#72 Turning a Page (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

In the summer of 2001, my excuse for randomly producing Rat Rants went cold.  At the end of August, I quit my Fortune 1000 job and wandered into the world of unemployment and, hopefully, self-employment.  A year later, self-employment is a reality, although an intermittently paying reality, and my exposure to management is minimal.  Hence, my inspiration for Rants has been stunted.

At the moment, I'm actually relishing being out of the Rat race.  Of course, at 54, it's possible I may be further out of the race and so far off of the road that I've become irrelevant.  In some ways, it was the fear of obsolescence that drove me to the decision to leave my cube life.  In my 54 long and disillusioned years on this planet, I've found that confronting fear is not enough.  I usually have to dive into the pit with whatever I'm afraid of and see how sharp its teeth really are.  And so I am in the pit with uncertain income and it's a lot less scary than I'd imagined.  But it pays about as well as I'd expected.

Last night, I had a dream that actually stuck with me through my morning coffee.  I'm likely to misinterpret it in this Rant, but it's my dream and my column, so you'll have to suffer with your Jungian or Freudian disagreement.  I dreamed that I was in the military, but still working for a manager from my last job who I actually liked and respected (imagine that!). 

The two of us were all trudging up a staircase, not knowing where we were going or what we'd be doing at the top, when he reminded me that "it is inappropriate for an enlisted man, to be walking ahead of an officer."

I asked him, "If we were walking on to a battlefield, would you still want to be in front?"  He replied, "That is an inappropriate question."  This guy actually uses that kind of language in normal conversation, which is why I remembered the dream so clearly.

Believe it or not, that must have been my version of a nightmare because I woke up at that point.  I, clearly, lead a sheltered life.  After realizing that I wasn't going to fall back to sleep, I was stuck trying to figure out what the damn dream meant, or what it meant to me.  My personal irritation with the dream's concept was that his officer's "credential," not his skill, courage, or knowledge, was what gave him a position at the head of the staircase.  And, of course, I was pissed because I knew he'd be climbing the stairs too slowly.  I don't usually follow people up stairs, because I take them two at a time.  I get bored easily.

After exercising his leadership, away he went, in front of me and just as cluelessly as I'd been when I was in front.  In the dream, there were only two of us in this military column, which simplifies the symbolism.  Even my subconscious knows that I need simple and direct instruction.

Much of my Rat Ranting MBA-directed ire is based on the kind of academic aristocracy that I'd experienced from my last two employers.  Many of our large and stodgy employers have taken the position that college degrees are evidence of competence, not inheritance and lack of necessity or stunted adolescent inspiration.  Now that the bloom has fallen off of the last ten years of economic "irrational exuberance," I wonder if this mistaken belief will be revisited.  If we want to jump-start the economy, again, the way it was cranked up in the early 1990s, talent will have to be more important than pedigree. 

A visit to any major state or private university will make it obvious, even to HR drudges, that the majority of the kids in school past age eighteen are rich, idle, privileged and clueless.  With an average cost of $50,000 per year, it's pretty obvious that average folks aren't sending their kids to college, unless there's a scholarship involved. 

At the University of Minnesota, school officials are campaigning local apartment complexes to encourage them to cater to college students.  Because there are more kids in school than the college can provide for?  Nope.  Because the kids whose parents can afford university life have grown up with their own bedrooms (and telephones, entertainment systems, Jacuzzis, and Porches) and they're not willing to share a dorm room at this self-important point in their lives.  So, working-class folks are being forced out of their hard-to-find apartments to accommodate housing for multinational children of the ruling class. 

It's happening all over the country.  An invasion of snobby apartment snatchers.

I've said this before and will most likely repeat myself at a later date, anyone can do well in college if college is the only thing that person has to do.  Between the dumbing-down of the education system and the high-tech availability of everything from test questions to Masters thesis, it's not that hard to survive four through eight years in our university system.  If you have money and time. 

All of this tells us that the real justification for using a college education as selection criteria is to keep the good jobs in the hands of the rich and privileged.  In really good times, we can probably survive that kind of foolishness.  In bad times, ability and aptitude ought to become more important than breeding.  Bad times might be on the way and it remains to be seen that business is agile enough to rearrange its poor habits and irrational priorities.

Universities, on the other hand, react as slowly as glacier ice.  Their budgets get bigger while their service to the culture shrivels into approaching zero.  In a frenzy of public spending, they collect sports coliseums, performance amphitheaters, art galleries, and other monuments to uselessness.  Their administrators throw tantrums when state governments consider withholding funds for these arrogant extravagances. 

The only way to reign in these folks is to ignore their existence.  Since most Americans can't even afford to send their kids to a college sports event, let alone to college, at least half of that job is already accomplished.  Outside of television athletics, the majority of us only think about universities when we're bitching about management and the people who spawned that ilk.  Hopefully, "out of mind" will soon turn into "out of funding."  Not long after that, universities will pare down to necessary survival functions and, possibly, return to providing education and useful research. 

Right.  I'm living in a dream world where everyone breakfasts on lobster and Johnny Walker Blue.  Dream on drunken Rat.

Contrary to popular fantasy, Americans love royalty.  We appear to crave a return to King George's reign.  I once read that less than 1% of the population participated in the Revolutionary War.  I suspect that it's probably safe to say that the other 99% were perfectly happy with serving an aristocracy.  Some things never change.  Our soap opera crowd practically slashed their arms and tore hunks of hair in mourning after the death of spoiled Princess Diana.  A good portion of the voting public flushed their vote toward George II because there was a George I and good money and breeding ought to follow bad.  Or some weird logic that escapes me.  We still turn out good crowds to bow before popes, kings, and rock stars.  And so on.

Nuts.  After 200 years, the American Revolution may have come to an end.  We're a royalty-loving, aristocracy-sustaining, ruling class mismanaged socialism for the rich and while that might be a luxury we can afford when we're rolling in success, it's not something we can afford now that the rats have invaded the corn crib. 

April, 2003

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