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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

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fish! Philosophy: Opiate of the Powerless

See also "More On (Moron?) Fish! Philosophy"

Powerful people control events. Powerless people control their attitudes about those events. It's that simple.

Fish! Philosophy is a lesson from the powerful to the powerless. It involves an enormous sleight of hand. One of the Fish! reviewers at Amazon.Com drew, as the central message of the book: "since you're being raped, you might as well enjoy it." In the bizarro world of Fish!, the rapist and the victim are equally powerless: "Gee, I sure hate doing this to you. If only there were some other way.... Ah, well, at least we can both have a good attitude about it!" And to be sure, the rapist usually manages to accommodate himself to his fate.

Fish!, by sleight of hand, conceals the elephant in the living room: we're not all equally powerless in the face of circumstances. Some people make circumstances, and some people adjust to circumstances.

But take a minute to consider how strenuously Fish! pushes that theme of your powerlessness:

We can either give in to external events and pressures, few of which we can control, or we can take control of our own happiness. Our choices are, after all, the only things that no one can take from us in this world. [And our only "choice," as far as these people are concerned, is whether to spit or swallow]

Many of us believe our attitudes are caused directly by outside influences like unpleasant experiences or negative people. While these things may act as triggers for our feelings, we can choose to either be subservient to these events, few of which we can control, or we can take charge of our own responses.

We can't control what happens to us, but we do have a choice about how we respond.

You can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you respond.

You can’t always control circumstances, but you can control your own thoughts.

To grasp just how presumptuous Fish! really is, just try a thought experiment: imagine management's reaction if the circumstances were reversed. Imagine the bosses' reaction of you and your coworkers matter-of-factly announced that, henceforth, you would be working less hard for the same amount of money, or that you would be receiving a higher hourly wage. Imagine telling the boss "you can't do anything about these events, but you can choose to have a good attitude about them!" My guess your boss would demonstrate in short order that he does have control over events, and that it's not his attitude that has to be adjusted. That's because, while you may be powerless, your bosses most certainly are not.

This assymetrical power relationship is implicit in Fish! Philosophy. And you'd better believe that the people who push it are fully aware of their agenda. If you have any doubts of what the agenda is, and who's pushing it, just Google "Fish! Philosophy"+"your organization." The people who control organizations are the primary market for Fish!, and the audiences they buy it for are the "human resources" they manage.

They are the ones who do things. We are the ones that things are done to. Learn to enjoy it, or else. That's the message of Fish! Philosophy.


Blogger Unknown said...

The Fish! philosophy and Who Moved My Cheese are the Spawn of Satan, as far as I am concerned. I was given a copy of Cheese by a manager at my old job, and I wanted very much to tell him where to move his cheese! Given what happened a few months later, I wish I had.

If I might ask, what brought a new interest in that vile book? You wrote about it some months ago, and thoroughly destroyed it, as I recall.

January 04, 2007 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is what is meant:

We can't control what happens to us (even without coercion),
but we do have a choice about how we respond (unless we are being coerced).
You can’t always control what happens (even without coercion),
but you can control how you respond (unless you are being coerced).
You can’t always control circumstances (even without coercion),
but you can control your own thoughts (unless you are being coerced).

Are you saying leaving out the issue of violence and how to respond to it makes one a dope peddler?
All i know is i'm not high

January 04, 2007 6:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


You know how sometimes you think about something, and you start getting mad all over again? Same thing here. And that particular aspect of it, powerlessness over circumstances, just struck me with especial force this time around.


If bargaining power were equal, we would have just as much control over events as the managers. Even the domesticated labor unions of the AFL-CIO, when they had some teeth, were able to draw lines. If the bargaining power of labor were increased to what I think it would actually be in a free market, it would be workers who said "this is what we're gonna do and what we're not gonna do," and employers would be adjusting to it.

January 04, 2007 8:14 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

This reminds me of a book I came across recently -- Who Moved My Cheese? For Kids.

I wonder when this book will begin popping up in schools, or if it's already begun.

January 04, 2007 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This made me think about another issue (maybe isolated to Sweden, who knows).

In Swedish there are two different words for 'you':
'man' which means people in general, anyone
'du' which means you the person

At least I think that 'you' can be used in this manner even in English.

