Short Story: Negative Selection Has Gone Global, My Friend

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.


Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Some HTML can be used to format your comment.
  • Add a picture to your comments with Gravatar.
  • Please be civil. Comments may be moderated.
  1. King Tubby

    Damjam. The point please!!!!

    An IQ test before we proceed. What was the name of Tito’s dog, the one he smuggled aboard a plane in a sack, before he flew to that less than harmonious meeting with Stalin.

    • Simon Ningbo

      Since when is something you can google an IQ test ? But yeah, I’d like to know the point of this post too.

    • was it Luks?

      i will read the article after work,

      and put 50c in

      in the mean time, after reading the header,

      song of the article,

      Asshole by Denis Leary

    • Damjan D

      I’d be hard pressed to tell you the name of any dogs. I’m going to go with krdr on this all the way.

      I read through an illustrated 1970’s Tito biography this fall, and all I can remember with certainty is that he was a sharp dresser, and his wife enjoyed her baked goods.

      The rest of the stuff I sort of filtered out. There was definitely something about his dog in the first few pages.

  2. krdr

    Negative selection is integral part of any bureaucratic system. Now, tons of managers are produces each year, with very weak knowledge. Good managers are capable of working in any environment, but their number is small. So, managers with low level of knowledge and some level of power, organizes on principles of bureaucracy to protect their positions.

    There’s no a plan, it is just that higher level management trust more to someone they knows than to engineer.

    Negative selection is also symptom of lack of vertical communication in company, which is sign of unhealthy relationships.

    PS: Name of the dog were Reks. Luks died on Sutjeska in attempt to protect Tito from airplane bombs

    • King Tubby

      krdr. Very no good answer. Josef Broz’s pooch was called Tiger.

      Listen up posters. You might think Damjams op piece is off the rails. Big deal. Most of the commetariat here, including myself, have kangaroos in the top paddock. The bureacratic mind set he refers to is a universal commodity. (Can I powder your balls, boss.)

      Simon. Wiki wont help you, I actually read an old fashioned tree book from a community library. Your answer: not even close and definitely no cigar.

      • krdr

        Tito had Luks and Reks during war time. After the war, he held number of dogs, with some poodles being most media exposed. He indeed had a dog called Tigar, from breed that holds different names: Šumski Pas -Zmaj (wood dog – dragon), vukoder (wolf killer), Srpski silvan (Serbian Sylvan) and story about that breed is very mysterious

  3. To quote the esteemed Dr. McCoy: “The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.” Only question is, how much and how deep. As for the Dilbert reference… funny how that strip was not spawned in Russia, Europe, or P.R. China. {smile}

    • Damjan D

      McCoy is wise. Our earliest stories involving Greek Gods can be read many different ways, and one of them is as a critique of stifling bureaucracy.

      Someone with enough chutzpah could make a fortune on a Chinese version of the Dilbert comic.

      • pug_ster

        Big deal, you have incompetent bosses everywhere, in every country and in every society. Negative Selection is due to these people who can produce the most widgets in the least amount of time. Unfortunately, some things just fall thru the cracks. Whether it is poor Q&A in China, or salmonella in our eggs.

      • When it comes to comic strips like Dilbert, much like live acts like Penn & Teller, there usually is a degree of ambiguity that most countries like P.R. China cannot stand to exist for too long:

        However, it does not mean that the powers to be in P.R. China and elsewhere will not make the mistake of attempting to co-op said ambiguous comic strip, live act, or movie in a naked attempt to spin it to their advantage, like the Pope’s recent attempt to say that the Blues Brothers Movie was a “Catholic Film”.

        • Damjan D

          Great Penn and Teller clip. I’ve never watched parts of their stage act, but I’ll have to look into it more.

          Ambiguity of thought in both countries is just filling my head with way too many questions, though I have to agree with Penn and Teller, it’s so nice to be home.

          • Remember – it is not the questions that get you trouble per se, it is most often the reaction that you give to the answers provided “from on high”.

  4. Damjan

    I didn’t know what kind of reaction this story would garner. China/divide is a place more for those who enjoy talking politics and society than attending book club. I am hoping that the story will be amenable to a discussion of some broad themes. Here are some questions to get us started?

    – Most obviously perhaps, the tendency of societies to put it’s least strained people in positions of power. Why is it that those who can’t manage?

    -The story’s eyes, it’s antagonist, is extremely frustrated in the early part of his life with the nepotist bosses that come through his factory. Thirty six years later he easily accepts his friends work troubles as something that’s just the natural way of things. Is this truly wisdom?

    -How does American negative selection compare to Chinese negative selection? There’s a great Stan Abrams post on china/divide that delves into Chinese nepots if you need background.

    Having said that, I had been working on a straight forward comparison of how negative selection is now as much a part of America as it is in China.

    The bit about the Yugoslavian factory, which a family friend back in Sarajevo had shared with me as a part of his life story, was going to be a jumping off point for the comparison piece but after a lot of writing I turned it into this.

  5. krdr

    Hmm, there’s interesting parallel about negative selection and Tito’s dog. As we learned, Tito held shepherds during and not long after the war. Then he focused on the poodles. Poodles are easier to train and doesn’t have independent spirit.

    • Damjan D

      Poodles are also supposed to be tops at picking up on words. Probably the closest one can come to an illiterate human. The mystery deepens….tatATAAAA….

