I don’t have a lot of experience of the corporate world. I work for it by translating stuff from French into English, and I sup with the Devil with the very long spoon of the internet and e-mail. Occasionally, an attempt is made to pull me into a project team, and I prefer to refuse the job and the client – because I will always find jobs from elsewhere. I work alone. I feel this thing like a parasite or a disease. It is no less than an insidious new industrial revolution, a new elitism and an attempt to dehumanise by work, the means we all need to earn our living. Money is all that matters and someone is worth his money, so the “Beast” would have us believe.
The language of this thing could be called techno-babble. A cleaning lady is now called a surface technician, road haulage or transport is called logistics, or even worse Flow Management (gestion de flux as I saw a few days ago on the side of a lorry). Orwell called this restructuring of language Newspeak. Corporate jargon is the language of managers of large corporations, those involved in business management and politics. It usually involves the use of neologisms, long and complex sentences, abbreviations and euphemisms. I remember a French bishop wanting to call his contemporaries homo technicus. You wouldn’t believe some of the langue de bois (literally “wooden tongue” meaning techno-babble) coming from church meetings and offices in this country! French texts from this corporate world often (mis)use English words, but with a different meaning from their use in English. This kind of stuff is a nightmare for a translator!
Marketing is even more treacherous and I constantly have to warn my clients that I am not culturally equipped for rendering perhaps what they are looking for. If left to my own devices, I will make a guess at what they are on about, analyse words etymologically, tease out the grammar and put it in plain English. It is not usually what they want. I now frequently refuse such jobs. At the origin of this is often a very average person trying to create an impression of sophistication, technical knowledge and the kind of patter needed to make the sale. It is a power game of the ability to manipulate other people.
I give an example. A translation agent wrote to me to ask me if I would do a job in the field of sociology. I suggested that she could send me the file for translation, and I would have a look at it.
Could you please send me A concrete but precise description of your experience in social science field (Academic article geography / urbanisation) (type of documents translated/revised, number of pages and a list of your final customers in this specific field if possible).
The language is simple enough, but the thought behind it is quite invasive. I answered:
When I began translating fifteen years ago, I had no professional experience other than being an educated Englishman able to speak French fluently. I have adapted to the specialities with which I was confronted, mostly technical and industrial. For this particular field, it is merely a question of vocabulary and terminology, all of which can be found.
I do not give lists of clients for reasons of professional secrecy. I’m sure you will understand.
I suggest sending me a test and seeing if it is right for your client.
I got the order, which I need to deliver tomorrow. It is simply necessary to know the game to push away the invasive behaviour and what Americans call bullshit. I didn’t even need to do a test sample – I got the job. This was to me a very interesting experience.
Language is a mere symptom of this encroaching invasive totalitarianism that seeks to abolish humanity and personality. The future is believed to be “post-humanist” or “trans-humanist” – a boot stamping on a human face forever. Corporate management has found its way into churches, especially in England and the USA. The most recent example is the sacking of the entire team of bell ringers from York Minster. The reason given was “health and safety” whilst the ringing master carefully explains that he has always complied with safety requirements and been accountable to the Dean and Chapter. The Dean seems to want to abolish volunteers from roles in the church and replace them with professionals according to managerial criteria. Common sense tells us that bell ringing the way it is done in England is a craft that is learned the old way through apprenticeship and experience. The Dean even refused to let the bells be put into a down position for the sake of safety! I will keep an eye on how this situation develops.
I have seen corporate management creep into the selection and training of clergy. It was already in full sway in the 1980’s. It was one thing that motivated me to spend time in other European countries. Of course, it’s all catching up everywhere, in France, Germany and even Italy and Spain, those countries where corporate life is obfuscation and absolute chaos characterised by omertà and la combinazione. Everything is forbidden or available for money, but everyone is cunning enough to get round the rules and obstacles. In England, it is just slavish compliance to any amount of invasion – absolutely stifling and soul-destroying.
Essentially, my experience of this disease is little more than its language written in the texts I translate for money. I also come into contact with people who have to work in that world (as in commuting to that big shiny building in town), wear the right clothes and hairstyle. They often seem to be happy living and working like that. There are those who are made for that kind of life like a part of a car like a carburettor or a steering wheel. St Paul’s vision of the Church sometimes seems little different with his analogies of the body and its component organs. I can understand the argument that no man is an island unto himself in the words of John Donne. In a colony of insects like bees or ants, there is the Queen, the workers and the drones. It appears that no insect has any autonomy or personality away from the community. Man lives with the contradiction of his own personality and identity against being a component of humanity ruled by the strongest and meanest and being forced to fight for the highest status possible so as not to be eliminated with those at the bottom. Through the Beatitudes, Christ contradicted this model of human life. Those at the bottom would rise and the alpha males would be sent to the last place.
