One of the most popular videos on YouTube this month is a guy stuck in an elevator. For 41 hours, in fast motion (obvs). Reading the accompanying New Yorker article is sad – the man quit his job, aimlessly sued the elevator company and hasn’t had steady work since. But, in a microcosm, that’s the power of nothing. Was reading this Joseph Heller book and it has a bit on how a company fires people – by reshuffling and ignoring them. And it’s true. That’s the way most people get pushed out of jobs, and I’ve done it and been done to. There’s nothing more tense and suffocating that having nothing to do and yet being unable to move. Like jail. What I find nuts is that it seems like millions of Sri Lankans get paid to do that. Military, cops, security guards – standing around. For every person doing a job in this country, guaranteed there are 7 standing around.
Sri Lanka has 11,000 kilometers of roads. The Road Development Authority has 10,000 employees (LBO). Compare this to 700 employees in the Indian road authority. Deane has some similar figures on the Samurdhi poverty program. Either those people are personally tending to their own kilometer of road, or they’re going to work, drinking the tea, having lunch, and doing fuck all. How they bear it is beyond me.
These are conditions used in other parts of the world to make people quit their jobs. To quote Joseph Heller from ‘Something Happened‘:
People in the company are almost never fired; if they grow inadequate or obsolete ahead of schedule, they are encouraged to retire early or are eased aside into hollow, insignificant, newly created positions with fake functions and no authority, where they are sheepish and unhappy for as long as they remain; nearly always, they must occupy a smaller and less convenient office, sometimes one with another person already in it.
But they don’t quit. They just sit there, staring at nothing. Not even listening to music or reading. Just day by day, security guards on 24 hour shifts, soldiers standing in the rain, bureaucrats without paper to push – sipping hot water from arrack bottles, waiting for tea; a life mediated by liquids and meals and breaks. Find it kinda funny, find it kind of sad. People running circles, it’s a very very, mad world.
We’re really not built for nothing. Even your eyes, if you freeze them such as you’re staring at the same point or whatever the eye attenuates and the stimulus disappears. Extreme sensory deprivation makes you trip balls, and in a bad, anxious, and going crazy kinda way. But people do that, all the time, as their job. There’s at least two people in my office who spend 90% of their time staring into space. I wonder if they don’t go crazy or – if in some hairline fracture kinda way – they already are.