FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

"Edward Who?" Said the Doctor

by ALEXANDER REED KELLY

If you’re an American working in the service sector, you probably don’t have the luxury of expressing an opinion about Edward Snowden.

Snowden, you may or may not know, is the former intelligence contractor and National Security Agency employee being pursued by the U.S. government for leaking details of the NSA’s indiscriminate global spying program.

I say “may or may not know” because it can be difficult to determine the average restaurant- or shop worker’s level of social awareness. This is not a slam against working people. The difficulty is a consequence of the taboo placed upon workers against speaking about anything a patron within earshot might construe as politically or otherwise controversial. Customers may not like what they hear, and driving them away is the last thing a business owner wants to do. Employees who want to keep their jobs stay quiet.

I perhaps witnessed this phenomenon at my dentist’s office this morning. I was lying in the examination chair following a routine cleaning when the doctor appeared. She was characteristically pleasant, and after our initial greeting asked how my work was going.“Exciting,” I said. “Are you following the NSA story?”

“Hmm?” she responded. She turned to the instruments on the nearby table.

“The news over the last couple of weeks. For years now the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans’ phone calls and Internet activity,” I answered.

“Oh. Right,” she allowed. She adjusted the light and readied the mirror.

“It’s a big deal,” I said. “We’ve known about this for a while, but never in this detail. Now we have it confirmed in documents written by the spies themselves.” I showed her my newly polished smile. “What do you think of Edward Snowden, the source of the leaks?” I asked.

Goggles and a mask now concealed her face, but I could tell she was grinning and looking me in the eye. “It’s a wild and crazy world,” she said. Light laughter drove the words through the air. A moment of silence followed. Then she asked about my teeth.

This anecdote proves nothing about what’s going on in the larger society. But it is representative of an experience I have just about every time I try to discuss a subject of national importance with a service worker in his or her place of work, be it in New York City, San Francisco or Duluth, Minn. This includes places where conversation between customers and employees is expected and the environment is not busy, and with people who are otherwise happy to talk at length.

No doubt other settings are more suitable for this kind of talk. But it merits recognizing that, aside from family members and colleagues, secretaries, servers, clerks and others whose jobs involve being social represent a significant portion of our opportunities to interact with those with whom we share society.

The notion that such people should be expected to be genuinely personal with those they serve is strange to many younger Americans. Some even find it repulsive. But my friends who lived through the 1940s, 50s and 60s tell me it once wasn’t so uncommon. Apart from horrors like the communist witch-hunts, when strangers met they spoke their minds about a broader range of subjects, they say, and they were less concerned with the possibility of offending each other.

For the reasons given at the beginning of this piece, it is easy to grasp why Americans would be tight-lipped in the workplace. Competition for paychecks increases as the population grows and proportionally fewer jobs are available. The resulting anxiety has a constricting effect on what a person is willing to say and do in the presence of those who hire and fire them. A willingness to cooperate on the part of workers is not new, but a deteriorating economy, with a disappearing margin for worker error, easily turns cooperation into coercion. Americans fear their bosses. And rightly so—the risk of losing their livelihood makes them less free in the workplace.

The worse things get, the quieter Americans seem to become about the issues that affect them as a group. When people are silent with each other, is their mental development not impeded? Or what is worse, do their minds not shrink? The significant issues include the facts made available to us by Snowden, knowledge that our political leaders and their partners in business are engaged in wholesale worldwide spying that enables them to become more and more like our workplace managers: ever more powerful bosses of what the rest of us do, say and think.

Alexander Reed Kelly is an assistant editor at Truthdig.

This piece is reprinted from the author’s soon-to-be-active website, This Is A Crime Story.

© 2013 Alexander Reed Kelly

 
More articles by:
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail