Drones in denial

Yes, I’m a bad person, etc. With that out of the way, let us begin with the following, from Frank Lampard, via The Guardian:

Consider Lampard’s reflections after a fortnight spent on Roman Abramovich’s yacht. “I suppose people imagine that as a Premiership footballer, my life is quite special,” he hazards. “I would agree, but those two weeks opened my eyes to another world.” Ah, a millionaire yearning to be a billionaire … is there anything more charmless?

At dinner last Friday night, our ragtag collection of Resistentialism were confronted by a tsunami of social disorder. The tsunami was fully embodied in one person, rather than the more typical distribution involving a group of people, each exhibiting one or more elements.

First, the concept of conversation seemed completely alien to her, in that your words typically served only as triggers for her next monologue, with the connection between your prompt and the ensuing monologue often not being entirely clear. This behaviour is however not that uncommon, so I’ll move on.
More troubling was the disjuct between word and world, such as exhibited by Frank in the introductory extract. If I were less lazy, I’d explain this more carefully as an example of false consciousness, for that is what it is. But for this post’s purposes, the issue at stake is a person’s belief in themselves as having charateristics x, while their words and (often) deeds provide evidence for their possessing characteristics y. Then, their self-image is so solidified that conversation relating to this disjunct is usually pointless.

We all do this. But these inconsistencies are usually quite subtle, in that they relate to seldom exhibited or tested beliefs and actions. Our tsunami for the evening, however, harboured the belief that the post office clerk she had been dealing with the day before was atypical of post office clerks, in that this particular one deserved mention, because she was not a “drone”.

Debored made the fatal error (not having met the tsunami before) of engaging in conversation on the topic. It transpired that post office clerks are usually rather dim-witted, but that this particular one had a dull glint of intelligence or cunning in her eyes, evidenced mostly by the fact that Tsunami’s needs were serviced efficiently – or at least more efficiently than she expected, given the context. Now again, I hasten to add that we all make class distinctions, even if we try not to, or try to deny that we do.

But when the question of being patronising was raised, in accusing Tsunami of that sort of attitude with regard to the clerk in question, the response was the thing that had me fleeing the scene to avoid serious breaches of social decorum. Tsunami said something like: “No, I wasn’t surprised at her efficiency because she was black, or a woman, or something of that order. It’s just that you don’t normally find that kind of efficiency at the Post Office”.

And no, of course you don’t. People who don’t have the opportunity or aptitude for secondary or tertiary education (not intended as a comprehensive list of the relevant factors) often find themselves in clerk-sort-of-jobs, and their troubleshooting and customer assistance routines may not be as efficient as we’d like. But Tsunami’s statement expressed the belief that condescension was a type of attitude which was only possible with regard to race or gender – thereby quite neatly (in her mind) exonerating herself from having racist or sexist attitudes, and licensing her to be condescending towards people in low-level admin jobs. One could even go so far as to say that her statement allows for condescension around gender or race to creep back in, under the guise of what shall henceforth be known as “The Clerk Rule of Social Engagement”. We can’t know, in this country, whether it’s because she’s a clerk, or because she’s a woman and/or black, why we are surprised when we get more efficient service than we expected to.

On top of all this, I can also report that at some point in the evening, Tsunami bit Slack2Slack on the shoulderblade. She’d met him once before this evening. And no, you couldn’t mistake him for the sort of person who appreciates being greeted in this fashion by relative strangers.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.