Thursday, December 24, 2009

Conversational Deadness

A primary reason I’ve noted as to we so thoroughly enjoy good company is that something actually develops out of a shared space that we cannot enact alone. It is at once out of participants’ grips as emanating out of them. It is dependent upon the constituents of company, the particular individuals that comprise it, yet the collective development is beyond an individual’s precise attempts at maneuvering it this way or that. Good company is something you relish when you abruptly notice that you’re caught up in it. Your understandings become enlivened. Your experience is enriched and this continues to unfold along a complex mutuality. Whole worlds open up before you with the guides of good company. Whole fields become penetrable. There, a new depth and distinction is illuminated in the self and the world. Ahhh, the interpersonal. I get so wrapped up in good company that when I am thrust into its lack, company becomes its empty shell of mere form, an abrupt, painful absence and aloneness oddly in the midst of being amongst others, that for reasons explored herein, none of this is born. We sit in a shared stagnation. More precisely, the realm of the pseudo-shared, each isolable human a mere component in a noisy but silent crowd.

I try to imagine my identity as something which can be unleashed or suppressed (revealed in being myself or hidden behind facades) depending on the occasion, but this one-sided plan always resists execution. My identity, rather than under the auspices of a cognitive executor, me - the sovereign, seems to be called out, provoked, by certain others, certain configurations of others. As described in A General Theory of Love (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000), “In the vistas of imagination, the self is a proud ship of state - subject to the winds and tides of circumstance, certainly, but bristling with masts and spars and beams, fairly bursting with solidity. We would scarcely imagine that identity could be as fluid as the seas that supposed self rides upon (pg. 143).” Rare and partial sides of myself come to bear more readily, gracefully, more vastly and sweeping, so I am caught in a self-surprise. And good company can enact personality atop its merely drawing buried forms forth.

Over the years, tinkering with social arrangements and with those I prefer to accompany me through life, I’ve come to rely and expect the heights of good company. I’ve always reasoned that if one could do the same or better solo, try reassessing the company. If being with others took away from experience, rather than enlivened and enhanced it, degraded it, it had assumed its deficient mode and was but a mere distracting obstacle henceforth to be avoided. But there are always new arrangements awaiting my disappointment. What are good company’s preconditions that can become so violated?

As I introduced, the foibles of a failed project of good company cannot be blamed on a particularity - no, it probably wasn’t just Uncle Joe’s awkwardness or Mikey’s vapidity that ruined the potentials dormant in the gathering of selves. This is at once a simplification, a simplified scapegoating. There is, however, a fairly predictable pattern to similar configurations that consistently churn out a less-than-enjoyable communal gathering. I have a suspect precondition to good company (and generally a personal bias): the necessity, at the outset, of a privilege of good input. Things worthy of sharing, of bringing to the public sphere. A collection of empty vessels, as an old instructor of psychotherapy taught me, is like a meeting between corpses. Some may claim good company is entirely individualized, relative along the various intersecting planes of interests, pastimes, plans, that conservation’s curvature of compatibility reveals good company. Like people get along with like people and seem to enjoy each other. This may provide the filling, oiling the bearings, but I have another suspicion that there is something more fundamental in company gone awry than the chance of incompatible lives. (As an aside to my blog-reader, I identify myself as a habitual seeker of the more fundamental layers - it’s my draw toward ontology and the conditions that allow for the possibility of being - more, of course, but later). Surely so, for even in the mostly reliable good configurations, there are occasional momentary duds. And the interests, pastimes, and plans remain.

What is it that spurs the enlivening, enhancing generation of conversation? Those involved must hold a contributory motivation. What I mean by this is that along with substantial potential of worthwhile contribution explicated above as my conceptual bias, people must seek and support the effort of good company. This needs to matter in order for it to launch. In a group, we can all just kick back, failing to be present, failing to combine self with other selves in this magnificent production. Why would anyone ignore these potentials? Good company requires work, an efforted, spirited, motivated action. Intragroup conflict can sabotage. But more likely it is intragroup apathy.

