By Professor GP Babbington, Lecturer in Applied Shelf Stacking
at the EazeeSave Megamart, Barnstaple.
I well remember the words of my old history teacher, 'Poopy' Trotter, one summer afternoon back in '54. 'Babbington', he said to me in the husky, brown, pipe smoke-leaden tones with which he sombrely addressed all the boys he took under his wing, 'Babbington, somebody has to do the dirty jobs. Remember that.'
And remember it I most assuredly did, since it was the very same afternoon that 'Poopy' was arrested for interfering with the chemistry master's basset hound - an incident which destroyed his career, scandalised the school and severely traumatised the dog.
There are two lessons we can learn from this - firstly, even the most advanced cultures have a practical need for people to undertake menial and unrewarding functions. Secondly, if we want to hang on to our cushy teaching position long enough to collect our pension, then it's highly advisable to avoid being discovered prostrate before some bewildered canine with our trousers around our ankles, a tub of butter in one hand and a rubber bone in the other.
To some extent I can sympathise with Poopy, although my departure from the teaching profession was due to economic cutbacks rather than canine waywardness. Gone are the halcyon days when I had my own office, unlimited access to a photocopier and all the ring binders I could possibly eat. But enough of such aimless reverie.
Returning to that first point, the question we ask ourselves is do unskilled factory workers, listless shop assistants and humiliated public toilet cleaners form part of a process that is directly responsible for shaping society? I believe that they do, and with the assistance of some of my colleagues here at the EazeeSave Megamart, we have formulated the theory of Moron Filtration.
We ought to begin by defining exactly what we mean by 'moron'. We use the term in its modern scientific sense to broadly define the worryingly large section of the population for whom the process of logical, coherent thought presents an often-insurmountable obstacle. You know - idiots. The kind of people who display an unaccountable sense of pride when admitting that they are too simple to operate any device more complicated than a spoon. These hopeless individuals provide the fundamental matter for Moron Theory.
The major driving principal of the theory is the process of Moron Filtration. This can be seen to operate most effectively in work environments - specifically those employing unskilled labour and offering minimal remuneration. In short, what my colleague Dr Marion Wallender, who works on the fresh meat counter, would call a 'shit job'.
Dr Wallender has made an expert study of these kinds of positions, and knows first-hand how they can often breed resentment, anger and sometimes even precipitate violent outbursts. The annoying customer that she speared with a lamb cutlet last Tuesday knows this as well, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish Dr Wallender all the best for her impending disciplinary hearing.
The process of Moron Filtration can be easily expressed in three basic laws, which I refer to as Babbington's Laws of Moron Filtration, because it's got a nice ring to it, and because it's my theory and I can call it what the hell I like.
In order to demonstrate how these laws function, we will examine a typical low-wage, minimal incentive employer: the supermarket. This is a scenario with which we are all familiar in some form or another - even seasoned academics suffering due to the swathing and frankly criminally short-sighted cuts made to education budgets. But I digress. Let's see how these laws operate.
Babbington's First Law of Moron Filtration:
Any sufficiently unrewarding organisation will retain stupid people and allow intelligent, ambitious and talented individuals to pass through unscathed.
Fig 1: Mong filtration in action
Just because a job can be done by a moron, it doesn't necessarily follow that a moron is doing that job. Take for example my colleague, Professor Larry Parry, who collects the trolleys in the car park. Admittedly he can appear to be a bit dopey to people who don't know him, but the chap's got a thoroughly sound grasp of sub-atomic physics, and his calculus is almost on a par with mine. It's invariably a mistake to judge by appearances, and even though Professor Parry is in the habit of eating the dog ends that collect by the bins, there's no reason to doubt that he's every bit my intellectual equal.
In spite of this, because the work is ultimately unsatisfying and the rewards are few, staff will seek better opportunities elsewhere. Those with aptitude and talent will pass through the organisation and move on to bigger and better things; those without such abilities will remain.
As Dr Wallender put it just the other day, only the mentally inferior endure extended periods in the confines of minimal-reward vocational scenarios. Actually, I'm paraphrasing. I think her exact words were something like "You've got to be fucking mad to end up working in this frigging dump." My memory may be playing me false, as Dr Wallender had been engaged in a heated discussion with one of the management team at the time, and the shrieking, weeping, calls for assistance, clatter of equipment and almost biblical hail of cold pork pies being rained down upon her unfortunate departmental supervisor may have caused me to misperceive the actual phrasing.
Babbington's Second Law of Moron Filtration
Any sufficiently unrewarding organisation will be run by idiots.
It is inevitable that management positions will be filled by the less able members of staff. Employees with aptitude have their sights set on a career outside the company, and have no interest in scrambling their way up the corporate beanstalk. Anyone of ability who does inadvertently find themselves in a management position - either through some accident, clerical error or drunken-Christmas-party-photocopier-bum-facsimilie-blackmail-scenario - will not remain with the company long enough to make any lasting impact.