In any case 'You aren't supposed to do that' would thus be a sentence directed not at the individual but as a general rule that applies to anyone.

This is rather convenient for parents, because they can use it to restrict their children 'you aren't allowed to do that' or with another translation 'that is not allowed'. The effect is that it isn't the parent who is the authority determining this rule, rather it is a general rule from some unknown authority who can't be confronted, and thus not questioned.

The disturbing result is that you can observe adults thinking in the same pathways. When confronted with a rule or social situation which seems to imply a restriction on their behavior they don't stop to think: "Who is the authority behind this restriction?", "What would be the consequence of not conforming to it?", "Why should I let it apply to me?"

So the general Joe is taught from childhood to accept arbitrary restrictions to their lives, never questioning whether they should accept it or not.

Is this isolated to Sweden (with my hypothesis that it can be traced to the use of 'man')?

January 04, 2007 8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After clicking on those links ( some of the most sickening trash I've ever seen on the internet) I can understand the recurring anger. I saw a copy of either this or that Who Moved My Cheese book you've mentioned at the library bookstore the other day, and morbid curiosity and the fact that it was only a dollar almost hooked me. Glad I passed it up (along with a Stossel book), because I don't think I could make it past a chapter of that.

January 05, 2007 12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #1 again.

Kevin said
"If the bargaining power of labor were increased to what I think it would actually be in a free market, it would be workers who said "this is what we're gonna do and what we're not gonna do," and employers would be adjusting to it."

This sounds like exchanging one type of slavery for another. True, it would be more democratic (if we assume that workers are more numerous than employers), but "might makes right" is what we already have in the workplace - and it's not working to our satisfaction.
My own vision of unionism in a truly free market is that it would naturally arise where the need and the possibility existed - certainly not as a default option. What i mostly object to is the notion that unions would be running the show, since this would in effect create a new political class. (Remember what happened the last time we put our trust in them? And the time before that?)

January 05, 2007 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually on the wall a little bit about this one. Those basic tenets you outlined actually track my personal beliefs pretty well - the only thing you *truly* can control is how you react to what the world throws at you (this comes from my understanding of Taoism, which some might call unique). I find it to be a very healthy way to view the world and helps me be productive in my private life.

I think the real problem here isn't the philosophy itself, it's the context it is applied in - the context which is the result of past injustices and/or property violations. It's "vulgar taoism" (again, I admit to having perhaps a unique view of the philosophy) to me.

January 05, 2007 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We capitalists love to take all your stuff, and then say "Let's all respect private property rights". Or in this case, enslave the rest of you and then say "Now we all need to just accept our circumstances and move on". And the sheeple always buy it... muahahaha!

January 05, 2007 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is for everybody here, but it is particularly relevant to reply no. 7.

More symmetrical bargaining power doesn't signify power to the workers in any organised collective way, but rather much more in the way of realistic alternatives at the individual level.

I normally illustrate this with just a link to my publications page, where I describe the institutional market imperfections that make an artificial tendency to raise unemployment. (In that sense, employers are also caught in a larger system - although one which is good for managers per se).

This time, I think I'll illustrate it by describing what happens to wage levels in developing countries; today, these are almost all at the second stage, merging with the third stage.

Stage 1 is when it all begins, with most people in subsistence lifestyles (a very few in New Guinea, for instance, still are). Very few went to work for outside employers, except for good money, and then only when they want it for luxuries. Result: low employment, high wages, but low UNemployment since there is low participation.

Stage 2 is when various forces stop subsistence activities working so well. Everybody needs some top up income for necessities, but not a lot, so they can all price themselves into work. Result: high employment, low wages, low unemployment, all with high participation. Are the employers benefactors? Only to the extent taht they too are helpless and did not create the situation with taxes, land appropriation or whatever. KC has commented on such fencing in techniques before - he may do so again.

Stage 3 is what most of us face. We depend on participating in the cash economy to survive (oddly, this wasn't so a mere lifetime ago, in many advanced countries in at least some areas). But this means that everybody has to hold out for some minimum subsistence level of cash wages (or resort to crime, victimless like "cheating" on taxes or otherwise). Result: moderate employment, high unemployment, high wages (for those in work, at least comparatively high), and high participation.

January 06, 2007 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are unions the answer? In a competitive and free marketplace for labor the workers are going to natural tend to be paid their marginal revenue product. If a union comes along and somehow manages to get workers to be paid above that amount then some of those people who would have had jobs would find themselves suddenly unemployed--in effect institutionalizing a situation of permanent underemployment. That may be helpful to "the working class" (meaning those people who get to keep their jobs at the higher pay) but it doesn't strike me as particularly helpful to the worker.


January 06, 2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Einzige said...

Why are unions the answer? In a competitive and free marketplace for labor the workers are going to natural tend to be paid their marginal revenue product. If a union comes along and somehow manages to get workers to be paid above that amount then some of those people who would have had jobs would find themselves suddenly unemployed--in effect institutionalizing a situation of permanent underemployment. That may be helpful to "the working class" (meaning those people who get to keep their jobs at the higher pay) but it doesn't strike me as particularly helpful to the worker.

January 06, 2007 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, some people still believe in marginal productivity theory! But I suppose acknowledging the fact that this has been utterly debunked would get in way of defending capitalism. Best to not mention that (for details, see section C.2 for "An Anarchist FAQ": http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/1931/secCcon.html)

btw, neoclassical economics has also shown that trade unions are essential to stop workers being exploited under actually existing capitalism. Getting rid of unions in such a less than competitive market (i.e. one marked by big business) would result in the wage being less than the price for which the marginal worker's output can be sold, i.e. workers are exploited by capital. In other words, economics has itself disproved its own case against trade unions. (see section C.1.4 of the above FAQ for summary).

Equally, empirical evidence shows that high unemployment collerates to low pay, not high pay. As would be expected, as low unemployment gives workers the upper hand and bosses cannot get away with as much as they should. A victory for common sense over "Economics 101." A summary of the "Wages Curve" can be found in section C.9.

Finally, i do find these kinds of comments ironic:

"This sounds like exchanging one type of slavery for another. True, it would be more democratic."

So making decisions with your equals about your common interests is a form of "slavery", just like being told what to do by an autocratic boss?

I can never understand the logic of any libertarian who makes that argument with a straight face. Unless you get rid of groups as such, you will need to make decisions on common activities. Either you have an association (self-management) or you have a boss (archy, hierarchy). That so many right-"libertarians" equate the two (indeed, prefer the latter) is deeply significant.

January 09, 2007 2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reminded of a song by Tears for Fears, oddly enough:

This is the working hour
We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes

Not a bad line...


January 09, 2007 2:37 AM  
Blogger Einzige said...

Hey Nathan,

Your bald assertions and smug attitude are less than persuasive.

January 09, 2007 4:40 AM  
Blogger EUGENE PLAWIUK said...

So in the Fish universe how come these guys don't get shit form management for goofing off, and possibly damaging the product.

January 11, 2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to watch this before I got my entry-level job at Target. I didn't think much of it. People have been telling me to have a positive attitude forever, but usually it was in situations I didn't plan on staying in for a long time and would be happy to move on from. That's when I'll have a positive attitude, and until then I don't plan on dicking around but just fulfilling my responsibilities.

January 11, 2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Kevin, here's a new one for you. Barbara Ehrenreich tears apart a similar book on her blog. It's called The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude. Sounds revolting.

February 07, 2007 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why aren't you having fun. Look at me I am having fun. See, work is fun. Now have fun Damn it.


Yeah that puts in perspective, Gosh this is fun.

May 21, 2007 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess in your world you are right, but actually the boss would have to fire all employees and rehire enough to cover the next day. Realistically if all the employees band together this wouldn't really work for the boss and in short order place the boss in a terrifyingly powerless position. So I guess what it comes down to is that you are only powerless if you believe what other people say or you only have a blog and some comments from some fanatics. Life comes whether you want it to or not and at some point in your life you will feel powerless. The funny part about your Blog is that it only proves how powerless you are to the "stupid Philosophy" that you don't agree with. If that is all have you have to discuss well then, it drew you in.

June 18, 2007 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it may amuse you that I found your blog using the words

'Fish Philosophy Crap'

It is about to happen here (at a Local Authority in the UK) I instinctively recoiled recalling Richard Sennett's excellent book 'The Fall Of Public Man', and thought it was frankly all a bit intellectually insulting.

They are also mixing it with a bit of NLP, which is just as dodgy.

As the person in charge of the department this puts me in a bit of a sticky position, ho-hum!

December 05, 2007 3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a morose lot. Now that you got a link in Wikipedia, there must be a lot of traffic through here. Apparently the criticism is that if one cannot control one's circumstances, one MUST be chronically unhappy about it. To do otherwise would be weak and submissive. Note that the criticism is not actually disputing that this state of "powerlessness" really exists, just claiming that no one should be "weak-minded" enough be happy under these circumstances. Realistically, unless one lives in their own exclusive biosphere, there are going to be infinite factors beyond one's direct control. Not just for the "masses of exploited workers" either. That's the fact Jack. Now choose your attitude...

July 11, 2008 9:22 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


I don't actually disagree that there are things we really can't change, and that it's better to change what you can--and accept what you can't.


1) Employers who adopt Fish! aren't doing so out of sympathy for your powerlessness, or to any other interest they share in common with you as a human being; and

2) Employers have a financial interest in encouraging a sense of powerlessness among their employees, and inculating a "postitive attitude" about it. The fact that employers' economic interest involves getting as much work out of you for as little money as possible, and that Fish! is marketed almost entirely to employers (just look at how many times the phrase "your organization" appears in their promotional literature), should tell you something.

We are not, in fact, nearly as powerless as the bosses would have us believe. Just how much power we really have over the bosses, I discussed here.

July 11, 2008 10:59 AM  
Blogger The Narcissist said...

O God! Give me the strength to change the things I can and the wisdom to understand the things I can't.

I have one question of all those who feel that dissing fish is en vogue. Why would coping up with adversity in high spirits be termed as powerlessness?

Now, before one gets me wrong, I have heard about this philosophy just a few hours ago and I'm still trying to understand it. But from whatever little I could understand, I can see a major loophole in your critique of it. The philosophy is something very generic. Nowhere does it mention specific issues like one of exploitation at the workplace. And nowhere does it mention any clear lines between what you can control and what you can't. What you've done here is presented it in a very rigid and straitjacketed way to suit your purpose.

I would love to discuss and debate this point of mine with anyone and everyone as long as the discussion is confined to the issue at hand and doesn't move into personal realms.

August 28, 2008 9:48 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Perhaps I am wrong, Narcissist. Perhaps Fish! Philosophy is the work of altruists who, perceiving the Noble Truth that desire causes pain, donned their saffron robes and began a selfless project of spreading enlightenment in the world.

And yet, I have my doubts. Fish! Philsophy is a very lucrative enterprise. And unlike most of the Swamis purveying enlightment and Instant Karma over the past forty years, they do not market their services to individuals who seek to follow the path of renunciation and nonattachment.

They market their services to corporate HR departments (see how many times the words "your organization" appear in Fish! promotional literature), which pay big bucks for Fish! consultants to do their thing within this or that corporation.

The average worker comes into contact with Fish! Philosophy, not because it's the latest fashionable New Age philosophy to gain a mass following, but because he's exposed to it by his employer: the very party that has the most to gain from promoting docility and a sense of powerlessness. And it tends to be adopted by corporations in the very same circumstances as Who Moved My Cheese?, a decade or so earlier: that is, those in the middle of downsizings and speedups, who want their "human resources" to have a good idea about being screwed.

At my employer, Fish! was implemented by THE VERY SAME person--an MBA from an outside consultancy temporarily put in charge of HR--who was carrying out a massive downsizing.

And hospital newsletter at the time was full of official happy talk about how "we can choose to provide extraordinary patient care, despite our abundance or lack of resources." This, from the people directly responsible for our lack of resources. It's a New Agey version of Pharaoh's decree: "Let them no longer be provided with straw, but let them gather their own straw; but let not the tale of bricks be diminished."

I suspect that if we reversed the terms of that assertion (You can provide extraordinary wages and benefits, despite your abundance or lack of finances), they'd take a considerably less Gnostic view of the world of material reality.

I have no desire to cast personal aspersions on you, but the people who implemented Fish! Philosophy at my employer are human filth who are looking to squeeze as much work as possible out of fewer people for less pay; and the product was designed to be marketed to such human filth.

