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Posted by gustav at 05:01AM, Friday, December 06th, 2002

The Armpit of Massachusetts

I'm sick of living here. Obnoxious little brats on the street get out of middle school and shout obscenities whilst beating one another up and vandalizing cars on the way home. Drunken hicks repeatedly key my car. I've got one word for all of this: Karma.

I've sort of recently come to realize that the human mind is capable of some nifty tricks, if one is willing to let it do its thing. It can be hard to analyze every aspect of every damn thing you're exposed to in life, and try to fit it into some sort of consistent philosophy. It can also be exhausting. But as I get older I realize that there are a lot of times where I instinctively know, to dumb us down to a Bush level, what's wright and rong, even when I can't figure out how that fits into my worldview. It's only later -- maybe much later -- that I realize how the pieces come together. It's sort of amazing, first, that we're capable of making these gut judgments even when we can't logically explain how; and second, that it's taken me until well into my twenties to realize that this is how it works, and that that's okay.

I think this quiet background processing ability our minds have extends quite a bit further than just figuring out whether the used car salesman is ripping you off. I think it applies to the world at large, via this Karma concept. What I mean by that is the basic premise that in, say, a small community, every action of yours has consequences. All things being equal, you screw the guy down the road who owns the gas station, one day later when the town council is voting whether to bulldoze your house to put in a new Circle K, he'll get you back. I think that we -- by which I mean those of us with consciences and a sense of morality, which pretty much excludes every businessman I've ever met -- have an innate sense of when someone's doing something that could or should one day come back to hurt her. Not that it necessarily *will*, unfortunately. But it might. The idea is that it makes everyone's life a little worse, and, directly or indirectly, this effects the whole community, no matter its size.

I'm not explaining myself well. I'm trying to say that a lot of individuals and businesses make decisions based on whether they can get away with screwing people -- whether it's illegal to do what they are considering doing; whether, if it is, they will get caught; whether, if they do, they get to keep the 15 million they embezzled, or, for instance, the national presidency they stole. My notion of virtue, though, doesn't necessarily always jive with the law. Plenty of people have done rotten things that were perfectly legal. Plenty have gotten away with very illegal actions, and been adored by millions. A lot of people are incapable of seeing the larger implications of this, and the whole Karma thing. It explains part of why, year after year when analysts scream how, say, Apple Computer is about to go bankrupt, they fail to do it. Businesspeople aren't trained to judge things like good user experience -- the value of making machines such that they piss people off a little less than normal. And this kind of thing is something that can be made tangible -- tally up the time lost when computer users have to go through fifteen needless dialog boxes to do a simple action, and convert that to a dollar figure. It's not hard. So imagine how much they're missing when they fail to think about, say, the goodwill lost to a company by shipping cars that are prone to exploding.

The thing is, I think this Karma business is generally more important than the dumbed-down accounting and risk analysis most businesspeople do. It explains why a lot of companies that make funky little products with cult followings succeed when all the analysts say they shouldn't. And it has huge effects on our quality of life -- everyone's. When DMOD cut the company-paid lunch program, it lost some goodwill from most of its developers, even though, by some analysis, one could claim it saved money. It also meant the staff were out of the office more, and didn't communicate as much. How do you tally up the costs of that? How do you figure out whether that contributed to the company missing deadline after deadline because of miscommunication? And it meant that they began to (rightfully, IMO) distrust some of the Company's actions. Oh, and it made everyone's life a little less pleasant.

Some of us, though, felt that this was a mistake. Some of us, generally, feel when someone's doing something that is not going to generate them goodwill, even when some people might claim that it's the rational thing to do. Then again, a lot of the time it's not the rational thing to do, and people do it anyway because they seem to lack that "conscience" thing.

So, to the little snot-nosed asshole in Somerville who scraped the Saab badge off the front of my car? Understand that you're making everyone's life a little worse. You're making people distrust their neighbors in this shithole of a town. You're making good people want desperately not to live here, and making room for more soulless yuppies who will populate the chaotic Star Market down the street, run one another down in the parking lot, and run the light in front of the T when pedestians are in the crosswalk. And some of them will want to move, too, if they have souls and tire of the relentless hate and carelessness with which this city seethes. And eventually, the town will be full of only the corrupt and evil, and any fresh friendly people who move in from outside will get beaten down and turn mean, and the goverment will become thug-like and oppressive, organized crime will become very powerful, and so on.

Of course, one might contend that this has already happened.

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