MUSINGS OF A PEACEABLE WARRIOR: THE ABUSE OF FEELINGS IN A CORPORATE SOCIETY

At 3:35 on a week-day afternoon, a portly middle-aged man in a suit walked into a car rental agency and informed the lone clerk behind the counter that he was there to pick up “his car.” The clerk informed the customer that the rental vehicle was being serviced and that it would be brought out shortly. The vehicle required an oil change, the clerk added and that for safety reasons the work needed to be done. He apologized for the delay. In the meantime, he would process the necessary paperwork so as to expedite the man’s trip within his immediate ability. To do that he would need to confirm that the customer’s driver’s license was up to date. The customer glared at the clerk then produced his wallet and dumped his license card on the counter. Then for the next few minutes he stood at the counter in sullen silence. Aside from snatching back his license card, he ignored the clerk.

At 3:40PM, the customer rounded on the clerk and snarled his displeasure over the delay. He had requested a vehicle for 3:30PM and he “needed to be on the road hours ago”. The clerk dutifully apologized and reminded the customer what he had advised him earlier about the basic maintenance required on the vehicle. The customer interrupted the clerk with the first and only logical question he would ask while on the premises: Was there another vehicle he could use. Had he been a more observant and less self-centred individual he might have noticed that the vehicle lot was almost empty: But for a handful of minivans and a pick-up truck, there were no other vehicles present.

The clerk reminded him that he had specifically requested a sedan. “Where is it then?” the customer fussed, having apparently decided that the clerk must be hiding both the sedan and the mechanic’s bay behind the counter out of some mysterious desire to be obstructive. The clerk apologized and attempted to explain that the vehicle was being serviced only to be again interrupted by the customer: “That’s not my problem!”

As it happened I witnessed the above events first-hand. I had just returned a vehicle and was waiting for a ride home when the irate customer arrived. Since my day-job requires me to do a lot of long distance driving, the firm for whom I work often obtains rental vehicles. Consequently I spend a fair amount of time in a local car rental agency and I’ve gotten familiar both with the agency’s staff and with some of their company’s policies.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that organisations and individuals only have limited resources in a given period of time. The world does not revolve around the needs of anyone. There was no vehicle immediately present but it was on its way. Therefore, the selfish bastard needed a reminder to accept the reality and adjust. Just as I stood up to remonstrate with him, a red sedan pulled up to the front of the building and the clerk’s colleague stepped out. The customer’s vehicle had arrived. The clerk who had up until that moment endured the puerile wrath of the customer asked his colleague to take the customer to the vehicle to finalize the transaction. I suspect the clerk was afraid he’d punch the customer if the dispute resumed. The customer then spent an additional ten minutes berating the unsuspecting second clerk in the parking lot. So much for being in a hurry!

It could be argued that the customer’s rental car should have been ready for pick-up by 3:30PM. However a common-sense assessment of all factors isn’t difficult to grasp provided one chooses to use said common-sense. However, as Voltaire declared “Common-sense is not so common.”

Rental agencies and their vehicles are highly regulated to protect the public from risk. This too should make sense to anyone with an IQ. Most non–utility vehicle rental agencies do not have qualified mechanics on their staff, nor do they have the facilities to handle even basic maintenance like oil-changes. For them to be able to do so, they would need to have holding tanks on site to deal with hazardous materials – costly to install and costly to maintain. Motor oil, being a carcinogen that fact should make sense to anyone of average intelligence or above.

Therefore vehicle maintenance is often outsourced to the nearest certified dealer of the brand of rental vehicle in question, since that dealer is able to procure replacement OEM parts directly from the auto-maker.

In the customer’s defense, the offending oil change could perhaps have been done earlier in the day. However, delays occur in any business. The previous renter might not have returned the vehicle in time, thus delaying the necessary work. The certified garage responsible for the work might have been experiencing delays: An absent employee or a lack of parts, for example. Occurrences like that are beyond the control of anyone working in the rental agency.

Same with traffic. Consider the time of day of the customer’s tantrum: The afternoon rush-hour. A sensible person might have concluded that the vehicle’s late return was due to being stuck in at a traffic light. Time being of the essence, offering the customer another vehicle would have been a sensible option had there been one to rent. But summers are the busiest time of year for rental agencies. Vehicle collisions and insurance repairs are more frequent because there are more drivers on the roads. People travel more in summer-time than in winter-time, too and this puts a strain on supplies of available rental vehicles.

I doubt any of this factored into the customer’s limited thinking. People who are incapable of geometric thought are always the first to throw tantrums. Chances are too, that when the customer returns his rental vehicle, he will have wilfully forgotten the incident. Men who have grown accustomed to being served seldom remember the names and faces of those they have abused.

