Article 43


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book: The People Vs. Democracy

This Is How American Democracy Could End
We asked a leading political scientist about his terrifying new book.

By Harry Cheadle
March 7, 2018

If you are worried about the world becoming less and less stable with each passing month, about democracies around the world coming under assault from strongmen and would-be strongmen, about society succumbing to its worst impulses, do not read the new book from political scientist Yascha Mounk, The People Vs. Democracy. It will scare the hell out of you.

Mounk, who grew up in Germany in the 80s and 90s, attracted attention in late 2016 for co-authoring an article that found people in the Westand young people in particular - are less enamored with democracy and more open to autocracy than ever. Coverage of the study was criticized for being alarmist, but it is true that in countries ranging from Hungary to Poland to India liberal democratic institutions have come under attack; extremist right-wing parties have also come dangerously close to gaining power in places like Austria and France. And thanks to Donald Trump, Americans have reason to believe their own democracy could erode with frightening speed.

THE PEOPLE VS. DEMOCRACY is obviously a book intended to alarm (its subtitle is Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It) but it also offers a compelling way to look at several trends afflicting the world. The chief problem Mounk identifies is that “liberal democracy” - the system guaranteeing a wide range of individual rights as well as elected governments, seems to be splitting apart. On one hand, you have rights without democracy situations where the rule of law is intact but the people are ruled by unelected bureaucrats and elites who aren’t in tune with the popular will (Mounk cites the EU as his prime example). On the other hand are “illiberal democracies,” where populist leaders take take advantage of anger and resentment to damage institutions and civil liberties, and even wind up establishing outright dictatorships. Mounk also delves into the causes of the West’s vulnerability to these demagoguesin his telling, decades of economic stagnation and relatively sudden demographic changes via immigration have made many people unhappy with their lot in life and prone to xenophobia. Meanwhile, social media provides fringe groups platforms that gatekeepers had once denied them.

In other words, society is fracturing along several axes at once and in ways that benefit strongmen, racists, and other forces that liberal democracy was supposed to keep at bay. Before the book dropped this week, I asked Mounk if there was anything we could do about it.

VICE: Is there an easy or succinct explanation for why so many people seem to be turning against liberalism?

Yascha Mounk: One way in which a lot of people are turning against liberalism is that they are frustrated with the constraint ׭on the popular will, and that takes on a couple of forms. The first is that they feel like the political system hasnt always been very good at listening to the people and translating popular views into public policy. And often, they’re right about thatthere are ways in which our political system hasnגt been efficiently responsive. And that makes them quite open to politicians who say, You know what, all of those things that are supposedly needed to guarantee the rule of law, to guarantee individual rights, really arenӒt necessary. We should get rid of independent institutions like the FBI, we should get rid of courts that can meddle with our decisions. We dont need to respect the rights of immigrants, refugees, or even citizens in our own country who hail from some kind of ethnic or religious minority.Ҕ

The other reason is that its always easier for countries to rule themselves collectively when they feel that they have a lot in common. In the history of democracies, most of them have been built in countries that are reasonably homogeneous. As countries have become more heterogeneous, there’s a lot of people who resent that, who say, “Why should I let these other people who are from a different ethnic group, who come from a different part of the world, who might have different religious ideaswhy should I let them participate in the collective we?”

How much do you blame elites for the problems you discuss?

Itגs quite clear to me, especially in the United States, that both the political and the financial elites have used their power to extract what political scientists and economists call rents. Which is to say, they rig the rules in such a way that they benefit while everybody else is harmed. I think one obvious example is that it used to be that capital income, from investments, for example, was taxed much more than active income from going to work and getting a paycheck. Now capital gains are taxed at a much, much lower rate than going to work for a living. And even if you have reasonably conservative values, even if you think that we shouldnt do too much redistribution but we should reward people’s effort, that is a very strange system. Obviously this is only one small example of myriad ways in which weve set up the system in such a way that relatively few people manage to capture a vast share of the gains from economic growth.

I think we need to go beyond this as well, though. From 1985 to today, average incomes have been flat. Part of that is because so much more of recent economic gains have gone to the very top. But part of it is also because there have been fewer economic gains to go around. So to me, the fundamental question here is about whether the stable democracies that weҒve come to know and expect were dependent on economic background conditions that simply arent there anymore.

When you talk about the economic problems, it reminds me of things that left-wing economic populists say, and it made me wonde - I know there are some left-wing populist parties in Europe that have gained some power, but it seems that the far right is just way more powerful than the far left at the moment. Why do you think that is?

First of all, let me say a word about what I mean by populism,Ӕ because its a word thatҒs confusing and lots of people use it in lots of different ways. To me a populist is somebody who doesnt accept that peopleҒs different political points of view are legitimate, who doesnt accept that the world is complex. [Populists] claim that the only thing that we need to do in order to face up to the challenges we have today is to get somebody who has common senseҗwho channels the true nature of the peoplein power and sweep aside all of the elite. Then everything will be great.

