Corporate Oppression: Kill It with FIRE (with apologies for the awful pun.)

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“[If] you read Milton Friedman and other apostles of so-called libertarianism, they don’t call for democracy. They call for what they call freedom, which is a very restrictive concept of freedom.

“It’s not the freedom of a working person to control their work, their lives, and so on. It’s their freedom to submit themselves to control by a higher authority. That’s called freedom.”

“They’re in favor of private tyranny; the worst kind of tyranny. Tyranny by unaccountable private concentrations of wealth.”

Noam Chomsky


That right there is a gospel sermon. FIRE and brimstone, bubba.1

In the FIRE context Chomsky’s “private tyranny” is of course the corporation—an insufficiently-regulated immortal being driven by the profit motive and blessed by the Supreme Court of the United States with the right to interfere in our political process2 using the vast amounts of money it earns via the indoctrination of the very people it oughtta be subject to.

A half-remembered quote: “Making a people the instrument of its own oppression is the ultimate degradation.”

But oppression’s too strong a word, surely. Being forced to get up out of your warm-blanketed, soft-pillowed bed and to dress in quality clothing and to eat a nutritious and perhaps excessive breakfast and to kiss your living breathing loved ones goodbye and to endure a half-hour commute in a mechanically reliable car into a luxurious office where you earn a living wage from work you detest—well, that’s a pretty damned desirable form of oppression, isn’t it?

Don’t kid yourself: seduction can be as pernicious as brutality. Corporate oppression’s insignificant when compared to, say, racial genocide…but it’s still a societal wrong that oughtta be resisted. The FIRE movement’s a great way to do so.

Understand that I’m not parroting social justice rhetoric here. After decades of reflection I really believe this stuff. Let me share with you a couple of reasons why, and then I’ll get into how the pursuit of FIRE is the great Wrester Back of Control…as it were.


Jeffrey and Misha, my awesome ex-neighbors, were salt of the earth, pillars of the community, and the glue that held together our neighborhood social scene. Salt, pillars, glue. Whatever. They donated long whacks of time to our local middle school, hosted a Friday evening happy hour, and would help you paint your porch as long as beer and burgers were available.

But Jeffrey, and you can probably see where this is going, worked for Comcast—which on a scale of zero to Halliburton is a solid seven.

Constant reorganization and cost-cutting and last-minute mandatory travel and departmental politics and tanker-loads of other assorted dipshittiness not fit for human consumption kept Jeffrey and Misha in a constant state of job-fear. And then some butt-chugging consultant finally convinced management to lay everybody off and make them reapply on their own jobs. Jeffrey, of course, didn’t get re-hired. A seniority thing—he got rolled.

So he was unemployed for six months until Comcast hired him back for a job three states away. Salary cut, natch. But still, Jeffrey and Misha packed & split. They were exhausted, they’d shelled out a godzillion dollars in unreimbursed moving expenses, the kids had been devastated by social displacement, Misha was chain-drinking wine to cut the stress, etc.

And then it happened again. This time, though, Jeffrey refused to play Comcast’s game. Instead he located work with a different cable company a few more states away from us, and—at least for the moment—he’s still working there.

Jeffrey and Misha and their children: modern-day wage serfs. A cliché, but accurate.


“But it was their choice!” you say.

You know…when I was a senior director back in the day, I used to hear that bullshit all the time. When my staff3 got nickeled-and-dimed on their benefits, I’d approach HR diplomatically…but  when diplomacy inevitably failed I’d bash hell out them. My argument always went something like, “This isn’t the deal they signed up for.”

Which got zero sympathy. “They’re employees at will. We’re not holding a gun to their heads,” was HR’s inevitable reply.

“That’s EXACTLY what we’re doing,” I’d say. “It’s called healthcare and student debt and directed transfers and everything else my people have to put up with with. You think they’d choose this stuff given the choice? And read this six-month non-compete clause we made them sign in the last reorg and tell me how we don’t have a gun to their heads. It’s not just a gun; it’s a fucking howitzer.”

I was not a popular figure in the human resources department. Which: good. I wore that like a medal. Their job was to facilitate the corporate mission by building up an excellent staff, not by grinding people down. But HR departments thrive on high turnover rates, and I’ve always wondered how much of that’s a deliberate play. Because have you ever noticed how much political power HR accumulates? Despite being part of the back office? Honest to God, man…with all respect to you who might be HR staffers, HR can be the most oppressive tool in the bag.


