I was recently in major hospitals for five surgeries. Hospitals are big business these days that bring in big money. They run exactly like factories, where patients are processed like raw material, added medicines and subtracted malignancies, and quickly turned out at a handsome price. Surgical patients, for instance, don’t rest in rooms; marketable products, they are shunted from pre-op to post-op. Their ease and comfort are no concern; the doctors’ convenience is the priority. If you are late for an appointment, you are fined. If the doctor sees you after an hour, you count your blessing that he is not seeing you after two.
I have taught at a dozen universities and nothing distinguishes them from factories except their phony pretension that they are ennobling young minds. They are really in the business of selling, increasingly at higher prices, certificates that their students can use to get jobs. Thousands pass through their portals, much as boxes do through Amazon’s giant warehouses, and quickly forget what they acquired in their classes – though they cannot forget the debts they still have to pay. So dubious is the quality of the ‘processing’ students get that employers are getting leery. Google, where everybody wants to work, for instance, is reportedly considering totally ignoring educational certificates in hiring new interns.
I have limited direct knowledge of the media, but friends tell me they too operate factory-like these days, caring little for quality or human consideration, ruled pitilessly by the bean counters that insist on a sweat shop turning out the highest output at the lowest cost. So, one must be grateful for the dedicated journalist, author, composer or filmmaker who pursues a dream nevertheless at some cost and refuses to cow to the blockbuster mentality. I talk to actors in New York who seek opportunities on the stage or screen and hear horror stories how they are treated, often mistreated, when they are recruited, deployed or dismissed. Harvey Weinstein may be a colossal cad, but he is the template of a legion predators in the movie world.
The field of politics is of course the Wild West and it is no surprise that political parties have an increasing number of leaders with charges against them of intimidation, rape and armed assault. Studies show it is an upward trend, for it suits the criminals to have the protective garb of a legislator and it suits the parties to have candidates who pay their own way, doubtless with illicit cash. This too is an example of the input-output calculus of a factory: you input quantities of graft money to make larger quantities of unaccounted money, which too can be used to generate illicit cash galore. Some politicos wear as a badge of pride their astonishing facility in misusing and mistreating the foot soldiers who work for them.
The harsh, inhumane factory life I saw at the start of my career appears now to have infected the culture of many other walks of life. It is a culture of exploiting people, using them as subhuman tools for personal or organizational ends, often for money and more often for power. When wealth accumulates and men decay, Goldsmith warned us, the land not only fares ill it becomes a prey to “hastening ills,” a prelude to disaster.
Our offices, hospitals, universities and media don’t have to run like this, in a dehumanized fashion, caring little for human suffering or satisfaction. We can do better. Even our factories don’t have to be inhuman.
With all our experience and ingenuity, we can devise workplaces that are humane and match the human spirit. We don’t have to make things and offer services in a way that makes of human beings beasts of bondage and creatures of captivity. You don’t have to be alt-left to see the wisdom of Marx’s telling phrase ‘wage slaves.’ We should be able to run our life and society without shameful slavery.