Trigger warning: Quoted passage at end of article contains words not approved by the FCC.
It may be that the ideological self-label that I created for myself and call “anagorism” looks to some like a set of principles crafted to serve as some kind of a foundation for a social movement, or a new society, or maybe a political platform. What it really is is an anguished, gut-level reaction to the kettle of brine I find myself in, being the person I am, in the historical period in which I’m living, with the cards I’ve been dealt.
I don’t want to get too deeply into my life story here. This isn’t actually a squick with me; just approval of the privacy of living people in my life other than myself. The most salient thing I can say about myself is that I’m a “mild mannered person.” The neighborhood in “ideological space” (think Political Compass, or better yet AIS Ideology Sorter) that contains me and also contains those I criticize most harshly is given to endless arguments over definitions, and is also usually math-oriented (logic-oriented) enough to be passionate about definitions, so I will offer (for the purpose of this post) a definition of “mild mannered person.” A mild-mannered person in the anagorist sense is someone who will cheerfully go places where their presence is known not to be unwelcome. These places include places to which the mild mannered person has been invited, either specifically or by sets of non-discriminatory critera that I happen to meet, and also include places understood to be open to the public. In places such as these I am mildly extroverted, often popular and always self-assured. I’d like to believe that at least some of my time in such spaces is also productive, contributory, facilitative of others and even (though it pains my anagorist soul to say it) profitable.
The flip side of this most enjoyable personal characteristic that is mild-manneredness is that in my own peculiar case, the one thing I won’t do (at least without a lot of kicking and screaming) is invite myself into a place, a space, a situation or even a conversation. As with all personality traits, there is an uninvited dilemma. Quirks beget thoughts, thoughts beget actions, actions have consequences and problems demand solutions. Since a personality trait sets this recurring calamity into motion, we must identify it. Where does it fit into the taxonomy of quirks?
- Is it a character flaw?
- Is it a skill deficit?
- Is it someone being unwilling to bite the bullet and do something they don’t want to, but is nevertheless needful?
- Is it a voluntary challenge (perhaps borne of some supposed virtue), in which case the uninvited dilemma is over whether it’s one yours truly can afford in these times?
- Is it a disability?
Cue the drone note which is the recognized cultural cue for “ominous.” As the “P”“S”A plays out go through the bulleted lists of all the explanations for Junior’s behavior that are in the ballpark of our comfort zone. Maybe he just likes trucks, perhaps? Maybe it’s autism.
In the spirit of working with well-defined terms, disability may as well be a Stirnerian Spook. Just now I tried a search on theories of disability. In the first results page alone I have:
- social model of disability
- (the maybe synonymous?) social theory of disability
- spectrum model of disability
- critical theory of disability
- learning disabilities theory
- anthropological theories of disability
- Vygotsky`s social constructionist view on disability
- feminist perspectives on disability
- “How to win your Social Security disability claim”
The above are more or less in the order they appear. It hasn’t escaped my attention that the first item on the list (which also seems to be the runaway favorite of much of the neurodiverse blogosphere) is the social model of disability. As an added bonus, it is featured in DuckDuckGo’s (top of the page) “#zero_click_wrapper” feature, which somehow bolsters my already-high opinion of DuckDuckGo. Even more pleasantly astonishing to me is that it took until the twentieth ranked search result to get to the lawyer (not that there’s anything wrong with being a disability lawyer, but clearly my search terms didn’t ask for a lawyer…). That bolsters my opinion of #DDG even higher.
At any rate, far be it from me to claim to have a disability. Disability may be a definition under negotiation, but claim has a very clear meaning in our culture, in our society, in our legal system, etc. One does not make claims one is not immediately and decisively prepared to back up. That is not a character flaw, skill deficit, unfortunate obligation, disability, or even voluntary challenge. It is on the short list of core planks in the Code Of Conduct by which I live. While hesitation in the making of claims is something that should be expected from everyone in the name of sheer decency, it is a phenomenon that interacts with the original personality quirk I call mild-manneredness, as I have provisionally defined it. To invite oneself is to claim welcome, if not membership or even right to enter. It is a tall claim indeed, and is of course frightfully outside my comfort zone.