And of course what happens is that they can never actually deliver on those false promises, because the world is more complicated than that. So at that point, they start to blame everybody. They say, דThe reason why I havent delivered is that the opposition are traitors. The reason why I havenҒt delivered is that the press are enemies of the people. And a lot of that rhetoric can consist of excluding and vilifying everybody who is Muslim, or black, from the ԓtrue people.

It can direct itself from a political right against people who are un-American because theyԒre socialists who want to redistribute mone. Or it can come from the left, as in Venezuela, and direct itself against capitalists. Now, why is it that left populists are often unsuccessful? There are some countries where they are pretty strong, where they might well take power in the coming years. But youre right that certainly in North America, certainly in most parts of Northern Europe, certainly in Central and Eastern Europe, right-wing populists tend to be stronger. And I think that that is a) because immigration and fears about cultural change play in those countries, and b) because in the end, when you have a clash between left populism and right populism, I think right populism always has an easier time winning. It is easier to scapegoat foreigners, minorities, people of different religious beliefs, than it is to scapegoat corporations, or capitalism, or Wall Street, which are abstract concepts. Unfortunately, I think itҒs much easier to incite hatred against people rather than a system.

What do you think people who do oppose right-wing populists can learn from how quickly their ideas have spread and how theyve managed to gain a surprising amount of power?

One thing that I think we should learn is that we mustnҒt cede ground, we mustnt make some topics taboo in such a way that only the right gets to talk about it. So, for example, IҒm Jewish, my grandparents survived the Holocaust, I grew up in Germany, and so to me it was always obvious that we should try and leave nationalism behind in the century that it so cruelly shaped. And 15 years ago, that didnt seem to be such an unrealistic hope. But I fear that actually disengaging from the space of patriotism and nationalism has allowed the right to colonize it, to take it over, to say, ғIf you care about America, if you care about Germany, if you care about the national flag or the national anthem, then really, youre with us.Ҕ And because nationalist sentiment and symbolism retains a very deep power, I think that that makes it much easier for them to win and exploit those symbols in the worst possible way.

I think of nationalism as a half-domesticated animal. I think what we need to do is try and domesticate it. And the way to do that is to emphasize that, yes, we are proud to be Americans, yes, its important to us to be a member of a nationҗincluding all of the mutual solidarity that that entails, and also the mutual pride that it entails. And naturally, anybody who is a citizen, whether they are white, or brown, or black, or they are Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or of no faith, or whatever, need to be valued equally as a member of our club. And by the way, people who may not have a US passport but are clearly American in every other sense because they were brought here as children and have never known any other country need to be treated as equals as well.

How do you think the anti-Trump resistance movement is doing in that respect?

I think theres a big range there. There are people who speak very movingly, for example, about Dreamers as Americans, and I think thatҒs the right path to take. And then sometimes I see people saying the history of this country is so racist that theres no aspect of it which we should claim and celebrate. IҒm deeply aware of the deep injustice in our history and also in our present. I think that thats the wrong path to take. I think what we should do isҗas President Obama did, consistently and very powerfullyclaim the best things in our history and use them in order to both acknowledge the ways in which we still fall short of those ideals and to motivate the fight for their realization.

In 50 years, do you think the US political system will be the same as it is today, or will it be drastically different?
I roughly think of it as three different scenarios to what might happen now. The first is that the United States turns out to be more similar to Hungary than we care to believe. Although it doesnגt look right now that Donald Trump is doing deep damage to our institutions in the United States 18 months in, the same was true for [Hungarian leader] Viktor Orban a year and a half into his time in office, the same was true of Vladimir Putin a year and a half into office, the same was true of Recep Erdogan in Turkey a year and a half into office. The process of dissolution of democracy is slow, and theres no one single measure that looks like the obvious point of crossing the Rubicon. And so we need to stay very attentive. But I think itҒs rather unlikely.

The second scenario is the optimistic one: that Donald Trump will mobilize such opposition and such a renewed commitment to our political system that when he leaves office in disgrace there will be such a moment of political reckoning that we can go forward with a new kind of political unity and fix our politics. Theres some reason for hope thereҗI dont think that this is entirely unimaginable. But if you look at the fact that, as of the time of this conversation, Trump actually does have 42 percent of approval in the country, if you look at the depth of the reason for the populist rise, not just in the United States but around the world, if you look at the bitterness of our politics, itҒs quite difficult for me to envisage the populist momentum simply evaporating and everything returning to normal.

