Understanding the Limits of Limited Understanding
Smell the pitch? Feel it mingling with the salty air, burning your eyes and making your nose dribble? No, no, I know, there’s a desk over there, and we’re on the thirty-fifth floor, but believe you me, we’re also sailing the high seas. Sorry to stretch the metaphor; when this greedy multinational trireme heads out to hijack capital or sink the competition trying, it draws its striking power not from the wind, but from the muscles of the supposedly free men chained to the oars below deck.
Here, I’ll show you what I mean: “Hello, Thompson.” There’s no need to shout or scowl. Look, I’ll terrify him with a friendly pat on the back and a superfluous arm jab. Pat, pat, wink, jab, “How’s the family?” and it’s on to business. Note the already present odour of James Thompson’s perspiration; he knows that if he doesn’t row his ass off I can do what I like with him: publicly humiliate, demote, fire, or worst of all, transfer to another office; for these people, being transferred to Moose Jaw is like being sold to a master who derives a great deal of pleasure from field-testing hand-whittled sodomy devices on his servants.
“Thompson, I’m looking forward to reviewing that account this afternoon.” Feel the deck roll beneath your feet? Thompson can. He knows it, and I know it, but neither of us is letting on: we are supposed to review the Carlton account Wednesday, not today (Monday). I may look fat and friendly in a sincerely facetious sort of way, but take my word for it: if this were a Roman ship, I’d be seven feet tall with ripped abs, holding a twelve-ended whip in the gigantic hand at the end of my gargantuan praetorian arm, and Thompson here would be biting down on something hard.
“Sure, it should be all ready for you this afternoon. When should I come by?”
“Didn’t we decide on three?” It’s now ten.
“Right, three. Sounds good; three it is.”
Thompson’s never been any fun. No future; not as a human, anyway – maybe he has a future in a nice home for abused spaniels. No disrespect to spaniels.
“On second thought, Thompson, wasn’t our meeting supposed to be on Wednesday?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I can have it ready for this afternoon. It’s basically done now.”
He doesn’t realize it yet, but our friend Thompson is now fucked. I pause for a moment to let anxiety crawl up his spine. “Well, come to think of it, I think I am quite busy this afternoon.” I pause again to let a feeling of relief settle. Relief must feel warm, for a tint appears in Thompson’s cheeks, beside a repressed grin. Pause, pause, pause, pause, “But I am free now. It doesn’t matter if things are a little rough. I don’t need absolute perfection.” Wink, superfluous punch in the arm, pause so Thompson has time to soil his pants abundantly, glance at my watch, “Oh, damn! On second thought, I have a meeting in fifteen. See you Wednesday, Thompson.”
Thompson exits, and likely doesn’t know how he should feel as the elevator drops into the bowels of accounts receivable, tossing his unsettled stomach into his mouth.
Do you see? Most of us have delusions about what we are. People in my position typically think, “Slavery ended; the world became democratic and generally tolerable at some point in the past. We do a service: people need to eat; they need to work; we give them a fair wage and basic dental.” Right, sure, wonderful, all true. But is it the whole truth? Or does this evil feed on the rot that grows beneath superficial truth masquerading as profound truth? Basic dental? Even Roman slave owners tried to keep their more useful slaves healthy enough to battle to the death. If it’s cheaper to replace you than keep you healthy, you don’t have basic dental or anything else.
I think Marx underestimated the resiliency of a global capitalist market and opened the door for the communism we saw, disposing people against real communism in the process. He saw capitalism as a continual revolution, which is fine, but I can give a better analogy: capitalism is a great white shark in a feeding frenzy that eats until it’s full, then turns its stomach inside out, draining itself of all it consumed, just so it can consume more.
Nonetheless, I can’t believe that this system could last forever, and one must do what one can to bring it to a speedy end. I use my position as slave thrasher to alienate those poor unfortunate proles under my authority, teaching them to hate the current state of affairs as much as possible–throwing TNT into the fire, in the hope that there will be an explosion big enough to stifle the flames. Sure, on the day we’re marched onto the stage and declared enemies of the people, I’ll be remembered as excrement... but I’ll have changed the world in my own little way. What have you done?
