Monthly Archives: June 2016

Pillow With a Pulse

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Señor Smartypants: “My flakiness never ceases to amaze me. As does my frequent inability to see the big picture. If I was on The Titanic when it began to sink, pretty sure I would’ve been one of those fools who polished the silverware and rearranged the furniture all the way down; or, as a friend once suggested, perhaps I would have been one of those silly men sitting at the ship’s bar—sipping whiskey, talking too much, laughing out loud, totally oblivious—even as a killer iceberg from hell tore chunks out of the mahogany wall, allowing ice-cold saltwater to pour into the smoky pub. Knowing this about yourself—as St. Paul well knew—is one thing; changing it is another. For instance, last night, Tabby brought me a dead mouse and I screamed like a little girl. Like a little girl, David!”

King David: “Look, Señor Smartypants, you don’t have to eat it: you don’t have to eat the dead mouse. But now’s not the time to tell Tabby the tabby that you’re a vegetarian. Now’s not the time to tell her that it wasn’t killed kosher. Now’s not the time to tell her that the mouse is forbidden to the faithful in Leviticus 11:29. Now’s not the time to tell her that her gift’s gross. When your cute little puddy-cat prances proudly onto the patio—with a spring in her step, and a furry thing in her mouth—when she plops that present down at your feet, magnanimously, triumphantly, altruistically, smile, pet her sweet head, and see the gift for what it is: an act of love—misguided love, perhaps, but love nonetheless.”

Señor Smartypants: “Still waterboarding Ibsen?”

King David: “Yeah.”

Señor Smartypants: “Think he’s gonna crack, tell you who he’s working for?”

King David: “Sooner or later, Señor, sooner or later. Vee have ways, vee have ways of making the kitty talk.”

Señor Smartypants: “He’s not a cat, David. He’s a pillow with a pulse.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Talkers, Doers, Bullshitters, and Dullards

Ty_Cobb_Paul_Thompson,_c1918The difference between a talker, a doer, and a bullshitter is merely a matter of degree. Bullshitters rarely follow through on their schemes and scams and master plans. My guess is that less than one in ten see the light of day. Talkers are much better at following through on their bright ideas. Maybe one in three bear fruit. Doers are better still, but, in my experience, only marginally so. Half of what they talk about actually happens.

Talkers, doers, and bullshitters are hard to tell apart precisely because they’re all members of the same ambitious species. Their true opposite, type-wise, is the lackluster dullard, who takes no risks, and dreams no dreams.

It’s good to remember that Babe Ruth, the greatest player in baseball history, was happy to hit but one out of every three balls; Ty Cobb, baseball’s record-holder, had a career batting average of .366 (meaning he missed the ball at least half the time). It’s also good to remember that most successful entrepreneurs have gone bankrupt at least once in the past (my friend Jaffer Ali is a case in point).

It’s easy to be overly judgmental of failure when you’re a dullard who’s never stepped up to the plate. Those who’ve actually tried to make things happen in the world are, in my experience, far more understanding.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Is the Intellectual Enterprise a Sham?

“The trouble with intellectual discussions is often the assumption that if one articulates clearly enough, Intellect can adequately represent the subject.”—Aaron Elliott

zn29jIntellectuals like to think they’re better than the proverbial loud obnoxious American tourist in Europe, but they often sound just like him: repeating themselves again and again, louder and louder each time, to someone who doesn’t speak English, as if deafness were the problem.

Well-crafted apologetics—reasoned arguments in favor of feminism, egalitarianism, abolitionism, or anything else—can, on occasion, convince people from the other side. But this is incidental. Indeed, almost accidental. Apologetics are primarily for internal consumption. Their true purpose is to shore up the belief system of the faithful (i.e., people who already agree with you for deeper, intuitive reasons—reasons derived, more often than not, from their lived experience). So long as apologists keep this in mind, all is well. When they go off the rails, it’s invariably because they’ve lost sight of this: that is, when they’ve deluded themselves into believing that their especially well-constructed argument in favor of this or that is actually going to convince the people on the other side.

