Work book club, boss-approved Marxism, and reading minds of managers


[I don’t know where this goes but @judytuna says I can put it wherever! I hope maybe it is helpful in fighting capitalism? :crossed_fingers:]

My work does a book club, and it is almost always hilarious and useful for insight into the minds of capitalists and how to fight them, so I’m going to provide commentary for as long as I can survive it. Currently, we’re reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I’m reading it because this is a massive step up from the last book, The Righteous Mind, an apparent favorite among old white men and statues. I was going to describe some of the supposed moral quandaries my coworker told me were in it, but they’re too disgusting to type.

Radical Candor

Someone should make a bingo game for this genre of book. By page xii, she’s already given a sob story about how devastated she was to fire someone from the company she started, and has then started talked about how she reconnected with her old friend Sheryl Sandberg in 2004 at a wedding which coincidentally resulted in her leading a team of 100 people at Google. She drops 4 names on page xiii, and she hasn’t even started talking about all her friends at Apple yet.

So then she’s on to talking about how she never repeated her firing mistake on her team at Google, but casually mentions:

We were obsessive about efficiency, and we managed to shrink headcount in North America even as revenue grew dizzyingly - the definition of scaling.

:thinking: Emphasis not even mine. No layoffs to see there! Magic only. Some hints at useful info here though - she talks about how management skills are far more hyped in tech these days than elsewhere, and it’s because of how sought after engineers are able to jump ship to less asshole bosses. She doesn’t mention productivity or ability to shut down organizing, but we’ll definitely get to at least the former later.

Every single page deserves its own bingo card, actually, but I’m going to skip ahead. My all-time favorite quote, ever:

Now I realized the question that led me to study Russian literature - why some people live productively and joyfully while others feel, as Marx put it, alienated from their labor - was central to a boss’s job.

I am now deceased, and I think Marx died several more times from that sentence alone. She was talking about trying to recruit ten highly skilled Russian diamond cutters in her first job after college (???) and discovering that the key to recruiting them was promising them that her company would help get them and their families out of Russia if the political situation worsened. She goes on to say that her company made more than $100 million per year off their work because she made that promise… wins all around?? :grimacing::grimacing::grimacing: Marx would be so proud.

Now there are pages of recollections and analysis of conversations between her and Larry Page and her and Sheryl Sandberg. Pages. With dozens more names dropped in between. God help me. Larry is pissed she is too nice to him. Sheryl offers to get her a speech coach to help her say “um” less. This is a nightmare. The rest of this week’s reading is both miserable and boring. I will not survive this book. But I think at some point it will get more into the twisted minds of tech capitalists better, and I’m even learning how to reference Marx in fully boss-approved ways. Much excite. Will try to report back on these thrilling learnings as they come along.


Californian Ideology

hahahaha i wish i could say i was surprised. is there a word for surprised i’m not more surprised?

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My mind is trying to find the emoji that expresses the gagging sound my body somehow made reading that quote and the promises to Russian families…

Yes, thank you! When we know where the line is for “boss-approved”, we can be more creative in fucking with it. :slight_smile:

How are books chosen? I mean, obviously by merit. Do you get to at least participate in a popularity contest before reading?



Surprized. :face_with_monocle:

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Good question! I think it works like most things at my workplace, which is a. the process changes so frequently that literally nobody knows at any given time - sometimes we have voting but I don’t think we have recently b. it’s technically democratic in the sort of way that’s entirely dependent on how much time and energy you’re willing to put into pushing for what you want which you’ll have to implement yourself but probably nobody will stop you. Like one time I somehow ended up leading bookclub on a book I hated so much that instead I gave presentations on abusive workplaces and NLRB vs EEOC rights and nobody batted an eye.



On the next episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sheryl’s parents (Paul Dooley, Julie Payne) ask Larry to write an obituary for Sheryl’s aunt, then blame him for a horrifying typographical error in the piece. After being kicked out of his own house, Larry goes to Jeff’s house only to be kicked out again for supposedly harassing Jeff’s mother.



This is a slight tangent, but more about management than about boss-approved book discussion: I used to be obsessed, a few years ago, with how certain tech types liked piecemeal adapting anti-capitalist techniques into corporate management. I think one of my last posts here before a very long hiatus was about this! I got into this because of Tony Hsieh (the exec of Zappo’s)'s concept of “holacracy”, i.e. a kind of non-hierarchical structure to eliminate managers. I guess Valve’s supposedly semi-anarchist internal structure fits here too.

