Fragments of fragments:
To me, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ and ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way… I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.
The reason for this public ignorance is not secrecy. The real reason why US citizens were/are not aware of these conflicts, changes and stakes is that the whole subject of tax policy and administration is dull. Massively, spectacularly dull. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this feature.
Consider, from the Service’s perspective, the advantages of the dull, the arcane, the mind-numbingly complex. The IRS was one of the very first government agencies to learn that such qualities help to insulate them against public protest and political opposition, and that abstruse dullness is actually a much more effective shield than is secrecy. For the great disadvantage of secrecy is that it’s interesting.
…what we do here puts us in a position to see civic attitudes close up, since there’s nothing more concrete than a tax payment, which is after all your money, whereas the obligations and projected returns on the payments are abstract, at the abstract level of the whole nation and its government and the common weal. So attitudes about paying taxes seem like one of the places where a man’s civic sense gets revealed in the starkest sorts of terms.
Lane Dean summoned all his will and bore down and did three returns in a row, and began imagining different high places to jump off of. He felt in a position to say he knew now that hell had nothing to do with fires or troops. Lock a fellow in a windowless room to perform rote tasks just tricky enough to make him have to think, but still rote, tasks involving numbers that connected to nothing he’d ever see or care about, a stack of tasks that never went down, and nail a clock to the wall where he can see it, and just leave the man there to his mind’s own devices.
The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air. The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, picayune, meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unbearable…
It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
'They don’t ever say it, though. Have you noticed? They talk around it. It’s too manifest. It would be as if saying I see so-and-so with my eye. What would be the point? Yes but now that you’re getting a taste, consider it, the word. Word appears suddenly in 1766. No known etymology… In fact the first three appearances of 'bore' in English conjoin with the adjective French, that French bore, that boring Frenchman, yes? They of course had malaise, ennui… See La Rouchefoucauld’s or the Marquise du Deffand’s well-known letters to Horace Walpole, specifically I believe Letter 96. This means a good five hundred years of no word for it you see, yes? No word for the so-called daemon meridianus of the hermits of third-century Egypt, when their prayers were stultified by pointlessness and tedium and a longing for violent death…
And then suddenly up it pops. Bore. Noun and verb, participle as adjective, whole nine yards. Origin unknown, really. We do not know. Nothing on it in Johnson… Philologists say it was a neologism – And just at the time of industry’s rise, too, yes? Of the mass man, the automated turbine and drill bit and bore, yes? Forget Friedkin, have you seen Metropolis?
... Someone else had also called it soul murdering. Which now you will too, yes?'
A head of the IRS:
“…the moment in the sixties when rebellion against conformity became fashionable, a pose, a way to look cool to the others in your generation you wanted to impress and get accepted by. The minute it became not just an attitude but a fashionable one, that’s when the corporations and their advertisers can step in and start reinforcing it and seducing people into buying things…”
“But wait. The sixties rebellion in lots of ways opposed the corporation and the military-industrial complex. I mean is there any more total symbol of conformity than the corporation? Assembly lines and punching the clock and climbing the ladder to the corner office?”
“But we’re not talking about the interior reality of the corporation. We’re talking about the face and voice the advertisers start using in the late sixties. It starts talking about the customer’s psyche being in bondage to conformity and the way to break out the conformity is not to do certain things but to buy certain things. You make buying a certain brand of clothes or pop or car into a gesture of the same level of ideological significance as wearing a beard or protesting the war."`
There was something about the silent, motionless intensity with which everyone was studying the tax-related documents before them that frightened and thrilled me. The scene was such that you just knew that if you were to open the door ten, twenty or forty minutes later, it would look and sound just the same...
In real life, of course, concentrated deskwork doesn’t go this way. The way hard deskwork really goes is in jagged little fits and starts, brief intervals of concentration alternated with trips to the men’s room, the drinking fountain, the vending machine, constant visits to the pencil sharpener, phone calls you suddenly feel are imperative to make, rapt intervals of seeing what kinds of shapes you bend a paperclip into, &c. This is because sitting still and concentrating on just one task for an extended length of time is, as a practical matter, impossible. If you said, ‘I spent the whole night in the library, working on a sociology paper’, you really meant that you’d spent between two and three hours working on it and the rest fidgeting and sharpening and organising pencils and doing skin-checks in the mirror and wandering around the stacks opening volumes at random and reading about, say, Durkheim’s theories of suicide.
As a child, I think I’d understood the word concentrate literally and viewed my problems with sustained concentration as evidence that I was an unusually dilute or disorganised form of human being.
An accountancy lecturer:
Before you leave here to resume that crude approximation of a human life you have heretofore called life, I will undertake to inform you of certain truths… in that festive interval before the last push of CPA examination study, you will hesitate, you will feel dread and doubt. You will feel dread at your hometown chums’ sallies about accountancy as the career before you, you will read the approval in your parents’ smiles as approval of your surrender – oh, I have been there, gentlemen; I know every cobble in the road you are walking. To begin, in that literally dreadful interval of looking down before the leap outward, to hear dolorous forecasts as to the sheer drudgery of the profession you are choosing, the lack of excitement or chance to shine on the athletic fields or ballroom floors of life heretofore…
To experience commitment as the loss of options, a type of death, the death of childhood’s limitless possibility, the flattery of choice without duress – this will happen, mark me. The first of many deaths. Hesitation is natural. Doubt is natural…
I wish to inform you that the accounting profession to which you aspire is, in fact, heroic. Exacting? Prosaic? Banausic to the point of drudgery? Sometimes. Often tedious? Perhaps. But brave? Worthy? Fitting, sweet? Romantic? Chivalric? Heroic? Gentlemen, here is a truth: Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is. Such endurance is, as it happens, the distillate of what is, in this world neither I nor you have made, heroism. Heroism. The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcome resolves all – all designed to excite and gratify an audience. An audience. Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality: there is no audience. No one to see you. Do you understand? Actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one is interested…
…To give oneself to the care of others’ money – this is effacement, perdurance, sacrifice, honor, doughtiness, valor. Hear this or not, as you will. Learn it now, or later – the world has time. Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui – these are the true hero’s enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed. For they are real.
…Gentlemen, you are called to account.
The idea that people feel just one basic emotion at a time is a further contrivance of memoirs.
I don’t think my father loved his job with the city, but on the other hand, I’m not sure he ever asked himself major questions like ‘Do I like my job? Is this really what I want to spend my life doing? … He had a family to support, this was his job, he got up every day and did it, end of story, everything else is just self-indulgent nonsense. That may actually have been the lifetime sum-total of his thinking on the matter. He essentially said ‘Whatever’ to his lot in life, but obviously in a very different way from the way in which the directionless wastoids of my generation said ‘Whatever.’
It turns out that bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss at every atom.
How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.