Thursday, 7 November 2013

Low-Odds Campaigns (3): An In-Conclusion

(Apologies: this is rambling on much longer than it should, but I didn't have the time to write a shorter post on it.)

I've been arguing that participation in low-odds campaigns breeds an Outsider attitude, where one either has to distance oneself from the process (e.g. job-seeking) or adopt personal goals that are not what the spectators think they are (e.g athletics).

To maintain a low-odds campaign, I need a strong motive and the willingness to alienate myself from the common experience of my friends, acquaintances, and family. This applies to sobriety, exercise, job-seeking, or skill-, knowledge- or culture-acquisition. Even getting girls, when done right, is about detaching my ego (so I can take the rejections) from the pursuit of the goal. It's not about self-discipline, "getting down to it", "getting on with it" or any of those cliches that the Normals use. It's mostly about removing the distractions, which, since "other people" are the main source of distractions, is why it's isolating.

That's why achievers tend to be messed-up, withdrawn and otherwise not one of the guys having the craich Saturday night. Getting good takes time and energy. Survivors are similarly messed-up, withdrawn and otherwise not one of the guys having the craich Saturday night, because what they've been through separates them from all the regular people and their safe, lucky lives. 

Most people don't want to be alienated from their mates and family. They want to hang out with their mates and discuss the exact uselessness of the striker who failed to score; they want to couch-surf Saturday Night TV and discuss the precise merits of the meretricious competitors; they want to feel part-of, even if it's only by feeling the bass from the sound system in the club. If they don't fall into work within about three months, if they don't get a girl after a few tries, they get dispirited. To avoid that, they settle for jobs and girls. They can settle because they don't have highly specific skills or experience, and they don't have high standards for employers or women. Sounds harsh, but the Normals know it's true. Find me one play, film or novel that shows someone becoming good at something or fighting the odds that doesn't lament the "cost" in terms of estranged friends and lost love.

Do we sustain low-odds campaigns because we're Outsiders, or do we become Outsiders because we sustain a low-odds campaign? Outsiders with self-discipline can and will sustain low-odds campaigns. I suggest that being forced into a low-odds campaign often makes Outsiders out of Normals.

What I wanted to do at this point was issue a warning about how turning entry into the basic rites of social and economic participation - employment, marriage, independent living - into low-odds campaigns will lead to social collapse. Of course it does nothing of the sort. What happens is a polarisation. Employers offering high-quality (okay: highly-paid) jobs will maintain, if not raise the standards they are looking for, knowing that they will have plenty of candidates to choose from. The rest will lower their non-essential standards, knowing that people will simply not be willing to make commitments when the expected rewards (probability x salary) are not high enough. These employers don't offer much by way of training, but then they don't ask much by way of qualifications: they are usually looking for the "right fit". If that right fit happens to have a small tattoo on her shoulder which is only visible when she wears a sleeveless summer frock, the employer will wave objections to tattoos - especially if she's doing a back-office job. And if times are bad enough, a special breed of a-hole employers will arise, offering low wages to exactly the kind of sucker they need - as for instance the companies that employ all those kids to process PPI refund applications. No decent person with a choice would do the work, but someone desperate for a job could just convince themselves they have left some key part of their identity somewhere it can't be damaged, and take it. 

The giant corporations still run, but because they aren't the high-paying employers they run with slightly less effectiveness and higher friction than before. The talent-based boutique houses still attract talent, it's just that they also need customer-facing people because the talent can make its own rules - which is why the few customer-friendly creatives and consultants kill in business. I will pass over the public sector - it's a strange land about which I know little and suspect much.

People still try to buy houses and flats even if the prices are stupid high. They still think they have "careers" even if the organisational pyramid is about ten layers from receptionist to CEO. They still chase after marriage even when the divorce rate is forty per cent over twenty years. Boys still chase after girls even when the girls are over-weight and under-charming. Partly because there's no other game in town, and partly because it's the game they grew up with, so it seems normal. Oddly, in some people, this can increase their commitment to the whole crazy system: since they had to work so hard at it, it must be worthwhile. But most people just know they are living in a fake world, which as long as that world feeds them and entertains them and gives them shiny new toys and upholds the myth that they, as individuals, can always make their lives better… as long as that illusion gets maintained, everything works. Until the day it doesn't. 

Outsiders withdraw, participating in the economy but not the society. Normals carry on participating in both. Until the day there are none left, because even the most bloke-y bloke in the sales force has had one too many struggles with what shouldn't be that hard. Then we're all Outsiders. Capital carries on - it always will - though it will look different.

How badly can Capital and State treat their employees and taxpayers until those same customers and voters turn round and stop? I don't know. There are times I think the Normals have an infinite capacity for self-deception and abuse, and the point with Outsiders is that we don't revolt, because we don't care. We're the soldiers who don't shoot at the crowd. 

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