Thursday, August 17, 2006

Corporate Slavery

I recently listened to George Carlin’s latest audio-book “When will Jesus bring the pork-chops?”

I recommend it to anyone. His refreshingly cynical and off-beat world-views are entertaining and thought-provoking. And that’s exactly what happened: it provoked a thought in me.

One of the issues he harps on endlessly in the book is that of euphemistic language: the current trend of euphemising just about anything in order to make uncomfortable subjects easier to deal with, and also to sound more important, specifically within the context of the political and corporate worlds.

Not just the tired old ones like saying someone ‘passed away’ or a woman being ‘on the red robot’. Those are fine. George was referring to what I like to call “Corporate Quasi-English”.

I could carry on about this for days, but I think George sums it all up quite nicely. So I recommend you go along to and buy it.

However there is one euphemism that I’d like to talk about now. It’s one that’s used far too prolifically in corporate South Africa, and one that, I believe, has resulted in a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

It’s when people, specifically pointy-haired managers and business consultants, start referring to employees as “resources”.

“We’ll need a such-and-such resource assigned to that task.”
“I have a team of dedicated resources working on that issue.”

And so on. defines resource as follows:

1. Something that can be used for support or help: The local library is a valuable resource.
2. An available supply that can be drawn on when needed. Often used in the plural.
3. The ability to deal with a difficult or troublesome situation effectively; initiative: a person of resource.
4. Means that can be used to cope with a difficult situation. Often used in the plural: needed all my intellectual resources for the exam.
a. resources The total means available for economic and political development, such as mineral wealth, labor force, and armaments.
b. resources The total means available to a company for increasing production or profit, including plant, labor, and raw material; assets.
c. Such means considered individually.

A resource is a thing. Your resources may include the labour performed by people, as per 5.b. Labour is still a thing though. It’s a service supplied by a person.

Every time my pointy-haired boss calls me a resource I want to punch her in the face. My laptop is a resource. My desk is a resource. My car is a resource. You could even go so far as to say that my time and the knowledge stored in my brain are resources too. But I AM NOT A RESOURCE! I AM A PERSON!

Using a euphemism for people allows pointy-haired managers and business consultants to trivialise them. As soon as you start thinking of people as things or property, it’s suddenly a lot easier to make decisions that could have devastating effects on their lives… they don’t have lives, they’re not people, they’re resources.

It’s hard to make a decision when you’re getting rid of employees, but it’s easy, and really quite sensible to “scale back resource deployment”.

It’s remarkable what atrocities can be justified by calling them by another name. The Nazi’s didn’t call it a holocaust… they called it “Ethnic Cleansing”, or something to that effect. “Cleansing” sounds so nice and sensible doesn’t it? What kind of idiot would oppose the idea of being “cleansed”?

As annoying as it is when pointy-haired boomer bosses start using big words when diminutive ones will suffice, I can put up with it. But as soon as they start trivialising me and addressing me by a term that could just as easily be applied to a truck or a stapler, I take offence.

It may be human arrogance, but I like to think that I am more important that a truck or a stapler. A truck or a stapler would be useless if there was no person to use them.

That’s the distinction between a person and a resource: one uses the other. I don’t like the idea of being used, not by anyone. I’m happy to do things for people, but as soon as I’m being used by someone, I become a tool, a thing, a resource, and I lose my humanity.

I will no longer allow people to rob me of my humanity. This is my new pet issue. From now on, I don’t keep my mouth shut about it anymore. Will you join me in my quest?