The ultimate expression was Nazism under Hitler and Communism under Stalin. Both ideologies are based on the basis of Socialism. Mussolini’s Fascism was defined by the complete subservience of the individual to the State. This is what inspired George Orwell in his dystopian vision (which he wrote in 1948) of worldwide totalitarianism that had completed the task of invading and controlling every human being. So far, neither dystopia (Orwell or Huxley) has occurred on a general scale, though it plays a big role in North Korea and China, increasingly so in America and Europe through bureaucracy, policing and anti-terrorism security. I do see this paradigm growing not only in the State, but also entities like the European Union, large companies, banks, churches, any corporation where the elite few enjoys immense power over that corporation’s subjects. It is from about the 1980 that managerial totalitarianism found its way into churches, education, the arts, healthcare and even leisure.
Like the plight of the York bellringers, we can sometimes encounter presentations of small charity shops being “restructured” and “rebranded”. From that comes the need to develop “objectives” and “strategic plans” like in large companies like Microsoft or car manufacturers. The poor little volunteer ladies have to be “evaluated” according to their plans for meeting targets and quota. In the end, the shop ceases to be cost-effective and has to be closed down. Bravo! All the time in translating, I have had to learn about objectives, stakeholders, milestones, critical paths and all kinds of other things that might be more appropriate for large manufacturing or civil engineering companies. Most of the work I have in this field is exactly for industry, especially in high technology. Everything has to be ultra-rational, What would William Blake or Percy Shelley have said if they could see the world two hundred years after their deaths? Dark satanic mills?
The trouble with such a paradigm is not coherence and efficiency, getting the job done properly at a budgeted cost. It is Plato’s Republic where everything is planned, watched and nothing is left to chance. It becomes the anthill or beehive, impersonal and mechanical. Every part of the process is rational and optimised, but the result is the police state. It favours the strong over the weak, penalises compassion and abolishes personality and identity. The strong become ever more powerful because they lack care or empathy for their subjects. No morality holds them back and the end justifies any means. This is the basis of Nazism and Soviet Communism – and corporate pragmatism.
I read a lot of alternative news about the current situation of America, and I know there are many conspiracy theories flying around, some of which are patently absurd, especially when put out by fundamentalist Christians. Youtube is increasingly filled with such junk with the asinine music designed to provoke excitement and anxiety. The more we are repelled by such garbage, we can be brought to refuse perfectly plausible theories or even proven realities. One such idea is that of the oligarchy of mega-rich people like the Rothschilds and other historical Jewish banking families. The idea that they have bought themselves into positions of political control might be plausible, but the idea is discredited when there is talk of the Illuminati and shape-shifting aliens. Hitler’s “conspiracy” was real enough when it killed millions! The ultimate insanity would be the “banksters” starting Word War III thinking that they would be safe in their bunkers. They too have to die one day, whether from their own fallout, starvation or old age.
When I isolated this absolute rationalism, I turned my attention to Romanticism, which had reacted against the excessive rationalism of another period, the eighteenth century. This is why I am looking for modern versions of it for the sake of humanity and the dignity of the human person in a natural environment also enjoying intrinsic rights to life, freedom and happiness.
For the most part, this encroaching totalitarianism concerns our work – which we can’t avoid if we want to eat, house ourselves and pay the bills. Some of us can escape the worst by being self-employed, doing distance work like I am privileged to do via the internet – that last space of liberty. Even using a part of my house as an office, I got a letter some months ago asking me for evidence that I had equipped my space for handicapped customers. I wrote back saying that I never have the physical presence of clients in my house or office, but that all my communications, incoming orders and outgoing deliveries all happened by internet. I will probably be classified as an establishment not open to the public, and therefore not obliged to install facilities for the disabled or special safety equipment. I seem to be OK for the time being!
I have one client wanting to know what training programmes I am following to be compliant with standards in matters of translating. I ignore such requirements, because it always means the same things: objectives, plans, strategy to control variables that cannot be controlled because I am so tiny as a business. I’ll see if they stop sending me orders. There are still agencies who have not yet been taken in by the bullshit. So far, so good…
There is a notion called Management by Objectives. It is really micro-management by “control freaks” to stop people from being able to work and get on with the job. They have to have rational targets known in advance. Calculating the forecasts costs more in time and money than simply doing the job, but the corporate blindness doesn’t seem to be aware of that. This disease grows from small companies into the large ones, and those who are the most “successful” in the chain are invariably the “snakes in suits” with personalities ranging from malignant narcissism to full-blown psychopathy. Many innocent words have been appropriated and made into euphemisms for sinister realities: empowerment, participation, commitment and others. The same has happened in corporate “churchianity” where evil is expressed in terminology proper to Christian compassion and spirituality. This perversion of terminology and vocabulary is known to those who have studied cultural Marxism. Modern corporate life looks shiny, efficient and organised, but morale and self-motivation are low. You get unhappy staff, and people can sometimes be driven to suicide by harassment at work. Management by objective is totally inappropriate for churches, charities and other non-business activities – yet it causes mayhem. This seems to be what has happened between the Dean of York and the bellringers.