August 28, 2008 7:38 PM  
Blogger The Narcissist said...

Hi Kevin

I understand where you're coming from. But is it fair to denounce a concept just because its proponents have an ulterior motive in mind? If we keep aside the commercial factor, would you still find any fault with Fish!?

Take Kaizen for example. The proponents of Kaizen had purely selfish commercial interests as the core of the movement...but the success that Kaizen garnered in the domain of Quality Control is public knowledge. And along with the enterprise that benefitted from it, so did the employees themselves by becoming better people.

Similarly, employers who implement Fish or Charthouse and its associates might have a purely commercial motive behind what they're doing, just think about how much the individual will stand to benefit in other areas like coping with their own problems etc.

Just my $0.02

August 29, 2008 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you're all so bitter. So, yes, I am a manager type. I really think whether it be Fish, Who Moved My Cheese, The One Minute Manager or any other similar book that the idea is to awaken an individual's potential.

I believe that this is a great gift and was largely what made America great from the mid-19th to mid-20th century.

What happened after this was a lot of senseless greed both from workers and business leaders to always want more for less. Bethlehem Steel was once the largest corporation in the world. In a few decades of waste and stupidity from both management and the union, the business was decimated in a competitive market place. Prior to WW1, its earning were greater than most nations GDP!

Workers and companies in North America have now priced themselves out of many job opportunities as a result of a lot of the drivel you espouse above.

Getting people to focus on self betterment is the key to building individual creativity, prosperity, personal awareness and, thereby, some fulfillment.

Isn't this better than wallowing in self pity and being a bitter pessimist?

This is not to say that there are not a lot of problems in the world but they will never be solved by inaction and complaining.

I choose my attitude and choose to focus on finding ways to improve things, planning out how to do these and then following through.

Just my 2 cents. I know that you must approve this comment to post, so I'm interested if this site is open to free speech.

September 05, 2008 5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look. It's an American mindset. And bad way to react to things. Just because you feel that it's designed to target the powerful, it's doesn't mean that it's all wrong.It's embeded with your culture to take control. Don't be surprised if your race comes up with these so-called circus-like ways to make things better. Americans like to be in control.

October 11, 2008 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You believe in Revolution. Mutualism? The entire world is leaving the idea. Welcome to year 2008.

October 11, 2008 2:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I find it rather amusing that all of the heat in your comments, Kevin, is placed at the feet of management (or should we say "The Man"). Where is the personal accountability for the individual employee? The majority of whom spend a good portion of their day on the internet and bitching about why they don't have more time off or why their boss doesn't pay them more for their mediocrity?

In the current economic situation we tend to blame the crooks on Wall Street and in the mortgage business and yet, in each case their is someone trying to buy more house than they can really afford or trying to get rich quick in the market.

We can't have our cake and eat it too!

Poor little workers, BS! We've been lulled to sleep, not out of some "management conspiracy", but by our own fat-and-happy, I-have-a-right-to-my-lifestyle, what-about-me, approach to life.
The FISH! Philosophy is an invitation to just that - accountability for your own life and your own choices.

That includes the choice of where you work. There is nowhere on Earth where we are more able to educate ourselves, learn skills and move freely about the country to do whatever we want. Quit acting like you’re a slave of some sort. You own your life, your choices, and your income - you also own the consequences.

Grow up and start taking accountability for your choices. Quit blaming everyone else for “your” poor attitude about the choices “you’ve” made.

October 13, 2008 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a caution that the scum that made out like bandits during this decline came back here, AS THE DECLINE WAS ACCELERATING, to remind us untermachen to keep our heads down and not notice them taking the accounts to their overseas banks.

Poo on that.

You are cheap labor crooks, and the only consolation I have in this economy's downfall is that flunkies to management like you will go down with us.

Oh, and as for that idiot who said revolution's no longer in fashion? Go to Iceland, bub, and say that to their faces.

February 16, 2009 12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Just my 2 cents. I know that you must approve this comment to post, so I'm interested if this site is open to free speech."

That's not just a WAAAH, that's a preemptive WAAAH that wouldn't even be seen if the host were as much of a jerk as you are.

"Grow up and start taking accountability for your choices. Quit blaming everyone else for “your” poor attitude about the choices “you’ve” made."

