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Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Clockwork Orange: An Ingenious Allegory of the Corporate World


I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange. I know that a lot of people find this book confusing because it contains made up words, a ton of violence, and deviant minds. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a lot like the corporate world. If you look at the book through this lens it quickly makes a lot of sense. Think of the main character Alex as a CEO and his droogies as fellow executives. Follow my logic here:

1.) Alex is very good at establishing alibis through buying his way into the hearts of poor old fools by convincing them that he’s really a nice guy. The poor old fools in this case represent Congress (or other governing officials, for those outside of the US).

2.) He drinks milk which has the appearance of wholesomeness. However, the drink is laced with some pretty hefty narcotics and our friend Alex is anything but wholesome. Executives are big on appearance and often appear to be in a mind altering state that keeps them from properly viewing reality.

3.) He speaks using made up words. Executives do this all the time. Take for example words such as synergy, re-purpose, monetize, actionable, etc. You get the picture. The business world is full of just as many nonsense words as I found in this book, if not more. In fact, business terminology is slang of the worst sort: devoid of any true meaning.

4.) Note that once Alex has established trust with the poor old fools who will vouch for him, he sets off looking for victims to rape and rob. This is a classic business cliche, but as with most cliches this one contains some truth. Also note that the goofs in the bar continue to vouch for Alex regardless of what Alex has actually done because Alex has bought their loyalty. Sound familiar?

So what can we learn from this book?

~ Bad executives can be very dangerous to society.
~ I think the point above pretty much sums it all up.
~ However, I’m going to put an extra bullet here to make my point appear more substantial

Without giving away the plot (for those of you who haven’t yet read the book), the moral of the tale can be summarized in the words of the prison chaplain: “Goodness is something chosen.” Ergo, expecting or even legislating moral behavior in executives is likely to be an exercise in futility. The best we can do is to lock them away to protect society until they grow up and learn to behave like responsible people.

You could say that I’m reading too much into this book. But at least I read it.

11 comments:

  1. Seems that I saw the Kubrick film before I read the Burgess book. At least that's the sequence I recall. Although the book was published in 1962, I think it was the 1971 movie that brought it to my attention. A post-screening read helped me grab hold of what I had just seen and heard.

    I saw it on a big screen twice, once with a friend or two, and again with my young bride. She had an aversion to violence on the screen; hence my scouting it out first. Once I convinced her the violence was all quite stylized and choreographed, she plucked up courage to view for herself.

    I remember our first impressions and primary thread of dialog regarding it through the years was primarily theological. That the main point it seemed to be making was that having volition, even though one may make evil choices, was superior (even morally superior) to being an automaton, having everything pre-programmed. But I think your application to business and government does not wander too far afield.

    Thanks for bringing this landmark work to mind once again~

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  2. Yes, I was having some fun with the interpretation, but the core message is that when we take away the ability to choose that we also remove what makes someone human. The story makes a lot more sense when you include the final chapter that was initially left out of the American release as well as Kubrick's film. In the final chapter Alex does choose goodness of his own free will.

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  3. Visiting your blog from book blogs. I am following via blogspot. I also posted your post to My Life. One Story at a Time. on facebook. I would like to invite you to visit/follow my blog when you have a moment. Thanks. Donna

    I also have a give away this week.

    http://mylife-in-stories.blogspot.com

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  4. I have only seen the film - and it left a fairly negative impression. I do believe my exact reaction was "EEK!" promptly followed by "eww, oh dear god, this is awful..." - or something to that effect (I saw it a number of years ago)... Now I'm curious about the book though - and wondering whether the Kubrick film is fairly true to it or not. What do you think?

    And as a recovering corporate lawyer (pharmaceutical industry, god help me), I'm totally with you on your assessment, btw. Totally. With. You. :)

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  5. Jill Elizabeth, I think we're going to be great friends for a long time :)

    As for the movie, it did follow the book closely with the exception of the last chapter. That was left out of the American version as well as the film (because the film was based on the American release of the book). Here's what I wrote on Goodreads after being asked about the film:

    My "interpretation" is a little tongue in cheek but it works because Burgess's theme is a universal human theme: when given free will some individuals will choose to behave poorly and this adversely impacts others. Both the novel and the film demonstrate the moral and ethical consequences of attempting to remove free will from an individual. What the movie and the original American release of the book don't show is contained in the final chapter of the original book where the main character eventually comes to a place where he wants to make better choices on his own and he loses his taste for violence. We could say that Alex was finally touched by grace, but I believe the author's point was that the answer to the problem of evil does not lie in eliminating free will from the equation.

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  6. Hi Amy: thanks for the follow on Twit. Now it's all reciprocated to here as well.

    I LOVE the book and the movie, and I'm chagrined to find that there is an ending that was cut from the US edition. Damn them, those dirty monkeys! I will search this out to re-read again.

    Your comparisons are to the point, and should be brought out more. I twitted and FB'd this for you.

    Yes, our moral compass has to come from within. Those who screwed the country financially should be in JAIL jail, rotting for awhile, and all their assets should be with some sort of homeless groups, setting up places to live so they are off the street.

    Looking forward to getting to know you more.

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  7. Outstanding!! I read this book a couple of times decades ago, and just thought it was a product of the sixties. What a great spin.

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  8. @bornstoryteller - just started following your blog, as well. If you can find a version of the book with the cover picture above it should have the final chapter. I thought Burgess did an excellent job writing that book.

    @Blue Shedevil - thanks for the compliment. I always said that I found meetings entertaining because corporate politics makes people behave funny.

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  9. Thanks for the follow. I am following your blog also and am following you on twitter.

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  10. Wow, Amy I love how you brought back those horrid corporate memories or should I say nightmares with one simple blog post. Excellent writing and yes, I'm addicted to Nutella and hate the fact that the big huge warehouse stores now sell it in half gallon sized tubs. Fortunately, I run out fast and then try some will power to keep me away from it for about 3-6 months. I will never be thin. Thanks for following and I will do the same.

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  11. The movie disturbed me because of its allegory: big business and its thinly-veiled corruption under the radar. I couldn't stomach it. I read an article in a SF magazine years ago that what made this story stand out was its fluid fictional language. Even linguists had studied the possibility of such a language occurring.

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