A friend talking to me yesterday asked “is it me or have most institutions, stores and corporations, most large human organizations, gone stone stupid?”
This was after a conversation that involved the fact that our people, including friends and acquaintances are at war with something pretty much universally right now. Something that they’d never dream of going to war against, something they didn’t want to fight, but have to, because “mistakes were made.” Usually mistakes are made by the business or organization and they’re large enough that they’re either existential or very, very expensive if not fought back against.
And the one universal on these things is that they’re STUPID. I mean, rock bottom, bizarrely stupid.
On the last trips to the grocery store, Dan and I, looking over our receipt at the end, have found big enough errors to justify losing half an hour in the customer service line. We’re talking $50 to $100 errors on bills that were under $300. (Yeah, we tend to buy meat for a long time and freeze. NOT actually gold plated nightingale tongues.) Errors against us, btw. In one of those, we had to help the clerk with elementary math in order to get our refund right. And half the time he was erring in our favor, so it wasn’t exactly, you know, a dodge.
It’s gotten so bad Dan and I joke about not needing to go to the ATM. Since this company can only give refunds in cash, we’re always flush.
I’ve run into the same thing with online companies and various other things. Even Amazon the unflappable has pulled a couple of strange shipping orders recently, where I look at the box and go “who? Why?” Now, half the time, it’s true, I did order the thing, and I’m just suffering a Writer Moment (totally a thing) because my brain is in three worlds at once. (BTW if someone sent me the cat pee remover for tile grout and is reading this, thank you kindly. I tossed the box before reading the gift receipt, because I assumed I’d ordered it. It was only later going over my orders that I realized it must have been a gift.)
But the other half the time I got an order supposed to go to someone else across the country, something that never used to happen and now does. Still very rarely for Amazon, more often for other places. Startlingly often for more “respected” and older places.
Most of my friends have had run ins with employers in the last few years, and the reasons will startle you: they were doing too much and were too competent.
The charges ranged from “showing off” to “Causing trouble by doing too much.” All of which boiled down to “You’re making other people look bad.
There is a pull towards mediocrity, as it were, pretty much everywhere, including the very strange (and familiar to me, because it’s Portuguese culture) notion that it’s better to be fast than to be accurate in some tasks. In retail, and other places that are understaffed, the emphasis is on fast, even if sloppy. Which is why I suspect we keep getting odd charges on our receipts. (Mostly sales not ringing as sales.)
Sometimes if you’re efficient, and just keep your head down and work, you get accused of not being a team player. Not socializing with your workmates is somehow suspicious and causes you to be on the outs.
And of course, in some industries — mine — not being vocally left will cause you all sorts of trouble. I remember the ex-Baen contractor who came at me on FB at the height of Sad Puppies telling me how much she hated working with me and what a horrible person I was. I checked. She did copy editing for Draw One In The Dark. That was it. If I remember properly — I was concussed at the time, but I have the email trail — she sent the copyeditted manuscript, I looked over it, and didn’t stet hardly anything, because concussed and didn’t trust myself, and I sent it back. That was the extent of our interaction.
Also at the time, I was politically in the closet, and the book — as most of you know, and if you don’t it’s free on Amazon and the Baen Free Library — is not even remotely political, though some people have found penumbras and emanations in the Great Sky Dragon. (Mostly because they’re nuts. Seriously, guys, the curtains are blue. Or in this case, the Great Sky Dragon came about because at the time of writing I’d been reading a pile of Chinese mythology.)
However, apparently, just minimal interaction with someone who later turned out not to be hard left caused this woman to burn. BURN I tell you.
So why are the wheels coming off? Why is doing well sometimes considered a sin? Why is “social fitting in” more important than doing your job?
Well… there is the fact that no one knows what good is, anymore. We’ve lost track of what we’re working for.
No, seriously. What is the aim of civilization?
It used to be, in the age of empires, that everyone knew that: to take over all the world, bring it all to “civilization” and live better.
We used to build big things, like canals and bridges and refineries and large ships because no one doubted that was good. We used to extinguish illnesses because no one doubted that was good. Ditto with say, wolves in populated areas.
But at some point — I date it from the end of WWI, and you can sort of see it in books of the time and forward — we decided we weren’t sure that was the good of right thing.
Part of it, and I’ll die of saying this, I swear, was Soviet agit prop, softening the west for take over — note they never bought into this bullshit, even as they propagated it — stuff like extreme ecology and the idea we shouldn’t go to space because we were bad and evil and would just propagate our evil.
And part of it was getting comfortable enough that our crazies weren’t immediately shut down as crazy. To put it bluntly, we had enough wealth and comfort to let even the crazy be heard.
So these days if you aim at something big, something that objectively improves the prosperity of all mankind, like say asteroid mining, you’ll get a chorus of “but what if we’re despoiling????” And these people have enough pour that nothing much gets done, and very little of importance.
This process goes down, all the way down the line to our stores, our garages, our schools (where students can all do “too well” per CACS in her comment yesterday.) It’s imbeciles and nincompoops all the way down.
People desperate for some kind of standard, be it in the arts or commerce, often fasten on to the latest politically correct directive as being “good”. Hence the crazy stuff with companies dropping NRA discounts because they were twitter mobbed. (Even though the NRA had nothing to do with the shooting, is not the only gun owner organization, and most gun owners don’t belong to ANY organization. And even though twitter mobs are not known for their calm, sanity or for that matter large numbers.)
The problem is that “progressivism” is not an objective good. Sure, it might be in a world where history came with an arrow and we knew how “the future would judge us.” But even there, for it to be an objective good it would have to work. But like it’s parent, Marxism, it just doesn’t. It just adds a layer of malice to the incompetence tarnishing the world.
(EDITED to add, because I’m recovering from severe stomach flu and forgot to put it in: We saw this writ large with the Broward Cowards letting children get killed and then jumping on the politically correct gun control bandwagon to cover their (objectively) crime and dereliction of trust.)
The thing is, if a house divided against itself cannot stand, a house penetrated by derp and held down by insane people who have no objective standards and don’t even know what “good” is; people who don’t know if they are for humans or against them; people floundering in the clutches of an ideology that changes day to day to designate a new victim class, crumbles slowly and bizarrely.
In many places, not just my own field, it sounds like the wheels are coming off. Things still trundle forward, kind of, but there is an accumulation of errors and faults that is starting to gum up everything.
It’s honestly amazing we’ve made it a hundred years or so with this mind set. If there hadn’t been massive technological improvements, we probably wouldn’t have. But it got easier to be relatively competent, even as the schools (one of the first taken) turned out less and less competent people.
But what can’t go on, won’t go on.
It’s not like it’s a surprise to any of us, right?
Thing is this won’t devolve into a mad max world, you know, just by stages into closer and closer to a third world nation, till we don’t notice when the inevitable TP shortages hit.
OR we can fight it. And I don’t mean just going to war with city hall, though some of us are crazy enough to do that (and with their employers, and with retailers and service providers. I once fought the post office. Won too. Let’s face it. Some Huns just like to fight. I know you’re shocked.)
I mean BUILD. Under, around, over. So that when she cuts lose and the weight rests more and more on us, we can carry on.
For some fields that’s impossible, and it’s going to become very difficult, particularly where those fields impact every one. For others… like mine, which is not terribly essential, we’re already managing.
It’s horrible, but the hope of civilization rests on the shoulders of the Odds, the Goats, the odd man out.
Because when collective madness sets in, our saving grace is that we don’t DO collective well.
When things get weird, the weird go pro.
Be not afraid.