Spider Without a Web
When underdog cartoon people align themselves with the anti-social, the racist and the sexist ‘alt-right’ they should expect consequences.
That is how all these letters start don’ they, with a ‘Dear Scott’? I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to you saying it in the audio version of your books ‘The Dilbert Principle’ and the ‘Way of the Weasel’. Despite your warnings not to take anything you said as informed in any way, I have during the course of many years found myself adopting strategies, for surviving the corporate world, based on your recommendations. It cannot be overstated that you, you my friend, have single-handedly build a cultural phenomenon. Just think of it: is there any corporate building in the Western World were one will not somewhere still find a Dilbert-print-out, pinned-up in silent protest to absurdity? And truly: is there any alternative? Is anybody else out-there confronting the Kafkian reality baked into this rat-race in which it is a scramble for survival and a fight for power beyond that? This messed up world where mistakes become features, ignorance is an asset, banality is celebrated and actual skill and talent are condemned to remain where they are forever. You, my friend, have been a cartoonist-Ibsen holding a mirror for us grunts and non-grunts alike. You have been a beacon upon a hill and that’s something you can really be proud of.
During all these years that I worked alongside government employees I may very well have been your number-one-fan. Always skimming your work, your books, your cartoons, for a glimmer of something so illustrating that it would hint at what could be the underlying mechanism that explained the fundamental ways in which the corporate world was broken. Your number-one-fan; Which is why this is going to be all the more painful; and while I wish I could say “it is not you, it’s me” I can’t because: but it’s not me, it’s you!
We have to go back some time to see where the cracks set in. I think it was back when you decided no longer to allow the daily Dilbert cartoon to feature in the RSS feed, but instead to only supply the link to your website. This required me to do an extra step while being online to actually see the daily cartoon, which resulted in my missing out on most of them. From time to time, on slow-workdays I would catch up with months of backlog but even this couldn’t prevent me from missing entire stretches of the tread through the cartoons.
Being syndicated to your blog didn’t really replace that for me. Not only was the blog not about Dilbert it didn’t address Dilbert’s world, which was supposed to be our world, not even a little. And when on occasion I did read what you had to say it was so rich in sarcasm and facetiousness that I sometimes had a hard time making out what, if any, point you were trying to make. Still, I thought the tongue-in-cheek way you overly self-promoted yourself and your productions was rather amusing.
Missing out on so many Dilbert cartoons made something clear though: this world, Dilbert’s world, it became less and less my world. It had developed it’s own reality and missing out on so much of it there was little left for me to relate to. Neither was I alone, gone were the days where a guy would burst from his chair with a newspaper featuring Dilbert screaming “That’s it! That’s how it IS!!”. Slowly but unmistakably the Dilbert pin-ups wore out and no-one thought ‘the new one’ should replace it. Sure, Dilbert still had meetings, dreadful meetings, but they no longer accurately represented the meetings we had. His manager was now Dilbert’s manager and no longer our own. Dilbert lived in a world where in the next cubicle sat the lazy Wally, the intern Assoc was always disturbing him and Alice was always angry. As a engineer-nerd Dilbert had no social life nor social skills and his boss was and remained forever the ‘Pointy-haired-one’.
1980 called, it wants it’s cubicles back.
In real life though both Wally and Dilbert were fired. The difference between both being that Dilbert landed a new job and Wally didn’t. Today no-one remembers Wally anymore. Dilbert now works for a Dogbert boss, doing also Assoc’s work since the guy from intern-management was put in ‘redundancy’. Dilbert can’t afford poor social skills today. Nor can he still complain about the cubicles. Complaining is now not allowed anymore and there is a communication-training to make you realise this in case you missed the update. The cubicles became a memory of better days when management realised they wanted the productivity gains The Internet provided but not it’s productivity costs because everyone had the privacy to do online whatever he felt like. Now everyone is in the open-landscape so democratically acclaimed by management and dreaded by anyone that actually needs to hear himself think for a living. As a result of this big pile of germs people are getting sick more often but staying home less. That one colleague who got the pink-slip, that had absolutely nothing at all to do with how his bad Bradford -score reduced his boss’ bonus, really hacked in. Instead of walls Dilbert now gets a flu-shot and a social-norms pamphlet.
In the cartoons Dilbert is manifestly competent. He has had a good training and obtained a respectable degree and that is all he will ever need. In reality Dilbert is now a dilettante in most of the things he does, none of which existed when he was in training. Because everything is constantly changing he is also always migrating things from one technology to the next shiny one. This in marked contrast to cartoon-Dilbert who never seems to struggle with any actual work. While cartoon-Dilbert does struggle to advance his career or salary, real-life Dilbert is struggling to stay employed. If everything is constantly in a state of migration, nothing you know will hold its value for long.
Cartoon put-down of Scott Adams critiquing him for being sexist and just going through the motions.
