Saturday, March 22, 2008

For government consists mainly in so keeping your subjects that they shall be neither able nor disposed to injure you.

There are a lot of things in life besides onions that are layered, and not all of them make you cry. Language is one: you've got meaning and then, overlaying that, words, which in turn transmute into phonemes and then motor programs for those phonemes, until what you've got is a whole precarious tiramisu of an utterance when all you wanted to do was to tell the driver on your tail to go to hell.

Correction: language can make you cry.

But what I'm really getting at is that, if you look carefully, most things have an underlayer. A hoop for a skirt or magma for a tectonic plate: something to rest upon, something to -more or less tumultuously- rub up against.

Sometimes the jockeying between layers is more evident; sometimes it is less so. For example, words and meaning pull apart most obviously during small talk: you may be babbling on and on about the weather or your week or someone's recent trip to Majorca, but what you're really saying, the pannier upon which your blathering is draped, is: I won't bite you and hopefully you won't bite me.

Then there are jobs. Although there are a few jobs -gravedigger comes to mind- that are about what they purport to be about, most jobs are more like Trojan Horses in miniature. Trojan Mules, say, or Trojan Asses: ramshackle structures you allow past the gates of your life because they appear to be something they're not.

Take the job of musician. You think being a musician is about music. And it sort of is, but on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment level, it's really about schmoozing. And airports. Also bad food and the inability to poop in foreign climes.

There's library clerking (more about bar code scanners than books) and tech support (more about people than computers). And of course there's my job. My job purports to be about helping people communicate. That's vaguely accurate. But the meat of my job, its secret subtext, is getting other people to do what I want.

That's really what I do, day to day: compel obedience. What's scary is that, like anything you do seven or eight hours a day, I'm getting better at it. Sure, I've always prefered that folks do what I want as opposed to what I don't want, but never before have I expended so much effort furthering that goal. Never have I plotted and schemed; never have I made such comprehensive use of props and strategies and guile; never have I pressed so hard.

I'm scared about where this is taking me. I set out to help people, and now I spend most of my time bending them to my will. Sure, these people are mostly under the age of five, but so what? I do it with the older kids, too; I even adjust my strategies by grade level (authoritarian for kindergarten; enthusiastic for second grade; supportive for sixth...)

Watch for me in a couple of years. I'll be the one declaring martial law.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I for one welcome our new speech pathologist overlords.