There are no mean guys, it’s just the system. As you could imagine someone who uses the term wage-slavery freely would hit the roof at this. And I did, after reading it I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Maybe I should try to mitigate. This was published in 1976, so written in the 70s experienced in the 60s and 50s? There were corporations then but the illusion that power lay with governments was almost universal. I wasn’t politically active in the 70s so my perceptions although anti-system were emotional and rejecting government impositions. Marxism had been around for a century and the early twentieth century was its heyday with the Soviet revolution, fighting in Spain, and later Castro and Guevara liberating Cuba. There were many groups around in the 60s, 70s and 80s for whom proletariat and bourgeoisie were common parlance. But the accumulation of power and wealth by the corporations had not reached the horrendous height it now reaches.
I would have to assume that Pirsig was not a fan of Howard Zinn however because his history of the US could perhaps be called a History of Mean Guys. Gore Vidal, the archetypal 1% whistleblower, pointed out in many of his books the power and wealth of the US family aristocracies. And if you want to do a more complete historical review, the Plymouth Brethren might have described themselves in religious terms but they were part of a feudal, becoming colonial, system that stretched back to 1066 in the UK – and some could argue further.
So was Pirsig saying that because the system had existed for so long those who benefitted and those who were exploited had no choice in the matter, and so those who benefitted are not mean guys. Back in the 70s there was some merit to this. Much of business was small business, family-run, or perhaps slightly larger. These businesses were often integrated into communities, and the relationship between owners and workers was more harmonious – or if not still closer. Whilst the banks, insurance and large corporations still existed then, their accumulation had not reached the numbers they now have; nor had their power. However since the 70s there has been a steady takeover of these smaller businesses so that now they are a rarity. With such smaller businesses a view of the system as having no mean guys was more acceptable.
Such an apologist position could also be argued today. We now definitely live in a corporatocracy, and it is evident for anyone who looks to see the power of these behemoths – typically Citizen’s United where corporations are persons? Ordinary people work in these corporations, do we say those people are mean guys or are they just looking after their families? Should such people be tarnished by the practices of the corporation? I know what I would do – did do, but are they mean guys? It is unlikely that these people make mean decisions on a daily basis – or if they do those decisions would only be seen as a bit mean “it’s only business after all”.
Is it worth describing the CEO’s as mean? They are in charge of huge corporations whose ethos is to make a profit at all costs, and this in reality means make a profit at the expense of Gaia – earth and humanity. But do they suddenly become CEO’s? Or is it a progression that happens all their life moving up the ladder from whatever rung they start on? Is this just the same system with their hue – a hue that appears as if they have more control?
Are there mean guys or is it just the system?
My answer is unequivocal then and even more so now. With wealth comes responsibility. It matters not whether that wealth is inherited or earned it is still wealth that brings with it responsibility. This wealth is Gaia. Without here getting into the intricacies of what money means, how our world is now run on a fiat economy, there is definitely a causal link between money and Gaia. When the rich do not accept their responsibility to Gaia they are being “mean guys” even if they are not choosing to be.
Do they just give away their money? Would it were so simple? With money accumulates power,
accepting responsibility means accepting power and doing something with it for Gaia. No easy matter.
But there are few with power who accept their responsibility, the mean guys think they are happy.
Yet that I seriously question, I don’t see the mean guys as happy. I see them as wealthy, accepting a system that brands the wealthy as special, and accepting all these different impositions the system places on them. Their lives are controlled by living up to the lifestyle their wealth requires of them, they are not free. Their image is a requirement of them and their lifestyle. They have to show their wealth, their ostentation becomes a prison, a prison that most envy but still a prison. They have replaced happiness with wealth accumulation, and their system requires of them to promote that ostentation as a meaningful and happy life. When one has little money one is envious but is there much to be envious of?
What is it these mean guys can never have? Freedom. And how do they get this freedom? Zen, zen brings happiness. And envy BY the rich.