Always in pursuit, I never actually found the glimmer of explanation I was looking for, and with every drawn cartoon I started recognising less and less of the reality it depicted. I don’t know at what point the thought struck me but I know it filled me with shame, like I had been unfaithful and disloyal. “Why was I expecting to find meaning in the depictions of a guy who had abandoned the world he had been describing decades earlier?” And indeed once I was aware of it, the anachronisms mounted rapidly. The cubicles; the way, manner and in what roles women were depicted; the eternal boss; the free coffee. In all fairness some of the things remain true today regardless of their age, for instance the culture-/mission-statement or ‘united-way’ is as much a reality of 2016 as it was of 1980. But this wasn’t enough to keep me interested. I felt Dilbert had abandoned me. It didn’t warrant me deleting the RSS feed/link but I rarely looked at it again.
Your blog on the other hand, since it had RSS-content, did pass my review from time to time. Making me feel dumb for missing the irony on many of the provocative things you said. Being unsure what you meant to convey, not really wanting to admit to myself that perhaps much of it was not really intended to be ironic. I also couldn’t think what had possessed you to publish that mostly naked photo of yourself to show off your newly gained muscles. Kudo’s for the effort and time you put into them, but seriously who does that?!
Tweet by Scott Adams slightly negative of Hillary, suggesting that Donald has a less narrow interest at heart.
When you started your ‘Persuader’ series during the Republican primary campaigns I still believed on some level that you wrote things a certain way but with such irony to try to underline the opposite. Picturing Donald Trump as some kind of communication-savant who knew just how to frame things, who was so overly competent and would ‘art-of-the-deal’ himself into a Presidency, I thought you were obviously and ironically forcing a reality onto the facts to make fun of people who actually believed in what Trump was saying. Since you nicely included a disclaimer, saying that your political views didn’t actually align with any of the candidates I felt confirmed in this opinion. I also took it to mean you didn’t support Clinton, which I thought was well within your rights.
Tweet by Scott Adams repeating a meme launched by Trump
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop in your persuader series. A hint that confirmed the ironic point being made. But it didn’t drop. When you took a negative view of the democratic side I didn’t think that was ironic. Still, if you were a conservative (and I was not surprised with the economic luck you had had during your life, to see that you were) I did wonder why you didn’t support any of the other republican candidates. You kept, ironically or not, peddling the supposed communication skills of Donald while never discussing any of the positions he took or correcting yourself when Donald’s putting his foot in his mouth manifestly proved you had been mistaken.
You then claimed that Clinton-supporters had threatened you. This is not entirely impossible. Still, unlike Donald had, Clinton had not endorsed violence in any way, much to the opposite. So I did wonder why you framed it as characteristic of her supporters and her campaign. You then claimed that the diminishing demand for your speeches, since the start of your persuader series, was indicative of the persecution by Clinton-supporters. Still every one of your post contained the disclaimer, claiming a neutral position you had no interest in keeping. You made many conditional predictions as to who would win the election. First Trump was going to win, then Clinton was but it would be undeserved, then Trump again (especially if Isis could do a nice little terrorist attack). And when Isis wouldn’t attack that meant they preferred Clinton over Trump whom they feared more, obviously. You then declared your support for Gary Johnson, the man who doesn’t know what Aleppo is, can’t name one other Head of State and who thinks we shouldn’t address climate chance since the Sun will eventually become a red giant anyway. Then, after everything you supported Trump officially (and for the first time on the record) but only because Clinton ‘was such a bully and you didn’t like bullies’. Every post closely followed by your claim for neutrality. Belgium has had a long history of hard fought neutrality. This is not how you do that Sir!
Whenever you had the chance you dismissed the claims of Trumps racism as ‘persuader propaganda’. I don’t understand how you can maintain that in light of the video evidence he keeps providing. Have you SEEN the Phoenix Arizona speech!? Never did you seriously address the advantages of a Trump Presidency, other than claiming that Trump was the bigger agent-for-change. If that is the criterion I would submit that Trump should still lose the Presidency to a meteor-impact, which would arguably know even less about government than Donald does, although this difference would be negligible.
Today, two weeks out, Trump is losing votes in one specific demographic faster than in any other: White, Educated Men. In all fairness this is because most other demographics had bailed already, but still it is a surprising and significant statistic. You know what white, educated men also had in common? They used to watch Dilbert cartoons and read your books. Much like with Trump’s Presidency, your work never had much appeal with women to begin with, since none really featured in it in a positive way. And the fact that you are now feeling the burn of increasing rejection is not an indication of a liberal conspiracy or bullying-campaign at all. It is people voting with their feet and their wallets.
You know Scott, there are economically speaking only two kinds of people on this planet. Spiders and honey-bees. The honey-bee has only it’s labour to offer and is indistinguishable to its peers. It has no means to live off so it must work in slavery. Then there are the spiders who inherit or build a web and let the food come to them. They are not beholden to anyone and they can profit from the fruits of their web. It would seem the spider has the best live and this is true. But it can’t afford to make noise like the bee can for then its nets will remain empty. It can never take the risks the bee does, because nothing may jeopardise its web. If the spider repels the flies, it goes hungry. The bee can often seek employment elsewhere or learn new skills. So congratulations on building your fantastic web, my friend, it truly was an amazing feat. You had the world at your feet once. In astonishing Trumpian arrogance you thought yourself invincible. Much like your ‘Great Persuader’ though you have now rendered yourself toxic. You have destroyed your empire yourself and have become A Spider Without a Web