by The Inmate
Ours is the age of substitutes: instead of language, we have jargon; instead of principles, slogans; instead of genuine ideas, Bright ideas.
I received the news this week that our CEO will be leaving Cheetah Express. I’m not sure what this means. My best guess is that he was fired or that he was asked to leave and resigned so they would not have to fire him. The letter he wrote does not make it clear–letters from CEO’s rarely, if ever, make anything clear. When I first read it and wrote the first version of this essay I considered it one more cliché filled correspondence from the penthouse of the corporate world. Now I’m wondering–just a little– so I’d like to give our CEO the benefit of the doubt for a few paragraphs. Here’s what he wrote in the beginning of his letter:
I have fond memories of the “good ‘ol days,” when everyone knew everyone else on a first name basis and the founders were still involved in the business. I am proud to have contributed to our development from the “good ‘ol days” to the large global corporation we are today and to have shared with you many of the good times we have enjoyed.
Is it possible that this is satire? Is he saying to the incoming management, “I can see what you are going to do with this company. You’re going to change what I worked so hard to achieve. No longer will people be seen as individuals with names, nor will these future days ever be considered the ‘good ‘ol days’ and no longer will you have me around, a man who knew the founders and who is largely responsible for the success of this company”? It’s possible, but it seems to me improbable.
First, there are the previous correspondences(see Re: What? Me, Worry?) from this man that I have been reading for the past few years and most if not all of those letters were composed by stringing corporate clichés together. It’s an easy way to write a quick letter and has the sole advantage of making thinking unnecessary.
The corporate clichés also present a problem. If he had written the above in the same spirit without the clichés, I might be convinced that beneath his politeness there lurked a sword of criticism. If this is satire it is, at least for me, too subtle. Maybe I just missed it. It has happened before. For many years I disliked Machiavelli. I assumed that The Prince was literally meant to be advice to future rulers and it seemed to me to be immoral and unethical. Then a few years ago I read a letter that Machiavelli wrote to a friend in response to this accusation.
I come now to the last branch of my charge: that I teach princes villainy, and how to enslave. If any man will read over my book . . . with impartiality and ordinary charity, he will easily perceive that it is not my intention to recommend that government or those men there described to the world, much less to teach men how to trample upon good men, and all that is sacred and venerable upon earth, laws, religion, honesty, and what not. If I have been a little too punctual in describing these monsters in all their lineaments and colours, I hope mankind will know them, the better to avoid them, my treatise being both a satire against them, and a true character of them . . .
I doubt that our CEO was being that clever and much of the reason for that is because of what follows that first paragraph. I am tempted to quote the rest of the letter in its entirety, but will, out of respect for the welfare of the three people and five pets who read this site regularly, refrain, but here’s an interesting sentence:
To truly fulfill its potential and enjoy continued success, Cheetah Express needs new leadership with innovative ideas and renewed energy.
This is a beaten man. This is a man who admits that he does not have innovative ideas. He admits that he does not have enough energy for the job. It’s as if he is sitting in church and the pastor has convinced him of the errors of his life and the guilt begins to overwhelm him. He’s practically repenting. Or maybe he is a man who truly believes that the welfare of the corporation is something bigger than he is and happily he will step down(though he does say “this is an emotional time for me.”) in order that the corporation may move on. It does almost sound that way. Read on.
To fully capitalize on Tiger Express’s* support and resources the right leadership will be required.
This implies that he knows he is not the right leadership, though only months ago he was. He goes on to praise the new CEO as “the absolute perfect leader to take Tiger Express to the next level” and as “exactly what is needed.” Perfect? Exactly? Wow! Double wow! I didn’t know Jesus had returned. I kind of expected a more impressive entrance and here I’ve been waiting and waiting for him. I guess now I’ll just have to get on with my life. Damn! I hope I get to meet him sometime, assuming he can fit me into to what now will be a very busy schedule. Running the world is nothing like running a corporation.
So what is it? Is it a heartwarming, gut-wrenching resignation? Or is it high satire? I just can’t do it. I can’t remain the disinterested, objective critic–it’s my weakness, I admit it. This letter is meaningless. It’s folderol. Any good scatologist could tell you it’s the same old shit and that’s what would puzzle him. No one’s shit is the same, it’s like a fingerprint. But this stuff is the same color, the same texture and it smells the same. It’s even the same size. Remarkably it comes from the same asshole, that huge corporate one that produces these look-a-like suits who couldn’t write a thoughtful word if they were offered huge sums of money to do so(the huge sums they are offered must be for something else). They’d stare at their laptops or their secretaries frantically trying to remember what the hell “thoughtful” was and how much it would cost to get a good one or wondering if they already had one, but just couldn’t remember where they put it.
Language is truly wonderful. Genuine communication is one of the great pleasures of life. It is unfortunate that the corporate world knows so little about it. The only thing about our CEO’s letter that does not sound like a hundred other letters of this type is that his name is at the bottom. I know the letter is from our CEO. Beyond that, I know nothing about him. I do not get any sense of who this man is or what he is like–except for the possibility that he is easily brainwashed:
In closing, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude for your hard work, support, and friendship over the years. I wish you all the very best and look forward to your continued success.
Italo Calvino once wrote,
It sometimes seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty–that is, the use of words. It is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meanings, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots out from the collision of words and new circumstances.
*From now on Cheetah Express will be Tiger Express as we are essentially under new ownership and management.
- Eric Bentley from the New Republic, 29 December 1952 quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: Fourth Edition, edited by Angela Partington, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1992, pg. 64.
- Niccolò Machiavelli quoted in The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World, by James Burnham, The John Day Company, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1941, epigraph to the book. It appears directly before the title page.
- Calvino, Italo, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86, translated by Patrick Creagh, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, pg. 56.