BOOK ONE
III -THE NULL-P. ORBITS



5. THE EPSILON DRIVE

More managers and clerks might be required, but each new addition to the payroll would still mean more overhead costs and less profits at the bottom line. The "laws of the market" and the profit motive in investors should have been quite sufficient to keep managerial and clerical personnel in any enterprise to the bare minimum. Yet, from the moment it really gathered momentum, it took no arm-twisting at all to have the private sector absorb even the superfluous manpower to provide services, and to do it almost as fast as it fled from the production sector. The waiting time was not much longer than what it took to switch from blue coveralls to smart white collars and ties. What happened?

Bossing for fun

Let us go back again to our old acquaintance, the Roman slave-owner. Well-bred Patricians did not usually carry whips: they had slave-drivers to do that. All through history, top-dogs of most civilized societies have kept a "buffer" between Wealth and the Labour Force, and it's the buffer, slave-driver, non-commissioned officer, foreman in blue collar or manager in shirt and tie who does the whipping, yelling, shouting, or kicking around.

It may not be below all investors' dignity at all times to come around and talk down to the labour force, but it is not a common hazard. In day-to-day life, it is the managers and supervisors who do it in the name of the Boss. He, the manager, is the necessary link between the Will and Thought at the top and the Muscles and Action below. Managers are the last avatar of these "delegates" and "intermediaries" in the chain of command, through whom power flows from top to bottom, from patricians to slaves, or from top-dogs to high managers, to low managers and workers, in great bursts of positive or negative reinforcement.

Almost everybody prefers positive reinforcement, most of all bosses who may often show up to distribute the boons, bonuses and favours. When it comes to kicking though, nobody does it half as well - or takes half as much pleasure doing it - as a slave driver, supervisor, or any other link in the chain of command, since to have a Boss and to be personally kicked around is the best way to learn how to do it and also the surest way to ignite the nasty desire, present in all men at times, to have somebody else to kick around. Slave-drivers like to have slaves, and supervisors like to have people to supervise.

In his "Brave New World", Aldous Huxley describes a society where people are bred and conditioned to fit in five social strata labelled, in descending order, with the five first letters of the Greek alphabet, from Alpha to Epsilon. Alphas are the real thinkers, the dealers in abstract thoughts, while Epsilons do the menial tasks.

In a society based on advanced technology, most menial tasks could be performed by machines and "Epsilons" would not really be needed to open doors or carry bags on their backs; if epsilons would be bred, it would be mainly to satisfy the base instinct in man to have something, or someone, on which or upon whom he can impose his will, be it a door that he slams, a mule that he beats or an underling that he gives orders to. This less than noble tendency in man to find gratification tossing things and people around is what we call the Epsilon Drive. It is a strong instinct.

Take the Army for instance, where the Colonel will have not only Captains and other officers, sergeants and a lot of soldiers who will carry out his orders, but also a Staff ("high professionals"), and orderlies (workers in "low" services) whose purpose in life it will be to satisfy the Colonel's every whim. The Colonel's epsilon drive is well taken care of: he may send his troops to march in battle, design grand strategies with his Staff and have his orderlies fetching the tea and shining his boots.

Suppose now that peace would strike, or that a new development in warfare would make it easy to win battles simply by pushing a button, and that it would become superfluous to have all those soldiers marching and waving the flag. What will the Colonel do? Chances are that, if he can help it, he will discharge his soldiers as slowly as possible and will try to convince the General - and the General will try to convince the Powers-that-be - that pushing buttons requires a much larger staff, and that all this extra tea, for all the extra staff-members, will require an awful lot of orderlies.

He will probably make his point, since the Commander-in-Chief faces the same situation and the Powers-that-be would all feel the same way if left without Staff and orderlies... and Colonels. So, on the way out of the barracks, the soldier who has left his gun in the rack is handed an apron and told to run "on the double" to the kitchen or the laundry. No more battles may be won, but the Colonel will have more Staff and orderlies to boss around, which was the real reason he was trying to wage a war anyway. As old soldiers fade away, Staff and orderlies will become the Army, while the household routine and planning process will substitute for the real war and generate almost as much emotion.

The epsilon drive, "bossism" is you prefer, came into play the minute machines began to make a significant dent in manpower needs; it was the real reason behind all the excuses that were found to justify hiring more and more staff and orderlies - more managers and more clerks, using in that way most of the money that was freed up by productivity gains in the real production process.

It is not only that you cannot scold machines; you cannot even give tongue seriously to a machine operator! The machine operator has to follow the technical imperative, the orders and constraints imposed by the machine itself. Although he may, just may, still answer the boss politely, everyone knows that, finally, he will have to do whatever the machine dictates. Insofar as he knows what the machine wants, the blue collar gains independence from his supervisor whose whims become irrelevant. The worker is not working for his immediate supervisor anymore, he is not working for the employer: he is working for the machine.

Tragic! Not only were there less and less production "soldiers" to kick around, but even those who remained were becoming more and more impervious to serious kicking. This was leaving the Colonels and Generals of industry in a position where their epsilon drive might be frustrated. So, they hired more of the people who would be free from the technical imperative and could be ordered around at will: middle-managers, junior managers, senior clerks, junior clerks..., anybody who would not report to the machine but would remain at the disposal of his immediate superior's fantasies. A demand for "orderlies", workers in "services"... Symbiots.

These could provide not exactly low services, not high services either, but services that could be tailored to the needs of job creation, since the real purpose of clerical and lower managerial jobs would be to give satisfaction to higher managers. Requirements for clerical and managerial jobs could be made to grow progressively, to accommodate a manpower that would be better and better educated, while the intricacies of modern business and production would create a demand for enough legitimate symbiots for an almost infinite number of parasitic symbiots to hide in the woodwork.

