Outrage au Drapeau Fear the Goat Boy


Outrage au Drapeau

Fear the Goat Boy

Traders in Human Flesh

How to make cattle of men

London, England
17th March, 2003

The air a cool, still and quiet here, today, on the eve of the war. The sun is hot, suprisingly hot in the pale bale watercolour sky over Regent's Park. Office workers sit and contemplate the boating lake over a baguette of tomato and brie. Children feed the ducks. The spring sunlight glows on the water. It is still.

For the past month and more we have argued, friend against friend. Peacenik and war-monger, and those of us in between. But now, for the moment at least, everyone is calm. The mood of England is resignation. Even the tabloids, rabid in their pros and cons, seem muted today. The nation takes a final stiff breath before a long, difficult labour, an unpleasant necessity. We await the inevitable.

Speaking About the Wider You

'You are all', he said, nearly bouncing with enthusiasm on the podium, 'uniquely placed to empower!'. And I had thought that could only happen on the lavatory. My heart swelled. I felt like cheering. I felt like shouting. I felt like asking, 'What on earth are you talking about?'

It was the company kick-off day, the day when 600 intelligent working adults had to sit crowded together in an auditorium for six hours and listen to enthusiastic nonsense about how our little bit of software was going to crush all opposition and go on and on until all bowed down before the weight of our wrath. But it wasn't sufficient for us to snooze through the ritual of senior managers pretending to explain they were so much better paid than the rest of us, before we picked up our complimentary company calendars and shuffled out. Now, in our spirit of facilitation, had to personally contribute some mush of our own.

We had to Meet and Create.

We had to Consult and Discuss.

We had to Define the Shape to Go Forward On.

It was no longer possible to make software and sell it for cash. Now we had to embrace our role in our market ecosystem, partnering with our sales channel to realise the opportunities and challenges ahead.

I used to try to partner with several channels and opportunities when I went to student discos. So at least the traditonal attitude of sellers to customers hasn't changed all that much.

We were asked to consider the Company DNA. How could we Position our Uniqueness? First, we were to consider what makes us special in the software community, then ask what it is we contribute to the industry, to the community and finally, to all humanity.

The weight of all humanity was more than I could bear, so I decided to re-position my own uniqueness elsewhere. A bar would do. Perhaps I might find some challenges there. To embrace. I picked up my complimentary calendar and shuffled out.

Providing Visibility Going Forward

The words swam around me, losing all meaning as they were arm-locked into smart-sounding phrases to awe the impressionable. No longer did we sell things: we had an aggressive sales strategy. 'Aggressive' means using or threatening violence. Did they really intend that, or did they just slap on an impressive word sound? Did they want to tell us something, or did they simply want to pump us full of hot air, then let us jet around like balloons, flying from place to place without reason?

What was the meaning of all these ordinary words, now turned inside-out, and Capitalised with Self-Importance?

We hold you in contempt. That was the message. We will tack together any half-fashionable cliché and industry buzzword that we think you might swallow, because you really don't matter. You're living computer appendages that's all. Peripheral flesh.

What had become of straight talk? What was wrong with stating, in simple language, what has happened, and what they were planning to do next?

This sort of mushed-up thinking, of rubbished meaning and dreary cliché has become the stuff of modern management. You cannot speak clearly to employees, or honestly to the world: they might start forming opinions of their own. As long as you fuddle their senses with the endless narcotic of glorious jargon, you can lead them wherever you want to go.

Modern management buries itself in crap, and wonders why it can't communicate with human beings. So they hire the interview expert, a jumped-up payroll clerk who practises psychology on job applicants. If it weren't hard enough to turn up for a grilling about the job you want to do, now you have to field questions such as, 'What animal would you like to be?'

You know he expects the response 'tiger', so that you can represent your aggrssive sales strategy. You dearly wish you could answer seagull shitting on his impudent head, but there is only one true answer. Cattle. You have become cattle. A lump of walking meat of approximate value , where a man once stood. A category of skillsets and a pension plan calculation. A thing for trade.

We Want to Listen as Fully as Possible

Language. Last night I went along to a jazz session. I should have begun to suspect foul play from two clues. One, the venue was called the Poetry Place. Two, there was no jazz. There was a little light folk music, pleasant sound, so we ventured down the wooden stairs. We thought, let's have a look, we can sneak off again if it's not our scene.

Then we realised we had come unawares into a poetry reading. Let's run! Too late... I stepped on a creaky stair. Everyone turned with a single malevolent stare.

We had woken the poetocracy in its lair. Now there was no choice but to sit quietly and try to survive two hours of personal bad verse.

Their idea of good writing was to string words along in a row hoping for some clever connection between them. We were to know that this was Poetry and not just Random Words by the way they recited: Every. Word. Was. Given. Equal. Emphasis. So that we knew how Important it all was. With occasional pauses. That cropped up. Seemingly for. No. Good. Reason.

Self-Important Capitals swam in mush once more.

And when the poet felt his line was particularly clever he'd add a little lilt to his voice. "and that's when I stared into the eye of the stag!"The poetocracy burst into enormous guffaws at the jollity of this uproarious wit. The rest of us stared.

We didn't dare raise our voice against the poetocracy. They owned the language in that place. Our external opinions rating them good, bad or dull simply did not exist. They own the language. All decisions are theirs.

Winning the Peace

The spring sunlight glows on the water, here, today, on the eve of the war.

I sometimes wish I could be part of the anti-war movement, to be morally inassailable, but that was not possible. It might have been comforting. And it was almost frightening in the days after the great anti-war marches, not to be part of it, when everyone I knew asked, 'Was I at the march?' The march for peace had almost become a lynch mob. But I didn't agree, that was all. I had decided the anti-war answer was too simple. No action? Under any circumstances?

I can't accept simple answers. There's no such easy way out. I must make a cold-blooded decision on all the facts available to me. But there's the problem. In such a delicate, complex international situation, I can never have all the necessary facts to reach an independent assessment. The western governments put forward compelling arguments that can't be dismissed. Yet they want to take a terrible risk. We elected these men and women as the best able to lead us, and in the end, the decision will be taken by them. I hope our trust is not misplaced.

The threat of nuclear war lay like a drowsing beast just out of sight throughout my teenage years. After a brief respite, the threat of nuclear terrorism will now dog us until I am old.

Something within reacts with horror at such calculations, at such an easy trade in human lives. Other peoples' lives. Truman dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima as he calculated he would kill thousands to save millions. But he was neither the one vaporised nor the one saved.

You must form your own opinions, and have your thoughts for your own, or else be a slave. It is no better to follow a mob without question than a government. Cut away the bullshit and nonsense and managerial double talk to find the language beneath and then decide.

Or else define the shape to go forward on. Find the category to be crushed into. And it is slavery.



Boating Lake


Regent's Park



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