An Imponderable is an article of make-believe which has become axiomatic by force of settled habit. It can accordingly cease to be an Imponderable by a course of unsettling habit.
– Thorstein Veblen
Too many man talk nuff’ bla bla
– Dizzee Rascal
Aber Dummheit ist nur eine kleine Lüge
ABUSE: (1.) Implies use as the norm in dealing with children, prisoners, patients, workers, animals, etc.
(2.) Sexual. As above, makes use the norm in sexual relations. A euphemism backed by legal force in its failure to distinguish the worst sexual violence from consensual, solitary or non-sexual acts. So that under US law widely imitated elsewhere (notably the UK), a sex offender might be: a rapist; a child who draws a stick figure with penis and breasts…a child who asks the teacher for a hug; a teacher who gives a hug…a kidnapper and torturer…a person caught urinating in public…anyone who transmits sexual pictures to another person; anyone who transmits pictures that some policeman decides are sexual to another person; anyone caught having sex in the bushes of a public park…[*] Thanks to this obfuscation, not only is one batch after another of male and female offenders created, locked down and tagged along with actual rapists, but rape and every other kind of sexual coercion is belittled by inclusion in an open-ended menu of behaviour problems[**].
(3.) Substance. An accidentally exact term. Whatever drug is involved is just a pretext: the patient/offender is accused of improperly using his or her own substance, which in the final reckoning belongs to the accusers.
[*JoAnn Wypijewski, in Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined, Counterpunch Books, Petrolia, CA., 2012.]
[**Thus when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with rape, French intellectuals debated whether media should cover public figures’ private life, making (alleged) rape an incident in a ‘colourful’ personal sexual history rather than a violent assault on another person.]
ABUSES: Normal practices converted into anomalies in order to qualify as News. The surrounding complex of norms is duly reinforced. Close the sweatshops and certify their merely competitive neighbours.
ABSENTEEISM: The underlying condition discovered by Human Resources professionals when messier symptoms of illness or injury appear. The suffix ‘-ism’ locates the disease halfway between pathology and religious or political mania. For the sick and sickened the only rational course is to try to make the diagnosis come true on an epidemic scale.
ACCOUNTABILITY: (1.) Favoured in political sermons for its potent meaninglessness outside quantitative matters where accounting criteria (however arbitrary or tangential to reality) apply. Rioters must be held accountable for their actions, i.e. imprisoned for multiples of the standard term. Senior management must be held to account, i.e. asked to testify to a Commission of Inquiry.
(2.) Thanks to such semantic slackness, the language of accountability connects geopolitical Governance models* to the confessional morality endowed with police powers in low-level social management.**
[*eg. OECD, EU, ‘transparency’ NGOs, the Madrid indignado who cried out for “efficient managers, not corrupt politicians”.]
[**eg. Criminal court or welfare payment decisions resting on the defendant’s ability to give a ‘personal account’ in suitable Self-Help terms.]
(3.) Social. Organizations in the western world certify the Health & Safety ‘regimes’ of lowest-possible-cost textile and electronics factories in poorer parts of the world, only to be shocked a month later when a factory breaking all the rules burns to the ground killing over 250 people.
ACHIEVEMENT: (1.) A winning lottery ticket.
(2.) Negation of whatever was done, which becomes an attribute of the Achiever instead of an intervention in the world.
ADAPT: A formerly transitive verb. Adapt what? Adapt or die! No need to spell out that what must be adapted is you. Whatever else is, is right.
ANGER MANAGEMENT: No longer just for wife-beaters: necessary for all losers dissatisfied with rules of the game.A transferable technique like ‘management’ in general. External reasons for anger are beside the point: instead, under expert supervision the patient/offender administers the euthanasia of his or her own ability to be enraged.
ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR: The worst crime against property was [sic] to have none. (E.P. Thompson)
The historian confuses past and present tenses here. What goes for the late 18th century is true of the early 21st. The discretionary punishments most often imposed by British courts and lesser administrative bodies for unlegislated (i.e. not criminal but ‘anti-social’) offences involve withdrawal of rented housing and/or the benefits that pay for it. Thus owner-occupiers are happily exempt. See also that favourite theme of the upholstered brawling class: ‘the right of a homeowner to defend his property against intruders’.
ARMCHAIR SPARTANS: All those who encourage war from a safe distance. Many such armchairs are to be found in secure conditions inside think-tanks.
ASPIRATION, ASPIRATIONAL: (1.) The invention of the highly elastic adjective follows a long-term shift in the scope of the noun. In his 1973 rant to the Trilateral Commission, Samuel P. Huntington deplored ‘aspiration’ as an extravagant and dangerous collective claim: an overeducated underclass demanding too much and expecting to get it by forcing structural change. But by the time of its emergence in the1990s as a party-political marketing theme, aspiration implied a strictly personal kind of anxious conformism. The aspirational individual stakes everything on ‘social mobility’: she expects to compete and win against the rest of her class on a ‘level playing field’ (i.e. everyone doing the same thing), beating her opponents fairly by embracing more eagerly, energetically and obediently whatever rules of the game are transmitted from above. Or better still, by guessing in advance the instructions likely to be dictated by previous winners who now sit higher on an imaginary career ladder (comprised in turn of playing fields at ever-higher altitudes). This kind of pre-emptive obedience is known as showing initiative.
(2.) The curious elasticity of ‘aspirational’ as an adjective lies in its multiple applications to a prize (an aspirational apartment, home entertainment system, lifestyle), the competitors pursuing it (see above), and the wider social structure imposing the competition (an aspirational society). This last usage confirms the contradiction between aspirational conditions and the kind of aggressive class aspiration feared by Huntington. Diligent aspirational behaviour would never dream of provoking structural change, because the existing structure is the context, vehicle and measure of personal success. Turning the world upside down would make a mockery of the effort to rise to the top.
ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING: For those afflicted by remnants of modesty.
ASSISTED SUICIDE: Market leader: Atos Healthcare, contracted by the UK Department for Work & Pensions to test the disabled for ‘fitness to work’ and withdraw the income of those declared ‘fit’. At least 24 post-test suicides documented so far (October 2012)*; meanwhile 6 per cent of neighbourhood doctors report test-related suicides or attempts by patients, 21 per cent report patients with test-induced ‘suicidal thoughts’ and 84 per cent say the testing has caused ‘mental health problems’ among patients.
Atos CEO Thierry Breton once had the same job at France Télécom, where he started the ‘cost killing’ programs blamed years later for a slew of worker suicides. But by then he had moved on, acquiring new powers over life and death as Chirac’s finance minister and new ones again in his current role.
AT THE END OF THE DAY: An absolute show stopper, this one. Whatever you say, never mind the evidence, the scrupulous historical research, the untampered statistics, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, you’re wrong.
ATTITUDE: (1.) Something attributed to you and either liked or disliked by employers, depending on your degree of evangelical belief in the work you are paid to do.
(2.) From school onwards, black marks if you ‘have’ it, unless you establish yourself in niche Hip-Hop, Alternative Comedy, or your own straight-shooting talkback show.
(3.) In January 2011 the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission arrested the bosses of the national ATTITUDINAL AND BEHAVIOUR CHANGE (ABC) SECRETARIAT. ABC was set up in 2007 under ex-military government spokesman Allieu Karama, with a mandate for ‘citizenship education’ and promotion of ‘the five P’s: Practical, Positive, Planned, Productive, Perseverance’. ‘Doubtfulness, defensiveness and skepticism’ would be stamped out along with ‘misuse of government property’; weaklings prone to ‘negative emotions’ would be shamed; ‘market women’ would learn to ‘forget about politics’ and ‘respect our national currency’. ‘The time for politics’ was ‘now over’; the ‘relation between consumers & business people must be positive’. The agenda will be familiar wherever behavioural economics and supply-side psychology prevail. ABC is a precursor of the ‘Behavioural Insight Team’ recently convened to ‘Nudge’ the British working class into self-policing servitude. Its origins lie in the ‘positive thinking’ cult that grew through the 20th century in the US and really took off with downsizing wave of the ’80s; as such it is western Enlightenment’s latest export of magical superstition to Africa.
Blaming personal ‘attitude’ for conditions in Sierra Leone (gross national income per capita $320; life expectancy 34; ‘civil’ war from 1991 to 2002 including Nigerian, British and UN military invasion) is about as insulting as falsification of history gets. But the same insult is repeated less dramatically wherever overleveraged ‘rich’ economies subject their unemployable to motivational training and cognitive therapy. The similarity is spelled out when an expatriate Sierra Leonean ABC-booster chastises “attitudinal chameleons” for allowing “environmental stimuli” to “colour their emotions”. When individual spiritual backsliding is blamed for collective material misery, the authorities laying the blame almost always had a hand in creating the misery. In the case of SL this goes back several years before ABC. At the end of the cycle of war and invasion, the population was placed under the tutelage of international agencies (UN, UK Department for International Development, USAID, IMF, NGOs) until such time as it would meekly return to its proper place in the global division of labour, renouncing violence, ‘corruption’ and ‘unlicensed’ use of alluvial diamonds. Lessons in Governance included reinstatement (by the British DFID) of colonial-era Paramount Chiefs with the right to order forced family labour, plus wage restrictions leaving junior state officials dependent on bribes for subsistence. The ‘attitudinal’ crimes detected since then amount to noncompliance with the terms of tutelage: bribes accepted by the lowest public sector ranks or paid for medical treatment; ‘fraudulent’ applications by ex-combatants to the ‘retraining’ programmes paying the highest cash subsidies; selling of NGO-donated work tools for cash; or worst of all, non-approved forms of social association, i.e. ‘youth gangs’ which ‘in some areas force the UN to negotiate with them and control which mining companies can operate’. As far as the aid agencies are concerned these unauthorized competitors are ‘criminals and militias in waiting’.
AUSTERITY: A notion of collective sacrifice is invoked by those who do not have to make sacrifices, with the promise that austerity will somehow purge the collective and its individuals of their excesses, toxins or sins, and that in the long run we will all be better off for the experience. This familiar bedtime story, aimed especially at parents hoping that it will turn out to be true for their children, now tells us to defer those ‘appetites and pleasures’ that were so encouraged in yesteryear’s bank advertisements telling you not to put it off, but to take that holiday-of-a-lifetime now!
BALANCE: (1.) Defunct bits of financial technology – the accounts ledger and the weighing scales – are dragged out to hold up rotten rhetorical planks: powers that check and balance one another, punishment as justice and the idea that the contradictions can somehow be managed.
(2.) Work-life balance. Verbal recognition that those desperate to keep their jobs by working longer hours ought nevertheless to do their duty to the nuclear family, or otherwise Get A Life in whatever hours remain.
(3.) Balanced reporting. The Ethical duty of media organizations to ensure that some chosen people will face other chosen people on a see-saw of approved alternatives.
(4) Balanced individual. Tightrope walker.
(5.) Global imbalances. In standard expert usage, nothing to do with grossly skewed global weighting of glut and penury in general: refers strictly to US Treasury debt in Chinese hands, blamed in turn on the unfair Asian habit of ‘saving’.
(6.) Balance(d) release payment engine. Time is money and this young fellow ensures not a penny is lost to delay in huge flows of money of different currencies around the world.
BEAN COUNTER: Blasé word used by hip-capitalists to describe their accountants, the ones who do the necessary cost-cutting on their behalf, which invariably means extracting more work from each worker by one means or another. The derogatory tone implies that somehow the accountants are squares operating in another universe and imposing such measures on otherwise unworldly entrepreneurs.
BEHAVIOUR: (1.) Described this way, whatever a person is doing becomes an infantile disorder. The emphasis may fall on childishness (unacceptable, disruptive behaviour…) or pathology (irrational, addictive, self-harming…) or it may all be imputed at once, as in the supremely question-begging negative behaviour. Whether as an overgrown child, a noncompliant patient or both, anyone caught committing behaviour is a legitimate target for intervention, and one way or another can expect to be disciplined, treated, educated or most alarmingly helped.
(2.) For all its personally invasive character, ‘behaviour’ is a slur most often used by professionals convinced that everyone would benefit from some robust and tailored intervention. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is pushed by the British medical, welfare and Offender Management systems as a labour motivation technique, funded in the hope of cutting incapacity benefit payments and the number of working days ‘lost to depression and anxiety’. CBT locates the origin of individual misery and sub-par social productivity in ‘negative thoughts’. Or in the words of Mind, a Mental Health Charity, it’s not events themselves that upset us, but the meanings we give them.
(3.) In case ‘behaviour’ in the open-ended singular comes too close to acknowledging slow social formation of subjective traits, the no-nonsense plural form cuts it sharply down to size. There’s no mistaking behaviours for anything but self-contained facts, contained within the individual and contained there one at a time. Behaviours are ready-made to be identified, classified and modified through Operant Conditioning: a course of aversive and reinforcing stimuli, or punishment and reward.
BRING YOUR OWN DEVICE: At the high end of the labour market Ponzi pyramid, the likes of BT, Colt, Cisco and Samsung allow skilled hirelings to provide the hardware and software used for work. At the low end, call centre workers are told to make calls from home, saving the employer the cost of office rent, electricity and phone bills. Nobody brings anything anywhere in this case, but the breakthrough – the rediscovery that labour can be made to pay some of the basic costs of capital – is the same.
BULLYING: (1.) Workplace. Cuts conflict over time and money down to schoolyard scale. If one schoolchild ‘bullies’ another the injury is real but the two are formal equals under the same coercive structure. Neither owns the other’s means of survival. Apply the metaphor to boss and worker, then, and the stakes of the conflict evaporate, or rather stay in the hands that always held them. The cry of ‘management bullying’ reduces wholesale ownership to bad personal behaviour, something to be corrected by the schoolteacher or the next authority up. A plea for Help that counts as the surrender (usually by proxy) of the managed.
(2.) As extracurricular lesson. Actual schoolyard violence is ‘bullying’ when the perpetrator fits the profile for Multi-Agency Intervention better than the target. In the opposite case, counsellors and Restorative Justice practitioners may declare the ordeal a lesson in Life Skills for the injured party. A salutary warning that s/he must either curb a too-sharp tongue or be unemployable as well as regularly beaten up in years to come.
BURN-OUT: (1.) The risk taken by those brave souls working 18-hour days to ensure the world goes round, eg. policemen, bankers, professional thinkers and fashion designers. This does not however apply to those people, usually young women, who actually produce the fast-changing designs as clothes. They work 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, sometimes kept going by keep-awake drugs. Piecework targets and pressure from supervisors make it constant stress, guaranteeing ruined health and a short working life.
(2.) The Malsach Inventory, dating from the 1970s and still in clinical use, places burn-out at the opposite end of the scale to the virtue of Engagement, which is said to indicate energy, involvement and efficiency.
CARE(S): (1.) s. What with all those aging populations, now an industry in which women especially are expected to do the heavy lifting and the emotional shitwork for low wages. Otherwise unpaid, done for love of the aged parents.
(2.) pl. Without rich parents or a sunny disposition, one is likely to have plenty.
(3.) Care homes. To be avoided.
(4.) Carefree. Those great times in life when you’re off the leash and on the lash.
