It was a while ago, one night, when this friend came running out into the parking lot where a few of us were gathered, standing against our cars, talking away. He came out with an unusually focused and excited look on his face, excited with worry. He told the story quickly about how another friend had gotten into a fight, but that everything was alright now. It had almost turned into a group fight, but this friend was out here with us now, instead. “Weren’t you going to help him out?”, we asked him. “I have a wife and kids to worry about,” he replied. Hypocritical I thought, since he was someone who often cheated on his wife. This family, convenient in one sense, a hindrance in another. Whatever works best for the moment. But still, you couldn’t help but love the guy.
Years before that I met this other guy named Jared. At the time, I was doing work for Battelle Memorial Institute, while continuing my “there and gone” love affair with academia. We ended up working together, along mainly with Kim and Robert to build up this wonderfully innovative ISP, founded upon good, solid quality and no nonsense. This was in the first wave, the initial influx of the Internet into the general population, where so many possibilities existed, and a positive spirit about the future, in much more than just money, prevailed. We all worked very independently, very decentralized. At first, I would even travel to complete stranger’s houses to help them get their computers connected to this “new” Internet. Sometimes they would make me coffee, and sometimes insist that I have dinner with them. After a while, I was no longer able to do this because there were just far too many new people each day. Strangely, I found myself caring about them all, in their many, varied worlds. Someone would call up with questions, and I’d hear kids screaming in the background, or maybe dogs barking. One day a person would be friendly, and the next day, obviously frustrated. I would receive their personal checks in loads, and got to know the pictures they chose, and the names. Sometimes I would notice when a new name was added to check because they got married, or a name dropped away. I always wrote them, and asked them about these things.
I also developed a habit of broadcasting email messages all of them, telling them why something broke, and what we’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Sometimes I would just send out messages for no reason other than to say hello, or to say, “happy gay day!” on the day of the gay pride parade. I met with some opposition from others in our little co-op business, but I kept doing it. That sea of customers were my customers, and I wanted them to know that I cared about them, and I wanted them to know that I was going to be honest with them: I wanted them to know that when I told them something, they could count on it not being any bullshit, at least as far as I knew it not to be. And it seemed to work — I never had a customer leave unless they had to, for some reason like moving away. Even when we had a disaster and their service was down for almost a week, not a single customer of mine left. It goes against reason, in a way, imagining that you could love so many people like that. But they knew it. And they trusted, that we would do right by them, too.
Since that time I have worked in, and with, many different organizations. I hear people say things like, “we care about our customers” or “we care about the common man”. Trust us. Buy us. I have sat in on long, drawn-out sessions with marketing people developing schemes to maneuver people into the proper alignment to funnel their money in. I have been told, this is business. We know business. I have even watched some of these business people try to be “human” with people, which is almost always, excruciatingly awkward, and a little unsettling. Ironically, it is often what these business people desire, too, being able to be, just a little more human. But somehow, it seems to almost always manifest as a palpable contrivance.
We need to bring our sons and daughters home. We need to stay the course. If we leave now, it’s losing the war. But what is it to win?
Let’s go back to the corporation I was talking about in the last piece. We have a corporate officer, promising to pay employees based upon specific performance goals. They meet or exceed those goals, but then, they are paid nothing. Or sometimes, the formula that determines what they are paid is altered at the last minute, never in favor of the employee. But what’s to complain, really? If they don’t like it, they don’t have to work there. We’re all just learning, anyway, aren’t we? Oh, I know I’ve made mistakes, but I just can’t seem to name any specific ones. Re-hashing this again and a again is a dangerous influence — you will speak to nobody. Silence. Secrecy. So things can continue as they need to.
Mike wrote a review recently, which had a sentence, in particular, that caught my eye: “The villain here is a bureaucratic ideology that refuses to credit actual events, and habitually employs ad hominem attacks as a way of discrediting bearers of inconvenient truths.” Even Republicans are attacking the President now, and all the President can do is point to terrorists, terrorists!, Al-Quaeda in the streets of Baghdad! US Soldiers bursting into people’s houses in the middle of the night, putting bags over people’s heads, and disappearing many, and some people getting angry, taking up arms, and suddenly they are Al-Quaeda. So much corruption revealed in our own government, in so many places, and so many people. How does one keep track? If you speak against war, are you unpatriotic? Are you dangerous?
Some truths are not very easy to keep hidden. Even when people go to very great lengths to hide, obscure or manipulate truth, other truths become revealed. At a time when secrecy and obfuscation is the norm and the expected, another truth comes to light: we are being told less and less, with more and more.
It’s interesting what people choose to focus on, or rather provide to us as focus. There’s the old corporate thing: yes, a mistake was made, now let’s forget about it and just move forward. We have to move forward. Forget the past. Never doomed to repetition. Bush recently saying, yes, someone in the White House leaked the CIA operative’s identity — that’s all behind us now, and we have to move on. And we have no people out there being disruptive about it, making themselves “dangerous”. Maybe they must have a wife and kids to worry about. Maybe they want to say how evil Iran is for helping kill US soldiers, while we occupy their neighboring country — and of all the thousands of people we have imprisoned over there, less than 200 are non-Iraquis, and by far, the majority of those few foreign soldiers are not from Iran, but rather from Saudi Arabia, a country which apparently can do no wrong. Congress agrees with the President on this, it seems.
Obfuscation and secrecy are interesting tools. They are also loaded, and dangerous tools. Telling half-truths is often worse than a lie. And keeping your mouth shut absolves you of nothing.
In a previous piece I mentioned how the “Sunshine in Government” Act, or S.849, was supposed to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which is next to useless any more — and mentioned how some Senator put an anonymous hold on the bill, keeping it locked away. Well, it turns out, thanks to the efforts of The Society of Professional Journalists, that it was Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona who did it. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader has asked the Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, to have Kyl release his hold, but Reid has received no response from McConnell, nor Kyl. Not that he needs it — Reid, the Majority, can still bring it to the floor.
So we talk, and we wait, and years go by. We intend, and we wish. We wait for weather to pass. We see what we see, and things happen, out in the open, and behind closed doors. Tough words happen, little change, and the next, same, repetitive round begins.
To this day, some of the customers from those ISP days still keep in contact. Hello! It’s surprising a bit, I suppose, because there is nothing I can really do for them any more, and nothing they can really do for me. But I think it’s like a happy memory that hopefully we all have a few of — of a time when the world was a little more kind. A time when they, as my business customers, might receive some “inappropriate” ramblings from their ISP, and they might be offended, or laugh, or just perhaps a “wow, what a surprise”… Yet somehow they knew I had their best interests firmly at heart, regardless of my craziness, and they knew they did not have to worry about me screwing them over somehow. Mostly because, if I were going to screw them over, I would tell them, straight up. I learned so much during those days. Probably the most important thing was that, if I’m honest with others, even in all my craziness, they will forgive you for an awful lot of things. Things that, in any other context, except that long history of honesty, would be unforgivable. They knew, when I said I was sorry, that I really meant it, and that I had done, and would do, everything I could to make sure whatever happened, would never happen again. And strangest of all, it made me the happiest person in the world, just taking care of them. The whole, crazy, impossible lot of them.