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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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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Jon Carroll on Who Moved My Cheese?

"Who Moved My Cheese?" is much used in corporate settings. Employees are ordered to read the book, to write reports about the book, to break into groups and discuss the book. The principles of the book are referred to in meetings. It is a huge hit among managers, and a huge pain for employees....

The author seems to think that "cheese" is a metaphor for "success in business," but the employees forced to read the book know the truth: "Cheese" is a metaphor for "continued employment." Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that a flurry of cheese sessions often precedes layoffs....

Employees are encouraged to emulate the mice and/or learn from the travails of the littlepeople. These are interesting choices of role models -- small and powerless things who forever run around a maze because they need cheese....

AND THE EMPLOYEES get the message. No matter how wrapped up in New Age jargon it is, the message is: Ask only small questions. Accept whatever you are told. If it's cheese day at the office, say "thank you" and give a nice cringing presentation about moving with the times.

And let go of that useless nostalgia for, say, times when everyone was on the medical plan, when the concept of "overtime" was meaningful, when memos made sense, when cowardly consultants were not creeping around figuring out whom to fire, when there was a leader in the company who welcomed challenges, had fun doing the job and did not need a dopey little book, because the job itself had meaning.

Reading "Who Moved My Cheese?" I was reminded of another book about "littlepeople" who were constantly required to survive in a mazelike environment characterized by cruel and arbitrary change, another place where the search for cheese was constant. That book is "The Gulag Archipelago."


Blogger RossHeckmann said...

Thanks for the post, Kevin. The post's juxtaposition of developing practices in capitalism with a reference to a totalitarian society made me realize that the major difference between the two is being eroded. It used to be that capitalists were content merely to steal your labor and your money, but that totalitarians wanted to steal your soul as well. It seems like capitalists are developing the desire to mold the soul of their workers as well--to virtually force them to say things they don't really believe, just like totalitarians. How despicable.

February 16, 2006 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to look at some of the amazingly prescient scenarios the late Cyril Kornbluth put in his fiction way back in the 1940s and '50s. They show through in quite a bit of his short fiction but also in his longer stuff, often co-authored with Fred Pohl.

The Syndic shows how even a non-state system can degenerate, but for some comparisons with today and the near past, look at the Space Merchants and Gladiator At Law - particularly the predicament of the denizens of "Belly Rave", which I was reminded of as soon as I started reeading Market Forces (recently recommended around here).

Heinlein's fiction written during the brief period between US involvement in World War II and the Cold War is also insightful for dilemmas facing the directions available to a superpower, and his "History of the Future" stories include the degeneration of a more libertarian world.

Any feedback on the recent postings I emailed you about, KC? Their threads are about to drop off the current display page.

February 17, 2006 1:09 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


With the explosion of clerical and service jobs at the expense of old-line manufacturing, the ethos of "professionalism" is contaminating even relatively unskilled wage labor. The grunt employee is expected to display a level of dedication, and place a central importance on his job, once reserved for the genuine professions. Hospitals, for example, have always been good at using "professionalism" and guilt over patient welfare to manipulate nurses into working unwanted overtime. But today, even shitty retail employers like Wal-Mart have started testing the waters with an attempted 24/7 availability policy--and it's justified by saying that "nobody who cares about the customer will object."

Well, the point is that for $10/hr, you shouldn't HAVE to care that much about the customer on your scheduled time off. What next, requiring McDonald's fry cooks to carry pagers at home? A job is a means to an end. Your real life outside the job is the end.

The "professionalist" ideology is also used to put a taint of "unprofessionalism" on anyone who organizes to fight back about the way their superiors treat them. Getting mad and digging your heels in is "unprofessional"; and it goes without saying that unions are, too (that's why so many teachers refer to the NEA as a "professional association").

"Professionalism" is the last refuge of scoundrels.


Thanks for the Kornbluth recommendation. I'll have to pursue them.

I left some comments on the Roy Morrison thread. I've been printing out your comments relevant to Sheldon's original article proposal, but the project's sort of on the back burner, along with a lot of other stuff.

February 17, 2006 10:54 AM  

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