(5.) In Care. Children’s homes: institutions for vulnerable children placed under a ‘care order’. Sometimes prefaced with ‘secure’, as in the case of particularly vulnerable children subject to ‘secure accommodation welfare orders’. For most of the inhabitants these children’s prisons are certainly NOT secure: more often than not, they are associated with systematic child abuse by adult ‘care professionals’. Secure Training Centres in the UK have killed at least 29 inmates in the last18 years; for example the director of Serco’s Hassockfield STC explained that 14-year old Adam Rickwood hung himself after receiving a ‘structured hug’. Guidelines on ‘physical restraint’ through ‘nose distraction technique’, the ‘double basket hold’ and the ‘double seated embrace’ were modified in 2009, but somehow these Caring environments keep sending kids to hospital (one a week from G4S-run Medway STC alone) in the name of Good Order And Discipline, or in the professional jargon GOAD.
CAREER COUNSELLING: A growth market for the renascent doctrine of phrenology. MRI brain scans and measurement of lumps of grey matter are increasingly popular career advice tools in the US in a context of near 10% official unemployment: “job seekers might be willing to try anything now to gain an edge”. This is one contribution to a 21st-century phrenology boom, involving statistical samples so small as to be nonsensical and riddled with negative correlation, never mind wholesale embrace of cause-correlation fallacy. The Joseph O’Connor Research Foundation charges $675 ($750 in New York!) for a scan and ‘aptitude’ assessment based on size and position of visible lumps of grey matter (‘voxel-based morphometry’), plus traditional cognitive/IQ-type tests (‘inductive speed, analytical reasoning, number series, number facility, wiggly block, paper folding, verbal-associative memory, number memory’), generating vocational ‘aptitude scores’. So those who can afford it will pay lavishly to be reassured that each person suffers a form of exploitation reflecting his or her unique personality. Cognitive masochism in paying patients, or sadism when applied to the labour market at large.
CHALLENGE: (1.) Are YOU up for it? This is a challenging post, the job advert says, sit on the phone and persuade people that they want to be robbed. And if you’re not up for it, what’s the matter with you? Have you no ambition, no get-up-and-go? And make no mistake, the world is going to leave you behind.
(2.) An insult compounded by an invitation to be grateful for it.
CHANGE: Invoked in a general, unqualified sense to consecrate as natural and inevitable a particular shift of power in favour of some interests and against others. The naturalistic alibi gets more persuasive as one petty interest strings together a series of coups: it’s the way the world is going; you can’t turn back time so you’d better adapt. Where particular change can be passed off by its partisans as Change in general, resistance to their next move is made to look like defence of an insufferable past.
COGNITIVE: Neuroenhancers may be required to tweak cognitive function.
COMMUNITY: (1.) Now being used by every scumbag under the sun. Any sense of it as social generosity and heartfelt care having been fucked over by those very same scumbags, they feel free and easy to use it to order. These days it’s media-normal to talk about the ‘business community’, the ‘intelligence community’ and the ‘values’ which, it turns out, mean at the very least not doing anything to disturb the smooth running of the world as determined by community proprietors, or, for full value, grassing up your neighbours. If you fail in these responsibilities, community work will be imposed, a business of pointless tasks and public humiliation.
(2.) Community work. One of many vanishing points where welfare and criminal justice mechanisms meet. Brand names vary slightly – ‘Community Action Programme’, ‘Community Task Force’ and ‘Mandatory Work Placement’ in one government department, ‘Community Punishment’ and ‘Community Payback’ (as displayed on Guantánamo-orange uniforms) in another – but ‘community work’, meaning compulsory unpaid labour, is common to both, as is the use of ‘charities’ alongside outsourcers (Serco, G4S, A4E) in the mission to instil discipline and correct unsaleable attitude.
COMPANY VALUES: (1.) Sounds like a crisis of business confidence: companies apparently ashamed of existing to make money – and of paying labour to make it for them – hallucinate a higher calling. Invoking values instead of value, they recast themselves as something more like a religious cult, a political movement or the synthesis of the two, a Charity.
(2.) But the seizure of executive self-doubt is strictly petit mal. A workforce pledged to indefinite principles instead of specific job instructions is ripe for creative coercion. The advantages for the employer have everything to do with definite, old-fashioned value.
(3.) For maximum disciplinary effect, values should be so nebulous that their breach or fulfilment is a matter of managerial discretion. Backchat is obstructed, for example, if the terms resist use in a coherent sentence. Thus an employer may require allegiance to such values as: ‘knowledgeable’, ‘genuine’ and ‘great place to work’.
(4.) There is no such thing as postfordism. Henry Ford’s holistic approach to the detail of his workers’ social life (copied with his blessing by Nazi German HR) never really went away. Former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy established the verb form applied to Company Values: they are something we live by.
COMPETITION: (1.) Aggravated collectivism. Multiple subjects (individuals, businesses, nation-states) are forced for reasons of survival to pursue the same prescribed end. Maximum conformism is assured throughout the process by reservation of the rewards for the few candidates most closely fulfilling the prescription.
(2.) Widely misconstrued as ‘individualism’: this is true only in the sense that competitive conformity is monitored, measured and priced at individual level.
(3.) The world made up of winners and losers, presented as a natural state of affairs.
COMPETITIVENESS: (1.) Down here in the basement of hell the work gets harder and faster as the escape routes are closed off. Public policy and employers’ People Care programs encourage ‘competitive behaviour’ by removing perverse incentives to idle, including welfare benefits but also any thought of doing just enough waged work to live on and no more.
(2.) Since the 1990s a self-evident virtue: the question is not whether competitiveness should be sought but how, thanks to skilful play on the intrinsic double sense. Competitive behaviour (or competitiveness) by individuals within a company, an industry or a state creates competitive advantage (also called competitiveness) for the larger entity.
(3.) The keenest evangelists of competitiveness, the OECD and EU, don’t want to keep the magic formula to themselves: they want what’s best for their ’emerging market’ competitors too. ‘Appropriate policy choices’ are for everyone everywhere, to be administered by gently guided national governments then ‘benchmarked’ (or subjected to ‘a new type of economic surveillance’) supranationally. Around 2005 the OECD started calling itself a Convergence Club, inviting all market economies to join in the game of ‘Going for Growth’. That hot flush of internationalism confirmed the class core of the project. Worldwide competitive behaviour means downward convergence for those required to behave, with the ‘disciplinary forces unleashed’ uplifting an unmentioned average rate of profit.
(4.) As Ford, by the competitive advantage which he gained, forced the assembly line on the rest of the automobile industry, in the same degree workers were forced to submit to it by the disappearance of other forms of work in the industry.
COMPLEXITY: Flatters many academic, political and media vanities. A variant of chaos theory involving the familiar trick whereby phenomena from the natural sciences are used to describe social relations. Complex organisms arise from small, simple units coming together because that’s the way things are: a concept of self-organization that perfectly describes the market’.
COMPLIANCE: (1.) The scope of contemporary Police Science is glimpsed in the indiscriminate use of this term across the vocabularies of law (self-explanatory) and ‘health care’ (referring to a patient’s submission to a prescribed course of treatment). Public health agencies warn of a non-compliance crisis, to be prevented by re-educating patients in ‘health literacy’. (By which logic obedience to orders is no more than ‘military literacy’; the implications for ’emotional literacy’ are obvious.) A large body of psychological research on compliance ‘in general’ (i.e. in pseudo-isolation from pesky social factors) draws on clinical experiments such as Milgram,1974 (one group of test subjects obeys the order to administer electric shocks of up to 450 volts to another*) and the US Navy/Marine Corps-funded Stanford Prison,1971 (subjects are divided into ‘inmates’ and ‘guards’ of an ad hoc ‘prison’; the guards exceed orders in their torture and humiliation of the prisoners).
[*’To rule out sadistic tendencies, all 40 “teachers” were male and were screened for competence and intelligence before beginning the experiment.’ – S.Milgram]
(2.) Modern businesses routinely maintain large Compliance and Ethics departments, whose highly paid lawyers comment in the manner of biblical scholars on the mysteries of compliance, or rather on the single non-mystery that law originates not in the letter but in the arbitrary power of enforcement.
“Laws and definite norms remain unwritten…A man can transgress them without suspecting it and then must strive for atonement.”
CONFIDENCE: (1.) Michelle Obama to pupils at an inner London school: ‘whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your confidence and fortitude’. On one level this is ‘uplift’ laced with menace as usual: whatever happens to you (even before you were born), you brought its consequences on yourself. But when the lesson learned is confidence, the supply-side theology of Works (‘you get what you deserve’) undergoes a Calvinistic twist: faith in your own salvation is proof that you deserve it; lack of self-assurance is the first sign that you’re damned. Timidity, hesitation and pessimism are modes of self-harm, attitude problems as bad as laziness or strike-making.
(2.) When management self-helpers say ‘you make your own luck’ they’re simply lying, but when they push confidence towards its natural partner, the trick, they accidentally get closer to the truth. In descending order of influence, the confidence of investors, businesses and consumers is viewed by asset-price professionals not as a guide to ‘real economy’ behaviour but as an end (and a perpetual beginning) in itself. Confidence is confidence in other people’s confidence. Rising stock and real estate prices call new credit into being to boost them further; the residue that drips back to production and consumption is called ‘prosperity’. Self-congratulation is self-fulfilling, at least until the next crash. The key to the confidence trick has always been to coax the dupe into confidence that he or she is really the trickster.
CONSPIRACY: -“A nod and a wink”: My Justice James, Old Bailey 1971
-Whispers in the corridor.
-theory: Likely to be a diversionary waste of time when it comes to seeing the world with clear eyes in which a small group of people, usually men, decide that acts of political or financial violence will be carried out and with their political and financial ‘muscle’, ensure this is the case. This involves the accumulation of scraps of conjecture to prove a case which is then militantly defended. The 9/11 attacks are a modern instance – that they were organized by the USA’s deep state, which, ironically denies the ability of the real conspirators – ‘Third World’ men – to carry them out. It can also be very dangerous, as in various anti-semitic narratives. Equally the useful idiots of imperialist capitalism are quick to label proper critical analysis of why things are happening as ‘conspiracy theory’, and if the analysis is hard to deny, will fall back on cock-up theory. In many incidents like the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, a conspiracy, a plan was involved. What is more frequently the case is that a deniable green light is given, usually to create a climate of impunity for selective state and financial violence. Or provocations and scares are manufactured. The accusation of conspiracy theory also used by Marxists who believe capitalism is an enclosed system and deny the power of ‘agency’ to existing oligarchies.
CONSUMER: (1.) Formerly the ‘worker’ or ‘wage-earner’. The rebranding reflects a fundamental shift in the role of the state, supra-state, or regulator. The rights of the consumer as final buyer of labour must be defended against his or her own claims as a seller of labour. So that when competition law works properly the labour-seller should earn and consume less.
(2.) This process of impoverishment is cheered from the sidelines by well-fed enemies of ‘consumerism’.
(3.) Some of the same cheerleaders believe in the oxymoron ‘consumer power’, hallucinating moral meaning into their discretionary spending. Limited-franchise democracy is back! ‘Votes’ for all those with liquid wealth enough to choose what to consume.
CONTAGION: (1.) Diagnosis and treatment with noxious effects extending beyond the original patient.
(2.) Any danger emanating from the lower orders, be it cholera, strikes, riots, or ideas beyond their station. Seen to have greater rhetorical force than the ‘falling dominoes’ metaphor of the Vietnam War period, but bloodletting is prescribed in either case.
(3.) More recently invoked when bad bets by financial capitals induce melodramas of financial collapse, or when markets diagnose the ‘sick men’ among nation-states and apply the standard prescription.
CO-OPERATIVE: (1.) adj. Most often used to describe a person involved in a social relationship, eg. work (‘so and so is very co-operative’), who has learned enough ‘life-skills’ not to dissent from the rules of the game. The co-operative person implicitly denies any discomfort with the sort of coercion that keeps her actively engaged in the task assigned by immediate superiors and the marketplace at large.
(2.) n. A collective set up by individuals seeking to avoid becoming victims of the worst excesses of the market, often by relying on the power of large groups acting co-operatively within said market to negotiate a better deal with the sellers of the commodity they want to buy. The commodities might be of any kind, but two of the most common types of co-ops are those concerned with the essentials of food (eg. the Park Slope Food Co-Op in New York) and housing (eg. the Phoenix Housing Co-op in London). Such groups often rely on volunteer or free labour to further the point-of-sale discounts available to members, regardless of how reliance on volunteer/free labour may affect the wider social wage.
(3.) The verb to co-opt – as in ‘co-opt onto the board’, or, in another dictionary’s definition, ‘neutralizing or winning over an independent group’ – is also worth considering in terms of the service potentially rendered to capitalist reproduction by co-operatives and various other ‘community groups’.
CORE: (1.) Core business, competencies, values. Rediscovered by normally boisterous, aspirational businesses when retreating from a crisis and jettisoning non-core Human Resources on the way.
(2.) Core market. The very poor for discount baked beans canners or the very rich for timeless Swiss watches.
(3.) Hardcore. Not for the faint-hearted. The real deal for those who know what the real deal is. Authenticity for aficionados and jaded palates.
(4.) Core Voters. Those taken for granted by respective political parties. Always the risk however that they might decide Why Fucking Bother!
CRISIS: (1.) A permanent state of affairs.
(2.) Crisis management. Bring in the plumbers. Plug that hole! Prevent fallout! But the most skilled professionals will present crisis as an Opportunity.
CRISP: A New Economy virtue: no mucking about. Graphics with attitude and so forth.
CRITIQUE: To a leftist group attempting to ‘organize’ in the mostly Bengali housing estates around Spitalfields (London) during a fascist nail-bombing campaign, one boy around eight or nine years old offered the following devastating analysis: “you are very GOOD people, very VERY good. Ha ha ha ha HA!”
CULTURE: (1.) As in: investors believe Nick Buckles has created a winning culture at G4S, or: Britain’s long-hours culture. Disciplinary machinery passed off as the social self-expression of its victims.
(2.) Dependency culture. Shifty medicalization, as if poor people were addicted to being poor.
(3.) BBC morning TV schedule, March 2012.
9.15am: Crime and Punishment, part of ‘the BBC’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee’, sets out to ‘chart the changes in crime and criminals, police and prisons during the Queen’s 60 years on the throne’. Presenters embedded in the West Midlands Police and Bristol Prison contrast clips of the 1984 Brighton Tory hotel bombing and the 1990 Strangeways prison rising with the hi-tech lockdown of a recent party conference and the family-friendly side of coercive therapy in today’s prison regime. Recurring catchphrase: whatever you may think of prisoners…
Later in the morning: Homes Under the Hammer: ‘Experts uncover the tricks of the property [i.e. foreclosure] auction trade’.
Then: The Sheriffs are Coming. Another camera crew is embedded with Sheriffs, or High Court bailiffs, as they terrorize delinquent debtors. The 10-hour season has just begun, so it remains to be seen whether, for example, arson of Traveller caravans will be featured. For now the voiceover promises: ‘next time, the Sheriffs confront a plumber!’
CURATOR: Just as the notion of the artist as individual genius went into retreat, up popped the curator. Previously dusty people in dusty museums, they rose up to be the superstars of the art and exhibition worlds, their ‘genius’ recognized as expertise in choice of theme and in choice of objects and texts to articulate, but rather more often to illustrate, said theme. The rise of the curator coincided with the globalization of the contemporary art markets and demand for a new professional class to mediate and supervise relations between institutions, private collectors, dealers and artists. The museum curator, the independent curator, the artist-curator and more recently, the international star-curator service an ever-increasing array of public and private sector clients from major banks, insurance companies and retail stores right through to art fairs, biennales and private homes of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs).