A mountain of money – that’s all I can think as I watch him. Mr. Claude Riche, the President and CEO of Trust Financial, who owns this building, occupies the penthouse. Rumour has it that he owns both the building and the company outright – there is no debt involved. Three floors go to TF; his business needn’t pay rent, but certainly does for tax purposes; that is, Riche’s landlord avatar makes money charging company-owner avatar’s company rent. The penthouse is almost certainly ‘paid for’ through a complicated shell game that amounts to Riche housing for free. That’s one floor for him, three for his business: four floors out of forty-six–or is it forty-five? The occasional lack of a thirteenth floor confuses me, and I can’t remember whether TF Tower has one. Anyway, that means he’s making money by renting out the other forty-plus floors. Then there’s the money his business makes him. On top of this, he (or one of his avatars) can borrow a tremendous amount of money with the tower, the business, and/or related assets as collateral. Disgustingly wealthy people get better interest rates, incidentally; it has something to do with owning the banks.
Watch him as he flirts with Jessica Escravo, a fellow back whipper. I think she realizes she’s a persecutor, but I don’t think she realizes that she too is a slave. Everyone’s subject to the same system, after all. Look at Escravo’s loathsome self: thrusting out her breast like a robin in mating season, tilting her head from one side to the other each time she adopts a different kind of flirtatious grin. It’s impossible to differentiate her forced from natural smiles – if there’s a difference. Look at her long, black, lustrous hair; her suggestively swollen red lips; her trim waist. If only she had a soul, an interesting brain, a philosophical disposition, or whatever it is that makes worthwhile people worthwhile. Unfortunately for her, she won’t find her soul at the end of the golden brick road she’s skipping along, hand-in-hand with Riche.
But my analogy is flawed. She’s not prancing her way through Oz. You need to realize something’s missing before you seek the wizard; Jessica’s so utterly soulless she probably thinks she has a deeply profound soul, in the same way that a cockroach or philosophy undergraduate thinks it understands the universe when it looks at the stars, simply because it’s incapable of understanding the limits of its limited understanding. Maybe I’m being too harsh – Marx was a philosophy undergraduate once. Anyway, soul or no, nice legs.
I am trying not to stare, or, more accurately, not to get caught staring, because I recently became engaged. I’m not quite sure how I came to be engaged, but it is one of those things I ostensibly am. Her name is Sophia. Sophia Zuiverheid. I sometimes wonder to what extent she’s marrying me to get a pronounceable last name, and to what extent I’ve purchased her with my moderate wealth. The amazing thing about money is that, sometimes just having it gets you what you want without you even having to spend it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply Sophia’s a thing I’ve purchased. True, capitalism turns all relationships into exchange relationships, and reduces all people to things, but this conversation need not necessarily be predicated on terms convenient for capitalism.
I should mention Sophia’s beauty, which seems to make sense, as I’m exceedingly wonderful, yet our relationship does occasionally confuse me. Sophia has iridescent hazel eyes across which rolls a layer of mist when you don’t give change to the homeless – even though this is a highly immoral act that props up a deplorable status quo. Sophia’s hair is long and dirty blonde. When Sophia hiccups, she hiccups all afternoon, and eventually hiccups her soft hair into utter disarray. She manages to smile a lot, and usually means it, which boggles the mind.
But the really interesting point about Sophia is her unfathomable lifestyle. She manages to survive doing contract work as an interior decorator; she is paid by job, not by hour, and is her own boss. On top of this, she volunteers a great deal of her time and – shockingly – doesn’t get paid for this at all. She even considers self-promotion petty and refuses to endorse her business in casual conversation. To put it simply, I’m not sure how she fits into a rational economic model.
First there was intrigue, then more and more time was spent together. Eventually, my shifting state of infatuation turned into a permanent state of dumbfounded wonder. The dialectic was at its end; Sophia and I had synthesized. I didn’t express my will to marry her in quite this way, and I could tell she appreciated it; she seems to prefer that I manipulate my words so they don’t resemble my thoughts too precisely.
