The Business

There are guys and girls who head up businesses and organisations, who like Jack Sparrow, are in a position to ‘make it up as they go along’, because within their domains they assume the position like Judge Dredd and are able to say ‘I am the Law’.

There are not often Fools or Jesters in their inner circles who are privileged and so are to able to criticise and by way of satire and clowning, and in this way to speak out and pit truth against a Top Banana’s poor decision or unjust behaviour.

Even in days of old when these things were the vogue sometimes even Kings would not hear their Fool speak and jest against them, and would punish them for speaking out and not falling into line.

The game is the same today.  Once upon a time the rest of us depended on our Liege Lord for bread, drink, shelter, protection, law, and order, and when the Liege Lord cast a person aside he or she was faced with hunger and homelessness.  It was a case of finding another Liege Lord or dying.

These days we know it as ‘getting the push’ or ‘being fired’.  Our brief is not to go so far as outright objection or contrariness, to toe the line and kowtow if need be: we have our babies at home and mouths to feed.

But this extent of power to hire and fire, to elevate or to cast down, and the running stream of sedative and tranquilising pussyfooting agreement and assent to their ideas from their circles, right down to concession to and condolence on even the most trivial fit of pique: these are the causes of those who had sight becoming blind, and those who had direction becoming lost.

Once upon a time Bob Dylan saw it clearly. He sang of these guys and girls with their swollen heads immersed in clouds of glory, saying:

‘Your corrupt ways have finally made you blind’

and again

‘The blind men make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

It’s all right ma

It’s life and life only’

Where there are no boundaries to behaviour there are no rules for social intercourse. Like the young boys in the school yard playing soccer, the kid with the ball is king and the rest trail after him like a swarm of bees wherever he goes and whichever way he turns. The soccer match turns out like follow my leader and tactics, positions, game plays, infringements and penalty kicks are wholly unconsidered and unused.

The guys and girls at the helm of companies and corporations have vast freedom; so much so that temptations to indulge and to rage and to dismiss and to order and to generally play at prima donna come more and more easily upon them day by day, until, in the words of historian Lord Acton:

‘Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely’

These guys and girls are like the philosophers looking up at the stars who fell into a pit. Their sights are upon the ascendant and the increase and the aggregation, and their appetites for these feed upon them, so that the appetites in them increase at a rate faster and further than they can be sated. A lame man chases a butterfly, but only intending to capture it and mount it in his album – uncovetous inclinations to appreciating its pendant beauty and natural state are not enough, they do not figure on the register. Possession is nine tenths of their law.

Mass production is a symptom of this runaway surge of covetous and desperate insatiable appetite in the guys and girls at the helm who want, and want, and want to accumulate to an nth degree.  Like an illness it has been caught by contagion by the very masses who are those who feed the wayward and runaway desires at the top for more and more production. Consumerism is like consumption; a tuberculosis, a wasting illness, gradually depleting not just material resources; it depletes our reasonable self-regards and like a main line fix its hold on us is very hard to be kicked and we be made clean.

There was a guy once who said:

‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’

And he got the reply:

‘I will: be thou clean’

The guy was a leper, like us.  There were ten in another story, and only one came back to say thanks. The others just partied and had a hoot. The guy who said thanks was the guy who offered what was due.

The Top Bananas made mass production. Mass production made working masses to supply it and to demand it.  The Top Bananas made consumerism.  Consumerism made nine out of ten blasé and forgetful of a natural thanksgiving for grace.  The sickness of aggregation, addition, and increase was passed down to the masses as consumerism.  The uncontrolled, uncontrollable appetite of the Top Bananas was passed down to the masses in consumerism. The masses were hooked on the same fix.

Nine out of ten have said yes to the Top Bananas. Have agreed and acquiesced and kowtowed and shied away from contradiction and confrontation of Top Banana unrestricted uncontrolled appetites, and have ended up with the same sickness, the same infection, as the consequence.  Like sheep their way has been lost, and every one has gone their own way.

The appeasement by Neville Chamberlain of Adolf Hitler encouraged Hitler, emboldened him, signalled to him, made way for him, to annexe the Rhineland and Austria and to invade Poland. Thus began World War Two.

The appeasement being made to Top Banana no boundaries blind and lost, stumbling unaccountable, unaccounted, guts and groins – and where is this leading?

‘…. what rough beast, its hour come round at last

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’

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Fear and Change

There is a real fear of change in most hearts. Not change like going on vacation or getting a promotion at work; but shifts to the fabric and the fundamentals we like rest our lives upon and place a faith in.

There are proverbs like: ‘Better the Devil you know…’ and ‘Out of the frying pan into the fire’; or ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in a bush’, ‘don’t count your chickens’ and ‘Be careful what you wish for’.  All are in their ways conservative sayings and rest their wisdom on staying with what one has presently or else on one not being too eager to go forward.