Show of hands, folks: How many want to hear the tapes of this one's rants to his broker and mutual fund? Those are your decisions too, son, and I hope you're just as happy as you want us to be, to see those funds turn into dust because you didn't stay with government securities....

February 16, 2009 12:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Victor Frankle the great Psychologist seemed powerless in many ways in a WW2 Nazi concentration camp. It was he who wrote words to this effect that no matter what horrors the Nazi visited on the prisoners one thing they could not take away from them was their ability to choose their attitude to what was happening to them, he called it one of the last freedoms, the ability to choose one attitude. I read Man's Search For Meaning as a young woman in the 70s. This was one of those life changing reads for me. Victor Frankle's ability to choose his attitude and the rich inner life he led was what made him a survivor. Anything that can inspire the powerless to greatness or to live their best life is OK by me.

February 24, 2009 11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cant agree more with Victor's sentiment - and with others who have said similar ... the ability to choose ones own attitude is the last great freedom ... you seem to be implying though that being required to change mine is a gift of liberty ?? ... the gift of being required to not reflect the conditions of my, environment, with this band-aid book ?? please excuse my comment if your closing line isn't referring to the book in question

March 22, 2009 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, how do you people get up in the morning? The ideas in these books mainly focus on positive attitudes which it is obvious you folks have not had in a long time. Good luck to you in your misery for as long as you hold on to it you will be doomed to live miserably.

July 19, 2009 12:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I get up on the right side of my bed everyday, alert and in a good frame of mind.

July 20, 2009 12:49 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, anonymous, it depends on what kind of "positive attitude" you mean. If it's a "positive attitude" that results from swallowing the official happy talk and propaganda created by those in power, aimed at making me easier to manipulate for their own purposes, and willing to make more money for them without minding that unpleasant pounding sensation in my ass, then I admit I don't have much use for that kind of "positive attitude." I don't want to be a happy sheep who accepts everything the shephered says at face value, and dismisses all those ugly rumors about the slaughterhouse as the grousings of a bunch of obvious malcontents. I have no doubt that you manifest this kind of "positive attitude" quite consistently.

If it's the kind of positive attitude that comes from the sense that I've applied critical intelligence to the world I live in, and have a useful operational understanding of that world--and even a positive appreciation for the good things in it--then I think I have that kind of positive attitude most of the time. If you examine the archives of this blog, you'll find that much of the material concerns decentralized and alternative economics, barter systems, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, small-scale affordable production technology, creative tactics for direct action by workers outside the traditional labor movement, and all kinds of other examples of empowerment and independence by ordinary people. I find these things quite inspiring--and they don't require the sheeplike and critical absorption of the ideas inculcated by those in power in order to manipulate me into the kind of "positive attitude" that makes me easier to fleece.

I suspect this kind of positive attitude, the kind that comes from the use of critical intelligence (as opposed to "Golly! My boss says we're all just one big happy team! Ain't that sweet!"), is one you haven't had in a long time.

May your chains (including the worst ones--the chains of mental slavery) rest easily on you.

July 20, 2009 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin I see your favourite book is Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale who writes that, "Human civilisation, particularly that of the West and more particularly still that of the United States, is at a momentous turning point. It is not in simply one or two dimensions that our world is changing, but in all of them, and synergistically. It seems clear that future historians will mark a new age beginning somewhere within our lifetimes. The Question then is: 'What kind of new age will it be?' There are, in truth, only two answers to that. [it could be an age of bigness, the "Technofix era"] continuing certain obvious trends of the present towards large-scale institutions, multinational corporations, centralised governments, high-technology machinery, large cities, high-rise buildings, luxury cars, and all that is implied in the American (and European) ideology of unimpeded growth. The other possibility for the new age to which we are moving lies in exactly the opposite direction: toward the decentralisation of institutions and the devolution of power, with the slow dismantling of all the large-scale systems that in one way or another have created or perpetuated the current crisis, and their replacement by smaller, more controllable, more efficient, people-sized units, rooted in local circumstances and guided by local systems. In short, the human-scale alternative."

From your comments I would say that you believe in the decentralised system so I understand the reasons for your argument against the Fish Philosophy.