What I am leading to is the felt difference between dialogue, and the shared, developing mutuality that it spawns, and conversational deadness. Many do not approach gatherings with rigor or such high expectancy as I do. But a taste of what lies within interpersonality, its greatest unfolding - good company - vitally remembered, will cast constricting forms into the inferior variants they really are. There is a flatness in exchange as propositions are tossed to recipients and promote nothing further, stale lines. A banter of pre-formulated stories, renderings, ideas, intact and unmodifiable (and in my classification, thus unworthy of the sacred demands of shared space). Dead conversation seeps into the very content of its members’ words, now profuse with trite banalities neatly picked up from one source or another and plopped into the nexus of the now-occurring ‘conversation’. Dej√† vu possesses me in these cruel moments as I feel I’m somehow in a recording of a prior originality. Attempts to awaken our communal decay fall on already decayed eardrums. More deadness is passed around for a second helping. No, I’ll pass, this is not what I was trying to evoke. It can easily be the case (and by me has been) that these groups garner scathing criticism, as I claim in its aftermath that I was subjected to the bored and the weary. What terribly helpless people they were. But this misses the burden of responsibility in the shared task of good company. For I too am deadened in the process, finding as time proceeds within the interpersonal void, the night stretching on with these people, that more and more I feel I have nothing to offer, and when I do, it takes the form of a banality - I am caught in self-surprise again. I feel hijacked.

Impasse. Struggling for years with the inertia and rigid dichotomy of good company and conversational deadness, it is nearly impossible for me to infuse the latter with the preconditions, to challenge each gathering I wind up in or actively create, prodding for interpersonal jewels. I could take up an explicit technique in cultivation, pull out some Bohmian dialogue strategies, but somehow I am drawn to allowing good company to arise organically.

Blog-readers, bring in the concrete examples, bring in the whole of what I’ve missed or misconstrued, bring in the probably raw portrayal of who I am as a person in order for these things to come to illumination. Let’s get this conversational party started. (Isn’t it ironic how so many gatherings labeled “parties” - conjuring joviality - ultimately fail in this task of good company? The very unjovial strategize throughout its abject duration an exit plan…).

Friday, December 4, 2009

To Be Employed

We are saturated with an ideal and felt necessity of being with employment. It’s the first topic of acquaintancing. Violations of this obligatory component of adult life are seen as an imposed condition the affected are trying to overcome - being unemployed rings pity. Too many and it’s a national crisis. My current, chosen situation of exalted unemployment is nearly inconceivable, it cannot even be registered by my interlocutors. Inevitably the conversation meanders to when I will return, come back to some kind of perceived ’original state’ of adulthood or ‘normal path’ of which I am now in deviation. Its discourse irritates me, continually being thrown back onto my being as an assumption: When will you have a job again? When will you begin your career? How do you pay the bills? Inquiries into bill paying really rile me up. My existence seen as bill payer is disgustingly insulting.

Let me tell you folks, this is seeing life through a manipulated lens. The capitalists no longer are external tyrants. They are internalized superegoic agents - they have won. This crazed craving for jobs is rationalized as survivalist, “we have to eat”, but it is a sickness. Jobs are gobbled up with an incredible overflow of applicants. We compete for them. Okay, I’ll break, cease now from this tirade, which must be understood, but for now, let us backpeddle for a closer examination, lest I fulfill the lurking suspicion that I begin to blame the victim of a systemic malaise.

What does it mean to be an employee? For most, it is the condition of a steady stream of income that supremely validates and drives them toward maintaining the role, and desperately seeking it if it is lost. Money is problematic - like food, it must be constantly sought and replenished, its stockpiles dwindling as one lives. Self-sufficiency seems no longer viable as we depend on goods and services we cannot ourselves offer, and we purchase them from groups (companies) that can. The Thoreauian question of the way in which we live in constant purchasing will be taken up elsewhere, as I digress. But the digression reveals the structural complexity of the problem of employment as desirable - we are deeply and heavily mired in a societal framework that resists the changing of one element. Because so much rests on that element.