There’s good sense behind this natural conservatism and I believe it can be demonstrated by an appeal to history that when alterations to the fabric of a business, or a society and its foundations change too fast the inevitable result is chaos and control of the situation is lost to everyone.

There is the disarray into which the French Revolution of 1789 fell into quickly simply because the size, range and pace of its changes were railroaded so quickly and so radically that the resulting fragmentation of social relations and connections, of people simply not knowing what was the current state of play in their lives, resulted in a collapse which let in Napoleon to ascend to power.

In Germany in the 1920s in the wake of a war defeat which left the nation literally exhausted of men, materials, industry, means to live, and willpower; there followed the fragmented, tottering successively weak governments of the Weimar period during which no clear direction could be found up front on which to rebuild Germany and its national self-belief.  The war had altered the physical map and the psychological map of the German people so utterly and to the core of their being. This chaos and inability allowed the Nazi Party to rise to power.

The fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989 was so sudden and extensive, across Eastern Europe particularly, where the Soviet Satellite states had been held in political chains since their annexation by Russia in 1945 as its share of the war spoils.  When Soviet Russia fell, the restraint came off these states more or less overnight, with a result that a third Pan-European conflict was narrowly averted starting up in the Balkans only by a concerted and intense kid-glove handling of the situation there.  This happened because there had been no time for consideration and consolidation and easing gently into the new state of affairs. An enormous power vacuum having been created there meant that every tinpot commander in charge of his home-brewed local militia was up for becoming Generalissimo.  Fractures along ethnic lines and an abrupt resort to settling long suppressed old scores exploded in political confrontations that nearly destabilised a whole continent

Too much foundational change too quickly, in business and in politics, generally ends in tears all round; and this we instinctively understand and so we remain generally conservative as a species.

And this is the fear and the concern of many people here in the UK right now, now that a new Labour Party leader has been elected whose message to most ears here represents a radical departure and introduces a set of unfamiliar and so disquieting policies and approaches.   Most adults in the UK today are too young to have had any experience of living under a left-of-centre government. Most adults here also have little knowledge, and no experience of socialist, Marxist, or any left of centre politics. Other than the stereotypical caricatures of ‘lefties’ offered by the political right over the past 30 or 40 years, there is a blank sheet..

Few adults remember as far back as the 1970s when Britain was being destroyed by class war between Industrialists and their employees, and inflation was running at close to 15%, and the lights and power went out two days in every five. These were the fruits of our last dealings with a political attempt to overthrow or to bring into line the arch-capitalists who run our world. At that time the monied big shots were locked in a struggle to retain their dominance in Britain – and they won.  Since then Britain has never looked back – unfortunately.

Since then and across the Western world we have had sanguine pundits taking a view that capitalism is the definitive means of production, the system of choice for humanity that has triumphed globally.  In deliberate mockery of Marx, pundits have bandied beliefs like the one that economic history as ideology is at an end because there is no alternative position viable which is able to seriously challenge capitalism.  Instead of the state withering away, Marxism and the left of centre in general is concluded to have done so.

So, it is the general belief that ‘fear keeps us safe’. Fear is not just of change, but of the enemies which our states and their media hold up to us their publics as if they were glove puppets being worked in their hands. Thus they present to us a fear-fest show of good and salutary instruction which subdues and mortifies our local discontent.

In other words, so as to make the governing of us more effortless and their policies and actions more self-serving our leaders use and abuse our native sense of fear and apprehension, our desire and our need for stability – our innate conservatism – they use it against us and thus they abuse us.  The new Labour Party Leader then, because he is so radical (in comparison with the torpid status quo of the past 35 years that I have outlined) is going to be shown by the right of centre politicians and in their media which serves their interests – the interests of a capitalist establishment – and who are its owners – the Labour Leader will be portrayed as being our enemy – without doubt.

The ‘our’ in ‘our enemy’ is rhetorical.  Because this collective ‘our’ is spoken of as if to include in it the likes of you and I, the governed classes, but in actuality it demarcates only the rich ruling despots of global capital in so far as they hold financial, political controlling interests in British industry and commerce.

The guy himself, The New Labour Leader, has sane and attractive ideas for Britain.  So many swords on threads hang over him and them however. Not just the question whether our media will succeed in annihilating him politically; he knows and uses the power of social media, and so the power of traditional media is not an open and shut question.  But his policies and plans need also to be feasible, viable and practicable as well as wholesome and good; especially given a world wherein the lingua franca and the vade mecum has been for so long so distorted into fierce and monolithic proclamations of global victory to the West and its means of production.

I predict the new leader of The Labour Party will meet with a bloody, ruthless, treacherous, underhand, below the belt, beating from the greater capitalist league.