Does this mean that the whole intellectual enterprise is a sham? Does it mean that the open society is doomed? NO and NO. We can indeed reason together. But there are limits to reason. And limits to reasoning together. I think it’s important to respect these limits. Not because acknowledging these limits can serve as a convenient excuse for sophistry, dogmatism, extremism, or giving up; but because it can actually make it easier for us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and respect the humanity of those who disagree with us.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

The Myth of the Happy Poor

happy-slavesI’ve encountered the myth of the happy poor most amongst elites and intellectuals from South Asia and South America. And I can’t help but suspect that it’s a way of rationalizing the extremes of wealth and poverty in those places. It brings to mind the way slave owners in the Old South used to go on and on about how happy their Negros were. Or the way that every annoying douchebag from Saudi Arabia goes on and on about how the women are actually running everything. Two heuristics: (1) The more the guys in a place—usually guys sitting around doing fuck all—tell you that the women really have all the power, the less power the women actually have. (2) The more a country’s elites tell you about how happy their poor folk are, the less happy they actually are. “Poverty,” as J. K. Rowling rightly observes, “entails a thousand petty humiliations and hardships; it is romanticized only by fools.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Wild Black Raspberries

IMG_2321I’m not going to lose it the next time an ideologue, who lives in his head, tries to make me or one of my kids feel like we don’t belong here. Instead I’ll agree with him. You’re right, I’ll say, I don’t belong in your outdated 19th-century dreamworld, founded on the fears and fantasies of Orangemen and Ultramontanes. I belong here: in this very real place called Montreal: one of the most fascinating cities on God’s Green Earth: a peaceful place that makes no sense to people like you.

I belong here because I love the streets as much as the alleys, the forests as much as the libraries, the bars as much as the places of prayer. I belong here because I love the smooth contours of our topography: from the top of Mount Royal to the depths of Lac Saint-Louis, from the Lake of Two Mountains to Pointe-aux-Prairies, from Rivière des Prairies to the Saint-Lawrence River.

I belong here because I love the smell of gin, incense, and perch; and I belong here because je me souviens that the Breath of Life referred to in Genesis can be found in the boozy air of The Wiggle Room, the smoky air of l’Oratoire Saint-Joseph, and the fishy air of Parc des Rapides.

I belong here because I love almost all of the beautiful creatures on this island paradise: the salamanders on the Mountain and the frogs in the River, the falcons in the Sky and the buskers below the Earth.

So I’m not going to lose it the next time an ideologue who lives in her head tries to make me or one of my kids feel like we don’t belong here. Instead I’ll say: My kids have tasted wild black raspberries from all four corners of this island, and they’ve done it within the last week—have you? They are a part of this place—are you? This place is a part of them—is it a part of you? They actually love this place called Montreal—do you?

Do you really love this place, as it is, in all of its manifold complexity? Or are you really just in love with an ethnically-cleansed Montreal that exists—thankfully, for now—only in your imagination?

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Framboises noires sauvages

La prochaine fois qu’un idéologue tentera de me convaincre que moi ou mes enfants n’avons pas notre place à Montréal, je jure de garder mon sang-froid. Je vais lui répondre : c’est bien vrai, je n’appartiens pas à ton monde imaginaire et dépassé. Je n’appartiens pas à ce monde qu’a fabulé le 19e siècle pour apaiser les craintes et nourrir les fantasmes d’orangistes et d’ultramontains. Ma place est ici, dans cette ville bien réelle qu’est Montréal, une ville fascinante et paisible qui dépasse l’entendement de gens comme toi.

J’ai ma place dans cette ville parce que, du haut du Mont-Royal jusqu’au fond du lac Saint-Louis, j’aime les contours lisses de sa topographie. J’y ai ma place parce que j’aime ses ruelles autant que ses rues, ses forêts autant que ses bibliothèques, ses lieux de prière autant que ses temples de la bière. Ici, le souffle de vie que décrit poétiquement la Genèse s’infiltre partout, transmuté en effluves d’alcool, d’encens et de poisson — au Wiggle Room, à l’oratoire Saint-Joseph, ou au parc des Rapides. J’appartiens à ce royaume insulaire parce que j’aime les salamandres sur sa montagne, les grenouilles dans son fleuve, les faucons dans son azur et les artistes dans ses tunnels.

Oui, la prochaine fois qu’un idéologue tentera de me convaincre que moi et mes enfants n’avons pas notre place ici, je vais garder mon sang-froid. Je vais lui poser quelques questions : « Toute la semaine, mes enfants ont mangé des framboises noires sauvages qu’ils ont cueillies aux quatre coins de l’île — et les tiens ? Les miens s’y sentent chez eux — et toi ? Ils aiment ce lieu — et toi ? L’aimes-tu sans condition, dans toute sa diversité ? Ou es-tu plutôt épris d’une vision de cette ville qui n’existe (heureusement) que dans ton imagination  —  une image qui l’a vidée de son relief et de ses ethnies ? »

Est-ce ça, ton Montréal ? Est-ce ça, Montréal ?

