Office Politics, by Fanny Howe

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From London-rose, which was published last month by Semiotext(e).

I’m embarrassed by the bitterness I am feeling. It’s as if I had been sipping poison for the past ten years and it was now beginning to work. It has something to do with my American self as a power-mad machine and even more to do with the disappointments of a life now reaching self-judgment. Something to do with family life—my own childhood. And much to do with my work unnoticed (i.e. useless) and the simultaneous success of others close to me (as close as it is possible to be!) in my generation. I am a failure.

All my life I have been obsessed, overly distressed, by injustice, by the way whole populations are turned away at the gates to the palace because of a human preference for force over friendship. At the same time, I refuse to sneer at the people (my parents) who promoted the socialist ideals that came to be flawed. Most failures are a result of fatigue. Perseverance is one of the greatest virtues.

The office worker relates to her output as a stranger does to her knuckles on a person’s door. The gesture is tentative, even slavish. A sheet of paper, a file, some mail. She is alienated not just from her boss and co-workers, but from herself, because her work goes somewhere invisible. She might as well be an orange in a supermarket. Who judges and cares for her? The person who sucks her juices.

There is a pretense in my office that we are doing good work. In reality a digestive disease has taken over this entire system. It runs without purpose, guzzling money at one end and dispensing small amounts at the other. When I suggest a way to cut the diseased section out of the system, no one is there to hear me. All parties recede, notes are unanswered.

So far, and probably for decades to come, the way the office workers will rebel is outside the workplace. They will become hedonists and anti-intellectuals, religious fanatics or reactionary voters. Out of fear, they will leap onto the wrong figure of power. They will become obese with stagnation. The DNA of fascism so deftly used by the previous generation will show up on the stained spoons that feed their children. And more dictators will be born. From the lick of a spoon.

I try to explain to a group of interns, who seem malcontent, that there are people involved in this network of indifference who benefit from taking it seriously, even though it is absurd. They all agree to see themselves and one another as vital participants—citizens—in an orderly progress. They have determined that only the system can attribute value to their time, and they accept the value without question, because the more they do so the more they benefit. They have the good humor of winners who can mock their situation.

I tell the interns that often the winners groan over the burdens of working for the system, just enough to ward off shame. This way, they can achieve the benefits of being good citizens without experiencing guilt toward agitated losers. A reactionary democracy absorbs with tolerant smiles the frenzied outrage of those who question its authority.

Losers, by the way, are not rare victims, but represent the majority, like younger siblings who can’t have something simply because they are lesser. I reassure them by saying there are always more losers than elders.

Never, ever aspire to enter the “middle class,” only work to expand it to the breaking point.


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