This league will form a perfect storm out of their prevailing joint interests and gang up to tear him like a prey amongst a pack of wolves.  He will never be allowed to proceed to power – or if he becomes our elected Prime Minister he will be forced into failure by them, dismally. His whole set of his good and proper policies will be blighted absolutely at their hand, by these coercive Angels of Death.

Goodness and properness are not good business as business is recommended to be done these days; they do not sell; they cut no cake; they make no dough; they would mean a draining away of power from the bases of commercial robber barons of great longstanding – sometimes whole dynasties in the making and aggregating.  The wicked shall triumph; although the bad guys will not see themselves as wicked. Like the smart guy who asked God Incarnate ‘And who is my neighbour?’ they will justify themselves to their own satisfactions.

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Victims of our own Enthusiasms: Technique and Jaques Ellul

Jacques Ellul described his central concept of ‘technique’ as being:

 “…the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”

He was concerned here with organisation – particularly with the organisation of society, of technology and of the ways of doing business we pursue – and the consequent levels of deleterious effect on people like us arising out of these kinds of organisation.

Simply put, Ellul saw well that the applications of what he calls ‘technique’ in areas like the means of production and distribution; the financial and economic methods in use; the laws and the regulations we are bound by and subscribe to; are, as ways of doing things, harmful to our societies and to our lives.

For the most part and in affluent societies most of this harm takes the form of constraints and deprivations of freedoms and capabilities.  The case for populations in non-affluent societies, in regard to how peoples there are adversely affected by technique as it is being used in affluent countries, is more tangible and more greatly pronounced in the forms of physical constraint and physical deprivation.  Nonetheless and moreover – no-one wins out of it; not even the affluent law makers and captains of industry and government members.

I want to add that technique is used inthe way it it is, because it has become necessary for it to be used as it is, and that we are locked-into a self-fulfilling inevitability for further development which has arisen out of the paths we chose as nations and individuals way back in the early the days of industrialisation.  My argument then will be circular, in that the rise of these Shibboleths of ‘technique’ so for to become the standard, accepted, ways of doing things – the open markets, the ownerships of capital and labour, even our representative democracy, our debt, credit and interest arrangements, and so on – their powerful grip has locked us into certain consequences arising from them as forms of social, political and economic organisation.  These consequences demonstrate that technique, as Ellul denominates it,  being applied and carried out automatedly without further thought by us in and as its own justification and for its own sake.

The simile I want to use to help covey what I mean concerns an item of baggage packed for a trip abroad and locked by a lock at the top when zipped up.  The trip is our life-journey as we and our societies head towards what is to come in future. Like all trips, it was booked some time back and the arrangements for it put in place – ticket, seat, destination, departure point, hotel, and so on.  The item of baggage was packed well previous to the trip also; and its contents zippered and locked up some time before the trip actually began.

Now most trips these days go ahead and pass fairly well as much as they were planned to pass  – lost baggage and in-flight disruptions are in recent years largely managed down to a minimum by carriers. And unless there arises a serious problem – like an engine shut down – equating in our simile to a major war breaking out or a natural disaster of magnitude occurring in the world, then our futures in general, like our trip on an airplane, are mapped out fairly well in broad terms in respect of how they are going to flow.

The baggage we packed is zippered and locked up – there are no changes in and no access to its contents whist the air journey is taking place – thus the contents in it are fixed.  Lots of contingent things might happen on a trip – coffee spilt; stormy weather; a diversion; toilet blocked; movie great; a good sleep – are amongst the myriad things possible, even likely. But the contents of the baggage are fixed and shut in the hold; and thereabouts are isolated and not able to be tampered with.

This item of baggage – in our simile – includes amongst other things our legacy means of doing technique, of organising ourselves in society, and with these are also carried in the bag their inevitable consequences and effects that arise inevitably out of these means.

Let us call these consequences attitudes, laws, rights, obligations, regulations, duties, conventions, conformities, traditions, all clustered around and governed by the forms of technique which give rise to them; the monthly credit card payoff, the monthly visit for a prescription medicine, the daily getting the kids ready for school, the school run in the car; the car’s servicing due soon, and so on. These small daily obligations and routines are shaped and necessitated by the way technique is being applied to our lives and so life, our life, is being organised even in our narrow localities and events.

(I was born and brought up in Tottenham, North London. As a youth I would travel by train to work. Every morning for five years I stood on the platform beside a man with a cloth cap a brown mackintosh and a pipe smoking.  I then moved away and left the area. Some twenty-five or so years later I found myself on that platform one morning again and there beside me in an older version was the cloth cap mackintosh and pipe.  Ever-after to my mind the fellow concenred represented to me a symbol of how an enslavement of uneducated working persons is imposed and organised by way of the application of what Jacques Ellul describes as technique.]

