Every time a pin-striped politician spouts platitudes about our great fortune to live in a democracy, I feel like spitting. Who lives in a democracy? Perhaps we do for the few hours in the evening that we crash out in front of the telly. For the rest of the time we live in an autocracy. We exist at the mercy of a brutal dictatorship that is the management system in capitalist society.
Cary Tennis of Salon.com recently wrote: I do not see how a democracy can survive when its citizens spend all their days under authoritarian rule. As the decline in voter participation continues, maybe hand-wringing academics and commentators should focus more on the fact that people are conditioned to obey and have no idea how to cope with choice.
We like to think our society is open, that we live a free life. This is an astonishing delusion; most people are not free at all. We rejoice as one authority figure after another is brought down by an increasingly independent populace. Then we simply replace one authority for another. The priests, the teachers, the doctors, the guards; one by one they collapsed. So we dusted off their pedestals and hoisted up The Entrepreneur.
Work is our religion and the tycoon is the new god: the all-knowing, all-powerful alchemist who can turn sandwiches or cable into gold.
True, there must be work. People must go to jobs and in those jobs someone has to take decisions. But somewhere along the line the cult of the entrepreneur rose and mesmerised us into believing that the Messiah was coming and, this time, he had a great business plan.
We all know completely overworked people. Tasks fall on their desks and they can’t say no because they are terrified of being labelled a bad employee. Their families struggle on, waiting for their loved one to come home.
Trade unions are increasingly restricted to the public sector. In the ice-cold atmosphere of the private sector, they are a dirty word. Worker organisation equals destruction in the minds of the MBA androids churned out by business schools. The misery of the individual is the price of greater glories like Growth and Q3 results.
Anyone who feels that they have to slave at their desk past 6pm should ask themselves what their reward is. Are you going to get a lot of extra money? Or will you please the boss. If it’s the former, fair enough. If not, more fool you. Of course the boss will be pleased if he can wring more work out of you at the cost of a pat on the back or a few pints on Friday evening. But he is laughing at you. You wouldn’t catch him working his behind off for anyone else.
Countless studies have identified that successful business leaders have narcissist personality disorder. It’s a condition found in many serial murderers. A narcissist has grandiose ideas about their own abilities. They think they are great and everyone else is dense. A productive narcissist can galvanise people around a vision and in tumultuous times, this can be a great thing. But, as Michael Maccoby once observed in the Harvard Business Review, a successful narcissist can be a danger to themselves and the people who work for them. “Rather than try to persuade those who disagree with him, he feels justified in ignoring them… The result is sometimes flagrant risk-taking that can lead to catastrophe. In the political realm, there is no clearer example of this than Bill Clinton.”
These are the characters we idolise. Entrepreneurs are invited onto committees and think tanks. We put Donald Trump and Jay Bourke on the telly and ask them to bully us. They turn up at conferences to advise us on how the world should be run. Anyone who expresses a spirit of resistance to the slavish culture of long hours and obedience is darkly dismissed as lazy, foolish or socialist.
The tough-talking entrepreneurs of today have done great things for consumers, created jobs and huge wealth, mainly for themselves but also for others. But have a chat with the people who work for them. How many hours a day are they actually outside the office? Are they nervous wrecks waiting for the next phone call? Are they watching their backs all day? I knew my relationship with the corporate world had reached a turning point when a well-known management consultant, nicknamed The Sniper, shook his head at me and declared: “You are the most unmanageable individual I have ever met.” His tone was part rebuke, part dismay. I was thrilled.
Since then I have cheerfully made myself unemployable and rejoice in the knowledge that only catastrophe or millions will see me work in the war zone that is an office again. I’ll never be rich, but I couldn’t care less. Today I am my own person, not a worn-out cast-off on someone else’s path to enormous wealth.
To the under-rewarded pawns of our Celtic tiger success, I say, turn off your mobiles; you have nothing to lose but the approval of an enslaved society.