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Sat Feb 8, 2014, 08:41 PM

The chattering classes, the culture war, and Tetris

Remember Tetris? The player’s objective was to shift and rotate puzzle pieces to fill rows of squares. If the rows got filled, they would disappear and leave more time to figure how the next piece would fit. If too many unfilled rows pile up, you lose.

Okay, stop staring at the gif and keep reading.

The key to playing the game was to learn to recognize and configure the falling pieces as quickly as possible. If you had to analyze them you wouldn’t last long. Don’t think about it, just take what the program gives you and deal with it instinctively.

Each mistake causes the unfinished rows to pile up and forces the player work under increasing pressure to beat down the backlog. This idea isn’t new. Henry Ford used to make sure there was at least one maniac that lived for a particular task on each assembly line. That maniac would shove pieces down the line at a tremendous pace, forcing the other workers to keep up thus increasing production. This was known as a “ringer on the line” or, more appropriately, a “Dick Move”.

Of course our manufacturing base for actual products a lot smaller now. But we have a gigantic industry for the manufacture of ideology. We’re turning out memes on three shifts and the ringers are working double overtime. We are living in an ideological consumer’s paradise.

So what if those shapes in Tetris weren’t groups of colored squares, but rather prefab memes that look like this:

Most of you wouldn’t find it too troubling to shove that into what could be an ideological matrix at the bottom of the screen. This piece, on the other hand, might be a bit of a problem even though it’s just another configuration of four blocks:

They’re all just groups of four blocks after all. It will fit somewhere. Remember, you’re under pressure to beat down that backlog…

And what happens if you get a few of these:

You’re don’t have time to decipher those acronyms, just fill the gaps and get on with it. Remember, you have no control over what the software serves up; all you can do is to try to make it fit into the ideology you’ve already built. It won’t matter if they change the colors of the blocks or the letters inside them, as long as you can slam it into place in time to figure out what to do with the next piece. In fact, the more you play, the more invested you become in the game and the less likely you are to give too much consideration to the subtleties of individual block identification. That’s because the game’s objective is to keep you playing the game.

The funny thing about Tetris is that when a row is completed, it disappears. It is forgotten in the rush to install more blocks. Just like on an assembly line you have to take product you didn’t design and make it work before it disappears forever down the line. You’re invested in the process, but your investment stretches no further than completing a process you had no role in developing and what insufficient wage you get from dealing with it. And if management is smart, there will be a ringer right there next to you shoving product your way. That ringer defines the limits of your control over the memes you see.

And the ringers are more invested than you are. They are doing what they were born to do, and it ain’t quality control. They were carefully selected and if they work really hard they will move up the pay scale ladder. They will be movers and shakers just like the big bosses in the corner office. When they talk, people will listen. And they know they will be respected, revered even.

Of course, there are ringers and there are ringers. Some are upstanding citizens, others are buffoons. Most, while possibly well meaning, are in it for the money. That's why the 1% pays them all that cash. Because truth to tell, that ringer standing next to you on the line isn't any smarter than you. He doesn't know anything you don't know. He didn't design the product he shoves your way. He just knows how to work the system better than you.

Generally speaking, the more successful the ringer is, the more the product looks like this:

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