The short thesis of this article is then: that we have built a society on enthusiasms for, on an overplus faith in, science, scientific method, technological innovations, market forces, capital, regulation, law, credit, commerce, consumerism, production, including celebrity and its hero-worship; and thus historically we have placed an unwarrantable faith in these items, by believing them to be the solutions to the problems and issues we face in living our lives – problems like the getting of food and shelter, obtaining a job of work and means to live, finding entertainment and recreation, getting education and training. The ways we have elected to pursue these things like a cuckoo in a nest have grown up to rule the roost for us. They are the bedrock we laid down unwittingly and our everyday activities form their overlying strata and so are now our bed we must lay upon it.

Like Macbeth we cannot easily turn back:

‘I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er’ [Act 3]

We have organised our means and amenities of life and their procurement for our use and consumption so thoroughly that a mass consumerism has been made possible.  This consumerism in its turn has been put together in such a way as to be deeply dependent on this straightjacket technique and organisation being kept in place. The upshot, the bill, the price we have to pay for this static underlying status quo is that our own selves and our lives, in unspeakably minute detail and with close levels of control have been made themselves objects of ‘technique’ to be lived out.

Hence we are, we have made ourselves, and have colluded in making of ourselves, an organised people in every detail by way of imposing via application of technique a coercion, entailing a general management of our outlooks, of our habits, of gettingour necessities, of us having no clear alternative.  So far gone are we that not only are we unaware we are so far gone; we are so far out of the way of what would be far better, far more human and fulfilled, that we stand contained and constrained by our acquiesicence in accepting technique’s ‘mind-forged manacles’

Technique then has been hallowed and espoused by us; hyped up and bigged-up so much that even our leaders now believe it as their own propaganda. It is now so firmly and deeply embedded within us in our daily lives and in how we do things, organise things, that it is almost immovable, and for the most part it is unconsciously perceived by us as being like our ‘second nature’ – a bad unkickable habit which we retain, and think we are clean.

Just like all the product on our retailers shelves it is being sold to us, has always been being sold to us, as a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey; the apotheosis of the ages, after centuries of striving and venture by our struggling ancestors – the big payoff for our history of human ingenuity and invention:  Because you’re worth it. We are all labelled prize winners – but the prize-givers have feet of clay.

So we find ourselves a society at large which has been by its own means locked into a kind of Bedlam, a madhouse; and it is just as if it were our own selves, our essential humanity and heaven-promised ‘life in abundance’, which has been zippered up in that baggage in the airplane hold and locked up with a lock for our journey through life.

Be assured there is always a metanioa possible; a turning around; even for mile-long seagoing tankers. Any such change of direction has to do with us being helped to ‘awaken’ (see article) and with us thereafter bearing the responsibility thereby laid upon us ‘awoken’ person ready able and willing to work selflessly for the true good of others.

[NOTE: There was in recent years a UK Secret Service Agent found dead in a flat in London. He was found zippered up in an item of baggage. No satisfactory enquiry into his death was made and many observers considered this lack of due process by the authorities was deliberately allowed and that his Secret Agent career was involved in the affair. A few ‘semi-official’ putative ‘explanations’ of his demise were passed to the media to broadcast. One was that he had zipped himself in and could not free himself – a failed Houdini. Another hinted at a ‘sex-game’ which ‘had gone wrong’.  Murder was never really truly considered as an explanation. The inquest found ‘death by misadventure’]


Fear and Trust

For all the misgivings one has in business, and in business relationships, the bottom line for the presence of adequate peace of mind for one to continue trading or developing is, and is always: Trust.

One cannot proceed very far without it in any social interaction and especially in those business areas which set out to solve problems.  This need for trust is one reason why there are Brands; because for goods and services carrying a Brand name one knows, one has a cool idea of what one is about to get when one buys an item.

Brands, when sound and reputable, go some way towards guaranteeing a level of quality and after sales support etc. And this is one reason why counterfeiting is at bottom parasitic – because it trades upon the reputation of someone else’s goods and services. It offers no guarantee of quality or of after-sales service etc, and when a person has been hoodwinked by a counterfeiter and the product he has bought is scrap; it is the Brand name which was traded upon which tends to suffer in its reputation; and also the company who is the legitimate owner of the Brand name; irrational though this might seem?

The reason for a decline in a genuine reputation of a bona fide Brand and its company being caused by illicit traders trading upon the Brand’s repute; is the knock which is taken on the Trust in that Brand name, and to the almost complacent ready expectations one has, when one has been used to buying that Brand. Thus customers loyal to a Brand can suddenly be shaken by a bad experience with it and so no longer buy its products.

The scale of the shock and distrust escalates enormously for a person hoodwinked by products counterfeited such as medicines, and say, vehicle parts like brake shoes and tyres, because of the perceived major risks of harm which accompany taking a drug which is not approved nor bona fide; or the large risk experienced in having brake shoes or tyres fitted to one’s car when they are possibly substandard.

These considerations then, show some of the ways that trust is central to trading and to doing business.