Those of you who may have read my posts prior to the present one may be aware that anagorism is most obviously an economic ideology which I advance. This is no accident, and building a worldview around this particular personality quirk leads so directly to the subject of economics that it’s utterly scary. My experiences in the actually-existing economy range from disappointment (in myself, of course) to abject failure.
The most disappointed I’ve ever been with myself in the aftermath of a J.O.B. interview involved a smallish local firm that manufactures electronic devices for use by Deaf people. I think I could have handled better the question “are you open to/prepared for learning American Sign Language.” I give myself half credit (whether I should or not) for addressing it 100% as a linguistic question and 0% as a disability-related or even Deaf-related question. The question I really feel I flubbed is the one about my comfort level in a customer service role with customers, some of who have special needs, which often entail the use of the teletype instead of the phone. The honest answer would have been something like
Are you kidding? I’m far, far more comfortable with text than with speech, as means of communication go.
As in any J.O.B. interview post-mortem, I try to understand why the obvious answer was not forthcoming when the window of opportunity was open. In mosbunall (most but not all) cases my problem is not being quick enough on my feet; of being caught by surprise or otherwise unprepared for the question. In this case, the words were fully formed, worded pretty much exactly as in the above text. The problem this time was clearly hesitation, and this time it wasn’t hesitation due to my mental process being too slow for the task, but possibly the exact opposite. There were many, many thoughts hashing themselves out in my head that the critical moment. For one thing, part of my mental process literally froze at the word sequence “comfortable in a customer service role.” How to explain this, um, I once heard the urban legend or not about some Arctic cultures having an afterlife-for-bad-people belief described as a very cold place. In my own Cardinal Utility Function, purgatory is a temp assignment in customer service. Hell, of course, is a permanent job in sales, but purgatory is bad enough. It’s hard to create the impression of an enthusiastic and positive candidate when the job you’re applying for is your personal purgatory-concept, especially if your list of character defects, skill deficits, or whatever you want to call them, includes Pinocchio Syndrome (a generalized inability to lie with a straight face). But that’s only the beginning of the mental storm brought on by that admittedly reasonable, relevant and fair question. It gets down to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the fact (which caught me entirely unprepared that day) that until then my attitude toward the uninvited “disclose or not disclose dilemma” was “not in my house,” meaning my policy was basically one of not Going There. Would outing myself as someone less threatened by machines than people (or people’s voices and ears, anyway) effectively out me as possibly asperger? Alternately, would it out me as someone whose strong suit isn’t communication skills? Would it out me as someone who doesn’t have customer service as their Dream Job? Or would it just out me as one cold, unemotional creature who prefers machines over people? This is actually only the tip of the iceberg. My point is that in this moment if in no other, not being fast enough to come up with a prompt answer was categorically not the problem. The problem was what golfers and I suppose others call “paralysis by analysis,” and in this case it definitely wasn’t slow, deliberative analysis, but it wasn’t cursory analysis, either.
The real kicker is that the customer service question wasn’t the worst part of the interview for me. But no-o-o-o-o, the interviewer just had to Go There; he asked the most dreaded question of them all:
Is the glass half empty or half full?
Until then the worst thing I ever did in J.O.B. interviews (but unfortunately did shockingly often) is literally freeze in the face of an interview question. But no-o-o-o-o, this time my face actually betrayed my disgust with the question. I literally felt my disapproval of the question exit my head through my face and even literally “saw” the mysterious “receipt of message” thing I saw in the textbook for the Communication 101 course I got a C in way back when. This is actually an unusual feeling for me. I don’t claim the unfamiliarity with this reaction means I’m autistic of course, but I don’t claim that the fact that it happened at all makes me non-autistic either. Reluctance to claim things works both ways, after all. Like anyone drawn to the neurodiverse blogosphere and the diverse and fascinating range of ideas it contains, I seem to have things in common with the neurodiverse people, so I can’t help but want to be their ally.
