Love's Labors Lost

Expanded from the Sunday, 5-9-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
5-13-2004 Comstock Chronicle

Work has never been more dangerous, more precious or more abused. Today more than ever, work and the quest for it can kill you, especially if you make it a point not to recognize the warning signs.

We need to take our collective heads from up the boob tube and critically spy the real world around us. As long as we play ostrich in Frasier-Friends Land, we will never notice that our pockets are being picked and our health imperiled.

The methods of the thieves are at once myriad and malevolent.

1. LARGE ORGANIZATIONS ARE CLUMSY, CRUEL AND INHUMAN. I've never been much of an organization man and I'm getting more anti-social with age. (I submit that anyone not possessed of at least of bit of such grouchy temperament has no business in a newsroom.)

The great push-pull of complex society proceeds from the fact the individuality must to some degree be suppressed in order for the world to work. Despite the reality, Americans continue to labor under the cowboy myth. Why do you think that our greatest heroes are the strong, silent types — John Wayne or Gary Cooper who save the town from the bad guys and ride off alone into the sunset.

In actuality, teamwork built this country. Societies with a lack of teamwork end up either as banana republic dictatorships or Italy, which changes governments almost as often as underwear.

The longing for individuality can be seen all around us, most easily as the universal desire for self-expression. That's why ancient Indian petroglyphs are so precious. Marketers know how to take advantage of that hard-wired human drive. I howled a couple of years back when some pick'emup truck company sold its mass-produced iron as ideal for guys who "break the rules."

If you want to break the rules, don't buy cookie-cutter products. Go make your own truck.

But who can? The increasingly complex industrialized world will not allow it, whether you are Johnny Cash taking home one piece at a time from an auto plant or some fledgling inventor who's designed a better mousetrap.

I submit that big institutions are entirely comprised of good people. (I further assert that God made no bad people, but that's a debate for another time.) But when you put a lot of good people in a compressed space, bad things happen.

About 35 years ago, Dr. John Calhoun of the National Institutes of Mental Health conducted experiments with mice. A well ordered hierarchy broke down when the little critters were placed in overcrowded conditions. They proceeded to do horrible things to each other. [1]

Place a sane person into an asylum and he or she will soon begin to approach the environmental norm -- insanity. Give an otherwise normal member of society power as an overlord of prisoners and a very dark side may emerge. Anyone who would understand the motivations of the U.S. interrogators in Iraqi prisons should rent the Sigourney Weaver-Ben Kingsley film "Death and the Maiden" for a peek at power unchecked by fear of punishment.

The inhumanity of institutions was perhaps best portrayed by author Franz Kafka, whose last name has become an adjective for the senselessness of institutional momentum.

2. INSTITUTIONAL MOMENTUM IS BOTH CRUEL AND DEADLY — especially when the principal motivation is greed.

The overlords know that the best way to maximize profits is to keep the lower classes fighting each other. Corporate taxation in this country is very close to disappearing while you and I pay an increasing share. Ideologues cripple government where it should serve people while perverting it to serve power.

Why is it that big government is not bad when it subsidizes the export of jobs? From 1999 to 2002, the U.S. government eliminated 46,000 civil service employees while creating about 750,000 subcontracted positions. The president wants to outsource about 850,000 more. [2] Our government encourages export of any and all jobs because greedy people have rigged the system that way.

Our elected officials, bought cheap, gladly enrich the rich. We have misallocated our resources to a point where military service presents the only hope millions of young people have for a better future. Today, that means risking life and limb in Dubya's high stakes lottery wherein you may win a few pennies for college if you survive.

Work is not supposed to kill.

You can rebel only by purchasing that expensive truck or voting for some blow-dried corporate-approved candidate who says he'll help. Buying the average truck is usually a smarter investment than buying the average candidate.

3. AMERICANS VOTE AGAINST THEMSELVES. Matters have gotten so ridiculous that residents of the American heartland, the source of the populist revolution of a century ago, now vote solidly for those who advocate the policies impoverishing them. [3] Can't afford food? Be a rebel and buy both the truck and the candidate who sells it to you.

On the streets of Sparks today, garbage workers are on strike and telephone workers may soon join them. (I support the union of the former and am a member of that of the latter.) The issues are monotonous. Corporations squeeze workers for more just because they can.

The system has been rigged against the little people. All they can do is howl in the streets or send their children to war in an increasingly futile search for the American Dream.

We can do better. Start by joining the protestors on the local picket lines. Encourage your friends across this nation and around the world to do the same. The enemy is not that flaming pro-tax liberal or that racist every-man-is-an-island conservative.

The enemy lives at the top, that narrow band of patricians who keep us fighting each other for crumbs.
Fear, much of it irrational, has placed us in a state of perpetual war (just look at our military budgets) since 1945.

I see only one positive result from our latest gruesome adventurism: this time, perhaps they really have gone too far and we, the great unwashed, may finally be angry enough to do something about it.

See you on the picket lines.

Be well. Raise hell.


1. Alsop, Stewart; "Dr. Calhoun's Horrible Mousery;" Newsweek; August 17, 1970; page 96.

2. Scherer, Michael; "Contracts with America;" Mother Jones, May-June 2004; page 58.

3. Frank, Thomas; "Lie Down for America;" Harper's, April, 2004; page 33 et seq. | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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