III - THE NULL-P. ORBITS
Keep manpower at work. If people work for an income, they respect wealth, social order, top-dogs and the power structure. They participate in society's goals, and have a feeling that they "belong", which makes for good morale. They are also kept on their toes, ready to be called back to active duty when transition is over, when the system will recall Wealth and Work from their parking orbits and Man, the pugnacious animal, will be able to strive forward once again. Keep manpower at work, even if it is to blow smoke or pack thin air. It was agreed with employers, what would the workers say?
Obsolescence, military spending, symbiosis,
occupational quasi and pseudo jobs, it would all keep going; but the whole
structure should not be at the mercy of any Tom, Dick and Harry of a Mad
Scientist who could invent, any day, some gimmick that would make obsolete
overnight large segments of the labour force. Something final had to be
added: the production of something so totally intangible and so divorced
from real needs that, come what may, it would provide an infinite supply
of jobs without disrupting investment patterns.
The third orbit
Parasitic symbiosis was the obvious answer, but what would the "pseudo symbiots" do that would keep them amused and would not frighten the horses? How to achieve in fact workless pseudo-production? How to have people eagerly join in - and enjoy - the production of nothing? Easy, do as the electrons do... switch orbits!
Remember Orbits #1 and #2 of occupational therapy? The secret for the workless production of "nothing" is to go to the extreme limit of pseudo-production, where absolutely no concrete result is left to obscure the vision of the pure at heart, and then to concentrate intensely on non-work, to picture yourself in Orbit #1 but without actually physically leaving Orbit #2...
There and then, you will feel a great bliss and materialize into Orbit #3, the strange dimension that offers the best of two worlds, and in which it is possible to find jobs of workless null-production that allow one to be "at work" though nothing is produced and one is not really working either: hyperjobs. Too esoteric? So is the dance of electrons to me! But follow closely, we will take you there in another way.
The problem with workers in pseudo-production is that they simply give up working when they realize that they are not producing anything, and that it then takes some convincing to bring them back to work. Like any other type of production, pseudo-production can be obtained by negative reinforcement: it is then punitive, sadistic or both. Modern jobs of pseudo-production are not the salt mines, however, and since the whole purpose of the exercise is to maintain the positive reinforcement approach in a free society, whips and sticks are obviously excluded from the start.
Looking closely at the rejection of the absurd by workers in pseudo-production, it is interesting to note, though, that the useless tasks to get away from which the workers in pseudo- production will go to some length and even defy coercion, are no more idiotic than the activities that people in pseudo-work will often choose to do, of their own free will, merely to feel alive. People in pseudo-work will do futile things as doodles or crosswords, and will go to about the same length to avoid boredom as their colleagues would to avoid pseudo-production. In fact, given a chance, some people in pseudo-work might even choose to do some of the things that workers in pseudo-production are trying to avoid!
Nonsense or futility as such are not fatal obstacles if there is a will to action. The human animal can spend a lot of energy without anything tangible to show for a result. Men will exert themselves, go to the North Pole, jump Niagara Falls... if they are allowed to do it as they please, when they please, and not to obey orders; then they call it "play" rather than work. The heart of the matter is that the task at hand be perceived as a self-imposed challenge that one may accept of one's own free will and at one's own convenience.
You know the pre-war story of the Chinese
banker who asked an American colleague why servants in America could not
be trusted with such chores as golf and tennis? What if it were possible
to have people "play" at the game of work? The third orbit could
be a place to play at the game of work. It could not be just playing tennis,
golf or anything of the sort, because Man is a proud animal that will not
play at the game of work unless it looks at least like he is really producing
something, but maybe a "game approach" was a clue to the solution.
The Null-P. Game
When men had been pegged to machines, as a vanguard for machines' expansion, experience had shown clearly that, after everything that could be mechanized had been mechanized, there always remained some "high" aspects of the tasks, always the same, that machines could not duplicate and that had to be kept for human labour when the other components of the job were entrusted to machines.
The jobs that were created in real symbiosis
with the machines called upon the unique capacity of human beings to deal
with these aspects, to which we can refer as the "high" or "i"
factors of the jobs, because they imply:
for communicating with others,
that brought creativity, and
that led to entrepreneurship.
What if it were possible to start from a freedom of choice and, from there on, to build activities of perfect null-production that would call upon these genuine human qualities that had proved irreplaceable? If it could be done, then, what would appear externally as null-production would call upon the uniqueness in each worker, and let him develop internally his own very personal framework within which he could compete, empathize, create and develop his personality at his own leisure. The problem of motivation would be solved. Not only would we be able to survive transition, but we would come down from orbit in due time on our two feet, with a highly motivated, very autonomous labour force, the only labour force needed in a machine-based society. People would not voluntarily work to produce nothing but, if certain conditions were met, they would join a self-development and self-realization game going on in a work environment. They would volunteer and rush for "hyperjobs"!
