It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id.
– Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari,
A friend of mine got fired today. Needless to say, I feel a bit miserable. While I do feel very genuinely sorry for my friend, the feeling of getting fired hit me a bit close to home. It’s not the first time I’ve seen someone fired before, but nobody gets used to that feeling.
Maybe they call it “the corporate machine” for a reason. I think Heidi Klum’s opening spiel in “Project Runway” sums it up rather succinctly: one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. “Teamwork” exists in the corporate universe for the lack of a better term. It’s not about being a wage slave, but being a cog in the wheel of a giant machine. Slavery is wrong, but it has its benefits: you cannot afford to get rid of a slave. In complex, machine-like environments like corporations, you keep the pace and fit into the system. You configure yourself in such a way that you respond to and move with this system.
Employees are machines in themselves. Teams, shifts, divisions, and the company itself, are extensions of the human machine. Machines coupled and connected to other machines. It’s a system in more ways than one: elaborate, intricate, complex.
I went to the comfort room and ran across my friend, who apparently cried inside one of the stalls for around two minutes. I can’t help but wish him good luck in whatever life takes him, but you can only imagine how far you would go in the world if you’re fired on the spot. You don’t look for someone to blame for it, or at least find the root cause of why you got fired, simply because it has already been done for you.
If you’re incompatible with the system, you need to be replaced.
It doesn’t sound encouraging or motivating at all. It may even sound wrong. Yet there’s only so much you can do about it; sentimentality and emotion have nothing to do with the exigencies of keeping a machine running. It’s all about functioning, movement, working your way from temporariness to permanence, from worthlessness to indispensability.
Back then, my friends say things about “being swallowed” by the system. I realized that it doesn’t work that way at all. Like a machine, you configure yourself to be swallowed by the system. You make yourself part of that system, and do all you can to fit in, and to make the machine work.
It’s wrong, it’s devoid of conscience, and it’s amoral. But the corporate machine is not fueled by ethics, by conscience, or by morality. It’s about needs; not of the greater good, but the bigger good. It’s about exigencies; not personal, but operational. It’s that mechanical. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is that way. It’s not a sense of helplessness or a sense of belonging that keeps it there, but a sense of perpetuation.
My friend got fired today for reasons I don’t want to know. It’s none of my business. My business is to do the best possible job I can to keep this machine moving. So far, I have done so, and gave it a bit of extra oomph. People live and die for all sorts of machines to keep going, whether it’s an actual or metaphorical one. And you don’t have to like it.
Yet I sometimes wonder if, in this grand machine, there is room for people to have their cry, or for people to be more than just cogs in the wheel of an even bigger machine. Not instant messages of goodbyes, not two minutes of tears in the company comfort room… that this grand machine can be, in a way, an exact opposite of itself.