I think that it was one of Lewis Carol’s creature characters that earnestly pontificated on the problem that “If you don’t mean what you say then at least you should say what you mean”. In Carol’s time it was a clever little play on words, but it was brought back to me by in issue that I wrote about in one of the posts that was deleted from this blog.
I was asked by a departmental head to observe and document the behavior of an employee who was filling a safety critical role and was believed to be suffering ( by the company) from dementia. Obviously whilst tragic this type of condition is not compatible with a safety critical function.
Eventually evidence was gathered and the employee was removed, in fact dementia was not the issue ,Johnny Walker was. However what I found most disconcerting was the manner in which the same people so publicly lamented the outcome, using American talk show euphemisms like “ share”. “ We can not share with you at this moment”. I want to look at that sentence, “ WE” the use of the first person plural depersonalizes, the statement, the corporate plural takes responsibility away from the speaker, English has a perfectly good word “tell”, the use of the word “share” introduces a level of complicity, it draws in the listener, enticing them with the carrot of ceasing to be “you” and becoming part of “we” or us.
I think in my original post I made a comparison with the large Sicilian families, who would turn up and publicly weep over graves of rivals for whom they had arranged the cause of the funeral, a premature shuffling off of this mortal coil.
Another of the posts to which objection was taken was one entitled “ Why can’t the English ….” This is of course a partial quote from George Bernard Shaw, or more specifically from the better known reworking of Pygmalion “My Fair Lady” , the entirety of the quite of course being “ Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak, this verbal class distinction by now should be antique”. In this post I recounted how the employees were required to attend a briefing from the MD which was broadcast on large TV screens. In brief I made reference to the body language of the attendees and in so doing a comparison ( simile is not a common tool in Oil and Gas) by reference to Asimov’s “I Robot”. I then went on to tell of how after leaving this particular gathering I remarked to a passing coworker that the event reminded me of “Big Brother” my coworker’s response was along the lines of “ I wonder who will be ejected next”. Now it was only when I had reached the relative sanctuary of my office that I realized that my coworker had been referring to a popular TV series. He had completely missed the reference to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and the gathering around the screens to listen to the pronouncements of Big Brother.
During my penultimate interview with HR before finally departing the fold I was told I had compared the employees to robots. The irony of the whole episode is that HR too had missed the point it was an article about the state of modern education, where ‘Big Brother’, and ‘I Robot’ are better known in the screen incarnations than in the literary form from which they emanated. The irony is bitter. That they saw as an attack on them selves a social critique of the dumbing down of the modern world, and in fact de facto proved the point. Nietzsche was wrong It is not God who is dead it is literature, or perhaps we should say Balaat ( the goddess of Byblos and writers) is dead.
I would like to quote again one of my favorite Shakespearian scholars, the context is different, the consequence identical:
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood". That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect.”
Powell was talking about the degradation of culture through immigration, however the same could be said of the cultural colonization or intellectual immigration through the portals of cyberspace, and in the end we, like Powell shall need to travel back in time to see the future;
“no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."
I am not suggesting Hobbes Powell and Nietzsche be on the reading list of oil company executives, I am suggesting that if we are to have a future they should be on everyone’s reading lists. Turn of the free view TV and get down the free libraries, whilst we still have them.