Employers therefore have no choice but to promote from the lingering residue of idiots - the people who have no hope of moving on because stacking shelves, pushing a mop around and drooling lifeless platitudes into a Tanoy system is just about all they're capable of doing without reference to a set of illustrated diagrams.
Fig 2: Shit rises
We are aware, of course, that there is an apparent flaw in this logic: to wit, how can any organisation that is run by idiots possibly survive within a fiercely competitive environment? This was a question that was initially raised by Dr BL Plasky, PHD, who works on the bacon counter. His observations provide indisputable evidence that the people in charge were invariably dribbling, incompetent poltroons with name tags sewn into their socks and all the personality of a slab of cheese. He surmised that in any sane and just society they would have crashed and burned long ago, and dragged down the entire enterprise with them.
Clearly, something else was happening, and it was Professor CL Freidberg on wines and spirits, who finally discovered it one Tuesday afternoon, just after the lunchtime rush, and before the kids started turning out from school. She determined that management weren't actually responsible for anything of any real consequence. All the things that could possibly make a difference to the fortunes of the business - pricing, stock control, promotional activity and so forth - were decided elsewhere. In this model, management are free to concentrate on trivialities such as cleaning, tidying and running around in a panic whenever senior staff are due to visit. In short, tasks of no real significance whatsoever.
This prediction tallied perfectly with our observations, which is worrying since further investigation by Professor Freidberg has revealed the existence of what she describes as 'Admin Entropy'. We shall return to this idea shortly, as it has profound and disturbing implications.
Babbington's Third Law of Moron Filtration
Any sufficiently unrewarding organisation will, over time, increase its effectiveness as a Moron Filter.
Like any other kind of filter, our Moron Filters can become clogged, trapping poor and desperately unfortunate individuals, and robbing them of their impetus to escape. They may be people of considerable ability and promise, who under more favourable circumstances might greatly benefit society. And yet they become crushed beneath a suffocating weight of mentalism, trampled by an overwhelming stampede of ignorance and stupidity, and the vital spark of their talent is ultimately extinguished.
However, the trend we have observed is that the percentage of retards within any given organisation will rise exponentially, since increasing levels of stupidity provide normal people with a measurably greater stimulus to remove themselves from the epicentre of 'Mongulation'.
Fig 3: Impenetrable Moron Shell
"Much more of this," Dr Wallender said to me only the other day, "and I'm straight out that door and up the job centre, pausing only to phone the health inspector to tell him how they piddle in the mayonnaise." Clearly, Dr Wallender is more finely attuned to the subtle shift in the local background idiocy than the rest of us.
Extrapolating from the existing data, it is plain to see that these kinds of organisations will ultimately achieve Critical Moron Mass (CMM). At CMM, the number of fruitcakes within a company is so great that no one possessing a reasonable level of intelligence would be capable of spending any time within it. This point has been referred to as the Moron Event Horizon, beyond which all intelligence is crushed into single-mindedness.
It can be seen, therefore, that these three laws combine to form a process which gathers up imbeciles with increasing efficiency and deposits them within a closed system. We call this a Self-Perpetuating Moron Loop.
My former assistant, Dr Cosmo Finger, who unaccountably managed to hang on to his cushy job at Warwick University, has made a point of telling me in a loud and patronising voice that the recent cuts to the education budget have meant that the 'inadequates, charlatans and unimaginative dolts that previously dogged his every step' have now been put beyond the reach of civilised society.
Quite why Dr Finger travels all this way to do his weekly shopping is not for me to speculate. Just because he is apt to follow me around for the duration of my shift, gleefully explaining the many ways in which my former place of employment is so vastly improved now that a 'totally unnecessary' third of the teaching staff has been disposed of, I am not going to jump to the conclusion that he is in any way trying to antagonise me. I hope I'm more mature than that, and I certainly do not approve of Dr Wallender's threat to 'cheese the smug bastard' next time he comes in. Whatever that might mean.
Fig 4: Graph presenting conclusive proof that Dr Cosmo Finger is a twat.
Nevertheless, without realising it, the irritating tosser has hit upon an interesting notion. If only the dolt had the imagination to recognise it, eh? The fact is that Moron Filters do actually put these dribbling freaks beyond the reach of civilised society, locking them away in call centres, warehouses and the like, thus preventing them from gaining positions of responsibility where they can do real damage.
It is estimated that over 75% of the world's boneheads are locked away in this 'Moron Layer'. But what if something was to upset the delicate balance, releasing these halfwits into the atmosphere? Imagine what would happen if the manager of your local service station became a consultant brain surgeon; or if the person responsible for the company stationery cupboard was put in charge of a nuclear power facility. We already have dangerously high moron levels in areas like government, banking and the police, so the consequences of further increases would be devastating.