—John Faithful Hamer, Montréalais de souche, 2017
(traduit de l’anglais par Jean-Benoît Rainville)

Everybody Finds What They’re Looking For On The Mountain

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A tiger swallowtail floats down from heaven to drink from the edge of a stream; and that amazing man with the voice of a god bellows: “Pepsi, 7-Up, Gatorade, coooooooooold water.” Because everybody’s looking for something on the mountain today: German tourists looking for The Cross, Koreans looking for The Lookout, Mexicans looking for raccoons, Brits looking for the loo, Americans looking for their car, teenagers looking cool, fat guys looking hot, students looking for weed, joggers looking for their best time, photographers looking for the perfect shot, stoners looking for misplaced keys, squirrels looking for misplaced nuts, hawks looking for misplaced squirrels, shirtless guys looking ripped, topless women looking deliciously defiant, rookie drummers looking for the beat, and amorous tamtammers looking for a little privacy in the woods. Everybody, it seems, finds what they’re looking for on the mountain.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Mens Rea

A crime is committed.  Society perceives that something is wrong, somebody has done wrong, some reaction must occur.  What should we do?  How do we confront crime, including not just those crimes that have already occurred, but also the fear and expectation of future crimes?

At the end of the day, the problem we confront here must be one of action, not intention. The intentions of other people are always in some sense inscrutable, impossible to know in some particulars–even when we have the kind of intimate insight provided by good novelists or historians (who are more similar than different, generically speaking).

The mens rea is secondary, something we look for after a crime has already been committed. We don’t look for it primarily, before a crime has been committed, because crime occurs for many reasons, in situations that involve many mental states (too many to know, let alone understand, even when the action is over, let alone before it happens).

The worst kind of police-work involves flipping the process around, looking for guilty thoughts (mens rea) before guilty actions (crimes). Because anyone, nay everyone, is always having thoughts that are problematic (at least potentially). The parent’s love for a child, the child’s love for a sibling, the human’s love for affection, etc., all become criminal at some point (i.e. mens rea). My thoughts–my loves, hatreds, passions–are not magically good because as yet they are associated with no crimes (that I am aware of, that society has noticed). The same is true of yours, and of all people. We have different thoughts, of course, different iterations of the dangerous process that manifests somewhere as mens rea–which we will have differently. Your mens rea will not be mine, but that does not make either of us categorically less guilty than the other.

The only viable filter for separating acceptable human psychology from mens rea is action. What did you do? I don’t punish people for thinking, even when they think bad thoughts (in my judgment), until I find them acting badly (and then I try to make my reaction match the level of evil in their action: a sin is not necessarily a crime, and not all crimes or sins are created equal; sometimes a slap on the wrist is appropriate, other times you need something stronger). Having ambivalent thoughts about sex, or religion, or any such thing is not the same as beating, killing, or otherwise criminally damaging other people. Some of the best people I know have ambivalent thoughts about the human condition; they turn those thoughts into good actions (avoiding harm, helping where possible, cultivating compassion that does not overwhelm its object with unwanted attention). Others use the same kind of thoughts to become criminals. When the Dalai Lama suggests that sexual or political or even human identity is unreal or in some sense unimportant, is he committing a crime, stirring the fire of human passion in an attempt to cause mayhem? Not in my book. I am still Christian enough to believe the dictum “by their fruits ye shall know them”–and I identify those fruits with actions, particular actions of motivated individuals, not nebulous social trends (“cultures” like Christianity or Buddhism or Islam) that lack coherent moral agency (everything under the sun is historically Christian or Buddhist or Muslim, including murder and mayhem, naturally, as these are permanent parts of the human condition).

Am I a horrible person for this stance I take, that action must matter primarily in judging and responding to crime? I don’t think so, obviously, but that does not mean that I am right (particularly right, unable to go wrong as I make individual judgments about how to behave in specific circumstances). My reason for refraining from criminalizing thoughts is fundamentally about compassion: I want to believe that you have the best motivations for whatever choices you make, and I will not interfere with those choices or judge them (in a particular sense) harshly, until you make that necessary by some action (e.g. walking into my neighborhood with drawn weapons). Even then, my most severe judgment is of your behavior, not your thoughts. I don’t condemn Christian culture, Buddhist culture, Muslim culture, etc. I don’t condemn Christian rape, Buddhist rape, Muslim rape, etc. I condemn rape, and I fight against rapists (individuals with agency that they use to become rapists). The broader social trends that criminals draw from to inform and color their criminality, the broader social trends that we draw from to explain it–these to me are always secondary (and doubtful). When I sit on a jury to determine guilt, I don’t want to judge the culture of the criminal. I want to know what s/he did, and only then to consider how the particular culture or circumstances might mitigate (or not) whatever reaction I make.

Everything I Needed to Know About Kicking Junk, I Learned From Trainspotting

2ee2f574e2d4971c3e5a224d86f78b98A few months after the events described in “My Near-Death Fentanyl Experience”, I left Montreal. New town, new job, I had to decide what to take with me and what to leave behind. One of the things I decided to leave behind was a multi-gram a day heroin habit. Two grams a day, minimum, just to maintain an even strain and three or more if I actually wanted to get high. I bet most people, once they found out their smack habit dwarfed their smack dealer’s habit, they might think that was cause for concern. I’m not most people. I didn’t get it until my dealer expressed that concern, clearly, directly and to my face. When my own smack dealer tells me I’m overdoing it, I have to allow for the possibility she might be right.

OK, so decision made. I am going to quit. But how to do it? No shortage of God and group therapy where I was going, but that ain’t me. There’s methadone clinics too but that ain’t me either. I’m from the generation that was taught methadone was the instrument of the Devil. It only prolonged the agony and made the problem worse. There’s this new stuff, buprenorphine, supposed to be a one-shot cure. There’s like a hundred doctors in all of the United States allowed to prescribe it and they’re only allowed to have like a hundred patients each. The waiting list is a million years long. What am I gonna do? And then it hit me. I’ve seen Trainspotting (1996). I know EXACTLY what to do. I know Ewan MacGregor’s speech from that scene almost by heart.

“Relinquishing junk. Stage one, preparation. For this you will need: One room which you will not leave. Soothing music. Tomato soup, ten tins of. Mushroom soup, eight tins of, for consumption cold. Ice cream, vanilla, one large tub of. Magnesia, milk of, one bottle. Paracetamol, mouthwash, vitamins. Mineral water, Lucozade, pornography. One mattress. One bucket for urine, one for feces and one for vomitus. One television and one bottle of Valium.” Every item on that list serves a purpose.

In other words, mostly what I was going to need was time. I looked up the figures in a quick consultation with Doctor Google and understood that I needed to give myself a minimum of a week before I’d be anywhere near capable of showing up for a job. And out of that week, I could expect the first three days to be the worst. In the end, that was the key. Knowing the timeline and knowing to the hour exactly where I was on it. It is a quirk of human psychology that a man can endure quite a lot if he knows exactly when it’s going to end. The sharpest stomach pains, the inability to keep even water down, the constant vomiting of yellow-green bile—that ends after 72 hours, give-or-take. In that time, dope has to be impossible or at least very hard to get. I do not advise trying to do this part with dope in the house, chances are you’re going to reach for it. The next bit, the inability to take solid food (this is where you’ll be glad you laid in the ice cream), the desire to claw yourself out of your own skin and the generally being too weak to get up out of bed and do shit, that ends in another three days, four at the most. Non-narcotic tranquilizers and sedatives won’t help you to sleep, don’t hope for that, but enough of them can put you in enough of a fog the hours go by a bit faster. I’m not going to say how many heavy-duty tranks I took or how much whiskey I washed them down with to buy six hours of almost-not-misery on the last day. Some fool will try to replicate it and die in the process and I’m not having that on my conscience.

Distractions are the meaning of life in those last three or four days. Binge-watch that eight season TV series you were always meaning to check out. Play an audiobook or better yet, a whole series of audiobooks, the cheesier the better. Anything to knock out one painful hour after another after another.

After that, the last two lingering effects—and these last a month—are that during the day my brain and body were running at a fraction of normal clock speed. By taking lots of amphetamines, I was able to boost that to a higher fraction. Half. On a good day three-quarters. Never full speed. And at night, I was never able to sleep, not one minute, not for a month. The morning I opened my eyes, realized I’d slept four whole hours for the first time in a month, I shit you not, I got up and did the dance of joy around my bedroom.

The REAL Game of Thrones

The bad influence

My father always related a story to me about his basic training.  The story went like this: at an inspection of person and quarters his sergeant bristled at him for putative dust on his hat.  The problem was that the sergeant was a short guy and my father tended to tower over anybody else in the room.  There was literally no way this guy could have seen the top of my father’s hat to pronounce it dusty.

