It’s 1974, and you’re a factory worker in the Former Yugoslavia. You’re a highly skilled mechanical engineer, no less: a member of the the intellectual and trained elite. The clock on the factory floor strikes 11 am and you go down to the cafeteria to grab some musaka, a swig of yogurt and smoke a few cigarettes. The foreman’s called a lunch meeting, which means you can just sit there, smoke and listen.
Minutes later you’re in your seat at a round, blue metal table. Your chair is made of aluminum and upholstered with some sort of brown polyester material. Everyone has food in front of them, and every three people share an ashtray.
“Our country,” the company foreman starts, “is not like any other country in the world. Everyone else is evolving, but here we practice negative selection.”
Everyone around you, all men and women with advanced degrees in engineering and the hard sciences, turns in the direction of a private room on the far side of the mess hall. You turn, as well. It’s the big bosses door, a room apart from everyone else. Inside it sits a round, snot nosed, and communist-magnolia red adult man who has no idea what this company even does. He has a potted fern in there. You saw it through the crack of the door once, and there’s whispers about him harboring a huge collection of French porn in his desk. Nobody knows for sure. Usually, you only see him a few times a year when he parades other, higher-up communist officials around your factory. Otherwise, the only way you know that red-faced pig is even at work is if you walk by his car on the way home. His car is parked inside the factory gates. You and the rest of the factory employees have to walk much farther to the official factory parking lot.
That fat fucking pig. What a waste of life, you think. He hasn’t even finished high school but because his father was a high falutin party member, that asshole got to become the company manager. Your cousin’s wife in America talks about their being a glass ceiling for immigrants and women.
“At least, Krushka” you’ll tell her next time, ” in America you can see and touch the ceiling. Here the factories have no ceiling to touch, and it’s hard to simply find room enough to walk forward a few steps without poking into a sharpened sickle or slamming into a locked door that smells of stolen money and pig shit.”
What a waste. You turn back around.
“The reason our car industry can’t get past the Yugo,” continues the foreman “is because our dumbest people are the ones we put into leadership positions. Here we make electric motors for industrial machines, and that cunt-lick over in that room doesn’t know his Teslas from his Jules. But he’s the one who decides how many people we get for a job, and how much time we get to do it.”
You feel the urge to interrupt. You’ve been listening to this crap for years now, off and on, about various bosses that have sat in that one-fern, French pussy covered room. When you were younger, you were surprised to have a boss who was incompetent and who no one respected. But with each successive asshole you’d accepted that things just worked that way. Corruption, nepotism, thievery. Who knows. But today, it’s different. You’ve been here for fifteen years now, and it’s struck you that you really want to know.
“But let me ask you something,” you say. “Why do people like him get to do it? Who controls this negative selection?”
You expect the answer to be nothing more than brush off. Usually the foreman only pretended to complain. Good policajac, bad policajac, the Americans call it.
“Well, it’s actually very simple,” the foreman says, without much delay. “The people in control. They are the ones who control negative selection. Because the only way to assure that they keep control is to assure that those more capable don’t rise up along side them where a comparison can be readily made.”
“That makes sense,” you say, surprised to hear such a straightforward answer. “You know, maybe we should all just try to get visas to go to America. I have a cousin and sister-in-law there. They say that things work differently there. Engineers, at least, are highly respected.”
“Yes, in America, everything is different,” he says. “But you might as well try to go to Mars.”
Ah, there it is. The brush off was simply delayed. Damn. Break over. Time to get back to work.
Fast forward thirty-six years to today. You’ve been in America since 1982 when you finally stopped listening to anything anyone had to say. That and you got passed up for promotion three times because you weren’t red. Not even a little bit.
You’re much happier now. Downright content, in fact. You don’t have kids, but you don’t care. Kids are overrated. You’ve saved all that money you would have spent on diapers and college to buy this condo. You were even able to sell your old property before the Bush recession. You’re now sitting on the porch of your condo, smoking a Marlboro light and telling a former co-worker, who’s still working at your old place of employment, about that day in 1974 when you decided to come to America.
You finish, and he takes a big swig of the whisky you poured for him, looking somewhat downtrodden.
“Well, shit, ” he starts. “That sounds a lot like what I have to put up with at work today. This stupid woman with a masters in marketing from some third rate school came over with the company that bought us out two years ago. I was open minded and gave her a chance, but now she thinks that I’m hers to command. Recently she’s been trying to tell me how to spice up my research. I’m the director of the research center for Pete’s sake! And, she couldn’t distinguish an environmental health hazard from her own ass. Stick to what you know, right? But, just because her parent company bought us and she has lunch with our idiot CEO every day, she thinks she’s qualified to tell me how to write about environmental science.
Even worse, they’ve given the company journal’s editor slot over to some schmuck with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, who’s made big promises about ad sales. He’s taken the opportunity to write his own editorials. This journal goes out to scientists. We’re going to become a laughing stock. Negative selection. That’s it. It’s the only thing that can explain it. The dumbest people in American go into management and marketing, and they’ve taken over the economy.”
“Ha, that’s funny,” you tell him. “The reason I told you the story I did is because I saw this cartoon in the newspaper earlier today.” You go inside to get the Sunday newspaper, then come back and slap the relevant page in front of him.
He laughs. “Damn. I guess I’m not the only one thinking these things,” he says.
“Well,” you say. “If it gets much worse, you can always move back home. Isn’t your president an engineer?”
Your friend, a Chinese-American glares at you with feigned consternation. You’ve been joking with each other in this way for years. Both of you are naturalized American citizens, though he was naturalized at sixteen and has no trace of an accent: both of you are trained engineers : and both of you share a certain cultural predisposition for irony.
“Just because I look Chinese doesn’t mean I am automatically Chinese,” he says.
“Yes, but you sound like Chinese,” you reply.
“My English is much better than your English,” he says. He stops talking and takes another swig. “I would never go to China though. It would just be more of the same shit, but for even less money. My dad was an engineer, and he fled here as soon as he got the chance. Plus, I’d have to use that shitty Baidu internet service.”
“Negative selection has gone global, my friend” you say.
“Negative selection has probably always been global,” he says.
You both take a drink.