The rise of the curator and associated growth in this sector of the creative economy has been accompanied by an explosion in educational programmes and courses geared towards the professionalization of a new managerial and cultural elite.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Best understood in terms of the description of the work of sexual prostitution as the ‘servicing’ of ‘clients’*. The point here is not just glib assimilation of all jobs to whoredom: customer service, invoked as part of a job description or as a learnable, marketable ‘skill’, is always a supplement to some other labour performed by the customer servant (taking calls, pouring drinks, shining shoes or cars, or simply processing retail sales). That special supplementary service is provided (and the self-contained ‘skill’ is demonstrated) when the servant acknowledges the buyer’s momentary right to command not only the commodity she paid for, but also the person (the gesture, expression: in all senses, the ‘attitude’) of the delegated seller.
With rising real wages it became increasingly untenable for middle class households (such as Marx’s) to employ servants. For much of the 20th century this destitute labour force was reduced to a memory, only to reappear as ‘service’ workers in every corner of the modern world.
[*In business-to-business services the term ‘customer’ – suggesting personal interaction between buyer and seller and therefore personal obligation on the part of the customer servant – is increasingly preferred to the more institutional-sounding ‘client’. Thus the essential impersonality of the transaction as such is acknowledged more directly in the ‘sex industry’.]
CUTTING-EDGE: Once sharp but increasingly blunted sales talk for banal cultural and technological production thought to promise ‘innovation’. Applied not only to individuals, processes and commodities but also to geographical location in the global competition between cities to attract Foreign Direct Investment, eg. London’s status as a cutting-edge city, the ‘Capital of Cool’ in the 1990s. Greater London Group director Tony Travers coined ‘reflective self-image’ to describe the competitive advantage of locating company headquarters in cutting-edge cities – benefiting from parasitic association.
CZAR: Drug- Royal status for those in combat with ‘barons’. The family tree now stretches to Czars of energy, food, health, etc.
DEFAULT: William Lyttle, known as the ‘Hackney Mole Man’, died in June 2010 ‘owing Hackney Council £350,000’ for the favour of evicting him from the freehold house under which he spent 40 years digging a network of tunnels reaching down to the water table. Duly entered into council accounts on the credit side, the unpayable debt became an asset ripe for collateralization, a contribution to the ever-gentrifying borough’s own aspirational borrowing projects. Inasmuch as his death (while tunnelling through the walls of the ‘temporary accommodation’ he was dumped in) broke off this exemplary arrangement, the Mole Man will have been sincerely mourned at the highest level in Hackney.
DELIVERY: Stand and deliver. Or sit down and write a directive.
DEPRESSION: (1.) An entirely rational response to the world as is. An increasingly popular response in a time of economic depression, now being dealt with by record sales of handily named Anti-Depressants.
(2.) The ideal vehicle for a multi-agency pincer movement. On one flank, another diagnosis turning the patient’s experience of the world into something wrong with the patient, whose opinion on the matter may therefore be disregarded by medical, welfare or ’employee wellness’ professionals*. On the other, the very nebulousness of the ‘disease’ makes it an easy target for metadiagnosis as workshy malingering, so that anyone whose misery is classified this way can be kicked along to the next stage on the care-punishment continuum.
[*As with other ‘mental health issues’, the patient’s opinion qualifies as insight when it consists of recognition that the problem is indeed internal and in need of treatment. ‘Mental Health Charities’ would like to attribute these ‘issues’ – or this incapacity for any other kind of insight – to 25% of the UK population.]
(3.) Included in the general category of ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’, which along with Stress and Anxiety accounts for the ‘loss’ of 70 million working days per year in Britain alone, or so some consultants report. Productivity-obsessed employers especially deplore ‘presenteeism’, a relatively new pathology assigned to workers who show up but fail to perform with outright, unconditional zeal. Some bosses see a more serious and less manageable threat here than in absenteeism or sick leave: hence a rush to calculate the costs and remedies in research papers and Human Resources trade magazines. In contrast to absenteeism, which is unsurprisingly associated with low-paid work, presenteeism is said to be universal, afflicting executives, ‘professionals’ and low-paid workers alike. (Note the premise that executive-style devotion to the business should be the norm for any healthy cleaner or cashier.) In short, everyone is depressed and no-one wants to work. Who manages to cope best with the situation – or behave themselves – may just come down to the quality of the (self-)medication available.
(4.) Provides the pretext allowing an employer to enter the home for purposes of ‘workplace counselling, advice and guidance’, with a 24 hour, 7-day emergency hotline, courtesy of ‘Employee Assistance Programmes’. A leader in the field, PPC Ltd., offers online stress-busting exercises, such as: Clench both your fists for about 15 seconds, then relax them and feel the tension draining away from your arm muscles. Repeat this twice. Hunch your shoulders for 15 seconds and relax. Repeat twice. Continue the same routine with jaw clenching and relaxing. Finally, screw your eyes up tightly and relax them, feeling the tension disappear. Amateur boxers would be familiar with this particular exercise, but rather than offering solace and silence away from stress, it would be associated with entering the ring, waiting for the bell to sound before the opening combination of attack and defence.
DIALOGUE: (1.) Sets up speakers representing ‘sides’ of a conflict, so that those represented – and the conflicts of interest within the supposed sides – might finally shut up.
(2.) An invitation to the weaker party to endorse the present arrangement by pretending to speak on equal terms. Losses on one side and the other shall be treated as equivalent regardless of what’s left for each to lose.
(3.) When the dominant monologue falls on deaf ears, dialogue may be resorted to in the expectation that it will become an end in itself.
DINOSAUR(S): A prehistoric genus popular in a range of cultural products. Also used in dismissing certain people and institutions as old-fashioned, heavy, slow and redundant. Sets up any kind of organized labour as a thing of the past along with ‘heavy’ industries like coal and steel, which in the experts’ geographically limited imagination have inevitably given way to the weightless economy. This usage relies on a now wholly discredited theory that dinosaurs became extinct because they had small brains, were slow and stupid. In fact their environment was destroyed by a collision between the earth and a meteor which transformed climatic conditions.
DISABILITY: (1.) When attached to ‘learning’, a means of identifying children and adults with so-called Special Needs or Special Educational Needs and isolating them from others. Recent UK government ‘help guides’ set out various early warning signs for pre-school children (under 5s), including ‘trouble finding the right word’. ‘Fucked-up’, ‘mugged-off’ and/or ‘turned over’ might be more accurate and useful phrases for those who will go on to make up 25% of the prison population.
(2.) Special status within the UK welfare system under which the claimant receives an expanded pittance of £90 a week instead of the sub-subsistence dole of £65 tossed to able-bodied ‘job-seekers’, or in the more forthright language of the 1596 Poor Law from which the policy draws its inspiration, sturdy rogues. Since the 1990s governments have sought nonstop to reduce the payments while maintaining the distinction between deserving and underserving poor, narrowing the definition of ‘disability’ (and its less respectable annexe ‘incapacity’) in order to creates hundreds of thousands of newly ‘able’, retrospectively suspicious malades imaginaires. Among malingerers discovered to be secretly healthy is Keith Tilbury, accidentally shot with a .44 Magnum by a Thames Valley Police firearms instructor in 2007. “The bullet smashed a rib, damaged his sternum and put a hole in his liver. He had to have part of a kidney removed and lost part of his bowel. He had massive entry and exit wounds, muscle and other extensive soft tissue damage”, compounded by “two heart attacks, two more while undergoing surgery, a quadruple coronary bypass, two transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), one full-blown stroke resulting in reduced vision in his eyes, post-operative complications and post-traumatic stress disorder”. Atos, the medical testing outsourcer, duly ruled him ‘fit for work’.
DISAPPOINTMENT MANAGEMENT: Applied to people brought up on hopes for a better world who have worked out techniques that avoid constant suicidal feelings or permanent alcohol addiction.
DIVERSITY: Gross differences of wealth and power melt into air as the world market demands diverse Peoples, Cultures and Ideas and congratulates itself for doing so.
DOWNSIZE: On the face of it, a stoical acceptance that fings ain’t what they use to be, an acceptance that a little modesty might be in order. Unfortunately this usually means certain employees are out on their ear. Fortunately clears the way for a leaner something-or-the-other, whereby, naturally enough, more will be done in less time by fewer people.
ECONOMY, THE: Sickly or blooming, a most sensitive child.
(2.) Informal. Scraping a living in the cracks presented as a convivial social gathering.
(3.) Formal. Implying that those who do the work in corporate industry and services enjoy some sort of privilege, as if the companies in question bound themselves to uncompetitive contractual obligations.
EDUCATE: As in: educating the public about household recycling, approved diet, airline baggage restrictions, personal pension ‘saving’… Used when the agency giving an order wants to add the message: this is for your own good: were it not for your ignorance, slovenliness, selfishness etc. you would have complied spontaneously before we told you to.
EDUCATION: (1.) Something that happens when one is alive. (In this sense, to be contrasted with Lifelong Learning.)
(2.) Private education (esp. UK & former colonies). A system for the reproduction of an owner/officer caste, whose children it equips with the psychological sense of entitlement and mannerisms of command they will draw on later in a life spent overseeing the perpetuation of wealth in entitled hands.
EFFICIENCY: Early 2011: Paypoint, a processor of electronic card transactions using terminals in neighbourhood shops, wins a UK government contract to administer welfare benefit payments. Paypoint-style ‘smart’ cards (managed by private prison operator Sodexo) are already used in a voucher system restricting the purchases of asylum applicants to an approved list of products. The Home Office admits that there are ‘no immediate financial benefits’ from the card-based system. But the political – or policing – benefits are confirmed by the simultaneous launch of a pilot scheme to extend food vouchers to the unemployed. The Trussell Trust, a Christian Charity, takes donations of approved products, to be distributed by ‘statutory professionals’ such as doctors, health workers, social workers and probation officers. The vouchers are supposed to be a ‘last resort’ for claimants whose cash benefits are cut off for noncompliance with ‘job search’ rules; as such they make it easier for outsourced welfare agencies to cut off the payments. But the coupling of the (British Tory) ‘Big Society’ with the (EU) ‘Digital Agenda’ promises to be more fertile still. Consider what the Treasury could save on cash benefits by negotiating bulk procurement of Approved food from supermarket chains instead! More importantly, quarantining claimants outside the cash economy might go some way towards keeping ‘scroungers’ socially segregated from ‘hard-working families’ at a time when instant unemployment is the rational expectation of everyone in work.
EMERGENCY: (1.) A handy basket for all the conflicts and catastrophes that cause human suffering, keeping and their causes separate while justifying intervention by those who, likely as not, were at the root of what caused the same events.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: (1.) ATTENTION! is the London Evening Standard headline celebrating a government scheme to ‘bring discipline back to the classroom’ by using soldiers as school teachers. Lower ranks will get subsidised training, but ‘officers with a university degree’ can start immediately. The plan was announced by the same education minister who declared a week or so earlier that the most important ‘skill’ for teachers is emotional intelligence. Let it be quite clear that there is NO irony and NO contradiction here. The heavily psychologized teacher training process can be dispensed with in the case of military officers because the officer corps is the pre-eminent body of experts in ’emotional intelligence’ as preached by psychology professionals: that is, the cultivation of approved Positive thinking through a blend of charismatic example, conformist pressure and outright institutionally backed intimidation.
(2.) In the political world some have it and some don’t, say those who say they have it.
EMPATHY: (1.) Most conveniently summed up in Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen’s Empathy Quotient test, proposition 55: I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion. An empathist is someone who claims to know better than you do what you are really ‘feeling’.
(2.) Invasive emotional presumption would almost do as a definition, but by itself that doesn’t quite account for a more subtle complex of coercion. In clinical psychology and its outposts in everyday speech, the idea of empathy equates the practice of emotional espionage with its opposite, i.e. attentiveness to the opaque specificity of other people’s experience. The confident social ventriloquist is empathetic and therefore sensitive, whereas reluctance to presume registers as a symptom somewhere on a scale between aloofness and autism.
(3.) In clinical papers on early childhood and ‘low-functioning’ autism, ’empathy’ is shorthand for recognition by the guinea-pig that other people exist separately at all. But once experiments extend to ‘normal’ or at least ‘high-functioning’ adults, only one kind of ‘recognition’ qualifies, namely the capacity “to put oneself in another’s shoes”. (Excuse the technical jargon, Dr. Baron-Cohen is quoted verbatim here.) Acknowledgement of the ‘other’ counts as full-grown empathy only if otherness is instantly foreclosed, replaced by projection of the empathist’s own spectral double onto guesswork about the other person’s spiritual footwear.
(4.) What Empathy Quotient scores measure is above all self-satisfaction, i.e. test subjects’ willingness to assume their own ideas about people around them to be true.
As the shoe-exchange criterion spells out, this usually depends on readiness to ascribe to others a psychic apparatus like one’s own. In an immediately given situation the other person’s shoes may stand some distance away, but the enterprise of swapping asserts that the feet must be fundamentally the same. From the start the idea bespeaks not attention but obliviousness to other conditions. In all history only one social class has ever naturalized and generalized its inner life this way.
EMPOWERMENT: (1.) When the disabled become Gladiators. Back to work to die in harness.
(2.) Once referred to unfinished business: the seizure of relative power by self-organized so-called ‘marginal’ groups (the women’s movement, the gay movement). Now used without scruple in the reverse sense by politically correct paternalism. The empowered subject (or rather object) is someone raised up from a normal state of powerlessness by professionals. Especially prevalent in the field of development/underdevelopment, where certain approved sections of the population are to benefit from this instrumental expertise, often at other sections’ expense.
(3.) As in Black Economic Empowerment, the South African system under which ANC/National Union of Miners boss Cyril Ramaphosa became a big enough shareholder in the Lonmin mining conglomerate to sit on the board. The day before police massacred 34 striking miners at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum site, Ramaphosa e-mailed management, demanding ‘concomitant action’ against the ‘dastardly criminal’ strikers.
(4.) Humiliation instantly reversed: pose for a facial cum shot and feel empowered.
ENGAGEMENT: (1.) The military concept of ‘morale’ (always collective), in a strictly individualized civilian application. Employee engagement is the raw material of morale, composed of 15 intrinsic and extrinsic attitudinal drivers. [Scarlett Surveys, 2001]
(2.) A pretext for punishment dressed up as a system of reward. In the words of a specialist, ‘often linked to the notion of employee voice and empowerment’: the employee is invited to express emotional attachment to the business, and may even be allowed to suggest technical improvements. In HR/People Care theory and its journalistic offshoots, bosses who extract engagement are doing their workers a favour: the engaged employee is by definition privileged, happy and grateful. As the military derivation promises, though, the disciplinary potential of engagement policy is rich. Mere toiling obedience need no longer be tolerated if tainted with ingratitude: one disengaged individual (eg. not always on call for ad-hoc shifts, or unresponsive to official fun) might infect the morale of the whole platoon. For the greater good of all, those attitudinal drivers must be driven home with deadly force.
(3.) On the Malasch Inventory, the opposite of Burn-Out.