Most people at this point would protest and get slapped down by the verbal prowess of the senior shouting officer sergeant.  Others who’d had this happen to them before would grind their teeth quietly and acquiesce, cleaning their hat pointlessly after inspection to parade before the sergeant later for a follow-up inspection.

My father, who was a wiser man than I (albeit less educated) at that age did neither.  As a result he recognized this for what it was and gamed it.  “I’ll show you, you bastard!” was the thought in his head.  And for the entire day he didn’t touch his hat beyond wearing it and removing it at need.  Then, at the appointed time, he showed up for his follow-up inspection.  The sergeant looked at the proffered hat and pronounced himself satisfied with my father’s cleaning skills.  My father got away with not doing pointless busywork and also came away with inward chortling at how he’d proven himself smarter than the sergeant.  (Being that wiser man than I, he didn’t do the chortling in front of the sergeant to rub his nose in it.  He suppressed his urge to show that he was smarter and thus demonstrated the fact conclusively.)

When people outside of the military hear stories like that they smugly pontificate about how wasteful the military is; how much time and energy is wasted in these little power games.  Because, make no mistake, this is purely a power game.  The sergeant was doing the “dusty hat” thing not because he cared about the hat (or even knew if it was dusty or not).  He was doing it because he could and because he wanted to emphasize to the recruit that he could.  It was purest hierarchy-enforcement, and that’s why my father’s response to it was so subversive: he recognized the game and refused to play it.

Interlude about business life

This story was very influential on me (albeit it took me a lot longer to develop the wisdom to not rub my targets’ noses in it; that little requirement was never communicated in the story except indirectly).  When I joined the workforce I saw the same hierarchical power games being played around me.  The funniest was when people who sneered at the “wasteful” behaviour in the military did pretty much exactly the same thing in the white collar office world.  Don’t believe me?  Let me spin a story and tell me if you recognize it:

One day an office worker went to their manager with a report they’d worked on for weeks. It was picture perfect: all spelling checked, all grammar vetted, all facts carefully documented and footnoted, all options explored.  The manager opened the document to a random page, spent less time reading it than s/he’d spent on brushing hair in the morning, before starting to critique stupid little things with vague “this needs rewording”-style criticisms.  The report is tossed back into the worker’s hands and the worker left to “fix up” the report to pass muster.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It happens to almost every office worker, in the small or in the large, several times a year.  This is the manager “justifying salary”.  If you don’t critique, after all—if you just accept your underlings’ work unchanged—you’re not doing your job! You’re supposed to guide your underlings, even if their work doesn’t need it.

Impact the first

I’ve encountered this precise scenario many, many times in many, many jobs.  Almost every time I “fixed up” the document by changing the font size by half a point (to reflow the layout so it doesn’t look identical) and resubmitted an identical (but for the font size) document, only to have it praised.  I cleaned the metaphorical dust from my metaphorical hat by doing nothing, like my father before me.  I never, not even once, got caught in the act (after I learned to keep my mouth shut about it, I mean).  Managers (and teachers!) are so caught up in their little power games they can’t even imagine that someone may just bypass them entirely.

I’ve done worse.

Impact the second

Far worse.  In one company, a scum-sucking, bottom-feeding, body-shopping little consulting firm, I was farmed out to a government project as a subcontractor.  This project (PSCS) was a disaster in slow motion.  It was doomed (for many reasons ranging from contractor malfeasance to sabotage by the PSU) and it was in death march mode.  I was brought in as part of that death march: throwing man-hours at a project in a desperate bid to get it delivered on time.  (Never mind that this was known not to work in the ’70s already…)

One of the more onerous and tedious requirements of the position was the twice-daily status/progress reports.  Yes, you read that correctly: in a project that was at risk of failure (in the same way that the Pacific is wet!) the management had cut even further into worker time to have them write reports twice a day on what they were doing.  And they REALLY hated my first few reports.  Apparently documenting the time spent on reports was verboten.  As was saying “no progress because I’m waiting for actual requirements to be delivered so I can code something”.  Such elements were deemed “unhelpful” and “verging on hostile”.  (Verging?  Really!?  Are you that fucking clueless?!)  So I swung into action to solve this once and for all.

