Thursday, 6 August 2015

Corporate terror

Back from England to the silence of hunting lodge in Šumava, Baron von Trotta received the visit of his old acquaintance The Seeker.

The Baron prepared the visit in the customary form whenever he was expecting such visitor. 

The nephew of his Moravian cook, a delightful creature who prepares his meals while her aunt was on annual holidays, cooked a delicious tafelspitz and surprised the Baron with an excellent getrüffelte eierspeis for starter. Cakes and ice-cream came were ordered directly from Oberlaa's branch at Neuer Markt, close to the Baron's own Viennese flat.

In the Baron's study, liquors, porto and cigars were liberally displayed on a low octagonal stone-and-oak table set in the centre of two comfortable chaises Voltaire upholstered in dense deep red velvet, for a long comfortable talk after dinner. 

The Baron is a devout follower, not only of slow food, but of slow talk as well. What deepest form of respect towards our friends can exist than awarding them time and hospitality when they need them?

Many things were discussed that night between The Seeker and the Baron. The Seeker doing most of the talking, the Baron most of the silences.

We will return to that long talk that lasted until the early hours in future posts, but among the real stories and anecdotes brought as usual by The Seeker's tortuous existence, a couple of them interested the Baron particularly.

One was about a friend of The Seeker, who after receiving the highest performance reviews in his job for a high-tech multinational corporation, was fired because he had been a bit to "honest and direct" in his office communications. He was the most experienced member of the staff, and examples of what was considered as being too "honest and direct" were never given to him.

The second was about a competent colleague, in one of the long list of firms The Seeker had worked for, was never promoted, despite outstanding results, with the excuse of "not being strategic enough". What this exactly meant, was never explained either.

The Baron could not avoid thinking that contemporary multinational corporations share with totalitarian states the ability to use generic terms void of real meaning to punish and control. The sorry human beings forced to work for such companies live in perpetual terror, like Josef K., the main character in Kafka's Der Prozess, never uncovering any criteria or reason behind the fate awaiting them in their so-called careers. 

Petty jealousies, envy, intrigues, a power structure supposedly based on merit, sheer human cruelty, are often hidden behind decisions justified with empty words such as "strategy", "corporate values", "inadequate performance", "corporate image". These words are used by the mighty to rule over the weak, whose shattered dreams, broken plans and affected human rights are apparently the concern of none. All in the name of big business, personal ambition and greed. And of course, the biggest culprits will be the ones boasting about donating a lot to charity...

But the Baron wonders if the worst is not the daily torture of not knowing what to do, what to expect, what logic if any, presides over the decisions imposed upon a human being at work. With good work punished and mediocrity rewarded, all that is left is an individual utterly alone and helpless, awaiting a fate that can mean poverty and failure, never knowing why, no one ever listening.

The Mafia, at least, kills with weapons, not with words.

When the Seeker went to bed, the Baron stood up and approached a bookshelf. Without hesitation, he grabbed the second volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. 

A terrible and, where it not for the horrific nature of the crimes depicted, at times very comic chronicle of what happens in a society when, in the name of great ideals and scientific theories, unchecked power, jealousy and ambition bring only terror and despair. A desolate insight into the human condition and the pitiless nature of tyranny.

Modern corporations might not be killing millions for the crime of political dissent, but they suffer from the same disease as totalitarian societies: cruel ambition and power masquerading behind shallow words creating nothing but submissive slaves in perpetual fear of being the next one the vlasti might want to get rid of.

After all, Solzhenitsyn's was punished for what he wrote in a letter to a friend. Like The Seeker's friend for his email.

The Baron put the book back on the shelf, relieved of not having to waste his life in such a way, but as a generous man moved at the thought of millions of lives who had to endure that. Men had not learnt from Solzhenitsyn, apparently, thought the Baron shaking slightly his head.

For once, before closing his eyes in sleep, it was not the worries caused by the Bohemian Goddess that kept him  briefly awake.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his days as a gulag prisoner in Ekibastuz

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