ENTITLEMENT: (1.) An unusually complete work of institutional irony. Speakers using entitlements for welfare payments, or entitlement mentality for failure to accept starvation with a good grace, take for granted that nothing could be more ridiculous than an unconditional expectation to remain fed, housed and unenslaved.
(2.) Meanwhile every repetition of the joke habituates its hearers to the fable that the ‘entitlements’ in question are in some sense unconditional, rather than laden with conditionalties so crushing that the claimant must live in perpetual breach of them or not at all.
(3.) Stories of sub-legal social survival (with the reality requiring it left out) may then be used as evidence of claimants’ endemically depraved mentality. At this point entitlement acquires another layer of irony: the target audience picks up on a suavely understated way of saying pillage, or mass social banditry without the equestrian romance.
(4.) The actually-existing entitlement mentality protected by these rhetorical armaments is never named as such, and is as institutional as the rhetoric. It shows up most conspicuously as ‘property rights’ – sometimes simply called ‘the rule of law’ – but that hardy outgrowth of the Roman slave economy doesn’t quite account for the scope of present-day entitlement. Particular property claims are zealously pursued (all the way to amicable settlement between propertyholders or a hundredweight of flesh from the propertyless), but tribute is also exacted from the unentitled class in the form of continuous personal and social adjustment to the whim of bailiffs named ‘necessity’, ‘reform’, ‘therapy’*, etc. No entitled party need even come forward: the first duty is to demonstrate the will to deliver before knowing quite what will be asked by whom.
[*By happy non-coincidence, the term is the same in microsocial and macroeconomic management.]
(5.) There is no reason why propertyless entitlement mentality should remain a joke for owners to scare their clients with. The entitled will have something to fear when an aggressive entitlement mentality overruns ‘common sense’, expelling the moral accountancy of Just Reward and Community Identity. There is no such thing as society, but there is one sound economic theory: Do they owe us a living? Course they do, course they do, course they fucking do!
ENVY, POLITICS OF: A variation on ‘entitlement mentality’, slapping down the political pretensions of nonproprietors. These are really no politics at all, just the attitude of the bad losers in the game of life. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and tell the whingers where to get off!
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY: Backdated proof that ‘failure’ is your own fault.
EQUILIBRIUM: An article of faith from long-discredited Newtonian physics which has persisted, with a shelf-life gone mad, only in the ‘science’ of economics. A utopia where rational individuals are satisfied as the consumer’s breezy wave is answered by production at the drop of a hat.
EQUITY: A usefully soggy word, especially prevalent in the vocabulary of ‘Third World’ under/development. Replaces nasty old Equality, which exudes vicious class envy and a determination to drag the Best and the Brightest down to the Lowest Common Denominator. Equity, as a development goal and promise, instead mimics the use of the same word as a description of stocks and shares. At once this makes it aspirational and tells folk that they all have a stake in things as they are. We are all in it together. In the ‘developed world’ this happy fantasy has turned us into stakeholders.
ETHICAL: As in: issue, behaviour, consumption, investment, suicide.
(1.) Compliant with a norm so pervasive that it no longer looks like a partisan position at all. Norms become self-evident Ethics when they transcend exact expression: their specific content cannot be disputed without affront to higher Values. Therefore Ethical questions are always merely technical, as well as introspective on the questioner’s part: how may I best comply? The sovereign imprecision of Ethical terms guarantees a limitless supply of these queries, each of which, by virtue of its deferential form, reinforces the hidden authority it appeals to.
(2.) A category allowing investors, commentators and activists to ignore the elementary nature of money*. Ethical investment or consumption rests on the investor or consumer’s abstention from direct payment for ownership of particular tainted things (whether finished products or stakes in the producers’ capital). As if money didn’t circulate but was absorbed until Doomsday into the trinket paid for.
[*Ethical investment is an enormous sub-sector playing on this folly, whose momentum is such that ethical funds regularly outperform general stock markets. Ethical consumption is a gold-plated pretext for premium pricing.]
(3.) A sign of soteriological* narcissism in the speaker (see also: ‘green’). Perceiving a problem in the world, the Ethical consumer/investor sets out to avoid the feeling of personal culpability for it: in other words, to ensure his or her private salvation. Just an ugly habit in an individual, perhaps, but more than that when the habit becomes a public duty. The principle behind the preaching: general conditions are an aggregate** of individual ‘behaviours’, so politics means using institutions to induce personal ‘behaviour change’, rather than collective action to change institutions or destroy them.
[*Soteriology: the ‘science of salvation’ in multiple religious traditions.]
[**See also: complexity.]
EXCELLENCE: (1.) Invented in 1982 by McKinsey man Tom Peters (later the author of Liberation Management) and since then cherished equally by public and private sector administrators. Own it! Live it! Excel! shrieks an off-the-shelf workplace training package. Excel what?! is the obvious rejoinder, but the question is not left unanswered by accident. For any manager, the beauty of Excellence lies in its function as a template for perfectly empty quantitative measure: comparative and competitive according to criteria that need not be disclosed to the mere object of assessment, for the good reason that they exist only in the disciplinary fantasy of the assessor.
(2.) Its very lack of reference allows excellence to function as a principle of translatability between radically different idioms: parking services and research grants can each be excellent, and their excellence is not dependent on any specific qualities or effects that they share.
(3.) Enhancing excellence. Making things even more excellent than they already were when they excelled.
EXPECT: Strictly speaking expresses the belief that something is probable (I expect to work until I die). When used to deliver a command (pupils are expected to wear correct school uniform; employees are expected to understand company values; England expects every man to do his duty), the word is symptomatic of institutional entitlement mentality.
EXTREMISM: (1.) Any thought or action contesting orthodox capitalist doctrine or its ongoing violent application to the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystem.
(2.) Defined in a recent British government policy statement as ‘refusal to sign up to national values’. (‘British’, i.e. national, is used interchangeably with ‘mainstream’ in the course of the statement and the editorials endorsing it.) There is no extremism, then, in the politics of the armed freelancer who confessed to the July 2011 massacres in Norway. Anders Breivik is a police impersonator, not a curator of Nazi aesthetics. The middle-class ‘Cultural Christian’, equally hostile to ‘Marxism, Islam and Fascism’, seems at home on the Moderate (their word) European right, but his demand for total ‘cultural integration’ is bipartisan, in step with the think tanks of the ‘centre-left’. In the familiar manner of ‘not-a-racist-but’ tough talk, he has no problem with immigrants personally: they’re simply ordered to ‘integrate’ as a group or face forcible removal. There’s even a specific deadline, as befits any targeted (so to speak) Blairite reform.
Thus the unhired assassin wishes on Europe the kind of community policing he imagines exists in Japan and South Korea: orderly state-managed capitalism, (re)founded under military tutelage, using cultural coercion and overt violence in various combinations to keep material claims quiet. Unlike those who call him either an extremist or a ‘lone madman’, the gun-and-fertilizerman at least grasps that mainstream cultural politics (or ‘national values’) are set up and preserved by force. The ‘lone madman’ theory insults the ‘mad’ by palming off on pathology the violence proper to politics, the foundation of the culture Breivik wants to save from its own backsliding.
The closest he comes to madness is the delusion that the set of institutions (i.e. the ‘culture’) he loves lacks an armed wing of its own, and that he could appoint himself to fill the vacancy. When European institutions need a homicidal freebooter they promptly hire one (Italy in the 1970s, Greece right this minute). If Breivik’s ’cause’ had wanted him he would already have been on the payroll. His willingness to overlook all this would be remarkable, were it not for the prestige attached to ‘self-starting initiative’ and ‘personal responsibility’ in the cultural mainstream he killed for.
EXCUSES: As in such maxims as No excuses. Make it happen or, If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll make an excuse, or, Just Do It. In a heartwarming show of consensus, excuses are despised across the overlapping worlds of Life Skills training, employee motivation, welfare policing, sports coaching and allegedly popular ‘no limits’ culture. To speak of so-called failure in terms of contingency – the social setting, the spirals of bewildering events – is not just inadmissable, it compounds the speaker’s guilt, marking him or her out as a failure, the sort of wretch who won’t admit responsibility for conditions s/he didn’t know existed.
EYESORE: (1.) Respectable Entitlement Mentality at its most triumphalist and trivial. The ‘sore’ in the eye of the beholder is blamed on something in the world beheld. Like an indignant restaurant customer, the beholder screams at the management of the world to wipe away the stain. For the discoverer of eyesores, objects of private aesthetic distaste are objectively distasteful, and as such a police matter.
(2.) “Aestheticization of politics = fascism”: it also works the other way around.
(3.) As a civic duty and a question of standards, the cleanup of eyesores targets unwholesome social survival along with inanimate aesthetic blight. Remarkably often, the two kinds of sore coincide: council high-rises and their inhabitants; derelict buildings and human derelicts; uncommissioned graffiti and its presumed authors; street-fronts of fried chicken shops, betting shops, liquor stores etc. and idle bodies of irresponsible eaters/gamblers/drinkers…
(4.) For all their splenetic energy, denouncers of eyesores inhabit a sty of contentment. Their outrage rests on an assumption that the eyesore is an anomaly, a breach of standards otherwise prevailing. They are shocked because they actually expect not to be convulsed with fury at the sight of the world in general! Such heroically sustained Positive Thinking bespeaks deep and grateful attachment to Things As They normally, insufferably Are.
FACEBOOK REVOLUTION: Self-surveillance from below.
FACILITIES MANAGEMENT: The subcontracted business of office maintenance: bossing around night cleaners and so forth.
FAILED STATES: Used by a chorus of told-you-so vultures who were there every step of the way, creating the very conditions characteristic of what they now condemn as a Failed State. Structural adjustment programmes – once in the ex-Third World and now coming to Europe – strangle the slightest possibility of the state being useful to the populace of the country, while adolescent game-players in positions of power poke screwdrivers into the possible schisms created by colonial mapping or rival theologies.
And once failed, fair game.
FAIRNESS: (1.) Of course payments for the opportunity to punish indicate that subjects care about fairness. They are angry when other subjects are selfish. With another set of co-authors Fehr asked subjects to play similar games while their brains were being PET-scanned. Engaging in such punishment appears to make the subjects happy: it activates an area of the brain, the dorsal striatum that “lights up” in anticipation of many different types of rewards. [Akerlof & Shiller, Animal Spirits]
(2.) ‘Equal pay’ legislation passed in mid-2009 by the British Labour government led to no substantial wage increases for women anywhere, but was eagerly adopted by Leeds city council as a pretext to cut the wages of male garbage collectors by £5,000 per year under a new ‘grading system’. The ensuing three month strike was eventually settled by council management and the GMB union by turning the disputed part of the wage into payment for meeting unattainable ‘performance targets’.
(3.) After the February 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, a San Francisco Bay Area ‘internet equipment manufacturer’ initially feared supply chain disruption, reported the Financial Times. Replacement suppliers were soon found, said the entrepreneur, but ‘if it happened in Guangdong I don’t know what we’d do. The only compensating factor is that all our competitors would be in the same position.’
(4.) Rhetorically used for the vilification of the poor and/or disabled on the grounds that they are taking advantage of self-selected ‘taxpayers’.
FALL: The noun is used instead of the verb when the falling body is old and female. She had a fall. Lock her up for her own protection.
FLEXIBILITY: Yes, of course, all for it! The flexible body, environmental adaptability and so forth, wonderful! Its use however is now restricted to “labour flexibility”. So much so that there is an index to measure it, kindly provided by the World Bank as part of its Doing Business reports. These grade countries as to how ‘business-friendly’ they are. Recently the UK moved up a few positions on this league table, but this immediately provoked a whinge from capitalists stationed there, on the grounds that it disguised a fall in Britain’s position on the labour flexibility/rigidity index. Higher ratings for ‘governance’ and other such criteria were meaningless given the disgraceful leftovers that make any restriction on the firing of workers, along with health & safety standards, an intolerable expense. How could they compete internationally with such handicaps!
The World Bank’s measure confidently asserts that greater labour flexibility guarantees better economic performance and lower levels of unemployment. It promotes five reform projects:
-reduce the scope of employment regulation
-introduce flexible part-time and fixed term contracts
-reduce or lower the minimum wage for new entrants
-allow employers to shift work time between periods of slow demand and peak periods, without the need for overtime payment
-cut regulations on firing by cutting severance payments, or eliminating notice, and increasing the number of ‘fair causes’ for dismissal.
Despite their whinging, capitalists stationed in Britain are working hard to regain their flexibility league table position. The use of CVAs to avoid redundancy payments and an increase in drug testing of employees for ‘fair cause’ dismissals are just two examples.
Meanwhile the World Bank justifies its employer advocacy – which has real consequences once taken up by international aid agencies and used as ammunition by capitalists everywhere – by saying the recommendations will “provide better opportunities for the poor.” To make this claim it suggests that ‘rigid’ labour regulations benefit privileged (for this read ‘unionized’) workers at the expense of those in the informal economy, an economy that, it says, is produced by such regulations. A Trojan Horse argument that ignores evidence of a high degree of mobility between the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ sectors.
FUTURE: (1.) It was rosy, and then it wasn’t. This is serious when the promise of tomorrow has always been there to make up for a disappointing present. At the same time it is not irrevocably scripted, cannot be wholly controlled, though they’re working on it.
(2.) Futures. ‘Financial instrument’ dealing with the uncertainty of change in everything that can be priced. A form of insurance which takes on a life of its own and can itself become part of the speculative roundabout.
GAME: (1.) Chances and choices on a demarcated board; heroics and danger on a screen; winners and losers mandatory; passivity and derring-do taking turns.
(2.) War gaming. Winners and losers mandatory. The simulation of situations that could be to your advantage and make that advantage more likely by making you more prepared for what may occur. Now basic to corporate and political training. Its distance from the mashed-up bodies encourages lucid dreaming-up of worse things to come.
(3.) It’s all in the game. Even if said with a weary shrug, not what the loser who shouldn’t have lost wants to hear.
(4.) Game theory. Tarted-up neoclassical economic theory with some behavioural psychology thrown in.
(5.) It was only a game. The voice of the smug winner.
(6) Game-changer.A top-down decision whereby the ‘rules of the game’ are changed to the advantage of those making the changes; or the hyping-up of humdrum cultural events or sly legislation.
(7) Gaming industry.Happily avoids the world gambling so that a still necessary sense of the work ethic is not undermined by online poker, online spread betting, or what allows some Native American Nations some revenue.
GAUDY: The nose turned up at bright colours worn by the wrong people.
GIVE THEM AN INCH AND THEY’LL TAKE A MILE: A constant anxiety of the rich and the ruling class and their various enforcement agencies. A constant justification for stinginess, Toughlove and worse.
GOING FORWARD: A necessary phrase for dealing with the disappointing present in which unnamed lessons have been learned.