And so I think the most likely scenario is what I call the Roman scenario. We might resemble the Roman Republic, where a populist by the name of Tiberius Gracchus won power late in the second century BC riding on a wave of discontent about economic stagnation and a rigged political system. He was eventually removed from office, violently as it happened, and for a few years things returned to normal. But then somebody else used the fact that the underlying problems hadn’t been resolved to gain office on a similar message. And conflict broke out again. There was a cycle of this, from high moments of political tension and drama to moments of relative normality for some 50, 100 years. And over time, the Roman Republic withered away. I could imagine that we are now at the beginning of a cycle, and 50 years from now we might be at any point of it, including the terminal one.


Posted by Elvis on 03/29/18 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Global Hypnosis

image: zo,bies

Colleges across the country have transitioned from bastions of intellectual enlightenment to resort hotels prizing amenities above academics. The rigor of a universitys courses doesnt attract the awe of doe-eyed high school seniors. Lavish dorms and other luxuries do.
- Professors on Food Stamps, 2014

Ever wonder why NEWS SHOWS got all those circles swirling around the screen? 



Internet of Things Formula for a Global Trance

By Jon Rappoport
Activist Post
March 28, 2018

Here is the psychology in a nutshell:


IoT is the absurd plan - now rolling out - to connect every conceivable device to the Internet. Worldwide. This means life will become automatic for a large chunk of the population in due time.

Your car will drive you. Your fridge will order new food items. Your heat and air conditioning will operate beyond your control. Your toaster will decide how brown the bread will be. Your whole home will run on prescribed algorithms, deciding how much energy you can use and when.

You will become a spectator.

Passivity IS hypnosis.

Why would you care about WHAT’S HAPPENING beyond your bubble? As long as “functions are functioning,” all is well.

Of course, as you enter a decline in health, owing to the introduction of wireless 5G, the harmful technology necessary to implement IoT, and as your home devices spy on you and register your “symptoms,” there will be mandatory doctors’ visits. But don’t worry, you won’t have to leave your house. The diagnosis will occur on a screen in your hand, and the toxic medicine will arrive at your door. These drugs will make you more PASSIVE.

No, all this won’t happen tomorrow, but up the line, that is THE PLAN and the picture. Brave New World.

Ambition? Achievement? The will to succeed?

These former qualities will fade into extinction. No longer required. They existed merely to bring us to the point where TECHNOLOGY would take over.

And if you think the present EDUCATION SYSTEM is grossly inadequate, imagine what it will look like when “IoT homes” proliferate. If you can sit back and let your life run on automatic, why would you need to learn - anything?

At one time, my cardinal skill was flipping a switch that would automate all devices in my apartment. But now I don’t have to do that. The apartment is always ON. I can’t turn it off. “Who cares?”

Huge numbers of people won’t have IoT homes. The promise will go unfulfilled. This fact will set up a new class system. But with enhanced (automatic) security systems, and the backing of State force, the fortunate ones will be protected in formidable fashion.

Hypnosis works by “freeing a person from making choices.” He sits there. When he is suitably passive, he receives suggestions. In the case of IoT, those suggestions will be provided by his AI environment: “I’m here. I serve you. I give you what you need. I decide what you need. I’m your guide to happiness.” By doing less and less, you get more and more.

If you say, Well, “this is already happening,” youre right. But with IoT, the difference will be extraordinary.

On a broad scale, the basics of hypnosis - trance plus suggestions - will revolutionize human relationships. Interactions will occur at much lower levels of energy. The content of future communication will make today’s Facebook posts seem like conversations among university scholars.

But its all good.

If you want your children and grandchildren to float in a passive electronic dead sea.

If not, you’d better reinstate the old virtues. Ambition. Achievement. Will power. Independence. Self-reliance. Self-sufficiency.

The trance-breakers.

Finally, for now, as the IoT moves forward, people who accept it are going to start believing that the objects around them are seeing and perceiving and thinking. People are going to develop a strange metaphysics, in which objects are conscious and alive and all-knowing. People are going to hold fast to this premise. They are going to take the trance to a whole new level, in which the hypnotic suggestions are coming from gods.

That will increase the power of the suggestions by many degrees.

It always works this way. The source of the trance is elevated, until it becomes, for the faithful, a Vatican of ultimate truth


Posted by Elvis on 03/28/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Spiritual Diversions
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Third World U.S.A. Part 10 - The Gig Economy

image: gig economy

[L]ivery car driver Douglas Schifter killed himself outside the gates of City Hall, after writing in a suicide note posted to Facebook, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.”
- Democracy Now, March 22, 2018

“The Gig Economy” Is the New Term for Serfdom

By Chris Hedges
March 25, 2018

A 65-year-old New York City cab driver from Queens, Nicanor Ochisor, HANGED HIMSELF in his garage March 16, saying in a note he left behind that the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft had made it impossible for him to make a living. It was the fourth SUICIDE BY A CAB DRIVER in New York in the last four months, including one Feb. 5 in which livery driver Douglas Schifter, 61, killed himself with a shotgun outside City Hall.