Back to the central meaning of being an employee. Being employed is to be commissioned into a contract of compensation for labor. Most often today, at least in the first world, the employed denizens are compensated directly for offering temporal inhabitation in a work setting - they are to perform tasks in a pre-specified block of time that they willingly give up for a pre-specified amount of money. Thus, monetary compensation is more valuated than time, at least for the amount that is exchanged. There are variations of course. However, the basic structure remains. This is straightforward enough and I don’t expect the workforce to really argue with this description. What is more intriguing and liberating to make explicit is the real meaning of being an employee, beneath this reciprocal veneer of exchange between workers and companies - a Marxian analysis of the grinding-out of capitalist processes. Our time and what we can do in it is essentially purchased and appropriated for the particular goals of the organization to which we commit. These are never our goals - they are not things we choose to do autonomously. They are foreign, other, extrinsic. Thus, as employees, we advance the goals of others, and not just any others, but more powerful others than ourselves. For we are working for them. Looking at employment from a longview, one’s dedicated and long-term employment is a tragic life project - one has merely lived for another’s cause and purpose and has failed in the task of self-creation and individual exploration, this being left to dwindling "spare time". Now, if one identifies with this other’s cause as worthy, that one‘s individual efforts can be subsumed into larger endeavor one couldn‘t possibly effect by oneself, perhaps this kind of employment is redeemable. However, this needs to be well-scrutinized in particular instances for it is the perfect type of justification that capitalists prefer workers to have (so, caution!). All for-profits ultimate aim, we must all admit, is to generate profit. And so at the end of the day, being an employee means to further advance the more powerful others’ profit surplus and by doing so, employees are monetarily compensated. But if all employees contribute income to their employer and the employer’s compensation to the employee is income, we can clearly see who it is that is being entirely ripped off. Duped. Taken advantage of. It can be no other way: to be an employee is to give over labor and time for far less than it is worth. You receive a paycheck for your labor and time only because your labor and time pays powerful others a lot more. I finally understand my father’s admonition: “You can make money in a good job, no doubt, but you will never get rich working for another.” Why would anyone desire handing over the wealth inherent in their time and labor to others who exploit that wealth by channeling it away from the employee?

The generations of today are being born into a system of mass employment. It is no longer an unusual practice in a more basic setting of subsistence living, in which everyday life is managed independently by the household. Our households are open loops of goods and services and these loops extend far wider and along complex trajectories that surpass the availabilities of our enwombing communities. Back to our lack of self-sufficiency as related to our analysis of employment, we are essentially caught up in a position where we cannot provide for ourselves: the foods we digest, the clothes we don, the entertainment we stream into our dwellings are all loci of continual monetary feeding - they require us to generate payments, relentlessly and regularly. Lacking self-generating abilities, we outsource. Note that in other times and in the agrarian cultures of the world, there was or is no problem of continual income replenishment - their problems, however real and dire, were and are of a different source and structure. Participating in a postmodern world, we are beset by the need for income. The generations of today were born into this need yes, but also born into a network of income opportunities that are satiated most easily and readily by employment. This seemingly basic fact reveals our moment in history: that already, an elite minority controls and regulates, who hold the vast majority of the wealth, the very means to catapult further away from the rest in assets. When you accept employment, you continue to extend this divide. Your labor, as exploited, further engrains us all in a system of dependency. You make the already mightily powerful still mightier. Employment may be a perceived necessary, but employment is the means of the weak and powerless to live. So much for the “grand success” of securing a position, good-paying nonetheless.

It’s a difficult entrenchment, but this shouldn’t and needn’t render us hopeless and resigned. This is precisely the attitude capitalists depend on the working class to engender. That our smooth-flowing economy without recession or depression “depends on”. It requires its masses to be employed to run efficiently, making challenging employment anathema. It often works against us, at this historical moment, to take an independent, contrary stance by self-employing and self-supplying because the resources of individual production are far outstripped by those aggregated at the apex of employment. Power so removed from the people is dangerous.

There are many nuances and considerations in which I will further refine and expand, for this question of employment, in its written unfolding, has proved far more expansive and problematic than originally anticipated. This initiation is merely to set the stage for deviant thought, to provide an exposé illuminating the basic nature of employment that has been repressed by the impotent workforce. It is time to resurrect what it is that we are actually doing when we are employed. It is time to resurrect what it is that we are actually doing, period. Welcome to the scope of this blog. Readers, I encourage you to meditate on your concrete lived experience of being an employee, for surely most of you are employed, given our situation, given our birthright. Workers: share, and then we will unite.