On Business

Our human psy­che is like a horse with many mas­ters, and ranked among them is Gov­ern­ment, and Media, and Busi­ness. One mas­ter sees that the blind­ers never fail in their task of admin­is­ter­ing blind­ness. One mas­ter inves­ti­gates the reins con­stantly, to guard against an encroach­ment by the indi­vid­ual will. One mas­ter tests the har­ness con­stantly, that the servile brute may not for­get its allot­ted and proper bur­den. Other and sub­tler mas­ters note the aspects of the ter­rain and the feed and the healthy future of the breed: they stand aloof.

The facil­ity for busi­ness is a rea­son­ably con­structed and phys­i­cal exten­sion of the pri­mal hunt­ing instinct of the car­ni­vore, and is itself as clearly a tool of phys­i­cal con­test as is a spear, a trained dog, a nuclear explo­sive, or a padded bosom. It is a tool whose use extends the power of the ani­mal beyond the bor­ders of naked ani­mal­ity. Its func­tion is of acqui­si­tion and of destruc­tion. It kills, that the ani­mal may eat, and the ani­mal is to eat, that it may kill.

All who share the priv­i­lege and the respon­si­bil­ity of life, live upon this wheel of nat­ural whim. As the mind is the func­tion of the brain, so this spe­cial tool hid­den among folds in the fisted brain, has as its func­tion that aspect of the mind which equips the phys­i­cal body. The car­ni­vore with­out it is doomed to be a brief and sorry meat for its fellows.

What traits of per­son­al­ity are required for busi­ness? One must be intel­li­gent and single-minded, and trou­bled by no untamed con­science. Mono­ma­nia is cru­cial. Imag­i­na­tion is dan­ger­ous and use­less. An abun­dance of energy is vital. Scru­ples are dec­o­ra­tive, not functional.

The activ­ity of a real and vig­or­ous imag­i­na­tion poi­sons the will, by sug­gest­ing too many alter­na­tives, and kills single-mindedness. Single-mindedness depends on the chan­neled pres­ence of the per­sonal por­tion of com­mu­nal will, and if the chan­nel enlarges, the will can get no grip, and flounders.

What are the social skills required to par­tic­i­pate effec­tively in this chat­ter­ing ses­sion of busi­ness? A per­son must be able to mimic the reac­tions of one’s peers, must be mal­leable as a chameleon, so that none will be aware if one chance to have qualms of con­science or stir­rings of human­ity, and so that none will be aware if one chance to have a moment of indi­vid­ual aware­ness. To wake sur­rounded by the inhab­i­tants of a dream, would be dan­ger­ous as to swim with sharks.

One must lie eas­ily, remem­ber­ing always the essen­tial false­hoods of one’s pro­fes­sion, and believ­ing the lies as they are invented on the tongue. If you do not believe your own lies as you speak them, nobody else will believe them, and you will have with­drawn suf­fi­ciently from the game that you may not believe the lies of your peers.

Truth will never be as pop­u­lar as lies, because it seems harder, and bleaker. Almost invari­ably, we pre­fer the phonies among our con­tem­po­raries, rather than folks of truth or genius. In super­fi­cial­ity is hap­pi­ness, when we fear the truth, and feel belit­tled by genius. Lit­tle peo­ple love dis­plays of lit­tle­ness, because lit­tle­ness allows them to feel real, and nobody loves to feel sub­stan­tial as a bubble.

One who per­ceives the sur­face clearly enough, will under­stand the depths beneath the sur­face com­fort­ably, though inar­tic­u­la­bly, and may be unin­ter­ested in those depths. To be a suc­cess­ful seller, one must ignore any­thing beyond the sur­face of real­ity. One must believe in the sur­face with unfeigned sincerity.

Sin­cer­ity is prized, while hon­esty is abhorred, and sin­cer­ity must have the appear­ance of sin­cer­ity, or it counts as noth­ing. Every intel­li­gent and civ­i­lized soci­ety val­ues the appear­ance of sin­cer­ity more than it val­ues sin­cer­ity itself. The appear­ance of real­ity is more impor­tant than is actual real­ity. Appear­ance is the only thing that super­fi­cials dare to trust, the only thing that may be dis­cussed easily.

The appear­ance is real and exists on the super­fi­cial plane of real­ity, and is the near­est thing to sub­stance that is avail­able to nor­mal folks. The appear­ance of things, is the clear­est indi­ca­tor of truth and real­ity and sub­stance, that nor­malcy is per­mit­ted, and this is healthy. To ignore the appear­ance and the super­fi­cial, is unhealthy.

This plane of the super­fi­cial, is the domain of those three mas­ters we spoke of. Busi­ness, and Gov­ern­ment, and Media, each has a fine and impos­ing abode on this level, and each has many ser­vants and for­mi­da­ble affairs.

