Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meretocracy v. Meritocracy

When visiting my relatives in the Nutmeg State I made the mistake of reading the Hartford Courant's editorial page, primarily for Colin McEnroe, who was, as usual, quite funny and as usual slagging Droopy Dog Lieberman. But just to remain fair and balanced the editors also let Tom Foley, recent loser in the local gubernatorial race, soil a few column inches in a piece entitled Ice Cream For Everyone! Or, How To Win An Election. And what a steaming pile he served up.

Foley is a preppy, a slick and shady operator, and a longtime bagman for the GOP, which explains why, despite being a criminal hothead, he was still made ambassador to Ireland by George W. But Foley really is a gem-quality specimen, and as such he served up some prose that deserves to be remembered for its quintessential GOP-ness, its illustration of the global delusion at the core of Republican thinking. Says Foley:

Politicians win elections by making promises..... This is very different from the business world, where people have a lot of information and personal contact before entering into a business transaction with someone. A reputation for truthfulness and follow-through on commitments is essential for success in business and, therefore, is carefully cultivated and protected.

But politics is different. Saying what people want to hear — even if it
doesn't really add up — and being purposely vague seem to work in politics.
These skills may even be some of the most important for political success. If a
businessman is caught lying to a lender, there will be no loan. If a businessman
makes absurd or vague promises to a customer, there will be no purchase

However, a politician caught lying to voters can still win a lot of votes.

Leaving aside the falsity implied by the article's headline in this context -- that Foley lost because his opponent made more spurious promises than he did. What's more striking here is that Foley apparently believes, or wants us to believe he believes, that the business world is a meritocracy! Such a belief would be a self-serving delusion, paralleled perhaps only in days of old, by Massa's conviction that the childlike slaves are happy. It would require complete amnesia about, for instance, The Savings and Loan Disaster, Enron, the Archer Daniels price-fixing scandal, the Mortgaged Backed Securities Disaster, Bernie Madoff, and innumerable other examples of just how sleazy business-as-usual often is. Some will say these examples just point ot a few bad apples, but in point of fact, in the private sector, just as in all walks, bullshitting, corner-cutting, fact-fudging, book-cooking, expense-padding, resume-inflating, sand-baggging, back-stabbing and outright thievery, grand et petit, are rampant and more or less accepted. If a "reputation for truthfulness and follow-through on commitments" was, in fact "essential for success in business" all commerce would grind to a halt and virtually no MBA would be employed anywhere in the country , and perhaps nowhere the world.

Foley, an MBA himself, seems to have forgotten things like marketing and advertising -- things which in the usual practice deliberately mislead. Indeed, as Neil Postman observes, the message American children rightly take from the countless commercials they're subjected to (and in which modern "business" is predicated) is that "Adults tell lies for money."

The thing is (as I have said before), Republicans speak a special "pro-business" dialect: Advertese, or Spiel if you will. It's all pitch. Like musical notation, this dialect cannot convey truth; it is not built for assertion. Its measure is not truth or falsity, but effectiveness in conveying feeling, in persuasion, seduction, deception, the conjuring of mood or illusion. Speaking spiel as they do, I suspect that Republicans like Foley have come to think in it too, and thinking in a language with no truth-value, they have lost the ability to discern or even care whether their assertions have any correspondence with reality. They have come to believe their own bullshit. It would be sad if it weren't so dangerous and despicable.


Post a Comment

<< Home