Wednesday, March 17, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Nine: Don't Ask "When?"

In which Miller continues to drive me crazy by refusing to use parallel structure. The past three chapters were all titled after "Incorrect Questions" and now this one is a command not to ask one. Hmph. Anyway.

So I guess in recent weeks Markos Moulitsas tore into Dennis Kucinich for trying to kill the current health care legislation and, sensing a good bloodfeast, Salon's Alex Koppelman dove in (Chris Floyd points out the interesting timing of this attack). In Koppelman's awkwardly sneering post he points out that in the thirteen years Kucinich has held office, only three of his bills have passed and become law. And then he points out that these are all minor things (like changing the name of a post office) of interest only to his constituents (who, being from Ohio, are clearly not important*). He also dismisses all of the actually well-intentioned and potentially beneficial legislation Kucinich has introduced (like, oh, getting out of our fucking wars) because it hasn't passed. To me, and I'm sure to four of my five readers (four of six on days when John G. Miller googles himself), the idiocy of this is obvious. The only honorable thing to do on finding oneself in the congress of the United States is to oppose it at every turn. As Floyd puts it, "just think what a howling pig circus the United States Congress has been during Kucinich's 13-year tenure...Why would anyone with even the slightest speck of honor or decency want to be considered a major, 'savvy' contributor to such a legacy?"

So when John G. Miller says
Is any procrastination going on in your life? Most people don't hesitate to admit that procrastination is a problem for them. And if it's a problem for most people, it's also a problem for most organizations. What are the consequences? Putting things off means precious time is lost. Productivity suffers. The team may not progress toward its goal. Deadlines are missed.
do you understand why I have a different perspective on that? "The team may not progress towards its goal"...well, what is that goal? Is its impact more to the good or to the bad in a context outside of corporate concerns? Most likely it is more to the bad. So if we retard progress toward that goal, we are doing a concrete good.

Note also how Miller moves in the course of this paragraph from " your life" to "deadlines are missed" for the company. It's blatantly obvious who benefits from Miller's advice--and it's not the people he's asking to follow it.

After pausing briefly for a quip, we continue:
Procrastination also increases stress. As things pile up, we begin to feel overwhelmed, which takes the joy out of our work. Bottom line: Procrastination (sic) is costly to all involved.
I hardly know where to begin with this. What takes joy out of our work, John, is our jobs. That and the very nature of employment, of working for a wage. It is a fundamentally, deliberately joyless system. Joy is its mortal enemy. It is not surprising at all that you want us to define "joy" down to "not actively loathing our lives at this moment."

The structure of this paragraph is also very reminiscent of the first paragraph I quoted (so he is capable of using parallel structure!) with its skillful transition from the personal to the corporate. This one's a bit more subtle, though, because Miller uses a word that means very different things depending on whether you're talking about an individual or a corporation: "costs." We get stressed, we get overwhelmed, we lose our joy: these are personal costs. But "costly to all involved"? Between this and the other paragraph it's clear that "costly" here is very literal.

And anyway. Miller and the other enforcers of our contemporary form of capitalism work very hard to remove from our lives what I might kind of embarrassingly refer to as magic. This is something I thought about a lot this past winter, because in the winter (in my climate anyway) a prime example of it keeps presenting itself. In our society, when it snows...what do we do? Do we take it as a sign that we should slow down and appreciate that something beautiful has happened? Of course not. We don't even take the time to play in it and enjoy it. We immediately coat it in salt and chemicals to turn it into a sludgy, disgusting brown slush, and plow it to the sides of the road (without regard to whether this blocks walking routes), to enable ourselves to risk our lives by going out in it in our cars and rushing off to our jobs. Most of my coworkers react with puzzled horror when I say I like snow. You have to clean it off your car, they say, and then you have to drive in it to get to work. Yes, I say, but it's beautiful. And you can have snowball fights and build things out of it and go sledding. You can use it, in other words, for purposes entirely outside of economic utility.

Related: probably my favorite essay ever posted on Stop Me Before I Vote Again, conveniently posted while I was composing my thoughts for this post. A sample:
Pleasure -- idle pleasure -- wasted time -- is deeply suspect; everything has to have some utility -- every investment of time or effort has to show a return. Even vacations get filed under some such rubric as "recharging the batteries", so that the striver can come back with redoubled zeal to his weary corporate climb, and more than make good the time he lost on the ski slopes.
Anything that doesn't "show a return" is, to Miller and his ilk, "incorrect," unhealthy, unproductive. This is as clear a sign as we could ever hope for that it is exactly what we should be doing at every opportunity--as if we didn't know already.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I mailed a package from that post office once in probably 2003 or 2004, I think.

QBQ! Table of contents

1 comment:

Ethan said...

Disclaimer: I'm by no means a Kucinich partisan and I have no illusions about his place in the machine. I like the guy but have my own huge complaints about him. My point is that I reject the terms of Kos and Koppelman's criticism. Anyway, the post isn't about Kucinich at all, he was just a convenient intro.