Monday, October 19, 2009

Jessica's Web

I was just quickly reading through the introduction of a book, to figure out what the book is about, and came upon a peculiar statement:

Jessica's Web [the name of the book] was written for people who endorse the following four statements:

* In my career, I intend to make a positive difference for others.
* I know that I don't know all that my career demands.
* I plan to work both smart and hard in my career.
* I want to advance to positions of greater influence and opportunities to better please a higher power.

I read through the first three points, absorbing them without difficulty (not many would have difficulty endorsing the first three points), then read the fourth. And I stopped. Stunned.

I read it again. And again. At first I thought it the author's intention was to say that his book is for people who want to please their boss. But after a second reading, I'm pretty sure the author is referring to a higher power, as in a Higher Power.

Unfortunately, there is no further explanation, no further clues as to the author's intention, an omission that I find both troubling and baffling. But I don't like it. Not at all. It reads conspiratorially, a wink to people in the know, people who will know they're in the know when they read that. It hints at a very particular worldview that the author shares with a certain group of people, people for whom this book is apparently written. It also indicates that this book is not for me, that it is intentionally exclusionary. Sure, I can read it, there's no harm there, but without the background ideology embedded in the author's worldview I won't really understand the book. Because it's written in code, a moral code, and I don't have the Rosetta Stone.

I'm not sure I want to. The conspiracy feels vaguely nefarious. But I do want to know to whom the author is speaking. I want to keep an eye on these folks. Exercise caution around them. They make me suspicious.


Scott said...

I think you are correct about the Higher Power reference. On the Amazon page you link to, you find this line embedded in the descriptive text, "Remain true to your maker's creation."
This looks to me to be an interesting approach to disguising spirituality or belief in God under the innocuous double-talk of lower case letters. Notice that "maker" is in lower case, and then calls the reader a creation. It doesn't take a genius to see that there's a definite ideology informing this work. I hope you do read it, then write a review for us. (I am too cheap to buy this $45 book, and I cannot justify requesting a desk or review copy in my field, but am interested in what you find.)

goat said...

I got my copy the old-fashioned way--inter-library loan.

Anyway, I'm not going to read the whole thing, I've more pressing matters (like a blog post on my Iron Cross experience), but I can tell you this:

It is essentially a how-to manual on how to get ahead in corporate life--how to figure out if you are on, get on if not, stay on if are, the "fast-track" to corporate prestige, power, and influence.

The thesis seems to be that in order to do this, you have to manage your social networks strategically (with tactics described in the book), nurturing relationships in a way that comes natural to women, but may require more effort and practice to men.

There, now you don't have to read it. ;-)

KingM said...

This would raise my suspicions in exactly the way that you describe, but I'm not a believer in any sort of organized theology.

However, I would think that line is innocuous enough to please a believer of any stripe. How would a believer in, say, Mormonism, find this statement offensive:

I want to advance to positions of greater influence and opportunities to better please a higher power.

It certainly isn't the "please a higher power" part. Is it the "advance to positions of greater influence and opportunities" clause? Because wouldn't any thinking person hope to have more influence to shape the world for better according to his or her own worldview?

If you believe that pleasing a higher power entails furthering the "three-fold mission of the church," especially item #1, then I wouldn't think the mission statement of this book would raise any red flags, even assuming that the higher power of the writer differs from your own.

goat said...

Why would a Mormon think that advancing to positions of greater influence would please a higher power more than remaining in positions of lesser power and influence? In other words, why would a Mormon not think that being a janitor at the local elementary school is every bit as pleasing to God as becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?

Because that's the issue, as I read it... The author's worldview seems to suggest (and I might be wrong) that the person who advances to positions or higher power and influence is somehow more worthy, righteous, significant, or whatever than the person who doesn't.

The Mormon sense of what-you-should-be is much more Emersonian, in my opinion. The idea that you are greater than you think you are, that your potential to become and do is immense...but in a sort of ambiguous, non-specific way. Meaning that whatever you are, whatever you do, you are more god-like, closer to fulfilling the human potential, when you are and do that thing well, ever improving. It's kind of an artisan model of ontology.

I think those two worldviews, as I briefly (and murderously) summarized them here, are quite distinct.


As an aside, as I was writing my original post I imagined someone making just the critique you made. I set myself (and you) up for it. ;-)

Kind of on purpose. Because the question you raise is worth thinking about. If Mormonism leads people to be comfortable with that declaration (and probably a lot of Mormons are comfortable with it), and I'm not comfortable with it (as I'm not with many Mormons), then what gives?

KingM said...

Nathan, Mormonism is rife with this sort of thinking. Every young man is pushed to become an Eagle Scout, everyone who goes through the temple is anointed to become kings and queens, every faithful LDS will some day become a god or goddess.

The Book of Mormon teaches that prosperity is the promised reward for righteousness. I think this is why there are so many examples of Ponzi schemes, MLMs, and fraud in Utah. It's not that Mormons are dumber than other people, but that they're set up with high expectations. I'm living right, I deserve to be wealthy.

Couple this with the constant pressure to spread the gospel. What better way to do this than to rise in wealth and power?

I think I know you well enough to know why you personally don't feel comfortable with this worldview, but I believe this is the default position of the church to which you belong.

As a side note, one could make similar observations about your choice of careers. Wealth no, influence, yes.

goat said...

Become an Eagle Scout, sure. Not get a position on the Counsel Executive Committee.

Ritual language about Kings and Queens has more to do with metaphorical glory--with personal absolute glory (consistent, in my mind, with my the Emersonian ethic I described earlier) rather than personal relative glory--as in ruling over someone else.

And "prosper," in the BoM sense, doesn't have to mean "prosperity," as in the acquisition of wealth. (Prosper certainly has a economic component to it, but I think it has just as much to do with social, intellectual, and psychological well-being, or the opportunity to pursue that well-being. So, the promise that the righteous will prosper doesn't necessarily have to be any more meaningful a statement than "cheaters never prosper." In other words, it might be understood merely as a simple sociological hypothesis--people who live more cooperatively with others and with relatively more moral restraint will be better off along a host of socio-economic and quality of life indicators than those who don't. A rather innocuous prediction, actually.)

But aside from all that, I get your point. Still, I think the criticism of Mormons in the way you've formulated it would fit just as well with a larger cultural criticism of protestant America. If that's true, then I think it speaks to a much different point--something about the mainstreaming of Mormonism.


On my choice of profession... David McClelland would say it was driven by my need for power, that I experience power through the influence of others (in my case, "helping behavior"). So, if I have been indoctrinated to want to seek higher positions of power and influence (and I've no doubt I have), then I suppose I've fulfilled my fate...and given fuel to your argument.

But, while I don't question that I've been indoctrinated, I'm not sure that the source of that indoctrination is strictly Mormon. It may be that I confuse the pursuit of excellence with status and prestige. Many do. Many Mormons do. But I don't think it's at all strictly Mormon phenomenon.

Getting down to it, perhaps its that confusion that I find distasteful, even in my own life, which is why I'm particularly put off by the declaration that started this all.

KingM said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing Mormonism here so much as defending the statement from this book, which I think fits into a larger narrative that many religions would espouse. I only used Mormonism as an example because of your personal familiarity.