What should be the characteristics of a good hyperjob? Hyperjobs should inspire devotion and loyalty, yet be interchangeable enough not to interfere with labour mobility. They should look important and command respect, though they ought to have no real output. All should be glamorous, but colleagues are invidious animals for whom the boredom of their own tasks increases in proportion to the interest they see in other's job... so each hyperjob should be bound to a "job" to share also a common denominator of tediousness that would make even the more menial sufferable.
Most of all, hyperjobs should allow for work at one's own leisure. It looked complex but, as is so often the case with "perfect answers", it developed almost automatically. The basic concept that made it possible has been beautifully explained by Northcote Parkinson: &laqno;work will expand to fill available time...» People with time on their hands, within the framework of a job, could be said to be in "Parkinsonian leisure" and this leisure, like all leisure, brought creativity.
Just as managers, unrestrained, will follow their epsilon drive and hire as many people as they can, so workers, kept at work for seven or eight hours a day - to do a job that they could do in one if it were really urgent - will instinctively fill the available time and develop for themselves their own objectives and targets, find the means to achieve their own goals with the resources at their disposal, and even invent for themselves obstacles and deadlines. They will add to their job a dimension to their own liking and create work. They will design for themselves a hyperjob.
The worker in Parkinsonian leisure has limitations, but he has enough leeway to design his own hyperjob. His limitations are that he must interface with the environment in three directions. "Up", he owes the system, represented by his immediate boss, the minimal output that represents his contribution to the real production process and to his boss' personal goals; "down", he must make sure, if he has any subordinates, that they receive the necessary instructions to bring their minimal contribution to the production process... and he may ask that they deliver also a little something more that will help him to realize his own pet personal project; "sideways", he must relate adequately with his colleagues and peers, meaning he must make sure that his personal objectives do not interfere with theirs.
When this is done properly - and it should not take more than a small fraction of his time - the worker in Parkinsonian leisure, symbiot or parasite, is perfectly free to have his job expand "in depth", to become a hyperjob to which he can really commit himself wholeheartedly. He can add to it all the frills he wants, introduce all the complexity that he may find gratifying and explore all the detours he wants to explore, provided he delivers, at the end, the minimal output that is expected of him. Think about a river flowing in and out of your property; you may dam it, create pools and fountains, do whatever you like... just make sure that the river resumes its course in its normal bed, at a normal speed, before it flows out of your land. As long as it is yours, though, enjoy it!
Workers love and enjoy hyperjobs. They come early, they work overtime, they believe in what they do... which is, more often than not, almost entirely of their own design. To create a hyperjob for oneself, pushing aside the usual boring activities of a good symbiot or parasite, one needs only be on a payroll and be responsible for something. Anything.
The good symbiot will be asked: "should we invest"? Since he has been at it for a long time, he knows almost immediately whether the answer will be yes or no. Should the decision be a matter of life or death, if we were at war for instance, the answer could be available on the spot. It is not war though, it's a game, the "null-p. game", so the good symbiot may proceed with something really interesting.
Something like... look for basic information, analyze all the variables, identify and evaluate all the restraints and constraints, require expert advice, consult other interested parties, prepare a preliminary report, make a pre-feasibility study and a feasibility study, consult once again, reach a tentative decision, discuss it, write a report to justify it all, follow up on the report... who cares about the investment!
The good symbiot who advises on investment may also be a "boss", in which case one of his subordinates may be assigned the task "look for basic information", for example. This subordinate will then have an absolute right to define what information is needed, check sources and references, put together a team to collect first-hand data in the field, compare the validity of the information obtained with that of similar projects, prepare a report. Downstream, somebody will also have to implement this survey in the field, for which he will need interviewers who will be trained for fieldwork, by an expert on the "field" who will consult experts on training...
The investment under consideration might or might not have been obvious, the preliminaries may or may not have been useful, this is not the point. The important thing is that even though "bosses" may define general objectives, it is workers now, at all levels, who have the knowledge and who receive the mandate to define the means and the details, and who do so - (in variable proportion, depending on their power of decision) - with an eye on keeping their job interesting... and the other on keeping a "steady pile " on the corner of their desk.
Haven't you ever wondered why it would take so long for standard forms - that it should take fifteen minutes to process - to move in and out of the desks of civil servants? Why always those "4-to-6 weeks" delays? If there were really much too many forms to fill, the delay would grow and become unbearable within days. If it remains the same, it is obviously because forms go out at about the same pace they come in, so why the backlog? And why is it totally impossible to get rid of it once and for all? The answer is that the worker feels secure and comfortable with a steady pile of forms to fill on his desk, and that he adapts the cruising speed of his work routine so as to maintain that steady pile. I have seen, with my very own eyes, not once but often, Passport Officers who would simply not look at the first passenger at the counter before a dozen passengers were waiting in the line. Keep a steady pile....
