A couple of years ago, just before the Lost Time, I completed a work-related survey. It did not go well. Not that I was unenthusiastic about the work I do -- I like my job, like the people, and I respect the venerable institution in which we do what we do. I consider myself lucky in this. I know that not everyone is so lucky. I also know that not everyone with just a high school degree and a book-habit is likely to find such an accommodating employer hereafter. Bookstores are getting to be as rare as haberdashers and shoe-repair shops nowadays. So when I say the survey did not go well, I don't mean I had anything much to contribute in the way of "negative feedback." (Ghastly phrase. Something to do with guitar-amplifiers originally? Anyway, chillingly mechanical when applied to humans. Noise.) It was not the subject of the survey that put me off. Nor do I have an issue with surveys. It's true, I have no interest in finding out which Gilmore Girl I'm most like, and I don't answer the land-line at supper-time, but I don't mind answering a few written questions now and again about something that matters to me. No. It was the language used in the questionnaire that put me right off.
You probably know the sort of thing I mean. Not my first rodeo either. Business jargon as usual perhaps, but shocking to see it deployed in a bookstore setting nonetheless. Begin then with a loaded question:
Q: "A coworker comes to tell you that the Revolution has arrived and says, 'It is time to burn this mother down!' What do you do?"
Just here I should point out that this was not an actual question on the survey I completed. The tone however is not far wrong. Pause for a moment and consider what kind of interactions our inquisitor seems to think go on in the break-room and or in the staff restrooms. Had a lot of jobs. Worked in a lot of bookstores. Never had this conversation. To my knowledge I've never worked with an actual Fidelista from an early Sixties episode of Mission Impossible. To my knowledge. So to call such a question merely loaded is to understate the case, but then, as you can see, understatement was otherwise not a feature of the survey.
By way of answers, there seem always now to be five. I have only just learned via the Intertube that this model is known (more rightly than they knew) as a "closed-ended question." The survey employed something called the Likert Scale -- named for the creator of this model, American social scientist Rensis Likert. (Pictured above, leaning on a library card-catalog, to give a rough idea of how long this sort of thing has been around.) Evidently a "psychometric scale" of this type is not meant to solicit suggestions or practical information, but rather to "measure people's attitudes." Glass houses, may I say. Anyway, the answers to the above question runs something like this:
1) Our blood flows through our veins only to be spilt for the Glorious Leader!!!
2) Give me a gun and I will shoot the traitor dead.
3) I would ask my immediate supervisor to shoot the traitor dead.
4) I am unworthy of mercy and long for death.
5) I will one day watch the world burn, and I will laugh.
Now that first answer in particular does not in any way seem to address the question being asked, but this answer, or something very like it, seems to be the first choice for every question. Hmmmm. But then, none of the answers that follow are recognizable as polite conversation, are they? Nobody not in a re-education camp has ever talked this way. And whatever the question, I've noticed that the two final options seem to be there only to weed out potential insurance risks and or actual sociopaths. Come on, survey-makers, who picks:
4) Yes, I am fascinated by box-cutters.
5) I am responsible for the death of many small pets.
Who ticks those boxes?!
These surveyors, please note, are never directly confrontational. Clearly the problem isn't me, it's Lauretta in accounting, or that new kid in receiving with the covered tattoos and the shifty eyes. It is always a coworker or worse, a "colleague" who's makin' trouble, the bastard. The willing survey-taker is never cast as the provocateur in these scenarios. Just another dumb bunny led by bad company on a merry dance down into the netherworld of theft, drugs, and unjustifiable revolutionary violence, that's me. It's all about being influenced. Also note, no one in these surveys is a good influence. The nearest they come to decency is the narc and the snitch. ("Betty saw Joe light a spliff in the parking lot and asks you what she should do.") Who doesn't love a tattletale? But remember, other people are always the occasion of sin, so even agreeing with the obvious lackey might be wrong. There are no right answers, only measurable attitudes. Best not to talk anyone at work then, I guess? That would seem to be the underlying message. Maybe don't talk at all. By the time one gets to the end of the survey, it would seem one is not safe from the dreaded influence anywhere. Communism, delinquency, disloyalty, everywhere. Honestly, after I took the survey I kind of thought we might all be better off if we never left the house. (That was me. My bad.) Still, one has to eat, and capitalism is presumably an absolute good in survey-country, so maybe I can just hum the National Anthem all day. That won't be weird, right? (But I'm good, right? I mean, I took the survey like they asked. And just so you know, in case I failed to make this clear, dear surveyors, I swear I don't burn things down or randomly shoot pigeons for fun, or plot the violent overthrow of... stuff. I'm just another harmless old dear in a bookstore, takin' another perfectly harmless survey, right? Right?! Did I get it right?! I will never know. All such surveys ever say at the end is a rather chilling, "Thank you, Mister Bond," just like in the movies, right before someone cold-cocks James and suspend him over the sharks.)