There is the other view in the book which is the large corporates who would enjoy the Fish Philosophy as it would assist their cause from what you have written.

In reality I feel it is up to each individual to choose if they can use the Philosophy to their advantage or not. I have found that it assist me to form my own culture of responsibility for my life in general.

It may not work for you that fine. A wise man once told me chew the cud and spit out the sticks, it is a pity you choose to spit out everything including the good that is contained in the Fish Philosophy. Have a good day and remember to choose a good attitude.

October 27, 2009 6:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the comments, Anon. Actually, I agree that many elements of Fish!, taken out of all context of power relationships and institutional culture, are innocuous in themselves. "Choose your attitude," for example, can be viewed as just a dumbed-down version of the doctrine of non-attachment.

But when motherhood and apple pie are presented as integral parts of a self-serving ideology that's clearly promoted by institutional interests to suit their own needs at the expense of those in whom the ideology is inculcated, the issue is not whether we agree with motherhood and apple pie. The issue is the man behind the curtain. It's no coincidence that Fish! is marketed entirely to corporate HR departments, or how prominently the words "your organization" are featured at their website--and there's no getting around the fact that it's a tool for "getting your mind right," used by people whose primary interest involves benefiting themselves at your expense.

Re Kirk Sale, IMO he gave the centralized technofix alternative far too much credibility. He underestimated the revolutionary effect of decentralizing technologies that were just getting started in his day, and their destructive effect on capital-intensive, hierarchical forms of production. The irony is that he's such a technophobe, because it's network culture and small-scale CNC tools that are creating the very decentralized society he wanted. Every time I see network culture demonstrating the impotence of the DMCA, or another corporate PR office and its lawyers falling victim to the Streisand Effect, I shout "hallelujah!"

October 27, 2009 12:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The fish philosophy, on its own, clearly does not address the power inequalities seen in a modern work place. Applied as superficial decoration to an employer with exploitative tendencies and a disrespectful or patronising attitude to it's workforce the fish philosophy is indeed "vile"; a one way system designed to sugar an unpalatable pill and create a further channel of punitive action available to management to wield against employees who just aren’t buying into the whole programme.

However, it is up to those of us in management positions to create appropriate processes, enshrined in an organisations fabric and culture, which ensure that all employees are able to contribute effectively to the direction and work practices within a company. If people are treated appropriately, and if they are involved in difficult decisions taken by corporations then it is possible to represent some of the tenants of Fish philosophy into a workplace without slapping people in the face and asking them to say sorry afterwards.

Those of us who can should work, from management positions, to push our respective organisations to a position where employee interests, views and contributions are of paramount importance. We are, most of us, employees ourselves after all, if a self interest argument is required. These changes and arguments can be made to those who control organisations because they can see tangible (cash!) benefits of a motivated workforce. Once enshrined, these policies and cultures become hard to reverse.

It is easy to suggest that all management concepts are tools to repress the proletariat, but it is not the names, nor the psychobabble publications that matter, but the creation of better, fairer, equitable working environments that can make these situations better. Individuals who can must strive for this. If Fish is implimented appropriately with other frameworks it does not force people to smile as they are raped (nothing better than a quick one-liner to make a point simplistic) it creates an environment of support for ALL employees. Any company persecuting someone who doesn’t skip into work grinning like valium dependants is wildly irresponsible and should be torn down from the inside by responsable individuals.

December 15, 2009 6:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I wish there were more like you, Jim.

December 15, 2009 10:28 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 22, 2009 4:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I've deleted a series of posts by a commenter who wishes, for obvious reasons, not to be identified by his employer.


I've found your blog very informative and interesting. Over the last four months I have found myself in a position that my corperation is forcing FISH! philosophy down my throat.

I am a manager of a restaurant and am in 'charge' of implimenting this philosophy to my crew with the threat of termination both for myself and my crew. The more I read about this the more it reminds me of Nietzche's philosophy about the geneology of good and evil. I can see this philosophy having some positive things when taken out of a work-place context, however at my work-place the philosophy is degrading moral and causing a drop in business. Attempting to force a woman who just had a mis-carrage to 'choose a positive attitude' is beyond terrible and inexcusible(another manager at my restaurant had this experience).

