Everybody Wants To Get Ahead ?

Is a line from the wonderfully ironic “The Devil Wears Prada” a film I saw for about the 3rd or 4th time yesterday … just killing time … one of those films that always seems to be showing on some TV channel. I don’t know anything about the original writing behind it, and there is plenty of Hollywood Rom-Com cheese to disguise just how many levels of irony there are within it. The clue is that the subject matter of fashion journalism is about as thin a veneer for real business value as you could conceive … there is a magnificent lecture on the trickle-down from those whose opinions of this stuff matter.

The line “everybody wants to get ahead” is a pretty simple statement of the received wisdom of the Darwinian struggle and the measure of progress … it’s a jungle out there, it’s an arms race, it’s a war on anything you care to mention … just add you own cliche.

The reason the value of the irony struck me was that I had just written a longish post on the “Zeitgeist – Addendum”, in response to gav on MoQ.Discuss (*). As usual, I have to distance myself from any idea of an “international bankers conspiracy theory” take on why the economic struggle, and its global political consequences are perverse in terms of real human interests. But I have to say the film, despite its rhetoric, is pretty good at identifying alternative models of real value … and the real solution; education, education, education. (The real conspiracy is the objectivist meme, easy value in countable things, about which I’ve said more than enough.)

Of course one reason why this is more and more scary to more and more people, is the mass and pace of global communication. The reality is more apparent to more people, and the pace at which bad decisions can lead to new conflicts, means that urgency is part of the concern. Doomsday scenarios are ever easier to envisage.

Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having time to acquire any new value for each other. … We have had to agree on a certain set of rules called etiquette and politeness to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. … we live thick and are in each other’s way, and stumble over one another, and … we lose some respect for one another. Certainly less frequency would suffice for all important and hearty communications.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walden” (1847)

Thoreau wrote that at a time when he considered the number of penny posts worth a penny that he had ever received, he could count on one hand, and that the recently invented telegraph and shared timekeeping, had no future value beyond the novelty of intercity rail travel. Little did he know. He did know that it was more valuable to build a school or a library than a new bridge.

“Everybody wants to get ahead” is a culturally conditioned meme. What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding ?

[Post Note (*) – apologies for the Pirsigian / MoQish-vs-SOMist language, if it’s new jargon to you. Basically “Subject-Object” (mutually-exclusive, post-rationalised-empiricist, static-dualist-objective world-view is inferior to a “Quality” (collectively-inclusive, immediately-participated, radical-empiricist, dynamic-qualitative-relations) world-view or metaphysics. Read Pirsig’s ZMM and Lila, and William James for a start, then Alan Rayner’s natural-inclusionality. That’s a dense collection of adjectives for a world-view, but trust me enough to unpick it.]

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