Thursday, 2 May 2013

The first time as farce

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
The topical world-historic fact of outsourcing absolutely everything has now come round twice. The first time it was just a spoof in The Onion. This time it's tragedy:
Back in the late 1990s when I first stumbled across The Onion, I found an article that spoofed how one big label was going to stop manufacturing and focus on adverts instead. What they may not have realised at the time was that they were years ahead of their time – predicting the future. It’s as if such brands are now just a mega co-ordinated procurement operation: Outsource the manufacturing to the non-Western countries, outsource your political lobbying to lobbyists, outsource your legal advice to a big city law firm, outsource your consultancy work to one of the big four, outsource your advertising to a big agency, outsource your sales to franchise firms or department stores, stamp your brand on the goods manufactured and on the adverts, and wait for the money to role [sic] in. Anything goes wrong, blame the organisation that you outsourced to.
The corporate sector's most embarrassing exploitation and pollution now happens somewhere safely out of sight and mind, leaving those all-important brands untarnished by embarrassing sights, like factories retro-fitted with anti-suicide nets, for those times when your deniable proxies might accidentally crush your outsourced human resources' will to live.

This model of responsibility-free executive power has metastasised to invade modern governments and public services (both national and local), which, at their worst, seek to maximise their powers to make strategic decisions, hang on to office, spy on their own citizens and dispense patronage, whilst minimising their responsibility for the dirty work of implementation (even when taxpayers and end users end up being squeezed in order to ensure that the government is kept at a safe distance from any proximate responsibility).

Once you've even outsourced your thinking to brand consultants, think tanks, focus groups, marketing consultants and so on, the reality of power mirrors the platonic ideal of the original Onion spoof, in the form of a 'thin shell of branding and mass mobilisation, with a dense core of business and political elites floating free in the vacuum within.'

Then the wheel turns full circle, back to farce, when members of the responsibility-averse elite lecture the poor and powerless about how naughty it is to expect rights without taking on corresponding responsibilities.  You have to admire these people, if only for their brass neck, comedic timing and astonishing ability to keep a straight face.