"Due to the huge numbers of cars available with desperate drivers trying to feed their families,” wrote Schifter, “they squeeze rates to below operating costs and force professionals like me out of business. They count their money and we are driven down into the streets we drive becoming homeless and hungry. I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” He said he had been working 100 to 120 hours a week for the past 14 years.

Schifter and Ochisor were two of the millions of victims of the new economy. Corporate capitalism is establishing a neofeudal serfdom in numerous occupations, a condition in which there are no labor laws, no minimum wage, no benefits, no job security and no regulations. Desperate and impoverished workers, forced to endure 16-hour days, are viciously pitted against each other. Uber drivers make about $13.25 an hour. In cities like Detroit this falls to $8.77. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber and one of the founders, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. Logan Green, the CEO of Lyft, has a net worth of $300 million.

The corporate elites, which have seized control of ruling institutions including the government and destroyed labor unions, are re-establishing the inhumane labor conditions that characterized the 19th and early 20th centuries. When workers at General Motors carried out a 44-day sit-down strike in 1936, many were living in shacks that lacked heating and indoor plumbing; they could be laid off for weeks without compensation, had no medical or retirement benefits and often were fired without explanation. When they turned 40 their employment could be terminated. The average wage was about $900 a year at a time when the government determined that a family of four needed a minimum of $1,600 to live above the poverty line.

The managers at General Motors relentlessly persecuted union organizers. The company spent $839,000 on detective work in 1934 to spy on union organizers and infiltrate union meetings. GM employed the white terrorist group the Black Legionthe police chief of Detroit was suspected of being a member - to threaten and physically assault labor activists and assassinate union leaders including George Marchuk and John Bielak, both shot to death.

The reign of the all-powerful capitalist class has returned with a vengeance. The job conditions of working men and women, thrust backward, WILL NOT IMPROVE until they regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists. There are some 13,000 licensed cabs in New York City and 40,000 livery or town cars. The drivers should, as farmers did in 2015 with tractors in Paris, shut down the center of the city. And drivers in other cities should do the same. This is the only language our corporate masters understand.

The ruling capitalists will be as vicious as they were in the past. Nothing enrages the rich more than having to part with a fraction of their obscene wealth. Consumed by greed, rendered numb to human suffering by a life of hedonism and extravagance, devoid of empathy, incapable of self-criticism or self-sacrifice, surrounded by sycophants and leeches who cater to their wishes, appetites and demands, able to use their wealth to ignore the law and destroy critics and opponents, THEY ARE among the most repugnant of the human species. DON’T BE FOOLED by the elites’ skillful public relations campaigns - we are watching Mark Zuckerberg, whose net worth is $64.1 billion, mount a massive propaganda effort against charges that he and Facebook are focused on exploiting and selling our personal information - or by the fawning news celebrities on corporate media who act as courtiers and apologists for the oligarchs. These people are THE ENEMY.

Ochisor, a Romanian immigrant, owned a New York City taxi medallion. (Medallions were once coveted by cab drivers because having them allowed the drivers to own their own cabs or lease the cabs to other drivers.) Ochisor drove the night shift, lasting 10 to 12 hours. His wife drove the day shift. But after Uber and Lyft flooded the city with cars and underpaid drivers about three years ago, the couple could barely meet expenses. Ochisors home was about to go into foreclosure. His medallion, once worth $1.1 million, had plummeted in value to $180,000. The dramatic drop in the value of the medallion, which he had hoped to lease for $3,000 a month or sell to finance his retirement, wiped out his economic security. He faced financial ruin and poverty. And he was not alone.

The corporate architects of the new economy have no intention of halting the assault. They intend to turn everyone into temp workers trapped in demeaning, low-paying, part-time, service-sector jobs without job security or benefits, a reality they plaster over by inventing hip terms like ”THE GIG ECONOMY.”

John McDonagh began driving a New York City cab 40 years ago. He, like most drivers, worked out of garages owned and operated by businesses. He was paid a percentage of what he earned each night.

“You could make a living” [then], he told me. “But everyone shared the burden. The garage shared it. The driver shared it. If you had a good night, the garage made money. If you had a bad night, you split it. That’s not the case anymore. Right now we’re leasing” [cabs at the garages].

Leasing requires a driver to pay $120 a day for the car and $30 for the gas. The drivers begin a shift $150 in debt. Because of Uber, Lyft and other smartphone ride apps, drivers’ incomes have been cut by half in many cases. Cab drivers can finish their 12-hour shifts owing the garages money. Drivers are facing bankruptcies, foreclosures and evictions. Some are homeless.

“The TLC [New York City Transportation and Limousine Commission] wanted to limit yellow cab drivers to 12 hours a day,” he said, referring to the distinctive yellow cabs that have medallions and can pick up passengers anywhere in the five boroughs. There was a protest. Yellow cab drivers were protesting that they have to work a 16-hour day in order to make a living. It’s cut everything. “Everybody’s fighting for that extra fare. You would be at a light with two or three other yellow cabs. You saw someone up the street with luggage you would run the lights to get to them. Because that might be an airport job. You’re risking your own life, risking getting tickets, you’re doing things you would never have done before.”

