From the breakfast table of the hotel, I look across Charlotte Street to the Fitzroy Tavern, where Crowley and a congerie of other high imperial bohemian types used to drink and party, under the patronage of Judah Kleinfeld… who wanted to replicate the Paris salon feel in the heart of London.
I am waiting to be joined by an attractive Frenchman for a breakfast meeting, so I listen to a podcast about Alan Moore.
My business associate arrives.
We discuss navigating Google’s half-truths and hidden agendas. We swap New York office anecdotes. We compare clearing prices for Brazilian media. I eat wild mushrooms on brioche toast and mentally undress a Frenchman.
This is a strange sort of collapse.
Last year was a story of pan-European corporate derring do, with secret meetings in transit lounges and Nazi ghosts in Marbella hotels and Friday meetings where we decided whether we should pay the phone bill or one of the contractors because we couldn’t do both.
Such is the life of a European start-up.
This year I am on track to make more money than I ever have before, certainly double last year. And I am perplexed by my reaction to the new situation. It is difficult to locate the connection between effort and reward. My work world is like a fever dream after poorly-cooked shellfish.
From Morris Berman:
Most Americans have a dull sense that their lives are fundamentally “off”—because for the most part, they are. They hate their lives, but to get through the day, besides taking Prozac and consulting their cell phone every two minutes, they talk themselves into believing that they want to be doing what they are doing. This is probably the major source of illness in our culture, whether physical or mental.
In the film Definitely, Maybe, Ryan Reynolds works for an ad agency and says to himself at one point that he never imagined he’d be spending his days trying to convince people to buy Cap’n Crunch for their kids instead of Fruit Loops. As far as striving goes, Goethe wrote: “Man errs as long as he strives.”
In a gchat last month, Scribs asked me why I don’t post work hacks anymore. There are a number of reasons.
- I’m no longer sure my personal experience scales up into macro suggestions because the rules of work have been suspended.
- The hacks begin and end with ‘fight dirty‘.
- Meritocracy is about at real as democracy. This problematises the dispensation of (legal) advice.
More on meritocracy:
Some months ago, I got to fly first-class from London. Until then, I’d never realized it wasn’t just a recliner in the plane and some cheap bubbly, but rather a separate sphere of being. In first-class, you weren’t groped or barked at or treated like a combination of a terrorist and a cow. Instead, paid servants pretended your presence was a gift.
After years of work trips crammed in coach, being forced to show my underwear to the TSA, I felt like a guttersnipe in a palace. I loved it, but it was also deeply strange. “These people don’t really like me,” I thought, no matter how skillfully they acted like they did.
Until you see it, you never realize how separate the sphere of the rich is from that of everyone else.
Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.
Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.
But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they’re small bits of the puzzle.
My economic situation is bigger than it has ever been, but it is also more precarious than it has ever been. In less than twelve months I have outlasted three bosses and two entire teams. I am literally the last elf in corporate Middle Earth.
All those suggestions to work hard and dress for the job you want to be in and make your boss look good and be the first in the office but never the last one out. They’re all bullshit. I work nowhere near as hard as a strawberry picker and I didn’t see any of them sitting next to me at the breakfast meeting.
Informing the Sun Tzu is the notion that a leader or emperor can have the Support of Heaven withdrawn. In a situation where the emperor acts contrary to the best interests of the people/state/universe, the general is no longer bound to do his bidding.
The late capitalist world most certainly does not have the Support of Heaven. We shall call this the Tao of Ragnarok.
As previously detailed, the hegemony of the previous archon is breaking up. Formerly solid alliances are splitting like astral ice sheets and being set adrift.
- HSBC is closing loads of ‘diplomatic accounts’. TOLD YOU they were/are the archon spook bank!
- The Bank of England is playing the same game as the Fed. It is refusing to comment on the huge discrepancy in its custodial gold reports. Because the gold isn’t there!
- And the BRICs are closer to their own entirely independent banking system, which will suck the only growth spots out of the US dollar/gold system of the ancien régime.
