Our economy doesn’t make stuff anymore. So what does it make?
By Umair Haque
My good friend Mara has not one but two graduate degrees. From fine, storied universities. Surprise, surprise: the only “job” she was able to find was at a retail store.
Hey—it’s only minimum wage, but at least she’s working, right? And at a major-league, blue-chip company, An American icon; an institution; a name every man, woman, and child in this country knows; an historic company that rings of the American Dream the world over, besides. Surely, if nothing else, it’s a start.
Perhaps you’re right. Maybe it isn’t the start she always dreamed of…but at least it is one. If so…then awaits her at the finish?
What is Mara’s job like? Her sales figures are monitored…by the microsecond. By hidden cameras and mics. They listen to her every word; they capture her every movement; that track and stalk her as if she were an animal; or a prisoner; or both. She’s jacked into a headset that literally barks algorithmic, programmed “orders” at her, parroting her own “performance” back to her, telling her how she compares with quotas calculated…down to the second…for all the hundreds of items in the store…which recites “influence and manipulation techniques” to her…to use on unsuspecting customers…that sound suspiciously like psychological warfare. It’s as if the NSA was following you around……and it was stuck in your head…telling you what an inadequate failure you were…psychologically waterboarding you…all day long…every day for the rest of your life.
Mara’s boss sits in the back. Monitoring all twelve, or fifteen, or twenty people that work in the store. On a set of screens. Half camera displays, half spreadsheets; numbers blinking in real-time. Glued to it like a zombie. Chewing slowly with her mouth open. Jacked into a headset. A drone-pilot… piloting a fleet of human drones…pressure-selling disposable mass-made shit…as if it were luxury yachts…through robo-programmed info-warfare…like zombies…to other zombies…who look stunned…like they just got laser blasted, cluster-bombed, shock-and-awed…
It’s bananas. The whole scene is like a maximum-security mental asylum designed by sadomasochists in a sci-fi movie. If Jeffrey Dahmer, Rasputin, and Michael Bay designed a “store” together, they couldn’t do any better. Her “job” will begin to drive her crazy—paranoid, depressed, deluded—in a matter of years if she continues doing it. No human psyche can bear that kind of relentless, systematic abuse.
Now. Note what all the technology and bureaucracy that wonderful, noble company has invested hundreds of millions in doesn’t ask her to do. Learn. Think. Reflect. Teach. Inspire. Lead. Connect. Imagine. Create. Grow. Dream. Actually…serve customers. Heaven forbid. It just beats her over the head, over and over again, three times a minute, every twenty seconds, with how much she hasn’t sold; hasn’t made; hasn’t produced. For her shitty .0003% commission. According to the quota that’s been set for her. By her boss. For his boss. For their boss. And so on all the way up the food chain.
See my point? Mara’s job isn’t to benefit customers. It isn’t to educate, understand, listen to, or even to chat with them. It isn’t to stop them from buying what they don’t want; to help them find what they might need; to match them with the right stuff. Nope. It’s merely to push more and more and more and more shit at them…faster, meaner, and dumber than any sane person would think is humanly possible…using advanced military technology and techniques… programmed to abuse her…so she can wage advanced psychological warfare…on her customers. And they were just suckers, gaping maws, fools, marks. And be yelled at…by a robot…if she doesn’t.
Really? This is the best our economy can do? To take the stuff of 21st century warfare and use them them to…rack up the profit? To turn a bright young woman with two grad degrees…into a Superprofitable Human Weapon of Mass Consumption…a half-crazed algorithmically-programmed asshole…a human drone…so even bigger, actually crazy assholes…can get super-rich…by slinging entire supertankers full of junk…at people getting poorer at four thousand percent interest a year…by using drones and bots to wage psy-warfare against them…so they’re conned into buying too much?
The economy doesn’t make stuff anymore. That much you know. So what does it make?
It makes assholes.
The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry.
And that’s not just a tragedy. It is something approaching the moral equivalent of a crime. For it demolishes human potential in precisely the same way as locking someone innocent up, and throwing away the key.
Consider Mara again. Who in Christ’s name would design such an inhuman system? Whose sick joke of an idea is a “store” like that? What do you even call it? Because it’s surely not a “store”.