Because we are destined to ‘live by the sweat of our brows’ we are constrained to do business so as to earn our livings.  This also means that we are compelled to have to trust others who come to us to do business with us, and also to trust those from whom we seek out business.  The default position for doing business then, necessarily has to be one of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and a prima facia openness of one’s approach to others, up to the point where that openness is no longer seen by us to be circumspect in regard to this person or that company, and so on.

There is much theology in this position in which we find ourselves, whereby we are compelled to trust in the first place; and to have to do so in a world which is often harsh and wherein many persons and groups are out for themselves without any social or moral qualifications on their relational behaviours.  We know the world is like this by reference to our own experiences; and that fortuitous remoteness of and anonymity for persons who use the Internet, make it a playground for those who thrive on catching out the unlucky; those who make some poor and regrettable decisions.  The web is brimming with scams and sharks and people who are simply of ill will or else hooked on schadenfreude.

Despite all this being the fact of the case; and despite us knowing full well that this is the fact of the case, we are compelled again and again when doing business via the Internet (and elsewhere) into and back upon that immovable default position of bona fide prima facie initial trusting of our newly met business associates.

And this is why old and returning customers and associates are so prized by us; because we know them and are able to assess any risks they might pose to us to a fairly exact extent. And now comes in a further paradox. For those who are ambitious in business old and returning customers and associates are never enough. Ambitious persons are always seeking new business and new business opportunities, which means necessarily meeting and doing more and more business with untested persons.

In addition it is the ambitious person who is most likely to be tempted to pick up a missed opportunity even when knowing it is to the cost of a competitor for him to do so; or else to be tempted to even less upright business practices as being convenient and expedient short cuts to wealth and position. (I discount from this generalisation the motivations of persons in dire straits or grasping at straws because they are say going insolvent, whose bad behaviour might be ameliorated by their obvious distress)

The paradox here is then that in the normal course of doing business it is the most ambitious who expose themselves to higher risk levels and are compelled to offer prima facie trust the most and most often; whereas the business person who is happy to earn and to live comfortably without great expectations exposes himself to less risk and is compelled to place less prima facie trust down than an ambitious person is compelled to. And so it is that the least trustworthy, the ambitious, are taught by experience that trust is an essential for them to be able to advance towards the orders of magnitude they desire.

Of course in here steps The Law; on the side of and in support of higher risk takers who meet with foul play against their businesses. The Law is then an arbiter of fair play which may be called into action by an aggrieved party in order for that party to attempt redress for what has been essentially an (alleged) breach of trust by an associate or client.  It is at bottom a breach of trust always; and it is always based upon the breach of the holy commandment: ‘Do as you would be done unto’.

John Milton:

‘Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden , till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse…..’

I quote Robert Burns also (back on the subject of Law):

‘Courts for cowards were erected

Churches built to please the priest

A fig for those by Law protected

Liberty’s a glorious feast!’

It is no co-incidence that ambitious persons and businesses are those who most frequently use the law and its courts so as to defend their positions against rivals and against swindlers and thieves.  Not only are they normally those who are most exposed to risks like these we are presently discussing; they as business entities present the best pickings for the scammer or for the counterfeiter, since – as we have pointed out elsewhere – the big guys and their companies go to extreme lengths to present a perfect and seamless front-end image and marketing regime to their multitudes of customers. Their Brands are thus considered some of the most stable, lucrative and sound in the world because of this window dressing of theirs; and damage when done to their Brands is some big bad news for them.

So the Law is from one angle a kind of backstop for the risk takers by it deterring and chastising those who would do to them ill for gain. The Law is the inferno one has to invoke and through which one must go so as to purge oneself by condemning one’s enemies to its raging fire.

Law in this case then is artificial and put in place to be evoked so as to take the place of trust whenever trust has been lost by a breach or by an abuse of business practice and of normative rules. But Trust in its pro tem prima facie default position remains the natural value by which day to day business is oiled and with which its engines run for the most part reasonably smoothly.

Trust and placing trust, especially in an unknown person or business and being under constraint to do so – this can be very stressful. The only solace at this time of initial contact when doing business is that the same stress applies equally – in almost Newtonian exactness – to the other side, to the other Party to the deal.  The curse of ‘the sweat of our brows’ then transpires to be a Godsend sent to us so as to bring us together – if not as undesigning amicable disinterested and extempore cordial strangers, then – and better than not at all – as persons looking after their mutual interests and in joint hopes for the sharing of benefits.

‘They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”

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Laborare est Orare

Some old Roman first coined this phrase. It translates as ‘Work is Prayer’. We have discussed the ‘sweat of our brows’ and the need for us to earn livings. But this article is about our offering up what we do, our occupation and labours, in goodwill to God as a gift in thanks for his care over us.