“We don’t have any health care,” he said. “Sitting for those 12 to 16 hours a day, you are getting diabetes. There’s no blood circulation. You’re putting on weight. And then theres that added stress you’re not making any money.”

Uber and Lyft in 2016 had 370 active lobbyists in 44 states, dwarfing some of the largest business and technology companies, according to the National Employment Law Project. Together, Uber and Lyft lobbyists outnumbered Amazon, Microsoft, and Walmart combined. The two companies, like many lobbying firms, also hire former government regulators. The former head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, for example, is now on the board of Uber. The companies have used their money and their lobbyists, most of whom are members of the Democratic Party, to free themselves from the regulations and oversight imposed on the taxi industry. The companies using ride-hail apps have flooded New York City with about 100,000 unregulated cars in the past two years.

“The yellow cab has to be a certain vehicle, said McDonagh. “It’s a Nissan.” [Nissan won the bid to supply the city’s cabs.] Every yellow cab has to charge a certain price. When that drop goes down, that’s regulated by the city. They added on all these extra taxes, for the MTA and for the wheelchair [half of all yellow cabs are required to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020], a rush-hour tax. Uber comes in. No regulations at all. They could pick whatever type of car they want. Whatever color of car. They could change prices when it’s slow. They can lower the prices. When its busy they can do price surging. It can be two or three times. Whereas the yellow cab is just plowing along at the same rate at the same time. Going to Kennedy Airport from Manhattan is $52. No matter what the traffic is like, no matter how many hours it takes you to get there. Uber will jack up its prices two or three times. You might have to pay $100 to get to Kennedy Airport. While the yellow cab industry is almost regulated to death, Uber is coming in with new technology, figuring out different ways how [it is] going to make money.  “Its finished, with the yellow cabs.”

Life for Uber and Lyft drivers is as difficult. Uber and Lyft use bonuses to lure drivers into the business. Once the bonuses are gone, these drivers sink to the same economic desperation as those driving yellow cabs.

“Uber is leasing cars,” McDonagh said. “They have car dealerships that will sell. They advertise as, ‘Listen, you can have bad credit. Come down to Uber. Well get you the money or loan to buy this car.’ And what they do is they’ll take the money directly out of what you’re making that day to pay for the loan. They can’t lose. And if you go under, they’ll sell the car back to the dealership and then redo it for the next immigrant driver. There’s a whole scam going on.”

“As a yellow cab driver, you don’t see the world vision,” he said. “But there’s that famous term - the RACE TO THE BOTTOM. You’re working more and more hours for less and less wages. This is the new gig economy. Someone will use an Uber to go to an Airbnb and get on his phone to order something from Amazon to eat in his house. All those shops are now gone. From cashiers to cab drivers. I feel like I’m a blacksmith or a typesetter at a newspaper business trying to explain to you what the yellow cab industry used to be. We’re becoming obsolete.”

“Guys are sleeping in the cab,” McDonagh said. “They’ll go out to Kennedy at 2 or 3 in the morning. They pull into the lot and go to sleep to catch [passengers off] the first flight that’s coming in from California a couple of hours later. You have guys who won’t go home for a couple of days. They’ll just stay out on the street. They roam the street to try to make money. It’s dangerous for the passenger. The amount of accidents will be going up because drivers are drowsy.”

McDonagh said Uber and Lyft cars must be regulated. All cars should have meters to guarantee an adequate income for drivers. And drivers should have health care and benefits. None of this will happen, he warned, as long as we live under a system of government where our political elites are dependent on campaign contributions from corporations and those who should be regulating the industry look to these corporations for future employment.

“We have to limit the amount of cabs, particularly here in New York City,” McDonagh said. If we did it in the yellow cab industry for 50 years, why can’t we do it with Uber? They’re adding 100 cars a week through the streets of New York. This is insane. When you call an Uber, the biggest complaint people have now is, ‘The car is here too quick.’ They’re there within two or three minutes. I can’t even get dressed. They’re rolling empty throughout the city, waiting for that hit.”

“Horses in Central Park are regulated,” he pointed out. There’s 150 of them. They make a great living there, the guys on the horse and buggies. Say Uber comes in and says, We want to bring in Uber horses. And we want to add 100,000. And let’s see how the market will handle it. We know what’s going to happen. No one will make money. They’re all around Central Park. And now no one can go anywhere because there are now 100,000 horses in Central Park. It would be considered madness to do that. They wouldn’t do it. Yet when it comes to the yellow cab industry, for 50 years all we could have was 13,000 cabs, and then within a year or two were going to add 100,000. Let’s see how the market works on that! We know how the market works.