Only a monstrous asshole of the highest order could assemble such a demonically vampiric bullshit machine to prey on…everyone. Customers, managers, workers alike. Such a carefully sophisticated engine of human misery; of finessed cruelty; all to rake in a few extra pennies an hour, at the expense of dignity, intelligence, creativity, commitment, fairness, craft, service, sovereignty…sanity.
The store is an Asshole Factory.
Allow me to explain.
What happens to Mara when she’s “doing her job”? Think about it for a second. She turns into precisely the kind of asshole that the heartless dweebs who thought up this infernal torture-machine no doubt already are. Not because she wants to. But because she has to.
That’s exactly what the store was designed to do. Turn everyone into the same kind of asshole as the assholes that made it, run it, and benefit from it…want everyone to be.
The store is an Asshole Factory.
Our world is now full of Asshole Factories. That’s what the stores, offices, industrial parks, skyscrapers, malls, low-rise blocks, gleaming headquarters, whimsically designed corporate campuses, really are.
It’s the grand endeavor of today. We don’t make stuff anymore. We make assholes. The Great Enterprise of this age is the Asshole Industry.
Consider, for a moment, my tiny hypothesis.
Have you noticed, lately, that people seem to be more, well, assholish…than before? That everywhere you go, people seem to be meaner, nastier, dumber, angrier, more brutish?
It is the last and greatest industry left in an economy that has been impoverished, emptied, hollowed out, drained.
The Great Enterprise of the Age of Stagnation is the wholesale manufacture not of great, world-shaking, ground-breaking ideas, inventions, concerns…but of bigger and bigger assholes.
The chain-store; the mall; the hypermarket. The corporation; the firm; the partnership. B-school; law school; med school. The boardroom; the backroom; the trading floor.
These are, by and large, Asshole Factories. They don’t make people. Capable of great things. Who create and build and touch and soar. They make assholes.
They are designed to disinfect us of our fragility. To cleanse us of our flaws. To disinfect us of weakness. Love, grace, mercy, longing, forgiveness, passion, truth, nobility, dreams. Their objective is to stamp all that out; to eradicate it; to erase it. To replace it with calculation, ruthlessness, self-concern; gluttony; cruelty; anxiety, despair. By using the most sophisticated technology ever made to subjugate, oppress, and goad us into being little torturers ourselves.
And in so doing, they emotionally sterilize us. They psychically traumatize us. They intellectually castrate us. They socially neuter us. They cheat us of greatness. That is how they turn us into assholes.
They are designed to deprive us into depriving everyone else of the lives we could and have, at our highest and truest and noblest.
The assholes haven’t just taken our incomes, our savings, our careers, our educations. They’ve taken something far more precious; something priceless. It is our lives—the full, true lives we should be living—that have been taken from us. And in the gaping void where the lives we should be living are, the assholes have deftly inserted carbon copies of…themselves.
When you think about it that way…is it any wonder that society seems to be stuck? That the economy seems headed into oblivion? That life for so pretty much anyone under the age of 35 and/or worth less than $20 million or so appears to be going…nowhere?
Remember my friend Mara? She’s probably being piloted like a drone…yelled at by a bot…three times a minute…into waging advanced techniques of psycho-war…designed to traumatize prisoners…over and over and over again…right this very second…
Until she’s cleansed. Perfect. Flawless. Pure. Another gleaming, brand-new asshole, rolling proudly off the assembly line of the Asshole Factory.
We’re obedient constructivists. Pragmatists. Rationalists. So you probably want to know: what can we do about it?
It’s pretty simple.
Don’t be an asshole. Remember the Asshole Factories? Here’s a secret: they’re churning out assholes by the millions. And so should you bravely decide to be an asshole, what you’ll really be is just another interchangeable, forgettable, rapidly depreciating commodity.
So who should you be?
Be yourself. The person you were meant to be. Whether you believe in heaven or the inferno, freedom or fate, the simple fact is: each and every one of us was put here to be something greater than Just Another Asshole stealing pennies from his neighbors to pay off Even Bigger Assholes.
So let me say it again. Don’t be an asshole. Be yourself. The miracle of being that you were meant to be. A person that, consumed with passion, seared with happiness, aglow with meaning, brings forth all that is great, noble, and true in the world, and so, with love, mercy, and wisdom, lifts every life that you meet into the light.
Thank you and goodbye.