This, to everyone's satisfaction: the parasitic elements who would have a job, top-dogs who would have found an elegant way to keep manpower at work and to sustain effective demand, managers of all ranks and levels, most of whom would be gently kicked but would also have somebody to kick around. It was great, except that it might have lacked some class; the office might have kept the lackadaisical but roguish atmosphere of a saloon, with cigars, smoke and spittoons. Most of all, the inferior rank and file of the managerial class might have had to live with thwarted epsilon drives, if somebody had not thought and found the greatest breakthrough of all: Dames all around the office!

To introduce female secretaries in the process was a stroke of genius. It did not only bring class to the act and satisfy the social demand from women for a place in business life, it revealed the full possibilities of the epsilon drive for career planning purposes. Most of the low-level male managers, not being issued from the leisure class, had not been trained or conditioned since youth to boss over anyone except women. They would feel more at ease, at the beginning, bossing over secretaries; then, gradually, they could gain experience and learn to boss over anybody.

Furthermore, even at the highest ranks of the hierarchy, top-dogs - already well endowed with a lot of people to boss around but a little short of time to impress the woman at home - were seen to find a special satisfaction in having, as a private secretary, a beautiful woman whom they could terrorize or gratify at will. Secretaries were an adjunct well worth the extra expenses

Secretaries were the epitome of the epsilon drive in action and they were to become the most important factor in the exodus of manpower from production to services. They were the cement that would glue together all managers and orderlies/clerks into a cohesive structure, and there would be a lot of them. In fact, most people do not realize that, when it came to creating jobs in the United Sates, between l960 and l980, it was 8 to 5 in favour of women.

Over Charlie's head

It is not hard to understand the willingness of managers to increase the number of their subordinates. The epsilon drive to start with, the gratifying presence of female employees in the office and then, of course, the inevitable readjustment of attitudes as it became fashionable and a concrete sign of power to have more and more employees. Staff growth would become the real objective of the power game in the world of managers, the real object of rivalry, the drive for more epsilons practically replacing for managers the old drive for profits.

It is not surprising either that the system should tolerate and encourage the trend, since it solved the problem of keeping manpower at work, and it was in the interest of top-dogs as a whole. The real question, as we said before, was: how would it be possible to awake, in each individual top-dog, the desire to hire symbiots, a desire that would appear to be an instinct for self-sacrifice, even if it was in the interest of the leisure class as a whole? Why should the owner of a profit-making company accept to reduce its own bottom line? Why should an investor cast his bread upon this type of water? The answer was nobody cares about the investor any more.

Yes, you have read correctly. After everything we have said about the power structure and top-dogs, we are stating quietly that nobody cares about the investor any more. Investment is vitally important, because it is wealth, it is the promise of fulfillment for unfulfilled desires and of accomplishment for individual goals, the symbol of power... But investors, as individuals, are uninteresting and do not have power, except in some rare cases in which they double up as managers. As Galbraith explained, it is now the "technostructure", it is the managers who have the power.

Wealth is not power any more, but the Authority behind power, the legitimacy of power. Managers will act "in the best interest of shareholders" to plan the strategies of corporations, while civil servants will plan the strategies of the State "in the name of the People", meaning taxpayers... but it is the managers and civil servants who will define what is good for the State and for G. M., and who will hire their eventual successors, in some sort of hereditary transmission of power not so different from the way the Roman Emperors used to adopt their heirs presumptive.

Wealth in an industrial society is the ownership of the means of production; but power is their control, and control is now firmly in the hands of managers. The owners of wealth have turned into Rois Fainéants, the like of these ludicrous French kings who represented the legitimacy on the throne of France while majordomos, the Maires du Palais, really ran things.

These Champagne Charlies at Shareholders' meetings had better stay quiet. The rich and wealthy had been convinced first to renounce further increments to their wealth in order to keep a better hold on power; now, power itself had passed into the hands of workers: managers. Very highly paid and different workers of course, but had anybody thought that workers with power would not be different? Wealth, as an instrument of power, has become more and more symbolic. We have drifted very far indeed, from the "capitalistic" model of society.

Managers have the power, and are often wealthy enough, in their own right, to look almost like real top-dogs and to share some, but not all, of the usual interests of the investors. Meanwhile, wealth's purpose as "Authority " remains only to give legitimacy and continuity to the social order and the power structure. Small investors have no powers left at all in the present structure, and large investors have long passed the point beyond which ambition suggests giving priority to long-term goals. Goals like keeping manpower at work, making sure that there is enough effective demand... and keeping the managers happy. In this situation, the profit motive in the mind of investors proves to be no match at all for the epsilon drive, which is the personal, actual, immediate, very real, day-to-day manifestation of the power of managers.

Once this potential stumbling block of the investor was out of the way, there was a pretty fair chance we might control the trek of manpower to services and survive transition. There was only one slight problem left to be solved: to convince workers to keep busy in parasitic symbiosis. Could we? Employers had been convinced to pay them for non-work, but could the workers take it? Machines were becoming so productive, that we might have to promote addiction to insatiable needs, and to create for a while jobs that would demand total commitment to unattainable goals and a complete dedication to the production of nothing. Could we pull off all brakes and expect workers to join with enthusiasm in this kind of nonsense? Suppose we started from evanescent production, moved one step further away from reality, and renounced even that old-fashioned concept of work as "an effort to obtain a result"...


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