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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who Moved My Cheese, Revisited

I've already done Who Moved My Cheese?, so a lot of the comments below are new only to those who missed them the first time around. But every once in a while, as with the "best available alternative" meme about sweatshops, I find another example of the phenomenon so sickening I can't help repeating myself.

So here it is: a review (by Terry Watson, "international speaker") of Spencer Johnson's godawful Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way To Deal With Change In Your Work And In Your Life. The fact that it's clustered, on Watson's recommended books page, along with a bunch of motivational dreck by Dale Carnegie, Og Mandino, and Stephen Covey, should tell you something about Watson. (The genre was deliciously parodied by National Lampoon in the person of Sphinx Sphincter, author of the motivational classic Visualize, Actualize, Grasp and Claw.)

The defunct Molotov Cocktail for the Soul site had this to say about another specimen of the genre, Tom Lagana (creator of the execrable Chicken Soup series):

Snatching hypocritical victory from the jaws of defeat, this electrical engineer turned mind engineer is now complicit with his old "redundancy eliminators." He now helps "organizations who want to get the most out of people;" and those people would, of course, be the Prozac-plied personnel now doing twice the work they would have at the same position twenty years ago and are too sedated to feel the boss's whip cracking across their backs. "[Lagana] put a smile on my face and it stayed there even after I went back to work," gushes one successfully sheered sheep, her organization now getting the most out of her. "I already feel less stress as I apply some of the techniques," bleated another after scampering from a Lagana seminar payed for by the Firm.

Anyway, here's what Watson writes:

Change can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective. The message of Who Moved My Cheese? is that all can come to see it as a blessing, if they understand the nature of cheese and the role it plays in their lives. Who Moved My Cheese? is a parable that takes place in a maze. Four beings live in that maze: Sniff and Scurry are mice--nonanalytical and nonjudgmental, they just want cheese and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Hem and Haw are "littlepeople," mouse-size humans who have an entirely different relationship with cheese. It's not just sustenance to them; it's their self-image. Their lives and belief systems are built around the cheese they've found. Most of us reading the story will see the cheese as something related to our livelihoods--our jobs, our career paths, the industries we work in--although it can stand for anything, from health to relationships. The point of the story is that we have to be alert to changes in the cheese, and be prepared to go running off in search of new sources of cheese when the cheese we have runs out.

Change, like cheese, is something that "just happens"; it's presented in much the same way Tom Friedman presents "globalization": not as the product of human action, but as an inevitable and impersonal force of nature. We're expected to accept as it comes, and deal with it within whatever framework is established by the anonymous gods in white coats who structure the maze. The idea that some authority figures are in a position to dole out cheese, and that we must jump through whatever hoops they require in order to get it, goes without saying.

In fact, Johnson's recipe for "dealing with change in your work and in your life" is a lot like the medieval peasant's fatalistic acceptance of one ruler after another, washing over him in succession like a series of tidal waves. "Keep your head down, do your work, pay your rent without complaint, don't look beyond your station in life; and don't above all, meddle in the affairs of the great lords."

It's also a bit like Parsons' enthusiastic embrace of "change" in 1984: "The choco-ration's been increased to 20 grammes. Doubleplusgood, eh?"

Thomas Frank, in One Market Under God, describes it as an "asinine" work of "breathtaking obscenity," designed to "openly advance a scheme for gulling, silencing, and firing workers who are critical of management...." Not only is the mover of the cheese never identified, Frank points out:

...[E]ven to wonder about the logic of the cheese's movements or to ask the title question Who Moved My Cheese? is to commit workplace error of such magnitude that management can rightly "let" workers who are given to such thoughts "go." So while one of the "littlepeople" remains stubbornly at the place where he last sighted the cheese, the other sets off through the maze again, running the rat race, but finding along the way that job insecurity is good for his soul and composing a number of pithy observations about adapting to "change"....

Or, like Watership Down's Silverweed, composing hymns to the wire. The book, according to Frank, was created as a management tool for dealing with "change resisters." And naturally, it's a big favorite of HR departments everywhere, who order it by the gross for employee self-criticism meetings--er, seminars. Those managers who applied the lessons of the book in their thankless job of imposing "change" found, to their delight, that it "worked wonders."

Those who had been fired learned to relish their situation ("there was New Cheese out there just waiting to be found!") and those were permitted to stay stopped "complaining" and bowed to management's new scheme.

For most of us, it's an accepted part of existence to dread showing up for work and finding out jut how far our fucking cheese has been moved this time.

Here's to the day when we're moving their cheese.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a manager several years ago who had us read the cheese book. I thought it was dopey, but in contrast to most readers, we did know who was moving the cheese...the very large bank that was gobbling up our little bank and telling us b*s* about the future of our jobs. In fact, the manager who had us read the cheese book went against the managerial ethos and told us bluntly that our jobs were going down the toilet in six months. So I was glad for that.

I wish you'd talk about "Fish Philosophy," another consultant-driven effort to make people feel better about our less than exciting jobs.

January 29, 2006 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No wonder all those self-help/feel-good books make me wanna stomp kittens...

January 29, 2006 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note also that Sniff and Scurry are extremely well adapted to their environment - they exhibit the "correct" behaviour when their cheese is moved. The subtle message is that you will be happy to the extent that you behave like unthinking, unquestioning animal.


January 30, 2006 3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, this is obscenity:

My church (mega) got permission to stage WHO MOVED MY CHEESE as a production shown on both Saturday and Sunday's main services.

They issued tickets for members to pass out at work -- in order to lure new attendees to church.