The Anglican Liturgy says it:

‘All things come of Thee
And of Thine own do we give Thee’

There is for work to be prayer a necessary condition to be met: that any such offering made to God is a freewill offering; that it is offered without ulterior intentions attached to the giving and without bad grace shown towards to him. Thus work as prayer arises out of our own sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in our work. Unless this is so we have no sense of gratitude for it having been provided to us to do; and have not accepted a gift as being a challenge allowed us to master, so to do and complete it as we are best able to perform.

Thus work done as attached to the prime aim of reward is unable to be prayer. Work done solely for money say is the work of the timeserver. Work done for ambition is the work of the power-seeker; and work done for the esteem of others is the work of the egoist.

I guess we are all in part and at times the timeserver, the power seeker and the egoist, and that some days we pray better than other days in our work. I want now to talk about some guys and girls I have seen on TV, in what are figuratively called ‘fly on the wall’ programmes, programmes which lead a viewer to an insider’s view of a certain aspect of life.

The programmes had in common that they followed plain inglorious people doing plain inglorious jobs – such as railway station assistants whose job was to help and guide soccer fans to their home destinations after a big match. Other jobs were the guys who keep the underground sewers systems of cities clear and running; and guys who collect and dispose of household garbage.

All are pretty lowly jobs in the esteem of the ordinary person; dirty, or else hassle, or else laborious; or a combination of these things. The people doing them don’t get much status or kudos from the public – not in the same way as the star or the celebrity or the self made industrialist gets celebrated, admired, envied, feted and emulated.

Their jobs are done better for lack of their celebration; and celebration is perhaps a major life distraction for those who claim it or crave it from us? These guys and girls were nobodies; and happy to be nobodies. They, to a person, were engaged, well-disposed to and happy in their work, and contented with their situation at the base of society’s ranks of esteem; but nonetheless doing well a job of importance and skill and application; and in many ways difficult.

If money, as wages, were a factor in their lives then many of them would have moved on some years ago. Of course they wanted to earn and needed to earn but they got by on what they got and so were in that sense and to that extent at one with their lots.

I don’t want to paint them as being saints, and so paint the ‘go for it’ guys as sinners; I don’t want to be that black and white about things. It is a matter of emphasis, of inclination and disposition, as is seen in comparing the ‘go-getter’ whose aims and aspirations are ever troubling them as their desires stretch out and recede the greater they are being realised by them; and comparing this tortuous syndrome with the guy or girl who accepts some imposed limits and knows her/his own limitations, and so compromises (but not on life?) in trading off in return for an amount of contentment, satisfaction, a certain amount of self-determination and plain wellbeing; the enjoyment of the pleasures and snares of wealth, position, reputation, influence and so on.

In other words, the trade off and its acceptance is a reflection of the person concerned; of his/her disposition and character; as well as it being a circumstance which reinforces and develops that same character and disposition. Thus a ‘go-getter’ typically wants in the first place and grows by the circumstance of his life situation to want ever more greatly; whereas a more staid person generally settles for less, and gets added in a touch of serenity; so as to grow in that choice of situation to become more settled and more serene. This is at least the generality which I believe holds good in many instances.

Thus our life-choices define and direct us.

A girl working at the railway after the big game was ushering people to their trains when a drunken woman became agitated and was rude to her. Policy was that drunks were to be asked to sit on a bench and sober on the platform before embarking. The station girl kept unruffled and was decent to the drunken lady and sat her down after explaining the policy. Two hours later the now-sobered lady cam to the girl who had ushered her, and she apologised, and kissed the girl’s cheek demurely. The girl gave her a lovely smile and brushed off the apology by ‘that’s ok’.

Later the same girl usher was interviewed for the programme, and she spoke of how she loved the work and about the sense of usefulness and the emotional rewards of seeing people home safely. No rancour. No resentments. No sweat.

The girl was no more than thirty; and she was typical. She showed and shared typically the characteristics of the crews of sewer unblockers and the teams of garbage disposal men in the other two ‘fly on the wall’ programmes; the same sense of modest pride in themselves for doing socially-vital services, as it were unsung and without display or fuss. All showed the same gentle good humour and a fairly modest but solid self-esteem – built obviously from the inside – from their own secure estimation of their own worths based on a fairly dispassionate focussed self-assessment. To have come this far in life at thirty the girl was astonishingly precocious; and her sewer and garbage colleagues too had attained an impressive level of understanding of life.

Thus there was room, even though they may not have owned to there being so, but only because of a lack of a formal education, for them to have called their kinds of services they were providing to their community, diverse versions of ‘laborare est orare’. Coleridge wrote:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Simply put, our good service to others is a fulfilment of the laws of life and of love which underpin and maintain our world. The Lord Jesus goes as far as to say that together with a due reverence given to God, on this kind of freewill offering of service to others:

‘hangs all the law and the prophets’

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The Importance of Clarity

‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be mistaken’ Karl Popper

Written and spoken language is not like mathematical symbols or software code script.  Ludwig Wittgenstein said about words:

‘…..many words…. Don’t have a strict meaning. But this is no defect. To think it is would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is not a real light because it has no sharp boundary.’