The old system was certainly rigged and iniquitous, but it came with certain promises. Go to school, get a job, work hard at your job, buy a house because being in debt for twenty five years is inexplicably a good investment… dedication and loyalty are rewarded with stable employment and above-inflation payrises and then, when you’re old, you’ll get a watch and please join us for cake at your desk at 2:30pm.
None of this is relevant today.
The ruling powers of the old guard can’t even hold themselves together. You think they’re going to look out for you? The inevitable onshoring of manufacturing back into America and Europe will only be accomplished after 3D printing has scaled into industrial utility. The recovery will be jobless.
What do we do about it?
First… really, truly, own the fact that you are required to extract wealth from a system that has suspended all rules and best practices. Those dreams you have in the early morning where you go through your entire work day and then the alarm goes off and you have to do that whole day again. The dream version is the real one… with dream logic.
Secondly… drink from a deeper well. Here’s a touching, emblematic story from the outgoing New Yorker Beijing correspondent, about what happened when an old street sweeper came up to him while he was talking with his neighbour:
I thought I’d misheard. He said, “I can see an image of the emperor right there on that rock.”
Huang and I looked at the rock and back at the sweeper. Huang was not interested. “What are you bullshitting about?” he asked. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The sweeper smiled and asked, “Are you saying you think I’m not a cultured man?”
“What I’m saying,” Huang said, “is that you’re not making sense.”
The sweeper gave him a look, and turned, instead, to face me. “I can look at anything, and pull the essence from it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how ordinary something is; in my eyes, it becomes a treasure. Do you believe me?”
Huang was irritated: “Old man, I’m trying to have a chat with our foreign friend here. Can you not disturb us, and go back to your work?”
The sweeper kept talking—faster now, about ancient Chinese poetry, and the great modern writer Lu Xun—some of it too fast, and the references too obscure, for me to understand. He sounded somewhere between interesting and bonkers. Huang had had enough, and he poked fun at the man’s countryside accent. “Come back after you’ve learned to speak Beijing dialect,” he said.
Under his breath, the sweeper said, “As long as it’s a dialect of human beings, it’s legitimate.” But Huang didn’t hear him. He’d waved him away and wandered into his house.
I introduced myself. The sweeper’s name was Qi Xiangfu. He was from Jiangsu Province, and he said he had come to Beijing three months ago. Why did you come, I asked.
“To explore the realm of culture,” he said grandly.
“What kind of culture?”
“Poetry, mainly. Ancient Chinese poetry. During the Tang Dynasty, when poetry was the best, every poet wanted to come to Chang’an,” he said, invoking the name of the ancient capital, the predecessor to Beijing. “I wanted a bigger stage,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether I succeed or fail. I’m here. That’s what matters.”
Thirdly… increase the chaos. In terms of probability enhancement, it’s now considerably less likely that you will achieve economic success via internal promotion and hard work than it is through serendipitous encounters with people who need your skills. If you do not live somewhere with sufficient economic dynamism to provide an appropriate level of chaos, then move. End of. Economic nomadism has been the story of mankind for all but a tiny fraction of the last million years.
And lastly… Obey the law, ignore the rules.
In Auckland, I lived beside the hallowed ground of Eden Park. This was before they began building for the recent Rugby World Cup. In order to expand the stadium, surrounding houses were bought up (at above market rates, to be fair) so they could be demolished.
At the time, I had no money and less furniture, and was living in a delightful -albeit austere- share house. Maybe it was because we were watching Firefly, but it occurred to me there might be something worth salvaging in these unoccupied houses that were due for demolition in a few days.
So I got my terrified, new boyfriend (he stuck around) to reverse into one of the ruined driveways and I went house to house, looking. On the back porch of the second one was a perfectly serviceable chest of drawers. Which I took and kept for years.
Here’s my question then… in the shifting of much bigger economic powers, who was I stealing from here? The house was sold so it wasn’t the former owners. The chest of drawers would have been destroyed in a matter of days by the new corporate owners. At worst, I was trespassing but I was also white and sober so didn’t foresee that as being too much of a problem. We exist today in a similarly liminal economic situation.
Your time here on earth is a rescue mission. Which you fund with a salvage mission.