The workplace is hopeless.
Our church can give you some of that hope, support and prosperity back (if you buy our minister's books, tapes, or tithe).

And they wonder why I haven't been back for a few years....

Oh, yes -- one of my temp jobs believed in the F.I.S.H. philosophy. Then again, due to their indictments in California, they also believed in hiring union workers during a strike, giving them false identities and SSNs, and picking them up in remote locations to work as scabs, so go know.

Clue: Whenever a company wants to give you a book, BURN IT. They don't like seeing you read something relevant and thoughtful, the rest of the time, do they?

January 30, 2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger chris_from_boca said...

The cheese will inevitably move, but we must not cut the cheese in anticipation of movement. Cutting the cheese will not obviate the movement, although one might argue that in fact the movement may be facilitated by the cutting of the cheese in advance. So, i will be pleased to cut the cheese for my HR manager, rendering moot the question of who moves the cheese, even as that sudden, stunning realization settles in as to who exactly CUT the cheese.

January 30, 2006 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should point anyone who hasn't seen it to the "Week of Cheese" from some time ago, at the inimitable NotMyDesk: http://www.notmydesk.com/archives/cheese_week.html

(Note that you have to start at the bottom, confusingly.)

January 30, 2006 2:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

haha - my favorite line from Cheese Week:
"If you buy a book called The Best Way To Catch Fish, would you buy the sequel called Using "The Best Way to Catch Fish" to Catch Fish?"


January 31, 2006 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I have no idea who Terry Watson is, but I half expected Spencer Johnson etc. to be recommending Terry Johnson, just as Terry Johnson is recommending his book. That's how it often is with these types of books, basically a big circle jerk. But maybe our dear Terry is not that well known yet.

And yea, you've got to love Terry's choice of books - not. I mean even Robert T. Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), ex-leader of cult-like organizations, and whose entire identity is probably fraudulent is there.

January 31, 2006 5:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks to all for some excellent comments. I really liked the comments on WMMC in Cheese Week.

I'd like to make a witty comment on the idea of a mega-church stage production of the book, since it combines so many vulgarizing tendencies in our hell-in-a-handbasket civilization. But it's just so appalling.... I got nothin'.

As for Fish Philosophy, I'd never heard of it before. But it really pushes all my buttons.

First of all, I'm a classic introvert who needs time alone to recharge after dealing with people on a prolonged basis. So it's a big deal to me to be able to use *MY* lunch break to find somewhere to sit in peace and quiet and be left the hell alone.

Second, I'm *REALLY* big on the idea of boundaries between my real life and my job, so any paternalistic attempts at enforced socialization just rub me the wrong way, big time. My attitude toward my job is, I show up there for absolutely no reason except to make money to pay my bills, period. So I can choose my own fucking friends just fine without any help from smarmy managers, thank you. That kind of horseshit is a good way to start getting coffee "accidentally" spilled down hard drives.

Can't have any of that "ownlife" weakening Party cohesion now, can we, comrades?

January 31, 2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Completely off-topic, but has anybody noticed that the Google Ads at the URL for this specific post are stuff about Tony Robbins and Spencer Johnson? And if you click on the "Toilet Paper as Paradigm" link, you'll find the Google Ads are for toilet paper dispensers.

That's like putting an ad for Nazi paraphernalia over a Morris Dees article on neo-Nazism.

I think it's fair to say the Google Ads software isn't very effective at matching up ads to subject matter.

January 31, 2006 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't even keep their last names straight - oops :).

February 01, 2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Bernard said...

Kevin: careful what you say about Google mate or they'll move the cheese on you real fast :-)

February 07, 2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger marietomates said...

Okay so I work for this smallish hotel co (compared to hilton and what not)...we just got new management toting around WMMC as the cat's pajamas. Mr. New Manager wants us all to read it - it sounded highly stupid to me I never read it. But my friend gave me the 411 and I immediately (duh) figured out the book teaches not to question authority. Which is what I googled and how I ended up on this blog/site. Should I tell management they're full of shit? Should I keep my little mouseface shut? I'm super annoyed and can't believe Mr. New Manager is trying to herd us like sheep that undoubtedly all the dumbass beeyotches who bought this book (and I use that term loosely)and made it a bestseller are. UGH. Thoughts? Advice?

April 27, 2008 8:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

You're the best judge of your own best course of action, tomatesfille, since you know the facts on the ground. My gut reaction is, don't tell the management they're full of shit unless you're pretty sure it won't cost you your job, or you don't mind moving on.

My reaction to Fish! in my own workplace was passive-aggression: absolute minimal levels of compliance with the formalities of the program, without flat-out telling them "I'm not interested because it's bullshit"--and coupled with relentless ridicule of Fish! among my coworkers, anonymous defacing of posters, and so forth.

The potential for anonymous ridicule is amazing, IMO. If you don't already have a reputation for a "bad attitude" such that you'd be the prime suspect, and you find my commentary under the "Fish! and WMMC?" heading useful, you might try printing it out and leaving it around. I've seriously considered reworking it into pamphlet format ("So Your Boss Wants You to Read Fish!/WWMM?") as a downloadable pdf.

Generally speaking, you can't go wrong with passive-aggression when it comes to dealing with management bullshit. Adopt a posture of absolute minimal compliance, and then sabotage it every fucking chance you get when they're not looking. The goal is for the manager to feel like an American GI in Vietnam, surrounded by sullen, hostile faces, feeling the almost tangible hatred every time he walks in the door, and wondering if he'll ever get out alive.

April 28, 2008 12:01 PM  

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