Mathematical symbols are usually used far more definitely than words are generally used.

So developers ‘know where they are’ with code and script; although with words, when it comes to drawing up a customer agreement or communicating to a customer about ways of doing things in ‘layman’s’ terms, developers face the same problems as the rest of us do when we want to speak to someone else clearly and accurately.

Hence the importance of clarity

Clarity is not always accuracy; but clarity has the virtue of being when it is achieved able to show up inaccuracies to common scrutiny; as far as inaccuracies are able to be shown up.  So that the developer ought to be able to spot them; and a customer has a chance of spotting them.

And so aiming for clarity is paramount and in this way it is prior to accuracy; although accuracy remains prior to clarity when it comes to actual use of code and script in development work.  Even to a developer a piece of software writing she creates might sometimes have to be complex and/or cutting edge; and so it might well not possess clarity when other developers come to look at it, and certainly not when a customer sees it.

Some things are just complex and involved and that’s that.

But there is an art to using words and language which is hard to attain to and which never reaches much more than a modest acquaintance with the full potential they possess for clarity, accuracy and meaning.

“Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,”

But because language and its expression is a hard taskmaster there is no reason a person should not attempt to write and to speak with precision and as clearly as the matter in hand will allow.

Now for some practical things; a few simple dos and don’ts which are able to make a huge difference to readability and understandableness of your  use of language, most particularly your written  language.

Possibly the most overused and so most liable to misinterpretation in written language are pronouns.  The personal pronouns are he, she, they, them, we, you, him, and her.  Add to these the pronouns commonly used to denote objects; that, this, it, those, they, there, then, and a string of others. These though are the main culprits.

Try disentangling a sentence written like this:

‘It was within his ability and he took it from him and he threw a glance at him and told him he was stealing’

Who is stealing? Which of the males? Who threw the glance? Who took the object ‘it’?

No mater how many times you read the sentence you can’t fathom it; its full meaning is not able to be fathomed – as it is written here. If we take a bit of care in our thought and write it this time thus:

‘It had been within his ability, and another had taken it from him; this other had then thrown a glance at him and at the same time had admitted stealing.’

Or maybe:

‘It had been within his ability, so he had taken it from another, and as he had taken it, he had thrown a glance and had said to that other ‘I am stealing’.’

Two near enough opposing situations either of which is derivable from the original sentence as a possible meaning.

You can see that a use of tenses has helped a lot in making the two situations in the two sentences derived from the first, clear sentences able to expresses meaning so as to be hardly mistakable.

The sentences that are clear in their meanings are perhaps more cumbersome to read than the first one is, but they are written as language being used so as to be clear, and were not written to offer entertainment or conversationally.

The use of the past perfect tense has enabled the writer to keep a grip on the meaning of the words closely and so he has been able to steer through the complicated actions that were to be communicated without him losing the thread of who did what to whom.

So a good rule of thumb is to keep pronouns to a minimum.  Instead of using them use the names of the things and the persons they are referring to, even when this means a lot of repetition of these names.  With technical language, and with legal language too it is better to be dull and clear than to be snappy and slack.

A second good rule of thumb is to think about the variety of tenses available to you before or as you write.  It takes time. At first it seems unnatural. As you get more practiced things will speed up and that sense of flow in writing will become easier.  If you really don’t know where to begin with tenses, get yourself a simple English grammar, nothing too technical, and gen up on a few. You only need to master the main ones people use in descriptive technical writing.

This recommendation of a simple grammar might sound daunting, or deathly boring, or both; but when you  find you have saved yourself from an otherwise costly and/or time-consuming ambiguity, or you find you have saved yourself from misunderstanding an important paragraph, you will get that buzz of  delight which will gladly lead you back into your simple grammar, there to learn some more saving graces.

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Doing Business

Traditionally the choices have been three.

  • The unregulated society: in which business acts after its own interests and meets with competition others who conflict with its interests
  • The regulated society: in which business is dominated so that necessarily choice of action is delimited and freedom to do business and competition are controlled.
  • The middle way of interventions: wherein a regulator (usually a Nation State Government) is intrusive into unregulated business, so as to ameliorate the harsher social consequences which arise out of an untrammelled free market

In practice, concerning Choice 1, (unregulated business): it has merely acted to shunt from pole position regulated controlled activity down the economic and social class ladder.

What I mean is that in societies where business is relatively unregulated employers have built up their large companies as closed-off organisations, within which employees to a greater or lesser extent are exposed to command and control.

