The Horde

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A friend of mine sent me an e-mail about a certain Friendster blogger named “ihatecofi,” who has some rather caustic comments about “Orcs.” Thanks to a Google-search, I found that the blogger maintains a separate blog at “Make Poverty History,” where he has even more caustic comments about “Orcs.”

Instead of pissing me off, the blogger made me think a bit deeper than usual.

Some weeks back, I wrote about the political life of what I call the “call center generation (CCG).” The hallmark of our generation is business placement outsourcing, whether it’s in a windowless office or a home-based job that requires an Internet connection (I belong to the “windowless office” category). While I do appreciate The Warrior Lawyer’s thoughtful perspective that the CCG is the “first truly globally-oriented generation of Filipinos,” I still see things in terms of a less-than-optimistic light. The challenge to the CCG is the motto of Friends of the Earth: “Think globally, act locally.”

Anyway, the BPO is like being caught between a rock and a hard place:

  • Factor 1: Outsourcing represents an aggressive, unsustainable economic policy that drains human resources and many forms of capital;
  • Factor 2: Outsourcing represents a convenient and (hopefully) temporary means of employment to address basic human needs and other canons of taste.

I’m not an economist, but from what I do know (please correct me if I’m wrong), institutional economics – represented by thinkers like Thorstein Veblen and John Kenneth Galbraith – eschews the rigors of mathematics in favor of a socio-cultural approach to economic perspectives. Perfect, since I think that an economist will explain Factor 2 in terms of line graphs and funky equations.

Veblen, in particular, is known for the concept of “conspicuous consumption.” In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen observes:

Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure. As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method. The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments. Presents and feasts had probably another origin than that of naïve ostentation, but they acquired their utility for this purpose very early, and they have retained that character to the present; so that their utility in this respect has now long been the substantial ground on which these usages rest.

“Veblen goods,” or in a word: Starbucks.

I won’t be sanctimonious as to say that I do not enjoy the occasional frappé, the less-than-occasional pack of Dunhill Filters, or the definitely-not-occasional trips to malls. To keep up with the Joneses is something consistent with – or even corollary to – capitalist society, which is manifested in this case by outsourcing. Alcohol and coffee become necessary as social needs to survive in stressful work environments, even if in some cases, indulgence in luxury goods and activities come at the expense of basic necessities like food and transportation.

The horror of it is that after hours of inbound tech support and outbound telemarketing, it takes a cup of coffee and the atrocity called San Mig Light to make you feel human (before you send me hate-mail, I’m a Pale Pilsen guy). It is reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, although with a more corporate twist, sans the horrors of slaughterhouses in the 1900s…

But that’s another story.

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