Perhaps paradoxically: While addled by Pinocchio Syndrome, I can actually be quite poker-faced in some situations. Even in J.O.B. interviews, I have been (I believe, I actually claim) completely nonreactive (not reactive in an other than “pro-business” way) in the face of ethically or legally questionable interview questions, inappropriately personal questions, prompts for enthusiastic approval of the virtues of At-Will Employment, you name it. And yet faced with this totally legal, totally legitimate, even plausibly relevant question, which is not even in bad taste, I lost it. I literally lost my cool. It (of course) wasn’t even my first time with the question. What the hell happened? More importantly, WHY? More to the point, why does this decidedly innocent (if annoying and certainly cliché) question meet with such manifest disapproval in yours truly?
Let’s consider the other of the two most cliché J.O.B. interview questions:
What is your greatest weakness?
I used to stumble if not freeze for this one. One side effect of the infamous customer service interview described in the present article has been that I now know an answer to this question (I don’t claim that it’s the answer):
If asked a question that can conceivably be parsed as a yes or not question, I will interpret it as such.
As luck (?) would have it, I haven’t run into this question in an interview since coming to a sharp realization of exactly why it bothers me, in spite of it being an all-too-common question. For one thing, J.O.B. interviews have become all-too-uncommon due to, um, the economy? Also, I’m not getting younger, and while hard to prove (i.e. claim) by a preponderance of evidence, I have come across numerous second-person anecdotal indications that age discrimination might actually be a thing.
So, why “invent” an ideology, a personal but not private “school” of, dare I say, economics? Why anagorism? The job interview story above isn’t what turned me into an anagorist. It’s just an illustrative example of how my mind works, humbly offered as a rough facsimile of a credential for my having any business participating in Autistics Speaking Day. No, what turned me into an anagorist is the fact that the American economy of my childhood, when at least in theory the Post Office, if no other place, was a place where there was a fairly direct link from a high civil service exam score to an actual J.O.B. offer. I’m sure the way it really worked was a lot less straightforward and probably less fair, even back in those halcyon times. But the fact that the civilization I lived in thought to create such a venerable institution as the United States Postal Service gave me hope that perhaps the universe cares, or at least I live in a universe in which there are sometimes compassionate people in positions of influence.
My third job, and the first paid job I got via my own agency (my parents had set me up in my first job, and my second job was a Work Study job) was a place on the data entry pool and eventually the payroll of a temp firm. I had no experience save the job my parents set me up in. I had by then three quarters of a BS degree in math. That was my resume. The assignments were way too few and far between to even begin to afford the simple dignity of being economically self-supporting, but I always try to emphasize the positive. I was actually being paid for services in money, and it wasn’t because I was related to someone and it wasn’t because the government was subsidizing my wages. For better or for worse, I have always found actual offers of employment to be quite the hard-won prize indeed. I believe what got me this one is the fact that there was a typing test. This was an old-fashioned typing test on an actual typewriter. The branch manager was a little disappointed that I only scored 31 wpm (I didn’t even know what would have been considered an impressive typing speed; this was all very new to me) but seemed impressed that my copy was letter perfect, with no errors or corrections whatsoever. Unlike the public perception of a postal job (and my perception at the time) it was an intermittent job with absolutely nothing in the way of benefits. Not a grown-up job by any meaningful measure. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in the private sector, passing tests can lead to, if not a real job offer, an offer of money for services. Five years into the Reagan “revolution,” it was still possible to get nonzero income from zero salesmanship. I felt like there was hope for the world, hope for the future and hope for me. I soldiered on. I worked hard. I won indications of approval from satisfied clients. Like Navin Johnson, I was a somebody.