It might be creatively empowering in a certain way, and may lead to better decision making because you’re pursuing agendas that appeal to you directly and fit your skill set more naturally, but ultimately it just sits within the larger very capitalist system where your boss and the company are taking the product of your labor…

One of the things I wanted to know is how directly the people pushing these systems were directly influenced by (actual, anticapitalist) anarchist thought…



learners guild (for-profit, a b-corp) was a holocracy. i did not enjoy the experience, except when i called my circle leader “my not-boss” to his face and he squirmed. they loved asana+GTD+holocracy together and paid the founder’s brother a buttload of money to be a GTD+holocracy consultant.



i wanted to report that i am still laughing.



Unfortunately, this has been the experience of everyone I know using holocracy. But then I read Anarchy Works by Peter Gelderloos and think maybe we don’t need a new manual. Maybe our existing manuals were just taken away, and need to be found.

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I love this tangent. I think about this a lot especially within my current workplace.

A lot of my and my coworkers’ grievances are along the lines of, our bosses are terrible and we have to make all the decisions and do all the management work. When I tell workers’ rights and anarchist sorts this, they say, “but that sounds great!” But it’s not great at all, because we still live in capitalism and have bosses, so really what this means is that we’re doing our bosses’ jobs plus our own for way less money than they make, we have to do all the emotional labor around our work while still being alienated from it, and we’re fully at risk for being fired for making choices the bosses aren’t happy with or for not driving ourselves hard enough. It’s actually devastatingly stressful. And changes we try to make often only mean more work and more misery for us. The only people who really benefit from such worker self-management are the bosses! I don’t wish this on anyone and hope nobody succeeds in blindly organizing themselves into such situations at more traditionally managed companies.

Capitalism and power structures will co-opt and manipulate anything in their paths, and that’s basically the tech industry’s whole vibe. Have you read about Californian Ideology? And then you get into the counter-cultural influences in the Bay Area in the 70s-90s, the aims of activists around tech in the 90s, etc. and you can really see how legitimately anti-capitalist people probably helped pushed tech to develop the way it did, and that was then picked up and pushed even further by less anti-capitalist sorts until anarchist thought is clearly ingrained into mainstream tech norms and it’s weird af. I wish people unpacked this more, or we’ll just keep doing the same as those past activists and helping to create an even more bizarre, warped, dystopic tech future.



Despite having grown up in and lived in California for most of my life, I actually don’t know what you mean by Californian Ideology. Is it this critique?

Recently I’ve been reading about supposed “anarchists” - really just cryptocurrency aficionados and variations on hard-right libertarians - holding weird so-called anarchist conferences in places like Acapulco. This article was a really good intro to this tendency…

To me, this is a basic misunderstanding of anarchism. To make a hard assertion, you can’t get the personal freedom without the social organization, the collective ownership/decommodification, the cooperation and democratic/consensus politics and the mutual aid. Otherwise you’ll just get murdered by some cartel, and cartels are what right-wing libertarianism prepares the ground for.

To me, the classic technofuturist libertarian Bay Area tech guy is just taking a select few self-aggrandizing portions of anarchism, which generally amount to “nobody can tell me no” and leaving the rest of the necessary portions.

Anyway, it’s really interesting to me to hear about the stressful portions of manager-less organization, which I haven’t ever thought about but should have predicted!

This is too real, and I hope I can write about these types of organizational attempts and catalog more responses like this:

we’re doing our bosses’ jobs plus our own for way less money than they make, we have to do all the emotional labor around our work while still being alienated from it, and we’re fully at risk for being fired for making choices the bosses aren’t happy with or for not driving ourselves hard enough. It’s actually devastatingly stressful. And changes we try to make often only mean more work and more misery for us. The only people who really benefit from such worker self-management are the bosses!

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I just read the Wikipedia entry on The Californian Ideology, and holy shit, it sounds really prescient and now I have to read the actual thing.

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These anarcho-capitalists are really trippy. It is basically just stealing and twisting an entire political ideology into its opposite.

lol accurate but also sadly reminds me of more legitimately anarchist manarchists

Cool! I’ve been writing about it and trying to write more, but there’s really so much to unpack.



I think I understand the term, and am sad it doesn’t refer to mana. T_T

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I’m glad this gave me the idea to google “manarchist” and go through the results.

(This does get pretty dark but SOUNDS FAMILIAR)