I’d just learned a new (to me) programming language at the time (Rexx) and was looking for something to write in it.  I found it in my automatic report generation facility.  I hit the net and found a collection of stock buzzphrases and used that to build up a madlibs-style random buzzword bingo sentence generator.  I very carefully tuned it so that it ALWAYS generated syntactically correct English, but with zero semantic content.  To anybody who actually knew technology (or management, for that matter) it would be clear that this was content-free reportage.  To the yahoos running this show it was exactly what they wanted. I generated 7 to 10 random sentences in my utility, cut-and-pasted them into a word processor, added the usual memo fields (via template), printed it off, signed it, and submitted it.

My neighbours in the cubicle farm were in awe.  They thought I was about to be fired, but they thought it was an incredibly stylish way to get fired.  Imagine their surprise (and their stifled giggles; oh so many stifled, choking laughs that day!) when in the next all-hands meeting one of my reports was held up as an example of exactly the kind of information management needed to track project progress.  All that afternoon the dozens of people who’d been saying I was about to get fired were lining up at my desk to get my script so they could write good reports as well.

See, the reports, again, were not actually intended to be useful.  How did I know?  I could do math, see.  I sat down and read a typical report in my speed-reading mode (which is blazingly fast).  I then multiplied that time by the number of people on the job (hundreds), then by two (twice per day), then divided by the number of managers.  It was literally impossible for the managers to read these reports if they spent 24 hours per day doing nothing but reading them.  The reports were a desperate bid to grab control in a project that was spiraling out of it.  It was, basically, a way for managers to prove to themselves that their dicks hadn’t shrivelled down to micropenis territory.  And it was literally inconceivable to them that people would spot this and just ignore them; that people like me simply would not play along.

And I’ve done even worse.

An impactful hat trick

That same bottom-feeding firm had a grand pretension to make a CASE tool.  The concept was doomed from the start: started after CASE tools were falling into disrepute, had too few resources on it, and the boss changed his mind about what it was literally every week. (I am not exaggerating.)  It could not possibly have ever been done.  The time I spent on it was basically time two friends used to hone their programming skills under the pretext of making a product.

Still, the owner of the company wanted strict accounting for time spent on it because he was getting R&D tax credits for our efforts.  And he especially wanted the overtime documented for those credits.  The overtime … he didn’t pay us for.

Well, if he was going to cheat the government out of money and not send any of it out of my way, there’s no way I was going to help him in the process.  So I wrote a VBS script in Excel to stochastically generate my timesheets.  I faithfully recorded in the timesheet the times I arrived and left … whenever my boss happened to see them.  The rest of the times were left open and I used a random number generator to fill in numbers such that I had a very plausible looking timesheet that was corroborated by the observations (if any) of my boss.  And that always, mysteriously, week after week, month after month, for my entire stay at the firm, added up to precisely 37.5 hours per week.  He never caught on because his little power game (“I can make you work longer hours, get money from someone else for it, but never pay you”) was ignored.  Sure he got extra work out of me (or so he thought).  I did do loads of overtime in the office.  He just saw nothing for it: not a product (for reasons already outlined) and not an extra tax credit.  And he lacked the imagination to consider that someone could play timesheet judo with him.

The Real Game of Thrones

This is, in the end, the reality of fantasies like Game of Thrones.  Most power plays are petty things done by insecure people who inflict misery on others to prove (mostly to themselves!) that they can.  The more insecure they are in their power, the more they feel the overpowering urge to make others suffer.  Insecure petty tyrants feel the need to do what is nowadays referred to as “microaggressions” (but is more accurately termed “acting like a petty asshole”): throwing reports back for improvement, forcing status updates, etc.  Insecure grand tyrants instead starve populaces or bomb them.  It’s all the same shit, just one pile is a lot bigger than the other.

山高皇帝远

山高皇帝远

And you don’t have to play along.  At least not on the petty side.  (It’s rather harder to ignore barrel bombs being dropped by helicopter into your marketplaces obviously.)  This refusal works on power mongers of all kinds: bosses, ambitious coworkers, government officials, policemen, and teachers.

You don’t have to play along because the people who play those games can literally not fathom the possibility that you wouldn’t.  You can hand in your “dusty hat” (literal or metaphorical) and you will get away with it.  Just pretend to play along and you’ll be ignored, or even favoured.  You don’t have to sell your soul; you don’t have to become a quisling or toady.  You can retain your dignity (and feel smugly superior to boot; always a bonus!) and you can let the power plays flow around you leaving you alone.  All it takes is recognizing them for what they are and then refusing to play along.  (And keeping your mouth shut about that fact.  This is an important thing that too many people fuck up when trying to do this.)

—Michael Richter