Life in the corporate concentration camp
Yesterday, I wrote an essay about delusional thinking. Essentially, I explained that, in a capitalist society, it is all and only about concentrating capital.
All other claims—job creation, delivering value to “customers”, new and better products and services—are irrelevant. Capitalist entities are just as happy concentrating capital by destroying all life on Earth as by helping people.
And destroying is easier and pays better.
Because the goal of every capitalist enterprise is to concentrate capital, such enterprises are effectively concentration camps. It is just that it is capital that is being concentrated, not the workers, although the “back to the office” efforts might belie that claim.
Life in the concentration camp
It is tempting to see this all as very simple: black or white, all or nothing. And we humans are, by and large, obsessed with binary thinking.
It isn’t that simple, of course. Capitalist enterprises exist to concentrate capital by any means necessary, legal or illegal. It’s not about legality—corporations break the law daily—it’s about not getting caught, or having enough power to act with impunity.
But that doesn’t mean that, in the day-to-day operations of a typical capitalist enterprise, the prime objective of concentrating capital is the most operative one.
This is because for at least the immediate, foreseeable future, corporations are made up of humans, and humans, despite all claims to the contrary, are fully autonomous beings.
Humans do exactly and only what they want to do. No exceptions.
Indoctrination is the key
Because humans are autonomous and won’t necessarily do what others want them to do, we have to find ways to control them. Enter the orange vegetable and the piece of wood.
You can bet that technologists are working hard on implants that will turn humans into obedient slaves, but we’re already half way there. Why do you think propaganda exists? What do you think advertising is for?
And it goes way, way back, long before either propaganda or advertising were invented. Even in the earliest tribes, members had to be controlled. And this was done by indoctrination, and by threat if indoctrination wasn’t enough.
Usually indoctrination did the trick. And it is no different today.
It begins at birth
Indoctrination begins the moment we exit the birth canal and continues throughout our lives. Gender, for example, isn’t something biological (that’s sex), it is something we learn as we go. Gender indoctrination starts even before we can speak.
Religious indoctrination works similarly. I have often suggested to religious parents that children should be told nothing of religion until they are past the age of majority. Then present them with a smorgasbord of religions and let them pick one (or none). Maybe at university.
After all, indoctrinating them in a religion before they are old enough to understand and decide for themselves is not very fair to them. Give every religion equal weight and let them stand or fall on their merits.
As you can guess, the parents invariably react with horror and outrage. If they were honest, they would admit that this is because without that early indoctrination, the odds that the children would choose their parents’ religion (or any religion at all) would be slim, indeed.
The parents know that they are indoctrinating—brainwashing—their kids. That’s the whole point!
I had the joy (heh, heh… not) of attending both US Army boot camp and US Navy boot camp, and both in the same year (don’t ask). Both were about indoctrination. And they were very effective to a degree.
Ironically, however, the people with whom I worked in the Navy were far less deluded about the military and its uses than the people I met after I got out. Those who spent time at the actual “coalface” knew that it was, frankly, an incredible pile of horseshit.
Upper class indoctrination
I also attended an Ivy League school. The Ivy League is, along with places such as Oxford and Cambridge, the apex of indoctrination.
The poor and working class need little indoctrination. What choice do they have? It is submit or suffer. You know it’s all bullshit, but what are you gonna do?
The upper class, however, and especially the Professional Managerial Class (PMC)—these are people who can do real damage. They must be very carefully indoctrinated. They are the ones who keep the concentration camp running, after all: the commissar class.
[A fun exercise: Type “define ‘commissar class’” into Google (or almost any other search engine) and see how many results you get. I get a load of garbage and no simple definition. Yet this is a common phrase in critiques of capitalism. So why is it so hard to find an answer? Hmm.]
In the corporate world, these highly-indoctrinated folks are usually in middle management. They are the true believers. They have fully embraced the corporate cult. They are easily bought off with trinkets and meaningless privileges. It costs the company nothing to give you a better parking spot or a fancier title.
My partner and I recently watched Severance, a devastating critique of corporate capitalism. But be careful: when corporate capitalism appears to critique itself, it is most often acting to disarm a critique that it cannot avoid.
In the show, one of the main characters is Dylan, who lives for “flair”—the little trinkets that he’s given for meeting or exceeding quotas, the acme of which is a “waffle party” (don’t ask). Ironically, he is possibly the least indoctrinated character.
Developer hegemony in the cult of capital
There is an interesting if overlong and self-promoting book by Erik Dietrich called Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor in which he tries to convince himself that the slaves will rise up and take over the concentration camp. Dream on.
But one interesting idea in the book is that he defines three categories of workers in a typical corporate environment. He based them on someone else’s categories, but gave them slightly less (or was it slightly more? I don’t have the book handy) controversial names:
Opportunists, at the top of the corporate ladder, know that it’s all a scam. They focus on gaming the system for their own benefit. They have no loyalty to the company at all. Also called sociopaths.
Idealists, at the middle management level, are the true believers. They work largely for recognition, thinking that one day they will ascend to the C-suite (they won’t). These are the cultists.
Pragmatists, at the bottom and making up the majority. They aren’t really falling for the propaganda, but, hey, they need to make money and this job is as good as any. Effectively, these are slaves who have become accustomed to their slavery and often no longer recognize it as slavery. Stockholm Syndrome?
So here we have our three classes of autonomous beings. Which of them are prioritizing concentration of capital, the sole raison d'être of the capitalist enterprise?
None of them, really. The opportunists are out for themselves, obviously. If they can get ahead by destroying the company, they’ll happily do so. They talk a lot about customers and delivering value. They care not the least. They’ll jump ship at the first opportunity.
For the idealists, it is not so clear cut. Many really do believe (or tell themselves that they believe) in the ostensible “mission” of the organization. But really, these are the most insecure folks in the company. It is dog eat dog, and they must be always on their guard or someone is going to eat their lunch.
So they may mouth the platitudes and even practice some of them. But when they think that no one is looking, they revert to selfish form and put their own careers first.
Finally, the pragmatists at the bottom. They just want to show up, do the work, and go home. Many don’t even want to do the work. I’ve had numerous “teammates” who never did a speck of real work—for the “customer” or anyone else—and others who actually did negative work, meaning that someone else had to undo the damage they did.
Of the few that got work done, most didn’t know or care how it related to “value for the customer”. Someone above them decided that it needed doing, so they did it.
But even though these often subvert the aim of the organization to concentrate capital, the balance is tipped so far over in favor of capital that the organization succeeds despite the incompetence or insouciance of the workers.
Even then, very little of this translates into “value for the customer”. So can we just lay that one to rest?
A better class of slave
Knowledge workers are essentially the modern equivalent of house slaves. We get better perqs and have a bit more say in what we do, but we’re slaves all the same. Of course, we tell ourselves that we have it so much better than those poor suckers working at Walmart or on the factory floor, if there are any more factories. Secretly, we know better.
Part of working as an “idealist” or “pragmatist” is buying into the lies the company puts out (or at least pretending to), and one of those lies is about “delivering value to the customer”.
If we can just bring ourselves to believe that, then maybe all this worthless shit we’re building will suddenly have meaning and our lives won’t have been wasted, right?
Don’t kid yourself. Until we are ready to look the beast in the eye and talk about what it is that we are all really doing all day long, it’s all just palaver. Full of sound and fury, I suppose, but signifying nothing.