“They [the horses] work less hours” [than cab drivers], he said. “They don’t work in hot and cold temperatures. If you believe in reincarnation, you should come back as a horse in Central Park. And they all live on the West Side of Manhattan. We live in basements in Brooklyn and Queens. We haven’t upped our status in life, thats for sure.”


Posted by Elvis on 03/27/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Monday, March 26, 2018

Corporate Grief

image: youre fired

When the Workplace Breaks Your Heart

By Beth Killough
The Circle Experience
March 22, 2018

When I transitioned from my private practice as a therapist to leadership consulting in the corporate sector, I figured the psychic heaviness of my role would lift some. I knew that peoples work lives were ridden with relationship conflicts, extreme stress, boredom, and career confusion. They showed up in my therapy office with work complaints that often mirrored the struggles in their personal lives. We take ourselves everywhere we go, after all. Yet, I assumed the wounds at work didn’t cut as deep and that hearts and lives weren’t shattered the way they too often are at home. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Regardless of industry or job title, workplace grief is an epidemic. There is a veil of secrecy and silence around the ways that corporate practices abuse and neglect their talent in much of the same ways harassment has been swept under the rug. The machine of corporate change never sleeps and with it comes innovation, development, and growth. It can be a tremendous source of creativity and a needed palette cleanser when cultures are outdated. Departments reorganize, positions disappear or are redefined, massive layoffs, and radical leadership transitions. There’s really nothing wrong with it at first glance. For far too long, we have underestimated the impact these changes have on individuals and groups when we do literally nothing to support people through change. We seem to do a better job fostering homeless dogs and helping them to move through an adoption process.

When I discovered this was “a thing,” I became incessantly curious just how far-reaching the problem really was. So I started to ask the difficult questions, the ones that people don’t want to ask in the workplace. I found countless examples of confusion, FEAR, devastation as people crawled through change and loss in their jobs with absolutely no support offered. To best illustrate, we share with you here, a story offered to us by a client who generously offers her experience so we can see more vividly the plight of today’s professional and can hopefully reconnect with our humanity and make some simple but impactful changes.

One Friday in May 2008, I walked into the corporate job Id held for a year, and dropped by the bathroom before going to my desk. Inside was a young woman weeping, hands covering her face, her tears hitting her white blouse. It was disturbing, but I said nothing to her. I had no idea how to respond to someone sobbing at work, so I ignored her, assuming it was a private affair and would be rude of me to intrude. I walked around her to the stall, washed my hands as she sniffled and blew her nose behind me, and walked past her as I left. On the way to my desk, I passed several others who were crying. “What in gods name could be going on?” I wondered. Crying? In the open at work?

My boss’ boss had scheduled a last-minute MEETING with me on this Friday morning. I was 29 at the time, this was my first job in a huge corporation, and I didn’t know what that meant - I didn’t even worry about what it could mean. Now I know. LAYOFFS.

About 25% of our division was being laid off. I didn’t cry after my meeting, I SHOOK. I tried explaining my projects to the people who were to take them over, and my boss’s boss came over and told me to close my laptop. I needed to STOP WORKING IMMEDIATELY. The others would figure out my projects. I would have 5 weeks to try to FIND ANOTHER JOB INTERNALLY - jobs that didn’t exist - and I would have to stay home in the meantime. Don’t come into the office, they said.

Work was supposed to be family. A section on the yearly employee happiness survey was all about whether you could bring your full self to work, and experience psychological safety, although they didn’t phrase it that way. Our full selves were expected to be happy, and maybe a little quirky or passionate about hobbies. The definition of full selves didn’t include grief.

My best friend worked on the same floor as I had. SHE WAS NOT BEING LET GO. She continued to work, after comforting me for a while as I cried in her cubicle. At some point, she had her regular meetings to go to, and she went. People who were retained were expected to go back to work immediately, stiff upper lip, and work hard to save the ship from sinking in the 2008 recession. The departure of 25% of their “family” wasn’t discussed. If 25% of your actual family suddenly stopped being your family, wouldn’t you want to process it? Understand why? Grieve it?

There’s no space for that in the corporate world. Maybe you can’t bring your full self, or be treated like a full human being, at corporate work. This place, where you spend half your waking hours, bypasses grief like its a dirty secret. Keep your head down, and plow on. Drink your bafflement and tears and shock and anger away at one of the many booze stations in the office, or after work with some remaining coworkers, and at home. Don’t speak to those who have been let go. Give them space. even though they need support, and you need support. DON’T GET TOO CLOSE or you could catch what they got. There but for the grace of god go you.

I got my job back. They’d made a mistake in the layoff algorithm, they told me. But my team got re-organized, just one in countless re-organizations I’d be part of. Minor and major ones. One later team that truly did feel like a family at the head of it, the most inspiring leader I’ve experienced as our manager - was blown apart in one re-org. The managers were all replaced with new managers, the roles were all distributed or eliminated, and anyone who had been part of this thriving and vibrant team left quickly, except for me. I did what management on high told me. I gritted my teeth, careful not to publicly lament how fucked up it seemed for my highly effective team to be upended. Not express my anger. And not express how stricken with shock and sorrow I felt to have my work family moved and shuffled like chess pieces.