To be excel­lent at busi­ness, one must enjoy it utterly, and one must con­sider it a fine game to be played well. To be a cham­pion at busi­ness, beyond mere excel­lence, it must be reli­gion. Some­body who is so good at being bad, must pay an awful price for the priv­i­lege. Why do so many peo­ple pay such a dev­as­tat­ing price, for­sak­ing con­science, fam­ily, and self?

Every reli­gion requires mar­tyrs, and mar­tyrs work for noth­ing. Their bosses reap the glory.

We strive to suc­ceed in busi­ness because acqui­si­tion is the human pur­suit, and we would match our fel­lows. What plea­sure would be found in life apart, striv­ing for baubles our var­i­ous author­ity fig­ures have preached against, striven to sup­press, and mocked? The fruits of acqui­si­tion seem tan­gi­ble. They can be held in hand like Faberge eggs. They can be walked upon, like beaches in an earthly par­adise. Their acqui­si­tion per­mits us to for­get the com­ing and the gnaw­ing precipice, the yawn­ing reward, the sleep with­out rest.

Our fear dis­solves when we con­front the accept­edly real and the accept­edly desir­able, and if later it prove a mirage, that is irrelevant.

Pur­su­ing what our fel­lows pur­sue, we for­get our small­ness, insignif­i­cance and lone­li­ness. What com­fort had Galileo though he was right? What com­fort had Gau­guin? What com­fort had Christ? The human needs went unan­swered, and each must have been a focal point of cos­mic doubt, an arena of the psy­che. The lone­li­ness must have been fraught with hor­ror, and fear.

In the night our human lone­li­ness crawls across the ceil­ing and stares down at us, and though we can­not see it, we feel that it is there. It mocks us as we watch it through our closed or open eyes, or through our fin­gers which splay like trem­bling fans upon our faces. We hear it scut­tling and we hear it whim­per­ing and whis­per­ing like the beat­ing of a heart. We are reminded of the basis on which all illu­sion shim­mers awhile, and it is unmind­ful of us, and unkind. We want the great basis to con­fide with us, and its tongue is unmoved.

Hon­or­able suf­fer­ing is humanity’s only pos­si­ble gift to Deity, and it is not enough.

It is our nor­mal desire to escape the offer­ing of that gift, and we attempt this when we choose to remain always on the sur­face of desire, the sur­face of real­ity and life. There­fore a rea­son­able soci­ety embraces the march of busi­ness, and of war. War is only busi­ness with its sleeves rolled up.

All of the world’s busi­ness has one goal, and efforts made in busi­ness have been attempts puls­ing toward that goal. To define the goal pre­cisely would require the use of many words, and two aspects would be implicit in any def­i­n­i­tion, and would be explicit in any hon­est def­i­n­i­tion. Despite any dec­o­ra­tive digres­sions, the goal of busi­ness and of war includes the enslave­ment of the human race and the destruc­tion of the planet.

The best peo­ple among the devo­tees to com­merce, these myr­mi­dons to Mam­mon, pre­fer to pre­tend that their per­sonal goals are some­how short of this grand goal, but in their hearts and brains they know that nobody is fooled. Each can tell eas­ily what the oth­ers do, and each per­mits a man­tel of con­fu­sion to set­tle over all.

Lying doesn’t bother them. They are good at it. The unluck­i­est among them pale with dis­gust every morn­ing when they con­front the bath­room mir­ror. The luck­i­est among them are scarcely ashamed at all. The proud­est among them are fright­ened because they know they have betrayed them­selves, and some­where the almost inaudi­ble voice of con­science still murmurs.

While it’s true that those who are too sus­cep­ti­ble to morality’s punc­tilio may be dis­gusted by busi­ness, it’s also true that we are eas­ily dis­gusted by things we are not in sym­pa­thy with. For many folks, and usu­ally for the poor­est of us, busi­ness is just the sci­ence of cheat­ing peo­ple, a mind­less obscen­ity, and yet to a busi­ness buff, the act of being in busi­ness jus­ti­fies one’s exis­tence to one­self and to one’s Deity. Some­times busi­ness­folks won­der that they are unable to appre­ci­ate the uncom­mon, and yet is that truly so odd, since they revel so in the common?

Does a robber-baron truly believe that a life­time ded­i­cated to the crip­pling and assas­si­na­tion of whole fam­i­lies by the thou­sands, is bal­anced by build­ing a con­cert hall as he is about to die? Do such acts of dis­honor go unrecorded into the dawn of pre­his­tory and the dusk of post-history?

“As mere human knowl­edge can split a ray of light and ana­lyze the man­ner of its com­po­si­tion, so sub­limer intel­li­gences may read in the fee­ble shin­ing of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every respon­si­ble crea­ture on it.” Amen.

And yet their des­per­ate hope and prayer is for a Ptole­maic and all-inclusive silence, silent as a per­fectly man­aged con­science, even on Sunday.




David Castleman lives in Dayton, Washington. His poems, tales, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of small press magazines since the early 1970s.