Monday, July 8, 2013

The Rooster-Coop syndrome -I

One of the main ideas in The White Tiger is The Rooster-Coop syndrome - the poor, who have to work so long and hard just to survive that they don't have time to think about the various injustices around them. They can sing nice songs and flatter themselves all they want but ultimately he who pays the piper calls the tune.

 I think a significant part of the more privileged minority is trapped in what I would call the gilded Rooster-Coop syndrome. They seem to be married to their jobs and have very little interest in areas outside what their job require. Or perhaps they don't have the time to cultivate other interests. In An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes, one of the points made by the writer is ''stretching yourself to work longer hours when needed'. The problem is that it is always needed.

It seems to have become a fashion to stay late in office to please the boss. One person called this 'the MBA culture'. I remember a thoroughly uninspiring guy from Citibank giving a pre-placement talk at IIMA. He said that he loved being in office so much that he hurried to office in the morning and didn't want to leave the office at night. I remember thinking, 'What a fraud! He must be having another fiend as his boss. If he didn't stay in office  later than his boss, his chances of promotion may be jeopardised.

One person said that he used to work such long hours that he could see his children only on Sundays. On other days,  he used to come so late that his kids were asleep by then and by the time he got up the next day, they had gone to school. (He is self-employed so the pressures are different compared to that on a salaried employee.) There are people who live in Pune and work in Mumbai, commuting 4 hrs each way everyday. It is not a life I would have liked to lead.

In this TED talk, Margaret Heffernan says that companies should encourage dissent.That rarely happens. The emphasis is on conformity and adherence to standard company practices leading to groupthink. Any deviation is frowned upon. In corporate-speak this is called 'being on the same page' or 'pulling in the same direction'. Companies often react viciously when established authority is challenged (as do governments) so most people prefer to carry on as before. Emily Dickinson figured it out long ago: the  majority view prevails. In The Denial of Death, Earnst Becker writes:
...usually life sucks us up into standardised activities. The social hero-system into which we are born marks out paths for our heroism,paths to which we conform, to which we shape ourselves so that we can please others, become what they expect us to be. And instead of working our inner secret we gradually cover it over and forget it, while we become purely external men, playing successfully the standised hero-game into which we happen to fall by accident, by family connection, by reflex patriotism, or by the simple need to eat and the urge to procreate.
Kierkegaard had no illusions about man's urge to freedom. He knew how comfortable people were inside the prison of their character defenses. Like many prisoners they are comfortable in their limited and protected routines and the idea of a parole into the wide world of chance, accident and choice terrifies them...In the prison of one's  character  one can pretend and feel that he is somebody, that the world is manageable, that there is reason for one's life, a ready justification for one's action. To live automatically and uncritically is to be assured of at least a minimum share of the programmed cultural heroics - what we might call "prison heroism": the smugness of the insiders who "know".

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