GOVERNANCE: It’s hardly a secret that some government people, elected or otherwise, are very corrupt. Large sums of money end up in Swiss, London or offshore bank accounts. These are liable to come to light only when the holders of the accounts lose power or larger interests decide they have served their purpose and should lose power. However the cry for ‘good governance’ arising from the World Bank some years ago was not a call for such accounts to be revealed in a comprehensive attack on bank secrecy. Instead it served to avert blame from the forces and institutions behind the Structural Adjustment Programs imposed on countries undermined from the start by their colonial invention. Programs that further impoverished the poor and sabotaged bare-bones health and education sectors without a flicker of the advertised economic growth. This predictable result was blamed on a failure of governments to implement the SAPs properly, which in turn empowered internationally integrated ‘technocratic’ elites open to the siren songs of more privatization. To this end the Bank instituted the Worldwide Governance Research Indicators Dataset. The source of these data? An aggregation of polls of public and elite opinion by NGOs, think tanks, development agencies and private investment risk consultancies. This created a ‘new science of corruption’, something experts claimed could be measured. During the tenure of war criminal Paul Wolfowitz at the Bank, ‘good governance’ became an endlessly repeated mantra.
GRASS ROOTS: An ever more desperate assertion that whatever initiative is being arranged, people supposedly innocent of political thought are going to be involved. These innocents are authentic because, in some way, local.
GUARANTEED INCOME: Trailer parks are a booming asset class. In 2012 this branch of real estate half-housed 6% of the US population, but the lure for investors lies more in the literally captive market. Once you put your truck on its ‘pad’ and hook it up to electricity and sewage it costs $5,000 to leave. Parklord Frank Rolfe calls it a waffle house where everyone is chained to the booths. His competitor David Schactler – who likes to “improve the lives” of his tenants by using those who are poor because of “simple mistakes” as enforcers against really incorrigible Trailer Trash – also runs a mail-order Trailer Park University, teaching prospective parkholders the secrets of Guaranteed Income for a few hundred bucks.
HANDLING IT: A highly rated ability to survive the impossible or heartbreaking without stumbling.
HEADHUNTERS: Out into the untamed jungle they go, doing whatever it takes to capture the right man for the job of managing whatever needs to be managed.
HELP: (1.) Whether used transitively (helping the long-term unemployed into work; encouraging the mentally ill, drug users etc. to seek help) or reflexively (self-help), identifies the person helped as the cause of her own problems and those problems as a matter for the proper Authorities.
(2.) Invasive social surgery practised by those with the gall to want what’s best for others.
(3.) A gift from someone who kicks down your door to make sure you get it.
HEROES: Economic conscripts in the military, or mercenaries without a choice. Relentless official use of the term tacitly warns of the penalties for any gesture repudiating ownership of ‘our’ troops.
HETEROSEXUAL: The term enters English usage only in the late 19th century, first used by James G. Kiernan in a Chicago medical journal to describe hetero in its real sense of one’s sexuality being a mix of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Only he saw this as negatively as an abnormality, as ‘psychic hermaphroditism’. Slowly but surely it has come to mean, in many places, sexuality between men and women as the only natural kind.
HOMELESSNESS: The London Mapper, a flight of academic fancy launched online in May 2014, purports to show how much homelessness lurks in each of the city’s districts. It neglects to answer the question: does the homeless person carry her homelessness with her, or does she leave it behind where she doesn’t live? Is there more homelessness in a street of ‘temporary accommodation’ hostels or in a Garden Suburb where the unhoused would never dare set foot? The metric actually used by Oxford professor Danny Dorling is the ‘estimated’ number of street-sleepers per borough: i.e. if you don’t lie every night in an honest-to-goodness gutter you qualify as housed. But even if hounded itinerancy counts as having a home whenever a roof is involved, the question is the same: does homelessness happen where tenants of nothing do sleep or where they can’t?
HUMAN CAPITAL: With a single flick of a phrase, a contradiction – a set of opposing interests – is overcome. Or rather the notion that labour is free when it has no other choice ceases to apply when an individual without the wherewithal to employ others for profit works his/her arse off to learn those skills or ‘knowledges’ that may or may not be useful to those with the wherewithal to employ him or her profitably.
HUMAN RESOURCES: (1.) Used by managers as a kind of magical incantation: if labour is invoked often enough as a pool of passive matter to be tapped and shaped at will, perhaps it will eventually become the longed-for docile body.
(2.) What success the manager-magicians may claim has less to do with the magic of ‘Resources’ than the lure of the ‘Human’ part. With the right additional incentives, a few employees may be convinced that obedience will lift them out of labour altogether and into spiritual development.
(3.) Hence the boldness of those employers who have lately dropped Human Resources in favour of the uncharacteristically pithy ‘People’.
IDENTITY: (1.)Name! Date of Birth! Place of Birth! And if that’s not enough, Christian Name of Father, Mother! Credit History! The data tell a story, any part of which may suddenly be evidence against you.
(2.) Identity Consultancies like Futurebrand worry that your sweater, hot drink or motor car will feel left out and unwanted if not adequately titled.
I HEAR WHAT YOU’RE SAYING: A reliable warning that what you’ve said is about to be ignored, regretfully rejected or mugged off by those who know everything.
INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVOUR: You, a person of importance, tell a lie, smear an innocent person, or have your goon squad manhandle pensioners, and you are found out. As a person of importance it is not then inexcusable, iniquitous, or invidious. Rather, it is inappropriate as if socks had been given to a teenager as a Christmas present, or the quality of the wine complained of at a State Banquet. This useful phrase from the New Labour era is likely to run and run.
INCENTIVE: (1.) A threat, as in incentive to work, save, etc. May involve an explicit promise of future punishment/reward, but the same effect is often obtained more promptly by depriving the test subject of something s/he depended on for survival, thereby creating an ‘incentive’ to cover the loss at his or her own expense.
(2.) A core concept in behaviourist psychology and supply-side economics, which converge in behavioural economics. However the latter’s bestselling spokesmen may strain to disavow their supply-side heritage; they betray it infallibly in their addiction to positive and aversive stimuli.
INCIDENT: An unmarked police car mows you down on a zebra crossing, in the interests of trivial pursuit.
INEVITABLE: Surrender now! Resistance is pointless! In one version it’s Shock and Awe, which mimics Clausewitz’s “affecting the adversary’s will to resist as the first order of business”. Modern-day proponents aim to achieve this with their ‘alternative force package’.
Sometimes the notion is flirted with, as in the lead-up to the Iraq War, which was not inevitable until it was inevitable. (What, with all the men and materiel already moved into forward positions, they were all going to be brought back to base?! When the Grand Old Duke of York has never lived it down, marching his men up the hill and down again?!)
In another form, it’s TINA – There Is No Alternative, a relished slogan which reveals the true limits to choice. The brazen style of neoliberalism is predicated on masochism by proxy, via the market. It may not always be pretty, but it is the way it is, it says.’Globalization, what did you expect, it was going to be victim-free?’ As if we were children who simply aren’t up to speed. These fashioned inevitabilities are used to normalize selective versions of the future using a spurious neutrality and old-fashioned fatalism. Meanwhile, since the ‘inevitable’ collapse of Soviet ‘Communism’, old-fashioned fatalism is transformed into a superior understanding of the massive historical forces that are making the modern world as it is.
INFORMATION: Unwilling to admit to having been taken for a sub-prime sucker, ex-UBS bank CEO Marcel Rohmer blamed information overload for failures in risk assessment and correct valuations: ‘The problem was not a failure to appreciate complexity, but rather the opposite’. The woods and the trees, the not-seeing. In this he followed the CIA’s explanation for not having foreseen the first nuclear bomb test by the Indian state. There was too much information.
INJURED PARTY: Revealed by a recent British court case to be the legal term for a store security guard who knocks down and chokes a shoplifter who has already surrendered and handed back the merchandise and is waiting quietly for arrest. The prosecution did not dispute the 18-year old thief’s claim that he stole because he was hungry (or that he had feared for his life, having seen his parents take similar beatings from police in Algeria). Nonetheless he was fined and ordered to pay £100 to the injured party, namely the guard who assaulted him. Further civil claims may follow from the other injured parties, eg. the guards who joined in the mauling or the despicable ‘member of the public’ who jumped in to help them without being asked.
INNOCENCE: An unaffordable luxury.
INNOCENT: Belonging to a demographic category not stereotyped by association with ‘crime’. Two youths and an innocent shopper were shot in a gang-related incident. Thus the innocent become inadvertent accessories to the slandering of others as guilty-by-contrast.
INTERACTIONAL SHITWORK: Reserved for women doing the work that doesn’t get paid in the care business.
INTERACTIVE: In a rare display of irony, the hi-tech industry uses this term for computer software designed to restrict the user’s possible range of action by pre-emptively intervening (‘interacting’) to determine the form of his/her response. Little wonder, then, that state institutions and employers tend increasingly to require the use of these formats.
INTERFACE: Technically “a common boundary where two different domains join”, as in various connections between device and device or device and user. Most often cut down to shorthand for ‘user interface’, or the “part of a computer program that manages interactions with the user”. The reduced meaning is reflated in turn by the MIT Media Lab and visionary peers, for whom the (user) interface promises final ‘blurring’ or ‘bridging’ of ‘boundaries’ between human and machine. And in the course of reflation the technical meaning is duly inverted. Because in practice the blurring or bridging of ‘boundaries’ means adding mediation: not bringing domains into direct contact, but prising them apart in order to insert a norm or standard of communication between them. One effect is the further anthropomorphization of humans and reification of things: the autonomy of the ‘domains’ on either side of the interface was ontologically doubtful in the first place, but the act of shoving a ‘bridge’ between them lends belated plausibility to the myth of their prior separation.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT: The constant recreation of scarcity among intangible riches.
LEAN: (1.) Meat with little or no fat. Once an unmistakeable sign of ambitious men conspiring. Now considered a sign of rude executive health, all those hours down the gym and jogging with attitude, whereby the company or institution runs a lean machine. This involves extracting the maximum possible labour from those left once the ‘fat’ – those workers producing less than maximum value – has been scrapped.
(2.) Lean management. The first wave of IT claims its first scalps in the 1980s. Turned out layers of middle and lower management were unnecessary. The rhyme is irresistible: mean, as adjective, becomes a virtue.
(3.) Lean boot. a stingy someone.
LEGACY: As in Olympic-, historical-, -project. Presupposes death.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: A to-and-fro within acceptable political parameters about access to various elites. Still punted as if achievable and therefore acceptable to the excluded mass. You had your chance!
LEVERAGE: (1.) Literally refers to funding for a transaction through debt secured on the object of the same transaction, as in ‘leveraged buyout’. ‘Leverage’ (n.) is the ratio of debt to equity (eg. mortgage to cash) with which something was bought; but ‘leverage’ (v.) and ‘leveraged’ (adj.) are also used rhetorically to suggest the appropriation of some kind of potential and at the same time its multiplication through magical– or borrowed– powers.
(2.) More Newtonian physics, whereby a small force shifts a large load. Thus a relatively small amount of capital marches out into the world to do great things, to get more people working under its command to good effect. Might be a problem, these are often the same things being done by other brave capitals.
(3.) Cruder than Newtonian physics, the historically strong strong-arm the historically weaker to allow their own troops immunity from local civil law; or, more often, to get ‘free’ trade agreements to their advantage. Here the large load makes fun of the small force.
LIFE ADVICE: Now to be given to ‘hardcore problem families’ – also known as Dysfunctional – by a squad of ‘troubleshooters’. No namby-pamby stuff here, these troubleshooters are going to come in your door and administer tough love. Maybe it will be without the love and just be tough, but it will also be magical. They will train you up to get a job and conjure up a job when there are none to be had.
LIFELONG LEARNING/LIFE SKILLS TRAINING: BABY COMPETITION, Brixton Tesco (Now judged by Professional Agents)
LINE MANAGER: Junior bosses doing the day-to-day ‘tracking’ of each worker’s performance. Such surveillance may then involve the arm over the shoulder, the gentle ultimatum, the stern word, or the regret, but ‘I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go’.
LINKED: As in: the accuser of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been linked to drug offenders (and may therefore be raped with impunity).
The nearest journalistic neighbour of scientific correlation-cause fallacy (marriage is linked to higher socio-economic status; recreational drug use is linked to depression; sadistic school discipline is linked to achievement).
A craven and effective trick whereby the existence of a relation between two things is proclaimed, but the kind of relation – or how it works – is left unstated. This reticence is not an admission of uncertainty but a pre-emptive declaration that nothing more need be known. All Links are equivalent and stand as evidence without further specification. Thus a simple binary system (linked-not linked) lays claim to expression of all possible relations, asserting the redundancy of the verb and upholding the absurd proposition that such a thing as a ‘not-linked’ condition exists.
LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR: As with all scientific/mathematical terms used metaphorically for social description, innately dodgy. This one suggests that equality among human beings needlessly lowers the quality (or cheapens the qualities) of all human beings. Prejudice masquerading as science.
LUXURY: A bed to sleep in, in a not-freezing space, on a regular basis.
MAN MANAGEMENT: Kettling.
MANAGEMENT: (1.) Management…shared from the first the characterization which Clausewitz assigned to war; it is movement in a resistant medium because it involves the control of refractory masses.
(2). Of your own affairs. Knowing what to cut from your budget: the protein? the night out? paracetamol? the children? the lottery ticket that might have won?.
(3.) As business practice, skillset, and academic discipline. A transferable technique applied to any organization – a textile factory, volatility fund, prison or charity– regardless of the specific commodities handled or conditions involved. An amalgam of marketing cynicism, PR deftness and whatever is required to get maximum effective work out of the wasters, deadheads and tossers it is your lot to command. Nowadays a degree of sadism and the certainty that one is indispensable are basic requirements.
(4.) Scientific. ‘No one workman has the authority to make other men cooperate with him to do faster work. It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards of enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone. The management must supply continually one or more teachers to show each new man the new and simpler methods, and the slower men must be constantly watched and helped until they have risen to their proper speed. All of those who after proper teaching will not or cannot work in accordance with the new methods and at the higher speed must be discharged.’
[F.W. Taylor The Principles of Scientific Management]
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: (1.) …or Expect to be Managed. [The Consulting Academy]
(2.) The art of obtaining submission to injury (or ‘tough realities’ etc.) through the judicious threat of something worse. As when mass redundancy is averted at the last minute by offering the speed-up scheme intended all along.
(3.) What is most often managed downward to extinction is not some extravagant hope for the future but the idea of survival on the present meagre terms.
(4.) If the people crash it does not matter if the program runs. The purpose…is to make the people run. [Blurb for Naomi Karten’s pioneering Managing Expectations, 1994].
(5.) A minority school in motivational psychology advocates managing expectations upward, on the grounds that the disappointed (in one clinical trial, ‘students who expected and A and got a C’) will blame themselves and work harder in future.
MARKET(S), THE: Reality is said to be determined by Its sentiment and confidence, whether It is The Market in the singular or the nebulous thing formed by the plural. It is also said to be a reflection of reality. In both forms It is anthropomorphic and at the same time diffuse enough to be decision maker without responsibility. Its diffuse nature has not however prevented It from having a penchant for gurus like the now discredited Alan Greenspan or the still revered Warren Buffett. Nor has this kept it from becoming an all-time TV and radio favourite with constant reports on Its state of being. ‘Market watchers’ are constantly asked by the folks back in the studio to tell us the score as to the nature of the day’s reality as reflected and determined by It. Its cheerleaders have created a never-never land in which it was a ‘natural’ development, denying the history of its political creation and its continued dependence on political structures and vast state subsidies like the US Defence budget.