*

In many respects, that customer’s behaviour is a microcosm of how people behave within the framework of a corporatist society. Feelings and the use of information are the only ways that corporate employees can wield power within an organisation: The former through bullying and manipulating others, the latter through increasing or decreasing the flow of banal information around the organisation. Modern sensibilities concerning feelings and perceived insults is reminiscent of the closeted world of the eighteenth century royal courts, where courtiers used sex, flattery and ad hominem attacks to gain influence. And like those courtly behaviours, our modern corporate behaviours are every bit as amoral.

Whether or not most corporate employees (which is what most of us are) are aware of this fact is open to debate. I suspect that most people are aware but have either bowed to inevitability or have willingly embraced the opportunity to pursue pointless power in the corporate environment.

In either case, subconsciously or consciously we are aware that we are behaving in a manner we know to be wrong. Consequently, it’s unsurprising that levels of anxiety and depression are sky-rocketing across the Western world. Our perceived inability to address these problems either on an individual or collective level in turn leads us to lash out at people and institutions that have nothing to do with the cause of the underlying problem, an aspect that will be discussed in more detail at a later date.

*

Over the last five decades, the importance of feelings has taken on an absurd level of significance in the Western world. Feelings unchecked by common-sense are at best childish, at worst delusional. A high profile example of this phenomenon is none other than Donald J. Trump.

In 2009 long before his presidential campaign, Trump filed a libel suit against author Timothy O’Brien over passages in O’Brien’s book TrumpNation: The Art of Being Donald. The passages in question cited three unnamed sources who estimated Trump’s net worth to be between $150 and $200 million dollars and not the $7 billion that Trump claimed.

Trump’s 2009 lawsuit against O’Brien was rejected however he was granted an appeal hearing in 2011. Though when giving his deposition, Trump admitted that his sense of financial worth depended on his day to day feelings. In Trump’s words:

“Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling. So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.”

Trump isn’t the only opportunist supporting his livelihood on fictions and feelings. Karl Rove, the evil-genius behind the Republican Party’s election victories in 2000 and 2004 is another example. In an interview with Ron Suskind, Rove claimed that Suskind belonged to the “reality based community” and added:

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will —we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The matter of feelings-over-reality isn’t solely an aspect of the political right. Being or “feeling” offended has become a pastime across all spectra of western society and in many cases the cause of the “offense” is something banal or insignificant.

For example, when in 2016, actor Chris Hemsworth dressed up as a Native American warrior for a Lone Ranger themed party he was subjected to a public backlash over his choice of costume on the grounds he was participating in cultural appropriation. Hemsworth later apologized claiming:

“I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action.”

One is left to wonder how much could have been achieved for Aboriginal communities had the public anger over a costume been directed in a useful manner towards addressing Aboriginal issues in the political realm. Instead, lambasting an actor over a costume choice served as a lazy alternative to protesting at Standing Rock or writing to one’s local elected representative to address the underlying wrongs in the society.

*

Another factor tied to our concern with feelings is the matter of responsibility. As our society becomes increasingly corporatist the concepts of both personal and social responsibility have become blurred. Since the only citizens in a corporatist society are corporations, nobody is responsible.

Jordan Peterson argues that unhappiness in young people is tied to a lack of responsibility and there is some truth to that observation. However it would be more accurate to say that the unhappiness experienced by both men and women concerns our perception of towards our purpose in life. The confusion is rooted in part to the dogmas of economic determinism. Those same youth whom Peterson identifies as needing responsibility are the same youth being smothered by student loans and held back by stagnant incomes. Youth unemployment is twenty five percent – the highest sub-section of national unemployment.

Peterson’s observation is remarkable considering that he is advising the Conservative Party of Canada on these points. Since the 1980’s the Conservatives, like other centre-right and right-wing parties around the world have been hijacked by neo-conservative ideologues. Their anti-social policies have increased corporate power and undermined social responsibility. Moreover responsibility isn’t an ideological issue, but a human matter that both Conservative and Liberal party ideologues have glossed over in both rhetoric and policy. The type of individualism promoted by both the neo-conservative and neo-liberal agendas is a selfish, irresponsible and childish individualism at odds with a happy society.

*

What is happiness?

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics stated:

He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.

Aristotle recognized that in life, individuals have to make difficult choices. Often the easiest course of action will result in the least good, but the most immediate pleasure. Therefore, key to happiness over the long-term is the willingness to endure and overcome hardships when the need arises.

Enlightenment philosophers did much to develop a meaning of the term “happiness” that included basic material comfort in a prosperous society. Hence, when the US Founding Fathers penned the Declaration of Independence and included the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” the latter term referred to both spiritual and societal well-being.

The preoccupation in our society with feelings and the profound confusion over happiness reflects a society that is deeply unhappy in both the material and spiritual senses.

However the topics of happiness and responsibility will be explored in more detail on the Intellectual Plane at a later date.

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