Churches, especially the Church of England, and universities operated once by principles of the least amount of management possible. Personalities could be creative, eccentrics like Dr Spooner, whether they were parish priests, college dons, canons or bishops. The students would be inspired and professors had the leisure time they needed to research and write books. With totalitarian management, students would be under continuous evaluation and control. In the end, money would be everything. In just about every field of human work, including the Church, the notion of vocation has gone out of the window. My father became a veterinary surgeon because he liked animals. I still know doctors who are interested in helping the sick and relieving suffering, but some of that profession are no more than bureaucrats or cynical scientific researchers.
It is when I really came face to face with this reality that I really understood why I could go nowhere as a priest, except in the little Church that accepted me three years ago after the events in the Traditional Anglican Communion that left me an “orphan”. My own Church needs to be careful. We have to comply with standards pertaining to child protection and health and safety in buildings open to the public. When I applied to be a priest of the ACC, I felt allergic to the standard application form. I preferred to answer the questions in my own words and humanity prevailed among my Bishop and his Board of Ministry. I was accepted because I offered to show myself as a human being and not justify myself through impersonal criteria. That is what I would be concerned about if I were a diocesan bishop with an interest in the pastoral ministry.
One thing I have discovered through my experience in the Church and running a tiny self-employed business is that the bullshit only threatens us when we consent to it. It is in fact so easy to brush aside because we still relate to human beings and appeal to their humanity and empathy. The problem arises when we have to deal with malignant narcissists and psychopaths. Even then, the nothingness of evil is dissipated by light and the spark of divinity in each person. We can fight back, as I did when I told a translation agent that I respected professional secrecy, with the implication that this principle is probably one they would also expect of me working for them. We have to be polite and rational and we can break free.
Peaceful non-co-operation could be a precious expression for us. If enough of us are awake and aware, we can roll back this evil, this dehumanising ideology. We can reclaim our work, our creativity, our spirituality and worship in churches, compassionate doctors, inspiring teachers, priests who refuse unceasing and pointless meetings to get out and about in their parishes. We may not be able to do much at the level of multi-national companies, banks and the State, where the real villains may be found, but we can at our own little level. I am reminded of the old Chinese proverb saying that when there is peace in the heart, it will spread to the family, the village, county, country, continent and finally the entire world.
The essentially condition is consciousness, having the key of knowledge, intuitively and rationally knowing what is wrong and refusing to follow blind allies and deceits. We are often told to “wake up” by excited people, but it is true. We have to become self-aware in both our rational mind and our heart and imagination. Again, this is but one aspect of my essential mission as a blogger.
Just a brief note, but one which reflects on the unfortunate dilemma faced by the translation agent and by the Dean of York Minster in his regulation of the bellringers: you are right in blaming these on the vicissitudes of modern life, but the factor which links both examples is perhaps one of the most insidious as it conflicts with many of the traditions and accepted ways of ‘modern society’.
The problem is vested in one word: ‘liability’: simply, if I let you do this and then you get hurt, can you sue me, and what damages might I have to pay? The ‘twist in the tail’ of the story is not that ‘you’ will sue me – after all, I know that for most people the cost of lawsuit is simply prohibitive – but that it is your insurance company which might sue my insurance company: so then my insurance company can require me to ask you for these detailed references!
This is just one facet of the growth of post-Christian morality which is infecting so much of society, propelled by the desperate need to prove our worth to our fellow man.
Generally speaking, I have had better experiences with the corporate world than with the ecclesiastical world. There is less bullshit, less territoriality, less hostility, less abuse,fewer clashes of personality, more openness to rational discussion, etc., etc.
Père Antoine, je suis très content d’avoir trouvé votre blogue, et spécialement cet article. Vous appelez un chat un chat, et il y a aussi un petit optimisme en fin de compte. Peut-être que l’église institutionnalisée doit d’abord crever, afin que le christianisme renaisse. «Si le grain de blé tombé en terre ne meurt pas…» Au plaisir de vous relire!