(2.) Jitters. The Market (or Markets) is a blob with a surface of suckers which absorb an ever increasing mass of human activity into itself. Nevertheless it is a sensitive, indeed neurotic beast, all too liable to see, foresee, fantasize or pretend to see things that it does not like. It is then that it develops the jitters: the blob wobbles and is in need of soothing. At which point the cry goes up, Something Must Be Done!
(3) Sentiment. The folklore according to which stock market performance reflects that of a wider economy has quietly been turned on its head in 2011-12, at least in Europe and North America. Macroeconomic data counted as ‘strong’ now tend to depress markets, and vice-versa. Investors would prefer numbers ‘weak’ enough to provoke more Quantitative Easing or other ‘monetary stimulus’. Like longing for a terminal diagnosis as a ticket to palliative care.
MATERIALISM: A threat to the planet and human identity. (Tony Blair)
MEASUREMENT: “Whatever can be measured can be managed.” (McKinsey, global consultants and tax avoidance innovators.)
MEDICAL EPISODE: When you have been tasered and are dead.
MERITOCRACY: (1.) Predicated on the ridiculous and correspondingly cherished idea that individuals are born equal. Their success or failure must therefore come down to their own hard work and/or sense of personal responsibility. In fact statistics on economic ‘success’ confirm that ‘chances’ of succeeding have as much to do with privileged birth (or lack of it) as they ever did, so that ‘meritocracy’ means those whose merit was once known as breeding will by and large run the show. A few low-born success stories help to disguise the persistence of “things as they are, things as they were, things as they will be by-and-by”.
(2.) Perfect and perfectly empty circularity: personal ‘success’ is retrospective proof of meriting it. Whatever is, is right, wrote Alexander Pope in 1733, since when the applause of the owners of merit has been unbroken.
MINDFULNESS: ‘On a hot Thursday in June’, the Financial Times witnessed a Mindful Leadership meditation programme in action at the Minneapolis headquarters of ice-cream and breakfast cereal multinational General Mills. ‘As people arrived’, wrote the US mergers and acquisitions editor, ‘many hugged one another and I noticed some in tears. General Mills had recently announced its first round of mass layoffs in decades – some attendees were having to fire members of their team, while others were losing their jobs.’ The instructor (the company’s Deputy General Counsel) ‘gave the group an impromptu talk that wove together mindfulness practice, a poem and some General Mills shop talk’. She ‘also spoke about the layoffs. “When we’re in any kind of transition in our lives it’s so easy to get into the swirl and get lost”, she told them. “Use this practice to gain stability in the mind. It’s a lonely time, but it’s also a hopeful time.”‘ Participants were told to ‘take a posture that for you in this moment embodies dignity and strength’. Some sat cross-legged, others were kneeling.
MISSION STATEMENT: (1.) It’s no good just squeezing the last drop of nervous energy from your workers then their last penny as consumers, you’ve got to feel good about it and make sure the whole world knows you’re doing good.
(2.) As in religious mission (or sometimes vision), military mission, Company Values. A pledge of allegiance extorted from the conscripts.
MODULAR MANAGEMENT: (1.) Tenant Modular Management organizations present themselves as dialogic – between tenants and ‘social’ landlords – but are the usual monologue in which all options good for tenants have been deleted from the Options Menu.
(2.) Modular Management Development Programmes, based on continuous learning: application of learning, reflection on Outcomes, obtaining Feedback, matching up market and product design, developing product platforms.
MOTIVATION: (1.) The suffix ‘-ation’, appended to the noun (or adjective) ‘motive’, yields an exquisite logical redundancy and a telling psychological fallacy: ‘motivation’ as supplementary motive for an action that is already being performed. A meta-motive with no particular content other than itself; a self-sufficient force in the brain of the ‘motivated’ worker (for only labour is ever motorized this way), yet also something managers and psychologists may stockpile and instil.
(2.) The perceived need for such a motive-supplement, with the resulting attempts to sell, transmit and measure it, at least helps erase any lingering delusion of the ‘dignity of labour’. Motivation-pushers tacitly admit that no paid work serves any direct purpose for the person doing it. The undermotivated worker is already working for some reason, but outright recognition that the wage is the only rational motive for work would lead the managers’ epiphany onto dangerous ground. Hence the need for a towering obfuscation, a fantasy substitute-cause, and a whole body of professionals to will it into being.
NATURAL WASTAGE: This is not a case of ‘You are fired’, but ‘You are shit’. To be excreted.
Human resources and human capital, all very good, valued, nurtured and so forth, but subject to efficiency drives, leanness and meanness. This invariably requires that fewer people produce the same or more work per second. The humane method of achieving this end is to encourage older workers into early retirement or, at worst, if tied into antiquated labour laws, reluctantly wait for the old bastards to reach retirement age. Resources become waste in the process of production, completely natural, and awaiting evacuation.
NEWZAK: You’re in the gym running on a treadmill; back in the changing room; in the waiting room of an intensive care unit; in the supermarket; at the Post Office and, here it comes…the talking head; the piece of action; the wounded on the rail track; the talking head on the scene; back to the studio, nodding seriously. The key question, What’s the latest? The body count? The ups and downs of the market. An expert says what will happen next; then back to the talking head on the scene harassing emergency workers. It’s incessant. Everywhere. Overwhelming detail of things you can do nothing about.
NO FRILLS: Barefaced marketing.
NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE: Instant dismissal of what went before and the promise that as of now, whatever the institution, rugged, functional efficiency is the order of the day.
OBESITY: Lack of self-control by the poor whose medical treatment We should definitely not have to pay for. Westminster (London) borough council manages the problem proactively: just stop feeding them! Welfare benefits will be withdrawn from ‘overweight or unhealthy’ claimants who refuse to take part in ‘prescribed leisure activities’, meaning compulsory sports and gym classes with attendance monitored by ‘smart’ card.
OLIGARCH: (1.) A rentier-capitalist is an oligarch if Russian; otherwise he is a present or future philanthropist.
(2.) An oligarch whose ecumenical UK media policy lets him buy out a triumphalist right-wing newspaper and and its liberal competitor within a few weeks is no longer an oligarch, he is colourful.
ONE-PARENT FAMILIES: A description of single mothers (and that ultra-suspicious category, single fathers) when a modicum of self-restraint is being shown by demographic paranoids, eugenicists, cost-cutters, and professional moralizers. None of these people, for whom self-restraint is purely tactical, has ever scrambled onto a crowded bus with child, buggy and shopping, got children fed and ready for school on an impossible budget, been lectured by those who know best, or got up in the morning actively fearing the utility bill that is on the way.
OPPORTUNITY: Another form of jumping through the hoops with every likelihood you’re going to land slap-bang right on your kisser. Don’t bother unless rich parents apply. An entirely fictitious notion of equality of opportunity remains a mainstay of political rhetoric, however, as an essential prop to the continued shelf-life of an elitist hierarchical society. ‘Equitable distribution of opportunities is preferable to a redistribution of assets or incomes’, says the capitalist class and its useful idiots.
PACKAGE: (1.) In which a variety of policies, inducements, financial instruments and war equipment are bundled together.
– At the upper end of the job market recruiters offer remunerative packages including salary, pension, bonuses and a variety of privileges.
– In US military Shock and Awe strategy an ‘alternative force package’ is proclaimed. This involves the use of a wide range of digital and robotic techniques in which the authors of the proclamation had a financial interest.
– In the world of finance, toxic assets and dodgy mortgages are bundled together with others that appear to have proper provenance.
– A package of measures. Unpopular legislation (tax breaks for multinationals, anything raising petrol prices) bundled safely together with focus group favourites (welfare punishment, perpetual prison terms, a well-timed war).
(2.) Full Package Providers. Contractors in the clothing production chain who have worked their way up from doing jacket sleeves only to doing the whole jacket, the cutting and all the sewing operations it takes, buttonholes, pockets, the lot.
PAIN: Asian workers have a greater threshold of pain.
[Lee Kwan Yew, long-time ruler of Singapore]
PARENTING: A skill required by all those brave enough to endure the sacrifices (as well as the joys) to be a parent with little money, but which can only be taught, by salaried professionals who know just how, when, in what proportions and in what form, reward and punishment must be applied to the child.
PARTICIPATION: (1.) Great, all for the promise of the breakdown of exclusive barriers; only it doesn’t work that way. Instead, states and capitalist entities see advantages in the ostentatious display of participatory intentions and a rhetorical complicity of those excluded in reality. Also used to soften resistance to the intentions, and their execution, of those entities.
(2.) Or as the old slogan has it: I participate; you participate; he/she participates; we participate; yous participate; they profit.
PASSION, PASSIONATE: Another expression used with reckless disregard for bathos to ascribe to individual workers intense emotional identification with what they do for wages: We are passionate about customer service. But a glimpse of reality is let back in by the opposition of passion, passive, etc. to action, active… ‘We’ are passionate about – i.e. subjected to the rule of – customer service, but it may not always be this way.
PEOPLE: (1.) Human Resources managers (themselves now sometimes called ‘people managers’) refer to ‘our people’ when they want to talk about workers in a way that downplays the wage relation and emphasises Belonging, both in the spurious sense of the employee’s voluntary personal identification with the business and the real one of the employer’s drive for round-the-clock possession of the labouring nervous system.
(2.) Behavioural economists, motivational psychologists and their colleagues present the results of their experiments as pertaining to ‘people’ in general, independently of social or even individual circumstances. People work harder when given responsibility; People make bad economic choices because of irrational expectations, etc. The particular conclusions may seem anodyne, but the casually assumed premise – that individual psychology determines material situations rather than vice-versa – is a hangman’s charter.
PERFORMANCE: ‘You’re only as good as your last film.’ That was for actors. Now it’s everyone. Your individual work measured on a regular basis. Did you come up to scratch today? The number of tasks completed, the intensity required. Knowing that these requirements can only go on increasing. Results vary, from worker suicides to the ever-increasing prescription of anti-depressant drugs.
PLACE: (1.) v. A new profession whereby folk abused somewhere in the welfare system are put into ‘community’ organizations as wageless workers or designated ‘volunteers’. The professionals placing them receive a weekly payment for as long as the placement (the resulting noun) lasts.
(2.) n. Know yours.
PORTFOLIO: Smug figurative term for abstract wealth and its concrete consequences. The imaginary billfold contains ‘diversified’ assets: shares in gold and toilet paper or consultancies with government contracts; regenerated urban real estate and a slice of African farmland; some corporate or carefully chosen government bonds; a stake in a hi-tech start-up and so forth. Or none of the above but options, futures and contracts for difference on all of them. The aim is ‘absolute return’, or immunity to the ups and downs of the mere market. Portfolio managers have been among the most lucid recent critics of mainstream economic debate, laughing at ‘global GDP’ forecasts because the portion of total output that returns to properly diversified capital just keeps growing.
PRIORITIZE: The non-stop logistics of everyday life.
PRISON: Secretive places of humiliation and resistance. Old-style prisons inside cities may have been put there a visible threat, an attempt to discourage the others, but these days, in the all-conquering name of Security, they are built in the middle of nowhere to make them even more secretive, social isolation made complete. Inside, the Incentives and Privileges scheme, whereby all ‘privileges’ – i.e. the bare minimum – have to be earned, and punishment of those who do not comply is integral, has become thoroughly systematized, as has the psycho-pharmacological regime. In this way Prison has become a model for the whole social welfare system.
PRIVATE PROPERTY: A restaurant where the waste bins are caged and padlocked.
PROBLEM: (1.) Everything is a problem, and we – the one big family – all have them. Up to the eyeballs, some more than others.
(2.) A conflict recast as a technical matter, to be diagnosed and treated by pre-emptive intervention professionals, and/or dragged out indefinitely.
(3.) Problem families. New term in an old tradition. ‘Life unworthy of living’ except as a pretext for intervention.
PRODUCTIVITY: A capitalist wheeze whereby how hard workers work in a given length of time and elasticity within the length of that given time are mixed in with improvements in equipment and machinery, allowing workers to produce more without working harder or longer. The time and effort saved this way are invariably reinvested in longer and harder work.
PROFILE: (1.) Industrial Psychology techniques, imported from the University of Leipzig by the Carnegie Institute, first nailed workers to personal datasets in the 1910s. ‘Aptitude testing’ or psycho-physical profiling really took off when applied to military conscripts in the First World War.
(2.) Today the same kind of data are supplied with no need for testing: personal profiles are self-packaged and shared in the spirit of trench ‘volunteers’.
(3.) Persuasion profile professionals refine targeted advertising via the tracking of personal internet use. We know who you are, otherwise known as ‘hit-tracking’.
PROVIDERS: (1.) Franchises reselling access to indivisible resources (water, electricity, airwaves) once these are broken into imaginary bits by political decree. Any involvement in extraction, generating, distribution, etc. is entirely incidental. Marks & Spencer, the retail chain, is an ‘electricity provider’ in the same sense that a street dealer is a provider of heroin.
(2.) The Alchemists of the public-private sector, who use words like ‘Trust’ to ‘deliver’ services without moving from their laptops. From the moment they decide what service is to be delivered, hey presto it is delivered, untouched by human hand. Unless, that is, something goes wrong. Then the hired human hands are presented, ready for reprimand or amputation.
QUALITY: Literally, an attribute. But in a marketing-derived vernacular (high, low, total quality), refers to a quantity of a combination of qualities which the managers of its measurement prefer not to specify. On the next level becomes an adjective denoting possession of an unspecified but desirable quantity of this unspecified set of qualities (quality bathroom accessories, literature, recreational drugs etc).
QUANTUM: Drawn from the world of sub-atomic particles, which is barely – and mostly misleadingly – explicable in language, the word has been a must for sellers of Change. Thus ‘quantum leaps’ abound.
RAT RACE: An Olde Worlde description of how capitalism worked for the aspirant or trapped bourgeois, with the clear implication that there was always a get-out: retreat to that very expensive smallholding and smug self-sufficiency.
RED TAPE: A catch-all term used by business lobbyists, think tanks, and their media-political allies to attack any restriction of the power to exploit labour. The disingenuousness of its present-day use is given away by the archaic nature of ‘red tape’ around manuscripts. What, haven’t they heard of computers? One of its main functions is to attack health and safety regulations. When a worker is killed at a high-end ‘sustainable’ outfit like Daylesford Organic of the Cotswolds, the result is a small fine and a judge talking about ‘a relaxed safety culture’. Spokesmen – or activists – for business prefer ‘self-regulation’ and non-enforceable ‘codes of conduct’, as in Gulf of Mexico oil drilling.
REGULATION: We need more of it ‘to counter the excesses of the unfettered market’, a crowd of Maverick economists intones. (Never mind the way financial regulators tend to rise from the ranks of the regulated.) Perhaps the Experts fail to notice the wealth of regulation the market already relies on because those regulations fetter just the one sort of ‘market actor’. As in the following works of Fitness for Purpose:
– The German unemployed are legally required to accept any job within a 120km radius. In pragmatic Britain, where the criterion is a two-hour commuting time, further rules for claimants mimic the Police Bail system. Report to your Employment Advisor every day or do six months’ full-time Voluntary work.
– Under the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) non-purchasers of US medical insurance are liable to be fined before dying of untreated conditions*.
– Personal pension ‘saving’ – or stock market gambling outsourced to professionals – is now effectively compulsory for waged workers in the UK. Even those ‘opting out’ through a complex and barely advertised obstacle course make a forced loan to the fund manager: the first instalment of ‘savings’ is deducted automatically from wages, supposedly to be reimbursed later.