This is certainly of considerable concern to my colleagues, doctors Fisher and Clamp, who appear to have plenty of time on their hands for idle speculation. Fisher and Clamp work in the soap and shower gel aisle, and as personal cleanliness is not top of the agenda for the majority of customers here, Fisher and Clamp are rarely troubled. They have warned that new legislation, market forces and the depletion of the ozone layer could all have an adverse effect on moron filtration. However, evidence is growing that the greatest threat could come from within, which brings us back to Admin Entropy and Professor Freidburg.
To put it simply, Admin Entropy is the phrase Freidburg has coined to describe the waste bureaucracy that builds up within systems, and will ultimately tear them apart. Essentially, every organisation has people at the bottom who do all the work, and people at the top who make all the decisions. In a small organisation, information flows easily between these two strata, the organisation can be run efficiently, and everything is lovely and bouncy and nice.
Fig 5a: Lines of communication within a healthy organisation
Conversely, as an organisation grows it steadily acquires layers of middle management who fulfil neither function: shouldering none of the workload nor taking part in decision making. As we have already seen, this layer of deadwood - or Initiative Vacuum to use the correct term - serves as an insulating layer to prevent the flow of information, makes everyone's lives difficult and generally proves to be a pain in the arse.
You might think, therefore, that these people are inert and relatively benign, but that would be a mistake. Dull and uninteresting, certainly. Painfully dim-witted, undoubtedly. Stultifying narrow-minded, depressingly trivial, and blood-bubblingly, brain-manglingly pig-headed, almost inevitably. But they are not idle, for although they may not be responsible for anything of consequence, they can nevertheless bring their administrative zeal to bear on inventing new systems and procedures to address problems that don't actually exist.
These are the people who turn the relatively simple act of retrieving a pen from the stationery cupboard into a week-long odyssey in which it is necessary to obtain the signatures of three line managers, written permission from the board of directors and attend a 'Pen Management' seminar before you can even be put on the waiting list. These are the pinheads who, for no good reason, dictate the exact wording to be used when answering the phone, determine that desks must all be facing north-east, and decide that henceforth 'staff' are to be referred to as 'colleagues'.
They love colour-coded charts and will spend hours happily applying shiny stars to schedules that no one needs, and everyone ignores. They adore training sessions because it affords them the opportunity of making crap jokes to embarrassed groups of bored staff, as they deliver up some or other pointless bullshit - lovingly prepared for them, I might add, by some equally tedious prick at head office, who has been unable to find himself anything better to do.
Fig 5b: Communication within an organisation infected by bureaucrats.
But their god, their idol, the very essence of their soul is 'the form'. There is nothing in this world or the next that cannot or should not be recorded on a form. Inside leg measurements, blood group, frequency of toilet breaks, prevailing weather conditions - all this information is vital to the busy executive if he is to successfully delude himself into thinking he has influence.
Harmless, you might think, but forms are not biodegradable - they do not simply go away, they only ever get longer. Procedures cannot be undone - rather they become ever more complex and convoluted, sprouting increasingly draconian strictures and constraints like cancerous lumps. And rules and regulations, when left to their own devices, will fester and breed.
And this is the danger. Bureaucracy builds, and builds, and builds until eventually - as Professor Freidburg has warned - it chokes the life out of the very organisation it is designed to serve. The company crumbles from within. The morons, the simpletons, the dimwits and dunces that it has steadily stored away for so many years are released into the outside world, and we are all fucked.
It was with some trepidation that I paid a return visit to my old university earlier this year. I was hoping that Dr Finger would be able to assist in publishing our research, but his punishing work schedule meant that he was unable to see me. At least, that's what he claimed, and I, of course, saw no reason to doubt the lying, petty-minded bastard.
And so I ambled into town, past chattering groups of students who, if they are diligent and apply themselves to their studies, might one day be the forecourt attendants and double-glazing salesmen of the future. To cheer myself up I wandered into a small newsagents for a can of Tango and a Curly Wurly, and as I stood at the counter, idly facing up the chewing gum display (it's become a habit) the face of the sad old man behind the counter caught my eye. He seemed familiar. Did I know him? As he handed me my change, some long forgotten memory stirred, and suddenly the recollection came to me. Poopy! Poopy Trotter! This was my old teacher, my boyhood hero, my inspiration.
Trembling with excitement, I told him how I had been driven to follow my chosen career, how I had been spurned, and how I was fighting back with our latest piece of research. I told him all about Moron Theory, the Three Laws of Moron Filtration and the action of Admin Entropy, and all the while he listened carefully and occasionally nodded serenely. And when I had finished, and looked to him for some kind of response, it was like all those years had just melted away, and I was a boy again, standing up in class desperately seeking approval.
Poopy took a while before he spoke. He seemed a little confused, and for a moment I feared that he didn't actually remember me. And then he sighed, shook his head slightly and shrugged. "Yeah," he said with a grunt. "That's the way it goes: you pay peanuts and you get monkeys."
Then, having deftly summed up our entire research in a single sentence, he wandered off to sweep the stockroom, and I was left wondering whether I'd just spent the last year and a half investigating the bleeding obvious.
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