It is not surprising that the worker should like to do so, but how can he get away with it so easily? He has no problem at all doing so, because as long as he meets very low minimal standards, he is perfectly free to spend all the time he sees fit to handle each case. The worker can spend the overwhelming majority of his time on cases he considers "interesting", and woe unto the interesting ones! With the Champagne Charlies safely out of the way and every manager above him immersed in his own hyperjob, every symbiot may behave as if he had a divine mission to figure out the square root of 2 to the umpteenth decimal, until he attains bliss or his conscience is totally at rest. And he does it at his leisure.
Hyperjobs are sets of quasi open-ended
tasks, that the worker puts together almost at his complete discretion,
and that he dispatches at his own leisure with few external constraints.
It is now the most promising field for full-employment. It is a sound testing
ground for creativity, of course, but it may also provide for initiative
and entrepreneurship: design your own job and sell it to your boss... and
compete with your colleagues for promotion. When the process is almost entirely
internalized and the production itself merely an excuse, there is no reason
work should not become everybody's favorite pastime.
Talking to one's own echo
Work as an interesting pastime becomes a real possibility the moment provisions are made for communication. Feelings are important to human beings and, although the constant relation with colleagues will provide for competitiveness, a more formal network is somehow necessary for togetherness and sympathy, and to give it all a feeling of purpose. Communication was to become the trump suit in the null-p. game.
It takes two to communicate. Two or more... Someone talks, someone should at least pretend to be listening; phone, and someone has to answer; write a letter or a report, and in our society it will usually generate a response ( which, by the way is not the case in other cultures pegged more closely to necessity). The more you work at communication, the more work you generate, and you do not have ever to get closer to an answer, just deeper into the questions. The greatest thing of all about communication is that it may be the continuous reinvestment of what previous communication has already brought: it may become better and richer, more refined and more meaningful.... indefinitely.
You need be in no great rush to go cash the treasures of communication in the external world: you may simply enjoy them for self-development, or the sheer fun of conviviality. Amongst the communicators themselves, there are no more chances of getting to the end of a communication process than to have the last word with one's own echo; in terms of production, of course, nothing ever comes out of communication unless somebody decides to walk out of meetings and to engage in the more plebeian act of doing something. Therefore, communication cannot be matched as a perfect activity for null-production.
Most of all, when it came to communication, machines could really help. In the workshop, men were working more and more for the machines; in the office though, machines could really be useful to Man and bring him what he now needed most urgently: more work. Machines are the great multipliers and since communication creates work, machines in the field of communication became multipliers of work.
Machines can multiply the impact of everybody's communications, and thus generate work at an incredible rate. One man and a telephone can put in motion dozens upon dozens of people, assigning tasks and creating more responsibilities. Each action, its impact multiplied by communication devices, can now create a universe of possible reactions, within which each worker may have considerable freedom to choose to whom, and to which court he is going to bounce the ball back that will generate more communication, the thrilling exchange being only sporadically interrupted by action. Which file will be processed, which project will move forward, how long will it take... it all depends largely now on the personal interests of individual workers communicating for fun while working at hyperjobs of their own, so that what happens in null-p. is randomized, obeying the laws of statistics more than the will of any boss.
A final touch would be to give substance to the intangible process of communication. Here is when the ubiquitous secretary of epsilon-drive fame could come in real handy. A note book, a quill and a smile look innocuous enough, but when a million secretaries are handed typewriters and photocopying machines, it is the whole sector of services, including null-production, that vests a material form: paper. This, it seemed, was tying it all pleasantly together.
There is indefinite extension and unfathomable depth to what can be committed to paper. Papers can be filled, filed, shuffled around, people may share in their production and develop a feeling of communion, correct each other and compete, put down on paper the results of their meetings and meetings of minds, as well as all their creative ideas.
Then, there are possibilities without end to modify papers, as any new event makes more or less all the past obsolete and begs for everything to be rewritten. Opportunities abound without end also, to pass each bit of information from one piece of paper to another, to move the papers around, to multiply each scrap of paper and send it to teach all nations. Paper could be a flexible material support for communication without end and, preferably, without productive purpose, all handled by tactful females to smooth the rough edges of contact in the null-p. game.
Industrial production geared at replacement level, with a safety valve in military spending to keep wealth productive; workers reconverted in services as symbiots or parasitic elements, with a bright future in hyperjobs of their own, "communicating" and scribbling down for posterity the proceeds of meetings... With all the tricks for toil and hyperjobs to boot, manpower would be happy and at work, investors happy with symbolic wealth and Authority, while the real power would be exercised by "superworkers" called managers.
This is where we stood at the beginning
of the Eighties, still alive, reasonably well, and protected from both "negative
reinforcement" and anarchy. It looked like some luck and a little bit
of tolerance from all, backed by a lot of ingenuity and shrewdness in our
planners, had seen us safely across the worst days of transition. A new
equilibrium had been found and we had good reasons to be proud of the way
the crisis had been handled. This is when we had to face the highest unemployment
rate since the Great Depression, the highest inflation and interest rates
in memory, and when our standard of living fell to ninth place amongst the
nations of the world.
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