  6. WOW, what an article,

    Oh I shall say, Comrade Tito, wasnt he a modern revisionist. OH MY!!

    song of the article,

    Liar, Liar, by the castaways
    from the Nam,
    negative 五毛党

    • King Tubby

      Hey kedafu. Love that song.

      krdr. Your Tito dogology leaves me in the shade and my spelling was also wonky. Got a dying pc here, so that was a pretty silly throwaway post on my part.

      Seriously, political parties pay the cost for bureacratic ineptitude in Oz. Without going into details, it was one of the reasons why we are now facing a hung parliament. Two longstanding Labor govts will also be reduced to dust and opposition within the next year, because of the total failure of key govt bureacracies to produce the goods. Voters are in a particularly savage and unforgiving mood and numerous senior public servants are for the high jump. Bureaucrat drones do have expertise in one area, that being a deep understanding of promotion and committee processes, and just like China, they utilise a type of cohort gaunxi.

      With a bit of luck, the bit of prairie fire we are presently experiencing here in Oz, will turn into citizen versus bureacrat/politician class warfare.

      Still we have not reached US standards, where 1300 different govt agencies are now responsible for *Homeland Security*.

  7. lolz

    Interesting story so far, please continue the story.

    I wonder if many of the readers even know about Yugo cars.

    • Damjan D

      The Yugo, despite the recent publishing book touting its many drawbacks, was a great option for people in countries that fell within a smaller average income bracket than Americans.

      When I was little, little, we owned one. I loved it. I’m still confused as to how my parents fit into it, though.

    • baji

      Yugo was great little car. It had quirks, but once you get to know your car, it could run for miles. My neighbor raced with one for number of years.
      Yugos made during America adventure are prized for quality.
      My colleague lived in Kragujevac. His parents worked in Yugo plant. When someone from Kragujevac wanted to buy a car, he would ask friend or cousin to pick car for him. That friend or cousin would take care about the car during full cycle of production.

      Other thing is that place in factory was something like family heritage. When parents retire, an offspring would take his place.

      There’s number of stories, but I don’t want to hijack thread.

      Negative selection is systematic in Serbia, with being a member of the party or knowing someone most valuable reference. On every occasion of power switch bunch of new administration stuff get employed, with old not fired. In some municipalities, number of stuff are 5x bigger than required number. But, with power switch, people that holds heading positions are removed, no matter how good his performance was.

      Few years ago, I took part in elections. Only in my neighborhood (mesna zajednica), party gained more voters than on earlier elections. We had success, but leadership decided not to give seat in municipality assembly to our candidate, but to candidate from neighborhood where party got only hand full votes! On following elections party lost all seats.

      Most bizarre example of negative selection was case of S. Milosevic. His godfather was P. Stambolic, leader of Communist Party of Serbia. S. Milosevic got his first job due that fact. He performed so bad that they wanted to fire him after few months. But, if they fire Stambolic’s godson, they could be in problem. So, they promoted him. They promoted him or transfered to better payed jobs, until he got place in leading Serbian commercial bank. He was there few months when it they sent him to New York, just be as far as it can from bank headquarters.
      He managed to ruin things even from 6000km (i guess) distance, so they brought him back, and offered him political, highly payed, position. He accepted. Now, story continues in same manner. He would do something bad and then got promoted, due the fear of his godfather.
      Parallel with that story goes the story of P.Stambolic son I.Stambolic. He didn’t make any problems, but he was promoted so fast that in few years he gained same positions that his father held.
      Until Milosevic ousted him as President of Serbia, gave him pension as big as 10 000DM and place of CEO Yugoslavian Bank for International Cooperation.

      • Damjan D

        I’ll second the quality of the Yugo. The only real problem we had is that the side mirrors wouldn’t stay on. For a while we kept thinking that someone was stealing them (which very well could have been the case) but we soon figured out that the mirrors we were buying (off brand, not Yugo) were too heavy for the car.

        But, I also remember that the Yugo seemed like a dangerous vehicle to be driving around in North Carolina where the raised SUV automobile is Patron Saint and Holy Protector of the state. Yugo’s looked so tiny next to most cars that my parents never even thought about getting one, even though we were all homesick for symbols of a past life.

        On the issue of the gentlemen you cite above, I had no idea. The account is interesting and I’m sure that it’s not unique. Plenty of that kind of promotion goes on amongst the rich, and FOARP is right, it probably always will to some extent.

        My stance has always been to try and build things on my own terms. But, my always is entirely composed of reckless youth. Now that I’m past 25 and the mechanisms in my brain regulating caution and youthful delusion have fully developed, I also believe that getting to a spot where I can live on my own terms requires me to fight through other people’s systems, as well.

        I mention this because I think it’s only the extremely lucky among us who don’t have to deal with the excesses of someone else’s power. Otherwise, at some point, we have to go through the layer cake.

        That being said, I also believe the American system to be the best for individuals who want to try and build something on their own. Nowhere else in the world does an independent person – that is to say, one unaffiliated with faction or creed – have as much chance to not only succeed, but also to one’s expectations

  8. Just like everywhere, people who make waves, openly express strong opinions – these are always the people who catch the rough end of the stick from those above. The quietly incompetent are always going to be more favoured by their superiors. So it is and so it shall always be.