Anyway, back to Riche, one hand on his bald, pointed chin, the other folded across his stomach. He’s trying to appear serious as Ms. Escravo explains something he doesn’t care about. I am at least fifty percent sure he’s staring at her lips whenever she looks away, and about eighty percent sure the two of them have exchanged inside information. But maybe Jessica’s ploy to secure the best advantage requires that she not fornicate with Riche. Now levity returns to their conversation; Riche shifts onto his heels and begins smiling again. He is thin and vigorous, and can’t be more than thirty-five years old. Sophia says he’s revolting, but she’s probably lying; after all, it’s difficult to imagine a diagram comparing our relative wealth on which my net worth would be visible to the naked eye.
It’s shocking, but if he wanted to, Mr. Riche could get a second tower without touching any of the money he’s earned from the first tower. Obviously, Riche’s wealth could virtually grow exponentially. I know, I know, it seems obvious, almost too obvious to warrant thought, but quite simply, there’s only so much money in the world. When new money is printed without the old being destroyed, all the money in the system loses value. Maybe that’s a better way to put it: not that there’s a fixed amount of money, but a fixed amount of value. The more value for him, the less for everyone else. How many Mr. Riches are there in the world? Make a modest estimate.
But the part I find the most interesting is that Riche long ago delegated all his duties to others, so he really does nothing for money. Sometimes he goes to meetings and whatnot, but his presence is utterly superfluous, and I think he only does it to satisfy a morbid sociological curiosity. Do you ever kill time upon the toilet, just relaxing, and feel like you’re exploiting some loophole in the wage labour system? Mr. Riche could shit all day, every day and he would make no less money.
Don’t you love nights like tonight? Stars twinkling, a silver sliver moon, and a crisp freshness in the air. It’s ten, and I’m walking home from the office. My car’s in the underground garage; I prefer not driving whenever I can. It’s supposed to be nice again tomorrow, so I should be able to walk to work. The walk only takes fifteen minutes.
The trees are rustling from occasional gusts, and every once in a while a slight whiff of burning wood drifts into my nostrils. I’m not sure if the smell is a fire-place or a distant forest fire. Look at this piece of work. A man’s been walking towards me for some time, but I hadn’t really noticed. He stops. I stop. A silver flash, back and forth, dicing the beam of streetlight. Look at how calm those hazel eyes are.
“Give me your money and your watch, fatty. I’ll take the briefcase, too.”
All social relationships are economically driven, and this relationship is no different from all the others.
“Hurry up, bitch.”
I’m looking him in the eye as I take off my watch and pull out my wallet. I’m at least as calm as he is. Why fret? It’s just another transaction. I might as well be buying socks. He waves the knife back and forth in another simulated dicing. Swipe, swipe.
“Would you like me to put them into the briefcase so you can carry them more easily?” It wasn’t a joke. I can be very considerate.
He snatches the wallet, the watch, and then the briefcase. Here we stand.
“The pin’s 3-1-4-1-5, the first five digits of pie. I won’t report it until morning; have a good time tonight.”
His eyes are...
A blow. Another. Another.
I’m on the ground, an odd sensation vibrating in my teeth.
“Goddamned rich asshole.” A kick in the ribs. Great.
He’s off. Over a fence and into the shadows. Gone.
It’s cold on the ground. A funny perspective from down here; this must be what the world’s like for a dog.
The trireme. I can feel the deck roll beneath my feet, and can almost smellthemixtureof salty air and sunlight that bleaches hair a silvery-blond. The sun is warm on my back. My back... enormous with frighteningmuscles – to saynothingof my terrifying whip. There are gulls in the sky, and a pleasant summer breeze blows gently. I jerkback into reality like a secondary student who drankunconscious, found herselfinexplicablyina cold shower; a jolt, and onthegroundagain.
I try to go up on my right arm, but somethingstearing. Nope, can’t move. I’ll have to wait for help. The onlythingto. Sticky pools are forming. Some clouds are moving in, lowfastand grey. Can’t move. The only thing to do. Can’t. I wonderif, what will, will she, how willsophia? I try yelling, but it hurts too, too damned. I’ll justhaveto wait forhope Sophiaboundto comealong just have to wait forsomeonesboun dtojusthavetoso