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February 12, 2003

Just one interesting note from many in David Remnick’s terrific New Yorker profile of Vaclav Havel:
In the mid-seventies, Havel had to make his living by working in a brewery, and, in “The Power of the Powerless,” he recalls a dispute at the plant. A worker there spoke out to his bosses about ways to improve production. He was not an intellectual or a political rebel, just someone with an idea on how to produce beer more efficiently. But he had dared defy his bosses, and that could not be tolerated. All too often, Havel wrote, living normally “begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”
Spot on. Because the desire to avoid extra effort is such a powerful part of human behavior, we tend to assume—when we’re thinking loosely—that humans generally want to avoid work. But the desire to be effective and the desire for one’s efforts to be meaningful are powerful as well. Those in power habitually underestimate how radicalizing it is when individuals find themselves frustrated in their sincere attempts to do good work. [10:20 AM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Just one interesting note from many:

Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 12:13 PM:

And the *reason* those in power habitually underestimate how radicalizing it is when individuals find themselves frustrated in their sincere attempts to do good work?

Quite simply, that those in power are not, and frequently have never been, part of any productive class. The art of getting power and staying in power is a parasitic, not a productive, art.

Barney Gumble ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Uh, Dude, as a science fiction editor, you fuck over the writers all the time. Defend your own job for a start.

OToole ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 02:38 PM:

Join a good solid Democrats forever union in the U. S. and see what happens when you try to do your job better.

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 02:57 PM:

O'Toole, back in my union days (International Association of Machinists) I won more than one cash award for streamlining manufacturing/machining process at the place where I worked. Was embarrasing, though. As shop steward, I had to sign off on my own awards.

Time to stop sucking up right-wing propaganda and learn to perceive for yourself.

Patrick, do you really fuck over the writers of SF? Is it rewarding work? Do you receive merit increases when you do it well?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 03:43 PM:

I wish people who are of the opinion that the exercise of power is necessarily parasitic would think about sewage processing a little.

I also think that the confusion between the proper exercise of power -- the stuff that maintains and increases the general weal, which is most easily measured by looking at realizable access to choice -- and the exercise of power to build structural disparity into the landscape of choice helps only the folks doing the later.

You get what you reward; if you have no name for power exercised for the benefit of the general weal, you cannot possibly reward it.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 04:51 PM:

Sounds to me like Barney's gotten one too many rejections slips in the mail lately....

Real Live Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 05:31 PM:

I know that I've seen this scenario over and over again. Fortunately, I'm at a place in life where I don't have to live in Dilbertland, but I've been there.

Sometimes middle management folks are inept and sense their inferiority. This is the worst scenario. They CANNOT let it be known that someone below them has had a good idea.

Very frustrating. I get angriest when the company then complains that no one is showing any initiative.

Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 10:39 PM:

"Quite simply, that those in power are not, and frequently have never been, part of any productive class. The art of getting power and staying in power is a parasitic, not a productive, art."

Well, here's the thing:

This is the United States of America. Which is a democratic republic.

The great strength -- and the great weakness -- of a democratic republic may be summed up thus:

We are the government.

The government is us.

We -- as in, "We the People," -- are the "ones in power".

So when you say the American people have never been part of a productive class... well, you're speaking for yourself.

Do we, as an electorate, delegate some powers and responsibilities? Yup. Well, except for those squillions of initiatives.

But that's just it: We're the ones doing the delegating.

And believe me when I tell you: The folks whom you disdain know it... which is why I'll bet most of the deepest cynicism about the country is fed in by the political pros, to try to limit the amount of participation, making the effective electorate smaller, easier to control, and more malleable.

Here's a hint: Campaign spending keeps going up and up. Participation keeps going down and down. Either the political pros are throwing their money away foolishly -- tempting, I'll grant -- or what they're buying is silence. And it keeps getting more expensive because voters want to care, want to participate, and a level of diminishing returns is being reached.

So, if you want to post such things, go ahead... Just bear in mind that when you, somewhere, some political pro is smiling with the satisfaction of a job well done.

(And if that isn't the strangest way to segue back to the topic of the post... :)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 11:35 PM:

Hal, I'm not saying I actually agree with "Daniel J Boone" -- I think he's got a bare kernel of truth there, plucked from it place among the fellow kernels of related observations on the cob of context, no longer surrounded by the husk of nuance, and now being nibbled by the crow of over-extended metaphor -- but I don't think he was necessarily talking about government.

Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 11:50 PM:

"We are the government."

Hal, you got a mouse in your pocket?

It's hard to imagine any definition of government that does not involve some claim to the right to push people around at gunpoint under some set of circumstances. That's what "people in power" (to return to my original point) do. And they always collect at least a paycheck from the folks whose productivity they harvest at gunpoint.

Just don't accuse me of any of that, because I don't play that game any more. Armed robbery would be a cleaner and more honest profession, because at least the armed robber doesn't pretend he's doing it for your own good.

Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2003, 11:51 PM:

"Real Live Preacher"'s comment reflects Rosten's Maxim: "First-rate people hire first-rate people. Second-raters hire third-raters." Rosten didn't consider transfers, unexpected competences, etc.

Patrick's original line also points toward Theory X vs Theory Y, which Townsend pushed in Up the Organization some years before Havel's brewery experience. I wonder what the Soviets could have made of X/Y -- it doesn't fit a command economy, but the proponent Townsend quoted described it as the reason the Vietnamese defeated both the French and the U.S.

Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 01:49 AM:

Hal, you got a mouse in your pocket?

Hm. Try as I may, I just don't understand this statement. Joke? Insult? Obscure reference? All of the above?

It's hard to imagine any definition of government that does not involve some claim to the right to push people around at gunpoint under some set of circumstances.

Perhaps. And perhaps it's somehow morally wrong for one group of people to protect themselves against others by pooling resources together, or to arbitrarily declare some behaviors verboten.

The problem is, in every time I'm aware where people have been given a realistic alternative of straight-up anarchy -- France in the 1790's, Russia in the late 1910's, China in the late 1940's, Lebanon in the 1970's and '80's, Somalia in the 1990's -- the population overwhelmingly rejects it. By its own logic, small-l libertarian anarchy has always lost out in the marketplace.

Putting it a different way: If you really advocate anarchy -- as you appear to be writing -- how is it your wish to impose some Hobbesian state of nature upon me is less odious than my wish to have a society which you may join, or not, as you choose?

That's what "people in power" (to return to my original point) do. And they always collect at least a paycheck from the folks whose productivity they harvest at gunpoint.

Just don't accuse me of any of that, because I don't play that game any more. Armed robbery would be a cleaner and more honest profession, because at least the armed robber doesn't pretend he's doing it for your own good.

Nope, I advocate it for my own good.

I give my money willingly to the collective endeavor called government -- in the lightest tax burden of any major industrialized country -- because I think I get good value for money. (This may be because I've spent time in both the private and public sectors, and that time has taught me that there's a reason Dilbert is more convincingly set in the private sector bureauacracy than the public sector one.) I think spending some of my money on common defense so the US stays sovereign is a good deal for me. I think educating the young so they can make the goods and advance medical technologies that can comfort me in my old age is a good deal for me. I think having regulations that provide a modicum of cleanliness in the air I breathe and the water I drink is a good deal for me. I think having a quasi-para-military force that deters people from taking potshots at my head is a good deal for me.

If you happen to benefit along the way, mazeltov. If you feel this is too onerous a burden on you... run for office, persuade people of your point of view, and get things changed. I live in the state of Washington -- I'm sure you and Tim Eyman would get along great, and you may even be as successful as he's been in persuading other people.

As to this your not "playing the game anymore"... I have an acquaintance who's moved to Costa Rica, for largely the same reasons. I myself would probably pick Barbados, if it ever came to that, given their economic and political record.

But if you're still resident in the US... You can either play the game well, or play it badly. Carping in such a way that alienates even potential allies from your point of view, is playing it badly, IMHO. (Unless you're a masochist, and want people to think badly of you and never take you seriously. Which is the problem with living solely by the Golden Rule, if you think about it.)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 02:58 AM:

I stand corrected.

Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2003, 04:01 AM:

My "do you have a mouse in your pocket?" is the cleaned-up version of the old rhetorical rejection of the false "we." When someone tries to include you in a "we" that you don't feel part of, the traditional response is "We? What do you mean, we? Do you have a turd in your pocket?" Translates as semi-funny emphatic rejection of false or forced collectivism.

Patrick's blog comments are probably not the best place to get into the details of why I utterly reject the utilitarian arguments for coercive government. My name above links to my blog, where I've got a bit more material on the subject. The very short version is simply, that noble ends do not justify immoral means.

Your suggestion that I attempt to sieze the barrel of the gun and point it where it would achieve *my* goals instead of *your* goals really doesn't come to grips with the fact that I've got a problem with the entire exercise of enslaving others to achieve goals, however salutory those goals might be.

And having said that much, I should probably apologize to our gracious host, let Hal have the last word, and move on. Sorry for trying everyone's patience!

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2003, 04:04 AM:

I was pleased to see Havel's signature on the "Gang of 8" letter. He was always a steady sensible person of integrity rather than a "revolutionary" poser, more of a Washington than a Guevara. He was never that fond of the professional Left. One of my heroes.

carter ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2003, 11:52 AM:

It is amazing how fast workers promoted to supervision can forget how the job is done. That is all Havel was saying. Can one not make a human observation, can one not be just intelligent? Must one's every utterance be branded Lefty-poo or Righty-poo?

To pout about and deny any place to irony, to force-fit Havel's human observation into the service of this or that grand, overarching Theory of Life is merely to be supremely silly.