Clerical companionship

EDWARD LUTTWAK IN 1994 wrote a completely prescient article, dunking (in contemporary terms) on Francis Fukuyma. (It is pointed to by Ferdinand Mount in the most recent edition, writing about Brexit). It is exactly as startling as Mount says it is to recognise one’s own times in a two-decades old article; it is depressing to realise that job insecurity, the fundamental working condition of everyone in 2020, still has no meaningful-realistic political answer, on the political left or right. The most confronting sentence for me though, in the 26 year old article was the strange, aside, mention of a bit of workplace culture long forgotten:

Partly because with generational change even senior managers can now themselves work those machines if they want to, thereby allowing them to understand their uses, abuses and non-uses; partly because more junior managers are increasingly compelled to use those machines in place of clerical help and clerical companionship…

The ‘clerical companionship’ of workplaces was that communal trust in other people that had to exist when white-collar production was necessarily a team job. Consider a report: researchers or specialists worked the ‘machines’, analysts provided consideration, authors distilled the prose, editors cut and reordered, typists corrected, either typesetters created the printed product or designers produced a camera-ready copy, and a printer ran the whole lot through yet another machine for delivery. One person now does all of these jobs, most likely in the walled garden of production that is the Microsoft Office Suite. When we now vertically integrate our production completely and withdraw into the factories of ourselves, is it any wonder companionship at work is lacking?

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