raises an interesting observation, connecting these one-off loner attacks on the workplace with the few slave revolts that occurred during America’s slavery heyday. So why didn’t more slaves rebel and why don’t more quiet downtrodden workers snap? We’re hardwired to adapt, and we get used to horrific conditions, preferring the devil we know to the one we don’t. Ames pinpoints the decline of the workplace to Reagan policies, people “crushed by the brutal new corporate culture that started to dominate under Reaganomics.”
These snapping loners are sometimes described by their peers as having had a great sense of humor and a cheerful attitude, both “tactics employed by all American at an unconscious even genetic level. Though many Americans privately know that one’s own smile is an attempt to put the other party at ease rather than a reflection of one’s own inner happiness, publicly, this is rarely admitted… These smiles are more like mammal calls used to identify the individual with the herd, to keep from being expelled. These calls that have to be repeated and repeated: you can’t just recite the backslapping platitudes once and you’re off the hook–as mammals, the office herd requires you to send out the correct marking signals every single day, every hour. It can be exhausting and humiliating… this cheerfulness, this desperate smile, is one of the most corrosive features to daily life in America, one of the great alienators–a key toxic ingredient in the cultural poison.” This reminds me of the Danforth comment about Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings, how he had the loudest laugh.
The book seems hastily cobbled together, in great need of a skilled editor to give it a more coherent shape, and the author admits that the project was shelved post 9/11 because no one wanted to read about work/school shootings (and they also declined somewhat). But a few years later, people were back to their old tricks, the bloody year of 2003 giving Ames impetus to finish this book and get it out in 2005. And so, 11 years later, in the midst of a presidential race gone bonkers, how fun to read:
What’s more appalling is that huge numbers of those left behind in the wealth transfer genuflected to the new plutocratic class, celebrating the most vicious of the über-CEOs. This craven CEO-worshiping is still going on today–middle Americans drag themselves home after work in order to gather around the television and watch billionaire asshole Donald Trump deliver his “you’re fired!” line to some desperate, stressed-out Smithers-abee. Entertainment is no longer about joy or escape. It’s about reliving life at the office, even if you just left the office fifteen minutes ago. It is about fetishizing the stress and creating and addiction to the stress, like a masochist to pain.