But why am I bothering telling you these horror stories? You’ve got stories like this of your own, and maybe you lived one even worse.


They say you’ll never get rich working for somebody else, but I did. And here I am…still feeding the beast with my dollars. I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

Who among us isn’t? Learn this from my own hypocrisy: if you want to get rich working for the Man, you gotta dedicate as least as much of your time and energy and creativity to your own benefit as you do his. Otherwise resign yourself to The Slog.

And even that’s a hypocrisy, because everybody thinks FIRE is me-me-me. I want to retire because I hate MY job and I need to find a better way of life for MYSELF. I’M gonna save up a bunch of MY money so I can live off the proceeds and do what I want for the rest of MY life.

Understandable. It’s the nature of FIRE to be focused on your own self-gratification.

But we need to re-think that.


To judge from the comments sections of mainstream media FIRE articles, most people won’t ever achieve FIRE; nor will they open their minds to the principles underlying it. They will, like my friends Jeffrey and Misha, continue subverting their lives to corporate oppression. They’ll give up their youthful dreams because they don’t see any other option apart from birth-school-work-death. Are their situations hopeless?

No. Like: I used to volunteer in a tough-love intervention program for at-risk street kids who desperately needed last-minute intervention before their lives would be irremediably ruined by addiction, gangs, prison, emulation of their abusive fathers, etc. When potential donors would tour our facility I’d sometimes get called on to sit with them. I’d say, Imagine we reach even one of these boys and set him on the right track. One out of hundreds. Now imagine his future influence. He’ll be a citizen, a leader, a mentor…meaning what we do together can ripple into the well-being of our community for an entire generation, or longer.

The FIRE movement has that power too. Not because we can keep kids from wasting their potential, but because by teaching people how to prudently manage their money we can help them build the futures they want rather than the futures they’re forced to settle for–and we can help them serve the well-being of their communities, too.

In short, we CAN offer them hope. Whether they accept it is up to them. And I have to believe that a main reason most won’t accept it is the indoctrination I mentioned in my opening.


And so FIRE can definitely be an effective means to quash corporate oppression. We’re not social justice warriors by any stretch, but we still rage against the machine…we just do it our own way: covertly and from within by denying it fuel.

And in doing this, we can subvert the fucking corporate machine to OUR wills rather than subverting our wills to the fucking corporate machine. Examples of this already exist.4 Time, after all, is money…and money, after all, is freedom. Or that’s the world we live in, however deplorable it might be.

SO WE NEED TO GET RIGHT UP ON IT. CORPORATE OPPRESSION IS ANTITHETICAL TO THE NATURAL FREEDOMS OUR COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED ON.5 AND YES, l AM SHOUTING. YOU SHOULD BE TOO. WE OUGHTTA BE BELLOWING THIS MESSAGE FROM THE HIGHEST MOUNTAINTOPS.

Get it? I hope so, man. I’d hate to think I’m a voice crying out in the wilderness, but if I can make even one person truly hear me…

Footnotes

  1. God, what’s up with me and these deplorable FIRE puns? I already hated them, but they keep forcing my hand. Shit-FI–no, no. I can’t do it.
  2. For those who aren’t familiar with why, see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
  3. “My staff” not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense that I was responsible for and to them.
  4. You might not be a trade union fan, but you don’t have to go very far back in history to find examples of why you should be.
  5. GO READ SOME ROUSSEAU.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

9 thoughts

  1. I’m definitely a libertarian because most of what you wrote doesn’t really make sense to me 🙂

    I think we are slaves to materialism because living an ascetic life is pretty darn cheap and doesn’t take a lot of labor even at median wage rates. Sure, selling your soul to the corporate devil for 5-10 years might accelerate your path to the One True Freedom (FIRE) but it’s not the only route. Just the most expedient for many.

    “[B]ecause by teaching people how to prudently manage their money we can help them build the futures they want rather than the futures they’re forced to settle for…”

    That’s a solidly libertarian ethos buddy 🙂 Autonomy over your own future. I can see the Chomsky POV too – it’s a different kind of freedom. I just think the libertarian ideal is more appealing to me personally.

    1. >I’m definitely a libertarian because most of what you wrote doesn’t really make sense to me 🙂

      Right on. Happy to hear that.

      The idea of “free will” obviously necessitates choices. That said, “autonomy” and “freedom” aren’t the same.

