Thursday, January 21, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Four: Don't Ask "Why"

This is the chapter where La Miller stops merely giving advice and starts being a full-fledged activist. It's something to behold; let's watch how it happens. The chapter begins with a dramatic list, allowing for a lot of line breaks that take up a bunch of space:
Ever heard these questions?

"Why don't others work harder?"
"Why is this happening to me?"
"Why do they make it so difficult for me to do my job?"

Say them aloud. How do they make you feel? When I say them, I feel powerless, like a victim.
This is clearly bullshit. John G. Miller, I can assure you, has never been powerless in his life. He has no idea what it feels like. His privilege allows him to feel perfectly comfortable lecturing us that "Questions with a 'Why me?' tone to them say, 'I'm a victim of the environment and the people around me.' Not a very productive thought, is it? But we ask them all the time." A dreadful prospect: people having unproductive thoughts all the time. Don't you people know we live to be productive? We have to, not for ourselves, our families, or our communities, don't be ridiculous. For our bosses.

Now, I will admit that many people do go wrong with the kind of thought that Miller is criticizing. When this happens, though, it is not because of the form of the thought but because of its direction: downward. The example that leaps to mind is the many working-class American whites who, casting about for someone to blame for their shitty situations, direct their frustration and rage upon working-class American Blacks and immigrants rather than against the capitalist pricks who are actually responsible. To reiterate, the problem here is not, as Miller would have it, that whites think someone besides themselves is to blame for their powerlessness; rather, the problem is that they blame those even more powerless than themselves, instead of the people who in reality have seized every ounce of power anyone else may have had and taken it for their own.

However, in the real, non-corporate fantasy world, and away from the sad delusions of understandably angry and confused white people, actions take place in a context, and that context is one of vast inequality. For people who live their entire lives on the bottom rungs of our economy, "Why is this happening to me?" is one of the most empowering questions to ask.

So, what was I talking about with that activism comment at the beginning? Johnny cleverly uses an anecdote to cover the shift:
I was on a long flight, sitting next to a man in his mid-fifties. We introduced ourselves...[blah blah, guy's very wealthy]...he went on to say that he lives in New York City and works on Wall Street. Guess what he does? He's not a broker. He's a personal injury attorney.

When he asked me what I do [I told him I'm a speaker on the subject of] "Personal accountability," wondering if he'd see the irony--and the humor...He fidgeted a bit. Finally, just to be clear, I added, "What I really do is help people--including myself--eliminate victim thinking from their lives." He must have understood me because he got up and moved and we never spoke again!
Yes, Jacky. Because the only reason someone you speak to would never speak to you again is because the righteousness of your profession makes them feel guilty. It has nothing to do with your being a ridiculous, aggressive asshole. Anyway, G. Miller socks us with the moral of the story, and here's where it gets deep:
I have nothing against him or his profession. He's simply providing what's demanded by a culture that continually asks, "Why is this happening to me?" But even as we shake our heads about the ills of society, let's not forget that society is made up of individuals. You and me. The best thing we can do to get rid of victim thinking in our world is to get rid of it in ourselves.
Slow down, buddy. There is no "you and me," at least not when the "you" is you. Who the fuck is this "we" you're talking about? Now, I'm not going to get too deep into the realities of individual personal injury lawyers, particularly not those who become fabulously wealthy off of it, because it's clear that what Miller wants us to "shake our heads" about is the concept of protecting individuals from being harmed by capitalist exploitation. He wants us to shake our heads and think, "Gee, if a corporation makes my life unsafe, if a corporation hurts me because it's cheaper to them than not hurting me, trying to do anything about it will make me powerless. My best course of action is to deny the fact that I have been victimized, and look to see what action I can take to make my life better conform to the restraints placed upon it by the ruling class."

At this point, Miller is no longer pretending to merely advise us on how to live happier lives. He is attempting to deliberately organize us into a movement, to convince us, as a group, to be complicit in our own subjugation. I, for one, refuse.

QBQ! Table of Contents


JRB said...

Besides making a fine living as a professional author/speaker, it's hard to imagine how one goes about life without ever acknowledging how power influences relationships, and, from a moral standpoint, informs their legitimacy.

How does one "get rid of victim thinking" when you are 100% dependent on somebody else to survive?

It seems to me that if you want people to stop whining and take responsibility for their actions, they need to be able to make choices that reflect their preferences in the first place!

JRB said...

Ethan said...

How does one "get rid of victim thinking" when you are 100% dependent on somebody else to survive?

This is a big part of why I find your writing so essential--you're able to compose single sentences that perfectly cover what most people (me, say) take paragraphs to explain, usually muddily.

That interview is incredible and is getting its own post.