Many years ago I was asked by someone in the NDP to stand for Parliament in Westmount. I had no hesitation in saying thanks, but no thanks, not only because any democratic socialist would be a sure loser in Westmount, but because by temperament I am not given to anything resembling the political life.
The reason is, I am a chronic non-joiner. In my late teens I briefly joined athletic, cricket and rugby clubs. I joined the Journalists’ Union, because at the time, place and era in which I grew up, when you got a job you were automatically required to join a union. I had to give up all the high school running and jumping when I started to work, because on Saturdays I was required to collect all the results of those very sporting contests in which I had previously taken part for the newspaper.
I can’t be sure whether this disinclination to join anything was inborn or acquired, but I can say that it was probably encouraged by working as a journalist. In that particular job, as I practised it for more than 25 years, one went off with a notebook and pen to find the subjects one was assigned to write about, and that was that. One returned to the office wrote up the result, and then it was handed off to people who, I suppose, could be considered part of the team, but first you had to have the team concept, and I was notably lacking it.
Of course, my perceptions may be somewhat out of date. Maybe nowadays when the various workers are more tightly woven together by electronic gadgetry, it is somewhat different. But when I was a youngster learning the trade I usually felt my major responsibility was to myself, to do as good a job as I possibly could. I am afraid I never felt the necessary emotions of loyalty, or still less of admiration, for the newspapers that employed me, and so, it never occurred to me to consider myself part of their team.
I took into my working life a strong distaste for employers in general. And although I was reasonably well treated by my employers, I tend to attribute that to the fact that I was a reasonably efficient employee. Come to think of it, of course, even many employees who could never be considered efficient tended to stay on for years, performing their same dull functions in the same dull way with never a word of complaint from their long-suffering employers. I don’t really know if this is peculiar to newspapers or of general application, but make no mistake: I believe one of the main targets of a sound social policy should be to attempt to ease the passage through life of this great majority to the maximum extent possible. Most of them, given limitations of education, training, social circumstances and whatever (including lack of talent), are doing the very best they can, and deserve support from the organized community.
I have read from time to time --- I confess, my thinking on all of this was formed half a century ago --- that people who examine workforces for a living have concluded that three per cent of employees do the creative thinking. These are people who, as far as the employer is concerned, could play golf or tennis all day, or just goof-off, as long as they are available to be consulted when things are going wrong, and their advice is really needed. Again, I don’t know if these classifications are widely accepted in business. In my limited experience the advice of this three per cent appears to have been supplanted by the phenomenon of the management consultant team, brought in to do a thorough investigation of working methods, and bring in recommendations. One newspaper I worked for initiated such a study, and the best I can say for it was, it was a monstrous waste of money. But then, money was, and is never in short supply for the employers.
Anyone who has read Volume 5 of Mao Tse Tung’s collected works will be familiar with his thinking on this subject of the layers of vitality, intelligence and energy in the population. Just as workforce studies of capitalism discovered that ten per cent of the workers can be expected to carry out most of the useful work, so Mao, writing in the 1950s when he was wondering what to do next, came to the conclusion that the Communist party in defending its central role as the country’s major force, would have to execute three per cent of the people who would be irreconcilable, and would have to take some, lesser but still severe, measures against the next ten percent. In 1957 he put this thinking into action. He encouraged the population to express their opinions of what his party had done up to that stage, calling on them to respond to the so-called “hundred flowers” campaign --- the idea being that everyone should speak honestly, as the slogan said, to “let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend,” as to the next stage. This lasted for less that three months, during which millions of letters expressing criticism of the regime poured into headquarters, but it was ended with a brutal ban on free expression, and the arrest of hundreds of thousands of people who had given off their hundred flowers of opinion. Those who were not imprisoned, were banished to the nether regions where they were forced to take up hoes and picks as they worked alongside the peasantry. I remember meeting an elderly writer, Ding Ling, who toured Canada from China after her rehabilitation, following 25 years of such banishment. (I was amazed by her apparent lack of bitterness). All this preceded the Cultural Revolution, in which gangs of children and youths roamed the countryside holding struggle sessions against anyone with an intellectual background, or any slight contact with any foreigner, or who came from slightly elevated social roots--- such as lower-middle class peasantry or minor landlords. I met one of the victims of that purge when on a 1983 trip to China to do the research for a film on child services in China, that was being made for UNICEF. This was a man who had been the director of the Children’s Theatre, an institution founded by Soong Ching Ling, one of the three famous Soong sisters. .(One of the others was Mme Chiang Kai Shek). Unlike her sister, Soong Ching Ling made her peace with the Communist authorities in the 1950s, and performed many good works especially for children. She had died before I made my visit, but a foundation in her name had been established and was working out of the beautiful house she had occupied in Beijing.
In Shanghai we were taken to visit the Children’s Theatre she had founded, and there, in the saddle again after 10 years of being demoted to the role of street sweeper outside the school’s premises, was the original director reinstated in his position. It is interesting that in Mao’s formulation of the forces of society, the vast majority, more than eighty per cent, were classified as probably having no solid opinion one way or the other. Just as I seem to remember some workforce consultants in our capitalist world concluded much the same thing about the capitalist workforce.
Well, to return to where I took off from: from my personal history of changing jobs every three years, I began to advise my children, when I had some, that they should always remember that they could always quit, if they were unhappy in their employment. It was a stricture I had lived by myself (with only one interregnum of eight years, when I had a job in London, England, working for a boss 3,000 miles away, that was almost like working for myself, so little interference did I suffer from the home office), and I had no hesitation in handing on. Only recently has one of my children questioned it: “what kind of advice is that to give a kid. You can always quit!” He has said, in somewhat indignant tones. It did make me stop and think: but having done so, I am not sure I was wrong. I worked for many years as a daily, wage-earning employee, and I didn’t want my kids to be automatically slotted into that niche in life.
Today as far as I can tell they are all more or less engaged in the kind of work that is of interest to them. So although I have been led to question my efficacy as a parent in other ways, on this specific advice, I have a feeling --- note the uncertain tone --- I more or less, with only slight hesitation, taking everything into consideration, and taking account of our peripatetic, ever-changing lifestyle, I think I can maybe give myself a pass.
A maybe 60 per cent pass?
Oh, well, wot the hell!