– Breaches of housing regulations (hygiene, safety, overcrowding) are dealt with severely by British authorities. The tenants in question are evicted without notice and arrested if their immigration status is in doubt.
– Trade unions in the UK quibble meekly over whether soi-disant ‘disciplinary’ clauses in employment contracts might have been improperly enforced. Unless the worker has joined the army or is a schoolchild subject to powers in loco parentis, real fetters rest on legal fantasy here. ‘Disciplinary’ powers in a civil contract are literally mind-forged manacles.
– Formal contract logic is travestied not just at work but in wider social management (with knock-on consequences for the labour market itself).
RESILIENCE: (1.) Required by most people in the world just to put one foot in front of another every morning, often after yet another knock-back. But among the class exempt from serious discomfort the idea soothes any uncomfortable feelings about the present war on the poor. ‘You’ll be amazed at their resilience’, they will say of people who have no other choice. The word was commandeered from ecological vocabulary, where it refers to how well an ecosystem responds to climatic, parasitic or human-induced shock and damage: how fast, if at all, it recovers.
(2.) Management theorists Gary Hamel (Strategy as Revolution) and Liisa Välikangas (Lead Like a Lion) brought the eco-metaphor to the Harvard Business Review in 2003. ‘Resilient organizations’ are defined by their ‘flexible staff’, ‘adaptable supply chains’ and ‘agile organizational structures’, but above all by their unconditional willingness to conform (or ‘adapt’) to any conditions imposed. Like failing ecosystems, ‘organizations which do not adapt will collapse, to be replaced later with new and more efficient organizations which are better suited to the new environment’. A strategy of aggressive surrender: always accept everything, but be sure to beat your competitors by abasing yourself first and deepest.
RESPONSIBILITY: A labour-saving device for police (broad sense): from childhood onwards the message is hammered home that responsible behaviour means spontaneously doing as you would be told if you put someone to the trouble of giving an order. (Such advance compliance is called showing initiative* when the voluntary servant intuitively embraces the spirit of orders never yet given rather than sullenly sticking to the letter of those heard before.)
[*See also: aspiration]
RELATIVISM: (1.) Denounced from various pulpits by retrospective conjurers of tradition. Revivalists of national, cultural, religious or scientific superstition thunder against the soft-hearted modern habit of considering circumstantial – i.e. social – factors in cases where hereditary values (Western, Christian, Scientific…) ought to rule. For all their talk of threatened ‘standards’, ‘cohesion’, etc, what really bothers the orators is an affront to the king of superstitions, the belief in simple one-to-one ‘causation’ and the law of personal liability that goes with it.
(2.) But the enemies of ‘relativism’ (like its friends in Cultural Studies) fail to see why it can never, by definition, serve as a floodgate for abject human heterogeneity. Relative terms imply a common denominator, a facility for like-for-like comparison, measure and therefore exchange. Incommensurable social experience is banished a priori, leaving something much like the single standard of measure projected onto the past (and/or sought in techno-scientific authority) by the counter-relativists themselves.
RIGHTS: Once upon a time, for a brief period, there were rights, fought for by many people who made their own lives that much harder by doing so. Declarations were made by powerful institutions to the effect that these rights were unconditional. In recent years, however, these rights have become wholly conditional on responsibilities, as defined by those powerful enough to define the nature of those responsibilities definitively.
RISK: (1.) In a form of pre-emptive victim-blame, oil and petrol/diesel vehicle corporations promote ‘pedestrian training’. If pedestrians are mown down by exhilarated cop cars or just-in-time vehicular delivery, it is due to their own pedestrian incompetence.
Pre-emption is the name of the game in the serious, interdisciplinary business of risk assessment and management. In spectacular recent cases it has justified military action, but especially since the advent of HIV/AIDS it has become commonplace in the identification of designated groups and of individuals within those groups who may cause interference with the smooth running of the way things are. Children are routinely categorized in this manner.
(2.) Risk-taking (successful). An ability claimed by capitalist cheerleaders as exclusive to financiers and tycoons and which, by happy coincidence, leads to the most efficient (optimal) distribution of resources. When, however, interference with the smooth running of the way things is the consequence, ‘excessive risk-taking’ is blamed. This occurs when ‘assessment’ of where, when and how a slice of surplus value can be appropriated is distorted by the attraction of ‘above average rates of return on capital’. In this instance blame has no consequences, and there turns out to be no risk in excessive risk-taking as the world of finance is ‘too big to fail’. The Moral Hazard sermon becomes an overnight quaint anachronism.
(3.) Risk-taking (failed). An estimated 120,000 of 200,000 farmer suicides in India were committed by farmers going into debt in order to use the GM-type BtCotton whose promise of greater yields frequently did not materialize. Similarly, small farmers who switched to the wonder crop Japhotra (slogan: Money really does grow on trees) found that the supposed yields did not materialize.
ROBUST: A word from the past resurrected by New Labour but with good long term prospects. It hints both at a relish for punishment – law breakers will be dealt with robustly – and at a vigour and resolve whereby the tedious business of realizing the brilliant idea is overcome at a stroke. ‘Robust implementation’ of projects and initiatives is promised on a daily basis.
ROGUE: No longer cheerful, but a handy fellow whether elephant, element or nation-state. As ‘element’ comes on as substitute for the ‘rotten apple’ that fell from the tree from overuse.
SACRIFICE: (1.) A technical term used in the addition of insult to injury. As in speeches, ceremonies and monuments ‘commemorating’ war dead.
(2.) Subject and object change places wherever the word appears: s/he who ‘sacrifices’ is invariably the one ‘sacrificed’. The example of war memorials applies again.
(3.) A rare case of consistent historical usage over centuries and through all stages of secularization. In modern economics as in ancient religious ritual, ‘sacrifice’ implies renunciation of a material interest in favour of an abstraction, which turns out to be a euphemism for an opposed material interest.
SAFETY MANAGEMENT: In your best interests, wall-to-wall CCTV 24/7.
SATISFACTION: A necessarily temporary state affairs in the queasy world of consumer capitalism, While temporarily a non-consumer, one should be satisfied with one’s lot.
– I can’t get No… A sentimental nihilism lurks here, but so often, it IS the case. Just can’t get any. All too difficult. Or it’s all too short-lived as the sugar rush from cheap food dies away
– Self-satisfaction, aka, Smugness. An extremely unpleasant characteristic, somewhat typical of a young professional class whose parents have money.
SCARCITY: In the happy world of neoclassical economics with its equilibrium, there is scarcity, while at the same time there is no limit to how Mr Supply can rise to the occasion to satisfy the potentially infinite requirements of Miss Demand. Environmental limits happily, do not apply.
In the capitalist world it purports to describe however, scarcity’s real function is all too evident.
It is a fact well-known…that scarcity to a certain degree, promotes industry, and that the manufacturer who can subsist on three days work will be idle and drunken the remainder of the week… The poor in the manufacturing counties will never work more time than is necessary just to live and support their weekly debauches…We can fairly aver that a reduction of wages in the woollen manufacture would be a national blessing and advantage, and no real injury to the poor. By this means we might keep our trade, uphold our rents, and reform the people into the bargain.
J.Smith: Memoirs of Wool. 1747 II
SAVE: To gamble, as in pension savings.
SECURITY: (1.) In the singular, an abstraction ill-defined on a case-by-case basis. Violence is licensed by the illusory promise of total security, played against a kaleidoscope of threats, commands and permanent anxiety: homeland, energy, data, personal, emotional security.
(2.) Clarified by the plural form: securities are financial assets, finite claims on value (i.e. embodied labour), ‘secured’ by the promise of violent legal enforcement.
(3.) Social security, job security. Withdrawn from polite language when the balance of violence shifted in favour of a class wishing to keep its (un)employees chronically insecure.
SELF: (1.) Self-employment. Industry standard, 2012. A mid-size London plumbing contractor fires everyone and invites them to reapply for the same work on a self-employed basis. Those accepted are henceforth personally liable for tax, National Insurance and pensions, damage claims, traffic fines and the cost of working materials. GPS trackers are attached to all work vehicles, monitoring arrival and departure times for every job. The resulting data are automatically collated so that the plumbers can be ranked by the number of jobs finished per week and the rankings displayed at company headquarters. Repeated losers in this competition face redundancy from self-employment.
(2.) Self-management. An alarming threat to professional managers’ idea of their own indispensability. But management visionaries may welcome the outbreak of self-discipline and self-exploitation among their workers.
– Private prison and dole office operator Serco, holding a £140m contract to run state-funded medical services in Suffolk (Eastern England), wants to replace nurses and hospital beds with ‘five-a-day packages of care’. Patients will be visited at home, where a ‘case manager employs motivational interviewing techniques to encourage optimal patient self-management’.
SELF-ESTEEM: Consent to the conditions that compose the self.
SHAPE UP: The language of the gym, with direct coercion attached. Those days of being a wimp, idling or simply nor performing are either over, or you’re out of here: the job, the team, the relationship.
SHIFT: In the no-choice working world, schedules demanding that at any one time your working ‘day’ may start at dawn, dusk or anywhere in between. Now hijacked by politicians and sports commentators alike, so that every high earner and his dog have ‘put in a shift’ as if they were all the coal miners of yesteryear.
SILO: (1.) Pejorative term for a rule or category accused of cramping visionary investment or hobbling proactive policing. Heroic silo-busters, writes the Financial Times, have ‘tried to change the operations of municipal government’, but ‘met with fierce union opposition’. For the past15 years a Professor Thomas Snitch [sic] of the University of Maryland has been frustrated by silos as he lobbies for the use of military drones and satellites against African wildlife poachers. ‘Thankfully’, however, ‘not everyone is deterred’. Professor Snitch is now working with ‘police groups in Washington DC’, using the insights of his GeoEye consortium to ‘explore how satellite technology could cut crime’*.
[*UK police, unencumbered by that particular silo, have used drones since 2007.]
SKILLS GAP: Mass passive insolence.
SMART : (1.) People. Membership by invitation only. Please do not apply as refusal often offends. Smart people are using train time to wrap up Christmas on their mobile phones.
(2.) Appearance. ‘Failure to look smart at all times will result in automatic detention, isolation, or being sent home. There will be no warnings, you know what is expected.’
(3.) As in ‘impudent’. (Don’t get smart with me, boy!) See: smart phones, watches, homes, cities. Intimate management of social life, delegated to devices that presume to know what’s best for the living.
(4.) As in ‘card’, and now also Smarter Sanctions of the ‘compassionate’ kind floated for dole claimants by the Policy Exchange think-tank. “We Brits”, writes recently upgraded intern Guy Miscampbell with ironclad gall, “should be very proud of the principles behind the welfare state”, including the “sharp set of teeth” that mauls the “significant minority who are…not doing all they can to find a job”. Sadly though, the system is prone to “administrative error”. PE (Policy Exchange, not Public Enemy) algorithms find that 29% of claimants ‘sanctioned’* (i.e. cut off from cash payments, or starved) may not have been “rightly punished” after all! A first or even a second offence of incurring admin error should therefore be punished compassionately. Instead of being cut off altogether, the misadministered should enjoy “smarter sanctions”: their cash pittances would be replaced by ‘debit cards’ valid only for purchases of approved goods from participating stores. Read back over that again: this is how PE wants to ‘sanction’ claimants for what it admits are “mistakes they didn’t make”. Now re-read EFFICIENCY above (written 2010) and guess the future form of your own ‘disposable’ income.
[*It’s apparently lost on these holders of first class Oxford degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics that the verb ‘to sanction’ means ‘to approve, allow etc’.]
SOCIAL SKILLS: The most shameless of many expressions defining human interaction, language, gesture and thought as elements of labour for sale, subject to training and evaluation according to potential buyers’ needs.
SOURCE: (1.) n. An authority invoked and simultaneously hidden, releasing privileged information for all to see and accept. A diplomatic source will say; military sources will not confirm (the source will say); industry sources will suggest and a cabinet source will deny.
(2.) v. Scouring the world with mega-IT to ‘orchestrate the networks’ of the cheapest, lowest-waged component assembly factories (for sleeves and buttonholes, motherboards or USB ports): those that turn impossible supplier contracts into (literally) murderous output-per-worker requirements.
STABILITY: (1.) An aim and fantasy of those with financial and police powers, that nothing should disturb the smooth of exercise of said powers. The professed wish of investors and their political protectors, whose compulsion to accumulate provokes wildly unstable misery and resistance, making the prayers for stability a vicious form of wishful thinking.
(2.) Meanwhile more yield is extracted through bets on ‘volatility’, the notional opposite of stability.Volatility indices monitor ‘unusual’ change in market prices, giving a daily average of the amount of non-average behaviour, a figure that goes up and down and can therefore be bet on. Bets on indices are regarded as unusually stable investment.
STAKEHOLDER: Occasionally used literally for ‘shareholder’, from which the more common obfuscation is derived: ‘stakeholder’ applies indifferently to subjects with distinct and contradictory ‘interests’ in eg. a business, an institution, a state (The distinctions between these things are dissolved in turn by the term ‘an organization’.). Thus creditors, shareholders, management, consumers and employees are ‘stakeholders’ in a business; everyone profiting from or expropriated by, administering or punished by a state is a member of the ‘Stakeholder Society’.
STANDARD: Standard minute value. Whereby Time and Motion no longer bothers with specific empirical studies: instead, in the garment industry, virtual targets are created and used to set the piece rates of real-world workers in workplaces where the level of machinery/production efficiency varies enormously. In many instances, eg. Cambodian sweatshops, the contracts signed ‘mean garment workers are being set up to fail’.
Virtual factory standard. In effect, virtual targets applied universally/indiscriminately in the garment industry. Allowing, for example, ’15 minutes for a pair of five-pocket jeans that includes 14 different pieces of sewing, including front-fly zip and leg-bottom hems’. This before the results are not-virtually examined by quality control.
Standard size. A small helping.
Public standards. Ad hoc judgements made by those with the power to make judgements.
STREAM: (1.) Of income or revenue. Your god-given reward for making what you understood to be a wise investment, a nice little earner over the years. Assuming that is, that things continue to run smoothly with the investor as king…
(2.) Education.Early intervention deciding by proxy the course of a child’s future life: shelf-stackers to the left, strivers to the right.
STRESS: (1.) Fighting for the Number One Spot as the most overused word in the vocabulary. Not surprising given the multitude of crimes against humanity it disguises. The pretence is that it’s an inevitable result of urban life, of modern life. As if the 16th century miners digging out the silver from the pyramid mountain of Potosi with a life expectancy of a few weeks or months to come had not felt stress. Or present day indebted farmers in India killing themselves by swallowing the very insecticide whose cost had carried the promise of a better life. In work, more per minute bullied out of people on a wage: at Foxconn in China, the pace of the production line relentless, worker suicides; at France Télécom, more worker suicides as if the very power of management to uproot lives with a manpower board game was essential to profitability. For consumers, there’s the time wasted making communication with an official or corporate outfit, held in a queue, subjected to repeated snippets of music, all in the name of efficiency: fewer people to take your calls, and costs cut. The consumer’s time and patience elastic and expendable. The constant paying of bills while leaving enough to survive from one week to the next: highly stressful. For single parents this plus the full-time and full-on work of bringing up a child. But they are also subjected to choice. The nonstop demand to choose between one service provider and another when it’s hard not to notice that their promises are flexible and the savings minimal, likely as not.