Things changed. My work life has been interrupted by things too personal to discuss here due to my approval of courtesy to the privacy of others, but at any rate, I fell into the “no recent work history” trap. The same agency where a sufficiently good typing score opened doors was now one where a sufficiently long absence from the workforce (assertively stated as six months) closed doors. That alone didn’t turn me into an anagorist, but it’s a contributing factor. Other contributing factors include the many mostly subtle but very additive ways in which various cracks in the economy, it seems, are being systematically identified and sealed. By this I mean cracks through which a person might reap even tiny nonzero income from zero salesmanship. Would it absolutely kill me to make a cold call? Of course not. At least, I don’t have any reason to believe so. I’ve even tried it a few times, and without doubt I will again. Does it have to be the case that I spend a few hours bracing myself to do the deed and another few recharging myself afterward? I don’t know, maybe there’s a cure for that. But I can’t help but wondering, would it absolutely kill the employing class to publish (make public) information about vacancies, including the ones that are easy for them to fill? The logic seems to be that if it’s at all possible to fill the job with a family member, a friend of the family, or perhaps someone who happens to be in the “network” of someone affiliated with the firm, then placing a help wanted ad, posting on a website, what have you, would be at best redundant. But would it kill them to do so? What if we could arrange for it to be possible at no cost to them? Is doing business with the unvarnished public that painful? Certainly it isn’t when they’re on the selling side of a transaction.
Here is some text from Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy that may or may not shed some light on my embrace of the non-market, non-state sector, and anagorism in particular:
POE theoretically had no leader. It was an anarcho-Marxist collective.
The real leader was, of course, an alpha male. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt Stuart, and he was one of the smartest men in Unistat at that time. Unfortunately, his reptile biosurvival circuit was imprinted with chronic anxiety, his mammalian emotional-territorial circuit was imprinted with defensive aggression, his hominid semantic circuit was imprinted with an explosive blend of Black street cynicism and New Left ideology, and his domesticated sociosexual circuit was from Kinksville.
F.D.R. Stuart claimed that the purpose of POE was to accelerate the dialectical process of evolution toward the classless society where all would live in peace, prosperity, and socialist solidarity, and there would be no cops.
The real purpose of Stuart’s activities was to get even. The other primates in Unistat had raped his mother and jailed his father and driven his brothers and sisters into street crime and junk and generally maltreated him all his life. In addition they called him by an insulting name, which was nigger.
Second in command in POE was Sylvia Goldfarb, a refugee from God s Lightning, NOW, the Radical Lesbians, and Weather Underground. She was even smarter than F. D.R. Stuart, but she deferred to him, despite her feminist orientation, because he was a true alpha male who was a Mean Motherfucker When Crossed and had even more rage in him than she did.
To Sylvia, the purpose of POE, she said, was to create a world where all men and women, all races and all classes, all humanity, lived in loving harmony and ate uncooked fruits and vegetables.
Her real motive was also to get even. The other primates discriminated against her for being female, for being Jewish, for being highly verbal and a Teacher’s Pet, for wearing glasses, for being an atheist, and for several dozen other reasons at least. They also called her by an insulting name, which was dyke.
The third founding member was Mountbatten Babbit, who was a cyclical schizophrenic. He wigged out once a year, on the average, and had learned how to medicate himself with phenothyazines to keep those periods of Bizarresville down to a few weeks each, but during those dilations of ego he was likely to be anybody from Napoleon to a Vietnamese Buddhist. The rest of the year he was a brilliant research chemist and computer expert, but it was hard for him to get a good job because of his several incarcerations in mental hospitals.
Babbit said he was in POE to create a rational world guided by sound scientific and libertarian-socialist principles. Yeah, he wanted to get even too. The other primates called him a nut or a fruitcake.
The other members of POE were equally brilliant and equally desperate.