I recently moved to a new team, voluntarily, and heard from my old co-workers that it was just in time. They’d just completed the seventh re-org of my old team in seven months. I went back to their part of the office, and recognized only 3 out of 20-odd people. It was silent, and people looked grim, as if bracing for, or recovering from, a shock. They said that early in the re-orgs, a manager had emailed out a PowerPoint presentation on how to deal with change. They were supposed to read it, and move on. The somewhat threatening message explicitly told to us throughout all the re-orgs was, “If you don’t like change, you don’t belong here.” My translation: do not grow bonds here, and do not mourn, and don’t come to us with complaints or that growing seed of resentment in your belly. Suck it all up and move on.

Layoffs and forced shuffling of employees are hard on human beings. We are social mammals, after all. If the intention of the company is to have happy employees, and to foster the sense of psychological safety that makes a productive, collaborative, and healthy workplace, we should all treat each other like human beings. Capable of emotion. Driven by connection. We need a honest dialog after upheaval. We need a place to cry that’s not isolated in a bathroom.

So how can we do better? How can we attend to the human beings who are suffering and help them along? How can we embrace change but offer sources of stability so people can cope?

The answers are easier than we might think:

· Acknowledge the loss. People need to know that the pain they are feeling is real and normal. With all change (positive or negative) comes elements of grief. The worst thing we can do is pretend people arent affected. Offer people a voice, a place to talk about their feelings. Be sure to listen without trying to solve the problem or offer advice. Just listen.

· Rally around. It turns out that we can face just about anything if we don’t have to FACE IT ALONE. We are often scared to talk about the feelings associated with grief and loss, so we avoid those who are in pain. What they need most is kinship and community. Provide opportunities for people to come together for honest conversation. We need each other.

· Support uncertainty. We don’t always have answers but it’s essential to be transparent with the information we can provide and to let people know where we are in the process of stabilizing. Look for elements of stability and routine and actively use them as a group moves through change. Let people know they can ask questions and offer compassion for what its like to sit with those questions that cannot be answered. Humans struggle and flail in wide open space.

· Practice patience. During times of stress or pain, we often move slower and are less efficient. Expect this and plan for it. Let people know that it’s okay for them to take more time for self-care. We need to adopt a gentler, more humane approach to change. Rushing back into productivity only prolongs peoples emotional process. It’s counter-intuitive. Slowing down and making more space for feelings actually allows us to move through them more quickly and thoroughly.

· Relationship first. Take the time to truly get to know the people you work with and to actively build and shape the relationships. During times of stability, it makes work so much more rewarding. During times of change, those relationships are an invaluable resource. When we are connected in a genuine way, we are way more likely to help each other when change needs to happen. It isn’t that change itself is negative. On the contrary, it’s a necessary and beautiful thing to see a company, a team, or an individual evolve. And, its extraordinary when we can move through those changes and stay committed to the core values of our humanity.

· Take signs and symptoms seriously. Massive change and loss impacts our brain chemistry. So does stress. From a preventative perspective, leadership can consider that adequate support for big transitions can make a huge difference in a person or a group struggling with issues like depression or stress-related illness. This is a major healthcare issue and the costs for medical treatment outweigh the costs for building positive support systems. We can start to paying attention to signs and symptoms and walk toward conversations and solutions rather than ignoring or denying the realities around us.

It’s possible to make more human-centered choices in the workplace. Like this individuals story tells, people who work together can bond deeply and teams can become a source of community. When we consider re-organizing teams and layoffs, there’s a new conversation needed here and its one about cultural and social impact. It considers capitalistic concerns such as efficiency and profit/loss ratios but it takes seriously the relational needs of people. This conversation puts heart and humanity first.


Posted by Elvis on 03/26/18 •
Section Dealing with Layoff
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Why Don’t Americans Care About Each Other

image: learning to give

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you cant exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You cant be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu 2008

How Societies Based on Rivalry Become Lord of the Flies

By Umair Haque
March 2018

Heres a tiny question. Does a society prosper, mature, develop, grow? By people pulling themselves up?

Today, high school students across America are walking out. But lets remember exactly why. Because their elders HAVE ALLOWED gun massacres at schools, and appear totally unmotivated or unmoved to change it. Hence, its left to the vulnerable kids to fend for themselves. Pull yourself up!! How Lord of the Flies.

So. Why don’t Americans care about each other? After all, that high school students have to walk out en masse to demand, well, they don’t be massacred is a pretty good indication that Americans don’t.

