On greed, spite, and an untroubled conscience

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The Independent Culture
EARLY evenings are thirsty work round here. The pub beckons but we sensitive types (smiles self-deprecatingly, pushes back carefully-cultivated Hugh Grant lock of hair) dare not venture out. We must wait until all the snarling oink lawyers, melancholy computer weeds and scared, grumpy, middle-of-the-litter management types have stumbled down into Holborn tube station to head for wherever they go to lie awake at night dreaming of happiness and revenge.

Nor can one just sit indoors, conserving the water barons' rightful spoils. Pride demands that one put on one's loudest shirt, darkest glasses and biggest Panama hat, and take a little promenade along Lamb's Conduit Street. It creates such wonderful ill-will: there one is, so clearly at home already, no road-rage marathon in a company car, no bone-clattering ride on a death-trap railway run by pink-eyed, cashiered dodgem car executives, no mortgage, no wife, no hosepipe ban. How they must hate me. How thirsty I get.

Sometimes it goes wrong, like yesterday. I misjudged my timing, hit The Enterprise about five minutes too early, and was up to the conk in a soothing beaker of Hooch before I spotted a leftover Executive, oiling towards me like a terrible Dalek in search of a chat.

Resistance was useless. He opened fire at five yards' range, and before I could pretend to be cruising and pinch his cheek, he had cut me down with a volley of nonsense: rationalisation and implementation, global downsizing, human resources allocation matrices and fathoms more drivel cogged out of a phony American business school prospectus.

Translated into English, it seemed he had taken charge of a decent little company which was making a fair go of things, employing quite a few people, and doing its bit. For some reason - greed springs to mind, but I rather suspect the real reason was a desperate insecurity, and a profound (and quite correct) sense of himself as irrevocably unlovable - this "man" had decided that was not enough. He had sacked people by the score - particularly the long-serving ones and the clever ones, both of whom unnerved him. He had imposed pointlessly disagreeable working conditions "to show them the old ways are over for good." In the process, he had lost a lot of business, because the old customers didn't want to deal with him, and because his depressed and insecure workforce were not putting their best into the job.

It was a sad and common story of our times, and the saddest (and most common) part of it was that, despite all the evidence pointing the other way, this appalling little shit really believed he was being "successful".

He said so. He asked me about my work. He interrogated me about why I didn't write sex books, articles about the royal family, Hollywood films, television ads. That was where the money was, he said. He said: writing, business, information technology, makes no difference: success was success, and he knew about success.

Back in my frightfully agreeable book-lined room, I came up with a good plan. I am going to write a management book. I am also going to write a self-help book. And - this is the good bit - they are going to be one and the same.

Manage Your Own Mind, it will be called, and (self-help and management books sharing a liking for stating the obvious) it will be about managing your own mind: a synthesis of all that is most noble about American management science and poor-bloody-me psychology.

The first tenet of Mind Management (as my new science will be called) is the venerable adage: "It's just business; nothing personal." This hoary old shibboleth appeals to Suits because it is so obviously wholly untrue. There is nothing more personal than business. It is what we all live by: you, me, poor old Father O'Bubblegum; all of us have something to sell and hope we find a buyer. But we Mind Managers cannot afford to take such sentimentality into account. So our first step is ruthlessly to discard every trace of personal feeling, irrational affection, loyalty, decency, sense of justice and irregular motion of the soul which might hinder our quest for self-mastery. Part of our mind is moved by music? Cast it out! There is no profit in being moved (though there is much profit in music; how much better, then, not to be moved at all, for how could one who wept at Palestrina sell gangsta rap for cash?).

The next thing to go must be any sense of imagination. Just as imaginative people undermine any business with their refusal to conform, their poor timekeeping, their messy desks and their slovenly clothes, so creative thoughts disrupt the Well-Managed Mind, and must be fired without notice. Call up Mind Security and have them escorted out of your brain. You will never regret it, not least because it is the imagination which is responsible for regret. Without imagination, messy empathy, unproductive feelings of sympathy, time-wasting compassion and, indeed, the worst burden a Well- Managed Mind can labour under - the ability to foresee the human and ethical consequences of a perfectly profitable course of action - you will be free to act in accordance with the demands of the Free Mental Economy. You will become a winner! You will be a success! Your friends and family may shun you, but have you ever thought how much your friends and family cost? In time? In emotion? In actual money?

And to what end? Some sense of human contact, quite unquantifiable on any spreadsheet, and which, of course, you will not now be needing, now that you are Managing your Mind.

And what will be left? The useful parts of your Mind. The parts that do greed, envy, calculation, spite and revenge. Untroubled by conscience, you will become rich. You will sleep with nasty young persons who are interested in your money, and both of you will be satisfied with the deal, because they, too, have Well- Managed Minds.

One day, of course, you will die. But do not worry. I am already planning a sequel: Make Your Death Work For You. !