      I’m occasionally approached by people who aren’t just interested in FIRE, but desperate to FIRE. And I always tell them: Quit. There’s the door, nobody’s hiding the keys. Stand up and walk out and go home and start downsizing.

      “Well, I can’t. I’ve got all these expenses…” and there ensues a long list. So clearly the onus is on them to reconcile those two points of view. On an average salary you can’t both lease an S-class Mercedes and FIRE. But who needs an S-class? So I’m convinced that their aversion to risk-taking isn’t entirely a product of free will. It’s to some degree and perhaps to a great degree indoctrination…which isn’t a function of free will at all.

      Hence why I say “autonomy” differs from “freedom.” Sure, that desperate FIRE aspirant can get up and hit the door right now (having absolute freedom) but will still be–kind of in a Kantian sense, although I’m no great philosopher–living according to wants rather than needs (the perception that autonomy is lacking.)

  2. I read all that but don’t really get it. I always thought work was fun. I got overpaid for decades to design, operate and eventually was in charge of a billion dollar plant. When it did eventually stop being fun I was already wealthy so I walked away. Now I consult and volunteer for fun, and life is still great. I’m pretty grateful to the corporation for making me financially independent and letting me do lots of cool stuff with their money. I wouldn’t change anything if I had a do-over.

  3. Hi there.

    >I read all that but don’t really get it.

    My mom doesn’t either. She’s an interpreter for the deaf mainly at hospitals and colleges and has never worked an office job. So she doesn’t get Dilbert–doesn’t understand the satire one bit. Enviable position, when you think about it.

    >I always thought work was fun.

    Strong dilemma, eh? I’ve always thought people who enjoy their work are much less likely to retire early simply because they’re lacking an important source of motivation. Sadly, though, that source of motivation is a negative one and I’m convinced it’s best in life to move towards positivity rather than away from negativity.

  4. You might be “a voice crying out in the wilderness” but I hear you!

    I have mixed thoughts on some of the things you mentioned “Freedom” “Libertarianism”, “Democracy” and the restrictions and limitations on them. That’s deep stuff….. Sorry I am still working hard feeding the machine and not able to fully dedicate enough neurons to wrap my mind around them enough to share any insight.

    Your comment about HR is so true. My experience with HR is you can never rely on anything they tell you. Our HR staff turn over so often things can take years to process. Anything the previous HR person did or told you gets a new interpretation and you end up starting over. I always wondered if HR people turn over quickly because they have in demand skills and know how the HR process works so are very mobile or if it’s done by design they are shuffled around so old promises\understandings don’t have to be honored.

    1. >My experience with HR is you can never rely on anything they tell you.

      Have you noticed how the more dangerous a function is to the corporate mission, the more lawyers surround it? HR departments are typically BURIED in lawyers, or at least processes that have to be signed off by legal. And that’s where the double-speak enters in: elastic clauses. “We reserve the right to change any of these contract terms at any time with no notice.”

      Well, what’s the fucking point of having a contract in the first place?

  5. Interesting to read the comments here reflecting different views, because every word of the article resonates with me.
    I discovered the FIRE movement late, and ended up doing the whole work 40 years so I could get the pension thing, but had a love/hate relationship with the job the whole time. The hate part caused by the stuff your article is about.

  6. Always an insightful read.

    I’m currently procrastinating at home (freezing rain…schools closed…..kids at home), when I should be preparing for my 1 PM Senior Steering Committee meeting /call, where we have to provide an update to the leaders on some useless project. Shoot me. At least I’m not currently sitting in my 6×6 cubicle.

    Coming up on 20 years with the company. 41 years old. Thankful for having been gainfully employed (paid off house….700k total savings)……but sucking the life out of me. Too chicken to make a change. Not particularly passionate about anything else, so can’t envision what “Act 2” might look like.

    Maybe when I hit $1M. Doubt it.

    1. Hang in there, man…

      I think you’re in act two already, or at least from a literary sense. In case you’re not familiar, act two is when the pace increases and the obstacles reach an apparently insurmountable (though false) peak, and the theme becomes clear. Soon enough you’ll reach a turning point, at which time you’ll have the highest of all peaks to confront, you’ll confront your arch-enemies (both external and internal) and you’ll emerge victorious and changed for the better.

      The theme? Seems to me to be that you’re determined to be a good provider and a good dad. So, yeah, act two’s a good place to be.

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