Employers’ command and control is seldom much less oppressive inside their organisations than that carried on by Nation State Governments which choose as their model a regulated controlled economy

Freedom and choice and opportunity pertaining to unregulated business models are enjoyed chiefly by the persons who own and run businesses under this model

Necessarily it is argued, according to traditional thinking, these owners/operators are compelled to control and command their employees so that their companies are able to perform in the most effective efficient way against their competitors in the free marketplace.

Normally speaking there is inside any business organisation which is operating within an unregulated economy a hierarchy of control by which those high up enjoy lesser degrees of direct oppression and control whilst those low down bear greater degrees of these.

These degrees of direct oppression in the main correspond inversely to the extent that:

  • a) Any economic business or society is unregulated, and
  • b) Any business employee is presumed by his/her employer to hold a stake of some kind in the business. (This is why a senior manager will receive higher wages and obtain to a higher degree of status, often also having lower graded employees to control and direct. Such a higher grade employee will be presumed to have a greater stake in the organisation (and so also have more to lose from dismissal) than those whom he controls and directs.)

Logically then, inside this traditional model, the low graded employees are those most directly oppressed because they are those most controlled and directed, and are considered to hold least stake in the organisation.

(This critique of mine is not Marxist; it is in fact how business operators perceive the socio-economic reality, and their perception is justified by them, by their approving it as being a ‘natural order’ of things.  Such an conception has a utility to them not unlike the concept of Divine Right for kings in days before industrialisation)

Their argument is classically expressed as being in accord with ‘human nature’, and its leverage is normally brought in to play so as to justify hierarchical organisation based on privilege and dominion.

The simple psychology behind this ‘human nature’ argument proposes that men and women who carry no responsibilities will be those most likely to act irresponsibly. This inductive generalisation is based on premises that include preconceptions that:

  • Lowly graded employees need closer managing so as to function well
  • They will naturally evade their tasks otherwise
  • The general mass of them are not suited to taking on bigger roles
  • They have poor self-regulatory powers
  • They will do no more than they are made to do
  • They have little initiative and few and basic employable skills

These then are the employees seen as having least stake in a business, and they are considered to be those employees who are most liable to act irresponsibly.

The concept of ‘having or not having a stake’ in a venture is essential to the upholders of the ‘human nature’ argument. Having a stake, so the pitch runs, confers responsibility and energises ambition to improve oneself; which all engender that self-regulation and other ‘virtues’ prized by employers.

Having a stake then allows employees greater freedom; but only to opt for ambition, responsibility and self regulation, in favour of the employer.

Conversely, those employees of the least consequence in any business are thus those who will receive most control and direction.

(Normally-speaking and collaterally, lowly graded employees also obtain least wages. This is because their lowly status, without stake, is normally perceived to warrant lower levels of trust and to incur higher levels of risk for employers.  The class of lowly workers is also normally present in an organisation in far greater numbers than the number of higher-status employees who direct them

More later on how this factor of ‘greater numbers’ tends towards being another wage depressing factor)

On the other hand, an employer who is allowing privileged high-grade employees a modicum of stake in his company, intends them to accept his ‘gift’ as a stimulus that encourages them to act responsibly towards him and his company; and so nurture the interests of the business. The actual degree of anticipated loyalty/responsibility accepted and acted upon by an employee will be commensurate proportionately to the rank, status and reward that employer ‘gifts’ to employees.

These arguments so far are nothing more than standard thinking.

A sense of responsibility then, it is expected, can be awakened and reinforced in the minds of some select employees by reason of the bundle of rewards they obtain from the employer in exchange. Thus a deal is cut between higher-grade employees and the employer.

Employees of higher status normally obtain higher wages, but not only as a result of their acceptance of ‘the risks’ involved in, and ‘the burden’ of, their positions and responsibilities; indeed and  moreover, their very rewards (so it is understood) act to ‘tie them into’ their employment and business organisation. The arrangement has similarities with the methods used by early Victorian Industrialists who provided their workers with ‘Tommy Shops[i]’ and ‘tied-cottages[ii]’.

Thus arises a belief that an employee’s loyalty is conditional upon his persuasion to self-interest, and that this can be generated in him by the enlightened self-interest of his employer providing to him adequate inducements.  Although bearing upon the privileged employee also are those pressures arising out of forebodings and concerns at the thought of his losing such gifted indulgences.

And so even the favoured higher-grade employee remains straitened; controlled by his employer’s will and power. It is his sense of the risks involved in being dismissed which delineates for him the opportunity cost of him stepping out of line.

[i] A Tommy Shop was owned by the employer. The employer paid his employees wages in tokens which were accepted only at his Tommy Shops in exchange for foods and domestic goods.  An employee was thus tied-into buying at the Tommy Shop, which were not unknown to charge higher prices than free-marketplace shops.

[ii] A tied-cottage was a house owned by the employer; who was able to hire and fire at will. When an employee was fired he and his family lost also their tied-cottage and were thus destitute on the streets.


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