Being in a position where I am taking orders from a corperation which isn't doing well, the message being sent is that as a manager I should 'play' and waste as much time as possible trying to force my employees to accept this positive attitude about getting raped. Ironcally this does squeeze more productivity out of my crew in that they are responsible for whatever assistance I normally give as a manager.


Your comments are very similar to my personal beliefs about how management should act. By listening, caring and acting in my employee's benefit my restaurant has done much better than the rest of my corperation. I realize that a restaurant is a insignificant example to what most compare Fish! to, but managing employees isn't terribly hard if one remembers that they are people as well. Thank you for your opinion.

I would like to know if there is anyone who has experienced this Fish! philosophy and successfully convinced their corperation to drop Fish! philosophy. If anyone knows of an argument that seems to presuade a corperation to drop this, that information would be extremely valuable to me.

December 16, 2009 8:25 PM

KEVIN CARSON: [Newly Anon]: That's horrible. The coercion and bullying ("Be happy or else, goddammit!") violate what the Fish! consultants themselves say the philosophy is supposed to be about. What did the pointy-haired idiots do, just send you the book or video and say "Force everybody to do this if they want to keep their jobs"?

Is this just their attempt to do it on the cheap, without even having business ties to the Fish! organization?

Is there any way of sending a detailed description of the problem to the Fish! people and getting their disclaimer, without the folks at corporate being able to figure out which specific individual is responsible? If so, you might send a copy of both sides of the correspondence to headquarters, and cause them a bit of embarrassment.

December 16, 2009 8:32 PM

December 22, 2009 4:33 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

NEWLY ANON: My situation is slightly ackward in a few senses. My corperation sent my restaurant a few copies of the book (btw, if a PhD actually wrote that, the title should be stripped in my opinion) and a movie. I got to run a meeting describing basically if one comes to work with a poor attitude, they are on the way to being fired. Also, if one doesn't buy into the philosophy they are on the way to being fired. From what I am gathering my corperation is tainting the message a bit, or perhaps they aren't clever enough to hide the coersion. However, most of their ideas are turning my restaurant into a carnival with shitty service.

First, I believe that having a positive demeanor is a good thing when it is natural and I believe it is a good thing as a manager to assist people in having a natural good attitude by treating them like people. However, the ideas my corperation are forcing upon us are very embarassing, both personally and professionally. I seem to believe that the Fish! philosophy tries to promote genuinly listening to people and basically live the golden rule rather than make asses out of people for amusement. I will give one example that should illistrate my point. In the near future, my servers will be required to wear a special shirt with a velcrow target sewn to it, and my customers will be given a ball to throw at them and depending where it hits them they will win some sort of a prize. As I said, embarassing. This was the straw that broke my back in that I won't allow this to happen, so I have a limited window to argue my point before I get fired (which I'm hoping won't happen).

About the attempt to get off without spending money, I wish that were true. Since the beginning of this year every salaried employee in my corperation has taken a manditory pay freeze and pay cut. Depressingly this is being used to pay for the Fish! consultants. This is more of a personal gripe and is neither here nor there within the argument.

Over the last month I have been speaking with a few other managers in my corperation and trying to gather some support to abolish this. I will write what is occuring and distribute it, hopefully protecting my identity, to my corperation and the Fish! consultants. I like the idea of having the Fish! people get on my side. The dangerous thing is that a large majority of the management in my corperation is licking this up because it comes with promises of bonuses and extra perks because they received the same threat I did when the philosophy was started.

Thanks for the idea, I will keep the blog posted on anything interesting that happens and whether I have any luck in persuading the corperation or if I'll need luck finding a new job.

December 16, 2009 9:32 PM

December 22, 2009 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your “thought experiment” which I am sure did not require much thought, you describe lazy people looking for entitlements (less work for more pay). Sir that is not what made this country, Canada and the UK as great as it is today.

In you "experiment" the boss would rid his or herself of the welfare recipients currently employed and find people willing to put in an honest days work for an honest days pay. The FISH! Philosophy would support the boss to Play and create a state of mind that brings new energy to the tasks at hand and spark creative solutions. The solution being, find worthwhile people to help run the business.

There is no Satan or evil vile corporation. We all have free will. Unless you are in a Union.

February 17, 2010 7:47 PM  

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