(But perhaps you object to my question. Very well, lets consider it in a number of other ways. Americans won’t give each other working healthcare, education, media, transport, safety nets, retirement, mobility, stability. The result is lives like pressure cookers - boiling with stress, mistrust, despair, and rage. Hence, opioid epidemics, loneliness, depression, anxiety, anger. America is above all renowned today for being something like a new Rome: for its cruelty. But all that is just another way to say that Americans don’t care about one another.)

I think that the reason is hidden in plain sight. Americans have been taught to see one another as rivals - because the idea was that way, everyone would pull themselves up. Rivals, everywhere, in everything. Whether at work, in life, or at play. It is something like the most rivalrous society that has ever existed. But that led to a catastrophic outcome: people forever pulling each other down, instead of lifting themselves up. And a society, economy, and democracy cannot function that way. There are better ways.

Let me give you a small but telling example. My friend recently got her “performance review.” It was full of sniping and bitching and pettiness: ”NEGATIVE FEEDBACK.” Now, she’s great at what she does - really. She’s never once had “negative feedback” in her life. She was shocked. But that’’s because she’s from Canada. I had to explain to her: this is just what Americans do: they have learned how to game this system of “review” by constantly being savage with one another - instead of being honest, its better to talk down everyone else, and get ahead that way. And so these “review systems” quite obviously don’t work in America - its leaders are nothing of the kind, of the lowest calibre imaginable, whether in business, politics, law, or media.

Do you see my point? Let me make it clearer.

What happens in the end if we make rivalry the fundamental principle of society - the one great ideal that orders and defines it that people see one another as bitter rivals to defeat? American thinking suggested the following outcome: that people would compete to pull themselves up, and that way, everyone would rise.

But it forgot one crucial detail. There are two ways to compete. By pulling yourself up or dragging others down. Now, which is less costly, which one requires less effort, time, imagination? Which only takes brutality, muscle, and cunning? Pulling others down, obviously. You can pull people down with a tug or a punch. But lifting yourself up? You have to fight gravity. You have to find a foothold. You have to look up and be blinded by the sun. In other words, you need empathy, compassion, grace, and courage. How much easier to just pull down. The economics are simple: pulling others down is much less costly than lifting yourself up, and that is the fatal mistake American thought made, but still HASN’T LEARNED yet.

And so the RESULT is now. A society of people forever pulling one another down, just like crabs in the proverbial bucket, each one trying to escape, but only ensuring none go anywhere. Lord of the Flies - remember?

When life becomes rivalry, the result is that relationships get blown apart, that institutions - which depend on genuine relationships - erode, that norms of decency and humanity corrode. An atmosphere of cruelty is produced when life becomes rivalry - but nothing can really function amid such absolute cruelty, not even basic things like performance reviews, let alone democracy, society, or the economy.

Democracy depends not on rivalry, but on a sense of COOPERATION, of people standing together. But because life is rivalry in America, the only people who stand together anymore are the extremists. Society depends not on rivalry, either, but on people crafting a fair and expansive social contract, that provides everyone some minimum level of well-being - otherwise, a society is broken by definition. And you think an economy depends on bitter, bruising rivalry - thats what American thinking says, after all - but you, and it are wrong: an economy depends on people being able to work together, for one anothers real human benefit, on things of genuine worth, accomplishments that matter. In genuinely transformative ways - not just those that please a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk or Zuck’s quarterly profit imperative.

So America is profoundly broken because rivalry has made stunted its democracy, society, and economy - they do not have the raw materials they need to really elevate human lives anymore: concern, passion, imagination, empathy, creativity, authenticity, trust, beauty, and truth.

What has all that been replaced with? Well, what is a life of such constant, intense, bitter rivalry like? Well, it means that everyone in your life is an adversary, opponent, or enemy - though you might call them your colleague, peer, coworker, classmate, they are really just your rival. So you don’t really friends, hence, “frenemies” you don’t really do work of service, your primary goal is to compete; that you measure yourself by how many people you have defeated, bested, and thrown down - not by how meaningful, rich, and worthwhile your life really is. A life of rivalry is full of stress, pressure, fear, and misery. One quickly becomes paranoid, fragile, bitter, and toxic.

How funny. How sad. How terrible. AMERICAN THINKING does not yet understand that rivalry does not work as the ordering principle for society because it is always cheaper to pull someone else down than lift one’s self up. To be cunning, ruthless, and deceitful is always easier than being compassionate, gentle, courageous, and strong.

But none of that is even the real tragedy.

It never CONSIDERED the third possibility at all - the greatest one of all. That people do not have to lift themselves up, or pull each other down. That they can lift each other up, too. That is what happened elsewhere in nations that developed expansive social contracts, with healthcare, education, retirement, etcetera, and now live vastly longer, happier, saner, healthier lives. Remember those poor high school kids, left to fend for themselves? Exactly.

Let us hope they LEARN this lesson.


Posted by Elvis on 03/25/18 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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