(2.) The London Evening Standard celebrates The rise of Protox: ‘City professionals’ and lawyers using Botox ‘to hide signs of stress’. Roberts – who is just 36 – has been injecting regularly for seven years. He considers it a bankable investment. A Harley Street doctor selling the treatment says his patients ‘feel the need to deal with anything that undermines them looking in control. Driven by the recession and competition for jobs, people are working harder, for longer hours, and this is definitely portrayed in their faces’. One lawyer-patient offers a candid critique of judicial procedure, attributing ‘the favourable outcome of his latest trial’ to his ‘artificially de-stressed and seemingly well-rested appearance’.
(3.) Such enthusiasm for concealed panic as elite professional technique is best considered alongside a series of letters to liberal newspapers demanding a French-style niqab/burqa ban on the grounds that in this society we communicate through facial expression. Below senior dealmaker level, withholding facial ‘evidence’ from to those with the monstrous presumption to judge it amounts to anti-social if not terroristic behaviour.
STRIVE: (1.) Life as one endless effort to leave the others behind.
(2.) Striver. One in the process of lifelong effort to leave the others behind.
SYNERGIES: (1.) An early adoption of New Age vocabulary into business language. Unlike most expressions of its kind, ‘synergies’ (always plural) actually refers to something quantifiable (and always singular): the cost saved when a merger or takeover makes part of the combined workforce redundant.
Hence also (2.), a rare foray of shareholder-prospectus vocabulary into dialectics, a negation of negation: simple subtraction of labour and the associated cost is inverted into a positive value in the mystic marriage of two capitals.
STUNNING: Estate agent/builder talk for any apartment situated within the pale of the urban aesthetic; upper categories of the stunning may include any view over any stretch of water; and/or it being part of the conversion of what was once a school, church or pub.
TAILORED: (1.) The unemployed will now have programmes tailored to their individual needs. You don’t have a job? Then it must be due to some individual defect, also known as ‘need’, even when there are no jobs to be had. The tailoring process involves people with power over those without a job creating categories of individual defect, then designing a particular programme of incentives and punishment to Sort It Out!
(2.) A bold inversion wrapped up in an ordinary metaphor. An artisan tailor would measure the body of the client and cut the cloth to fit. A ‘tailored’ welfare-to-work or offender rehabilitation programme likewise starts from personal metrics, then hacks and gouges the person measured into the form required by design.
TASK(S): Life as a series of tasks, universal application of the work ethic.
(1.) First ‘optimized’, or ‘decomposed into its constituent elements’ and sped up to breaking point, by F.W. Taylor in the 1890s. Later management theorists could afford to disavow the language once the practice was ubiquitous.
(2.) Task management. The foremen of project management, maintaining each scheduled achieved goal over its life cycle.
(3.) Multitasking. As a hired hand be prepared to do absolutely anything.
(4.) Task force (Einsatzgruppe). Send in the professionals. Enough said! Job done!
TEASER RATES: The first super-cheap bag of heroin?
Or the hard-faced men and women of the mortgage biz? It’s like this, all above board and legit, the introductory: welcome to the club, you’re part of us. And that means an interest rate on your loan so low as not to notice. A few months in, whack, no messing about, that rate has increased 700%.
TENDENCY/TENDENCIES: In defence of Marx’s recourse to ‘scientific’ validation (a frequent needy compulsion of studies of social dynamics), it should be said that Fall in the Rate of Profit is a tendency and not a reductionist/determinist law as the useful idiots of capital have ceaselessly portrayed it. It is a tendency against which there are countervailing forces.
Since his time, however, the word – plural and singular – has been used with a reductionist contempt both in the political and ‘psychological’ arenas. Thus one can have variously Trotskyist, Fascist, Leninist, Social Democratic or Anarchist tendencies: or psychotic, narcissistic etc etc.
THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH: Just accept, you’re told, at the very moment life is at its hardest. There are life rhythms, Swings and Roundabouts, they say. Hearing these smug words, like you’re just one more idiot in the queue, is guaranteed to make it that much harder to endure.
THINKING: A professionalized activity practiced using a variety of methodologies.
– Convergent. Traditional problem solving with a ‘correct answer’. Rather passé these days.
– Lateral. Along with Mind-mapping, one of the first of the much touted ‘creative’ thinking processes which simply meant abandoning some preconceptions and looking from different angles. Other methods have included synthesis-oriented, Delphi analysis, biometric analysis and relevance trees.
– Outside the box. Has now swallowed up and incorporated all the foregoing. Frequently advertised for.
– Critical. Could be dangerous and really for specialists only, so take informed advice before embarking on such activity.
THINK TANK: In this instance both meanings of tank are employed. The various ‘geopolitical’ versions are stuffed with Armchair Spartans keen for a fight in which they are invulnerable: they are not just well out of reach of any fighting, it can be said that they have all the characteristics of the ‘ivory towers’ they constantly condemn as dangerously humanist, bracket, ‘unrealistic’. The only difference being that those in ivory towers are subject at least to the possibility of critical analysis. Think-tankers are immune to such tiresome criticism and, besides, are far more likely to have the ears of a needy media-political class.
THRIFT: A virtue which can also be a vice. Seek expert advice.
TIME: (1.) Time management. A discipline built on the premise that the days, hours, instants and events of your life are wrongly lived and subject to training.
(2.) Quality time. Those periods in which strict time management might be suspended and some escape from its incessant quantification allowed are seen as being of great value given their limits or rarity. As such they are in regular need of prioritizing and are appropriately rationed under the rules of time management itself.
(3.) Time to market. The gap between trend-spotting and resulting design and the production of what has been so designed. Considered the key to successful clothing retail, but likely to lead to locked-in overtime of the type common in Bangladesh.
(4.) Just-in-time. A virtue in personal timetabling. Now more commonly used to describe ‘inventory-lite’ production, whereby no component is held in stock for longer than absolutely necessary. This depends on computerized time and motion in the logistics business.
(5.) Time to kill, timekill. When one’s timetable – dependent on those more powerful than oneself – involves periods of waiting.
(6.) Downtime. Where capital requires labour strictly according to immediate need, the times when it decides labour is not needed.
(7.) Leisure time. Strictly speaking, not-work time. Often equated with ‘quality time’, though it has a good chance of being unbearably stressful, unbearably boring and/or remarkably similar to work.
(8.) Time in hand. A luxury.
(9.) Timeless. An aesthetic virtue of some high-end commodities, the ones that nobly strain to break free of commodity status itself. Contact with timelessness soothes the upscale consumer’s fear of death, but fear of death is already a luxury in itself, setting the super-senior bracket apart from all those with good reason to fear life.
(10.) Sliver of time. A large supermarket chain’s refinement of the casual work contract, keeping workers at maximum anxiety as to when management might summon them for by-the-hour scraps of paid work and how many hours management will decide maintain checkout queues at optimum length.
TIME-BASED MEDIA: (1.) A relatively recent coinage for the older phenomenon (radio, cinema, television and onward) of media that unilaterally impose a time structure on the receiver’s attention.
(2.) State subsidy projects such as the EU ‘Digital Agenda’ confirm that the stupefying power of these formats is not lost on administrators with an interest in social quiescence.
TOOLKIT: Rescuing the free-market banking system with hundreds of billions of dollars of public money in 2008, the person with the power to do it, US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, talked of how he would use the full range of the toolkit to ‘solve the problem’. The term coming from a world of artisans – of screwdrivers, computers and cement mixers – was used to describe the instant on-screen handing over of the money using a variety of accountancy tricks. It is now used by other centres of abstract power to assert the patriotism of industrial capital, the world of tools, as if the world of abstract real money looked better in overalls producing material goods, hard or soft to the touch as required. Equally used to sell immaterial services, as in ‘A superior toolkit, enabling you to communicate effectively and positively influence others’.
TOUGH CALL: More out of the macho management manual but with the implication that it was not just a difficult decision but hurt those who did the firing of those surplus to requirements as much as those they fired, If Not More!
TOUGH LOVE: It’s all for your own good, being punished by those who really care about you and worry that you’re not going to shape up.
“Being cruel to be kind is just ordinary cruelty with an excuse made for it.”
TOXIC: Debt. Loans dependent on ‘streams’ of revenue that did not materialize in distant parts. As when Deutsche Bank discovered it was the biggest house-owner in ‘run-down’ Cleveland, Ohio.
Waste. Today’s death ships, skulking around the globe with redundant poisons, searching for places where they can be dumped for a consideration.
Relationship. When celebrities fall out.
TRAINING: (1.) Something done to dogs, circus animals, soldiers and athletes. (In the case of horses more informatively known as ‘breaking’.) In the course of the 20th century extended first to manual work, then to labour in general and finally to all forms of psychosocial existence.
(2.) Long-term unemployed under the Hartz IV regime in Germany are assigned to compulsory ‘Real Life Training’ in full-scale fake supermarkets, using plastic banknotes to ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ inflatable cheese and wine bottles filled with tinted water. Trainees ‘work’ full time shifts, 8am-5pm and 11am-10pm including Saturdays, for between 6 and 9 months, in order ‘to get used to a work-oriented rhythm again’. Attendance is monitored through a clocking-in system, with absentees thrown off and losing benefits on a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ basis. 6,000 real products worth EUR 30,000 also circulate among the fake goods; most are taken back by a supermarket after a week, but any that are out of date are offered for sale to the trainees at a discount. Consequently the trainees are regularly searched to prevent theft; those pretending to be cashiers are also supposed to stop ‘shoplifting’ by trainee ‘shoppers’, and to spot the fake ‘fake’ banknotes distributed among the fake ‘real’ ones. ‘Real’ employees of the Real Life Supermarket include six ‘social pedagogues’: a discussion paper defines ‘social pedagogy’ as a ‘holistic combination of youth and community work, social work, adolescent mental health services and careers services’. A note in the Creative Workshop room in the ‘supermarket’ reads: ‘Think positive, act constructive’.
(3.) Retraining.A cruel fiction that there is an endless supply of new jobs requiring new skills, knowledge, etc. Rather it means re-education: ‘work-readiness’ or ‘life skills’, that is, Keep Your Mouth Shut and Take What You’re given, Or Else!
TRANSITION: A painless word used by those who will suffer no pain in a process of social change in which many will suffer. It suggests that the change is inevitable and/or natural often with a hint of progress thrown in. All the ideological heavyweights in the one word that carries them lightly. Thus the notion that there was a transition from feudalism to capitalism, as if there was no alternative.
(2.) Transition Town (UK). A community-based and state-sponsored eco-project preparing the transition back to feudalism.
TROUBLED: (1.) Children. An investment opportunity. Alternative fund manager Gravity International promises 18% annual returns on Secure Residential Homes [sic] for teenagers sentenced to undergo Care.
(2.) Company. Disturbed and needy, prone to challenging and abusive behaviours. Requires mentoring (for management) or Toughlove (employees).
(3.) Country. Battlefield.
UK PLC: A government in this country should be run just like a corporation, made up of the landed interest, which alone has the right to be represented. As for a rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them? They may pack up all their property on their backs, and leave the country in the twinkling of an eye… [Lord Braxfield, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, 1793]
It might be objected that modern PLC capital (nationalized on the astral plane by the addition of ‘UK’) is historically mismatched with Lord Braxfield’s landed corporate interest. But a cursory look at the kind of ‘capital’ accumulated during the last (both senses) ‘boom’ years shows that the anachronism is long since anachronistic. Note that the Lord Justice Clerk does not say ‘hereditary landed interest’.
UNCOMFORTABLE: Beyond consolation.
UNDERCLASS: A concept articulated by approved American racist Charles Murray to describe people who are simply of no possible use to the processes of capitalism. Now common currency in English political vocabulary, with the righteously dehumanizing adjective ‘feral’ recently attached. The question of precisely who it is they are under is left hanging; after all it was their own character defect that dragged them down to this new level. A new level that sounds eerily similar to AG Cabagnac’s 1838 definition of the proletariat: “a collection of workers, beggars, thieves and prostitutes”.
VOLUNTARY WORK: Or else!
WAR: (1.) On poverty. Shock and awe the poor.
(2.) On drugs. Subsidised production of cartels and mayhem.
WEALTH CREATION: Self-glorifying abracadabra by people who by virtue of owning capital make more of it without reference to those who do the actual work to make this happen, then present it as a contribution to the common good: without them there would be no resources, no necessities ever produced.
WE: (1.) Aggravated ‘I’.
(2.) A class assured of its own security has resurrected: We are all in this together. At a 1% remove stands: We are the 99%.
WELL-BEING: A strategically vague ‘measurement’ made amenable to league tables, brought in now that the selling point of economic growth in its GDP form can no longer be guaranteed.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY: Smash and grab.
WORKERS: Intelligent Gorillas.
As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache. [Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, which makes I-Pads and I-Phones and has a million workers]
WORKFLOW: Keep it coming. No slacking there.
WORKING WITH: As in: We are working with our tenants to avoid unnecessary rent arrears, or We are working with benefit recipients to improve take-up of job and training opportunities.
WORK-READY: (1.) Quota-determined expert opinion on whose illness or disability – whether cancer or overwork-induced skeletal deformity – is no excuse for failing to play fair as a useful member of ‘the economy’.
(2.) While every individual claimant able to crawl is declared work-ready by Atos doctors, higher-level experts deplore the lack of work-readiness among the claimant class as a whole (see also: skills gap). No contradiction really: collusion in mass unemployability is the crime that calls for personal punishment of the unemployed. As in the case of absenteeism, the only reasonable response is to take the think-tankers at their word and make their nightmare come true.
ZONE: (1.) Since William Burroughs, a word to give instant frisson to a dull location.
(2.) In the zone. Total commitment to the designated task in hand.
(3.) Comfort zone. No loitering here. Bewilderment and helplessness are core competencies in subordinates. Those leaders, deciders and proxy risk-takers who affect to enjoy discomfort are no more likely than their underlings to relish the prospect of destruction. ‘Adventure’ and ‘enterprise’ rest on secret reserves of contentment: either delusions of personal mastery or material assurance that not all will be lost.
CAREER COUNSELLING: Reported and ridiculed by The Neurocritic (http://neurocritic.blogspot.com/)
COMPETITIVENESS: (2.), (3.) Paul Cammack, The Politics of Global Competitiveness, e-space Open Access Repository, 2006.
(4.) Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: the Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, Monthly Review Press, 1974/1999.
COMPLIANCE: Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Endnotes 2 (http://endnotes.org.uk/)
DISABILITY: Private Eye, 27/1/12
ENTITLEMENT: Crass, 1977
EXCELLENCE: (2.) Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, Harvard UP, 1996.
FALL: Maggie Nicholls, Jan. 2013.
LIFELONG LEARNING: Actual advertisement, Brixton Tesco supermarket, 2010.
MANAGEMENT: (1.) Braverman.
MERITOCRACY: Wallace Stevens, The Man with the Blue Guitar; Alexander Pope, Essay on Man
SAFETY MANAGEMENT: Continuous announcements, London public transport system.
TOUGHLOVE: Ivy Compton-Burnett.