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The Eternal Masquerade Ball

There's a concept in Japanese culture called honne and tatemae that a lot of people practice without knowing it or even acknowledging it. Honne, the concept goes, is your true self; the way you think and behave whenever you are, say, amongst close friends or family. You know what I'm talking about: you get home, collapse on the couch, take your bra off, turn on the TV, let out a deep sigh, and let your inner circle know how displeased you are with your professional life by uttering the arcane incantation "Fuck this shit sky high."

Tatemae, on the other hand, is your public "persona". Your "brand". Your fa├žade. You know what I'm talking about: the shit you write on LinkedIn because you want to be visible, but you don't want to be visible for the wrong reasons. You don't want to be seen as an agitator. You don't want to be perceived as someone who rocks the boat even though the watercraft needs a jolt. You are part of this endless masquerade ball, whether you want it or not. Nobody says what they mean, and no one means what they say. We just don't have a cool name for it like the Japanese do. Tatemae is culturally expected, and bringing your honne to a tatemae fight is a massive no-no.

We do this all the fucking time when we say "we're family here", when we code switch, when we go on LinkedIn and sing fake praises to the company we work for when everybody knows full well that they are known assholes. Like, you're not fooling anyone, bud. Don't tell me you loved your cybersecurity company's Super Bowl ad that aired right after they fired a bunch of people. Why do we keep the charade? Why the need to go online and post nonsense that we know is insincere?

I posit that, unlike Japanese culture where the concept of the salaryman is pervasive, this pathetic debasement of oneself is driven by the same impulses that explain things like gambling and playing the lottery. You just know absolutely nothing will come out of anything you post on LinkedIn, for example. No one's going to look at your stupid takes or the "list of Linux commands" graph you stole from someone else and say: "Wow. What a chad! Hire this man right fucking now!" We all keep doing it in hopes that we'll get noticed if we emulate those who we perceive as successful. If we keep playing, we might just win!

The huge fucking problem here is that those who we perceive as successful are also a bunch of idiots who learned their eloquent bullshit from the idiots who preceded them. And the cycle of life continues. If the price of success is to become a completely degenerate moron, let's become degenerate morons! Unless, you know, you carry some undesirable traits like "not being a shameless sociopath." Those who have silly things like "a conscience" have to work really hard on their tatemae and keep their honne in check lest they become "that guy."

That guy who doesn't play along. That guy who refuses to be exploited. That guy who complains about wage theft when the boss makes them work overtime without pay. A good company person does that without blinking because of something or other about "work ethics", while knowing full well that "work ethics" really means "working for free." It doesn't matter how good you are because a serviceable but mediocre employee is better than a great employee who won't stop demanding minor things like "pay."

Every profession and industry has their own bullshit, but the tEcH and tech-adjacent industries are particularly good at this. Maybe it's because a bunch of dumbasses got rich for reinventing shit that's already there and convincing other rich people that this new thing is the future. The whole "I work with computers, so it follows that I am smart" schtick works, even when it is crystal clear that smart is the wrong word here.

How do we get out of this quagmire? We start with getting your honne a little closer to your tatemae. If everyone starts calling wage theft what it is (wage theft), maybe we can start changing things a bit. If we can make "that guy" the person to emulate instead of some 10-ply tHoUgHt LeAdEr, maybe we can begin a trend of not leaving our colleagues behind. We need a fucking union, and some of us are working on that. Come over to our Discord and join the battle.