Culture

Pax Per Bellum

It’s been a rough month.

Partially, this is my own doing, because I’m kind of a sucker for unpleasant knowledge. It used to be harmless fun. What happens if I drink this? Why is this substance illegal? Surely, a drop like this won’t kill me. Let’s try!

Now, I’ve transitioned into reading the news. All of it. From everywhere. What happens if I search for this? Who are these people? What does this really look like? Is it really as bad as they say?

Call it stubborn curiosity, morbid fascination, or intellectual imperative. I’m not naive, just apparently a glutton for punishment. Saying that used to be a flippant little remark. Yes, I have some deep-seated inability to enjoy happy things, and look how I surround myself with small miseries! Isn’t it adorable?

But I got burned.

In a misguided, go-straight-to-the-source attempt to learn who these ISIS/ISIL fellows are, I watched one of their recruiting/propaganda videos (no, not the one you’re thinking of–I still have some self respect) that’s been floating around on the web and, well… I know now. And no, I’m not telling you where to find it. I’m sitting here in my room, telling you what this disease feels like. If you want to know as badly as I did, go catch it. Just not from me, ok?

To say that it is violent is to call the ocean wet. And “savage” doesn’t seem to fit with the emotional calculus and professional video editing evident in its creation. It’s the kind of cold, smiling brutality that reminds the viewer (or at least the viewer who isn’t sympathetic to the cause) that the human body is just meat. It makes one’s joints ache and stomach churn. And yet, the video has a twisted kind of appeal. No matter how badly you want to look away, there’s something in it that’s carefully designed to tap into that most base of animal instincts inside each and every one of us. Militant or not, sympathetic to the cause or not, we all get a mainline boot of fight-or-flight.

But this video wasn’t designed to scare me or recruit me. This was directed toward potential allies and enemies in the Middle East. As a terror tool, the effect is obvious. Carnage–real carnage–is a terrifying thing. But as a recruitment tool, it almost seems counterintuitive. In America, our military recruitment propaganda is a lot of big ships, fast jets, and sneaky commandos sneaking places. Maybe this is because we haven’t really fought a war we needed to fight in a very long time. But we’re also a democracy, more or less, and rely on our freedom of choice: do we fight, or do we not.

In the places where ISIS is getting a foothold, however, there is often no longer a choice, but a dilemma. If you fight against ISIS, implies the video, well, see this building where guys are fighting against us, and see how we’re giving them no quarter and transforming them into these macabre piles of corpses and heads here? Yeah, they’re you and everyone you know. But if you fight for ISIS, you get to not be in that pile of corpses. See? Everyone’s happy. Well, except for those other guys, but they’re dead now, so they don’t have an opinion anymore. It’s a hell of a way to create a utopia.

This makes American dude-bro hawkishness seem downright civilized. We glorify armed men as heroes, forgetting that “greatness is based primarily on values that we abhor.” Okay, maybe a quote from a confessed spy and traitor wasn’t the best choice there, but the man had a point. If we consider ourselves to be a great nation, we need to be sure that the greatness is coming from values that we admire and would want to foster in others.

With recent, high-profile incidences of police militarization in the US, and with increased reportage of excessive force and unnecessary police violence toward unarmed citizens in places like Ferguson, MO, there is a temptation to draw connections toward the brutality seen in other places around the world. Obviously, the ISIS fanatics and our own police forces have very little in common, other than being armed and primarily male. But they also share an increasingly us-versus-them attitude.

To protect Americans from terrorism, the federal government donated surplus military equipment to local police departments across the country. How grenade launchers, automatic rifles and APCs would stop something as carefully planned and under-the-radar as the 9/11 attacks is a mystery, but it made people feel safer, so that’s good, right? Maybe not. Here’s a favorite quote of mine from HBO’s The Wire:

This drug thing, this ain’t police work. No, it ain’t. I mean, I can send any fool with a badge and a gun up on them corners and jack a crew and grab vials. But policing? I mean, you call something a war and pretty soon everybody gonna be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, slapping on cuffs, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a fucking enemy. And pretty soon, damn near everybody on every corner is your fucking enemy. And soon the neighborhood that you’re supposed to be policing, that’s just occupied territory.

–Maj. Howard “Bunny” Colvin, Season 3, Episode 10 “Reformation”

The point of this, if not obvious, is that when you give police departments military hardware, and every small town has a tactical unit, don’t be surprised when they get tempted to use it. It also draws the line between soldiering and policing. In fact, the Posse Comitatus Act expressly forbids “military involvement in civilian affairs” unless called upon by Congress to do so, which is why military bomb disposal units, but not drone operators, can work with local law enforcement. This is largely due to the skill set that separates the military from the police. The goal of a police department is to hold a community together, whereas the goal of the military is generally to take communities apart. The militarization of police forces, and the warrior mentality that accompanies it, negates that separation and creates the situation Bunny describes, in which ordinary citizens are treated like “a fucking enemy.” It’s hard to call someone a peace officer when they’re loaded to bear with weapons of war.

We’ve had a pax per bellum mentality about a lot of things: terrorism, drugs, disease, hunger, poverty, and cancer. We do this with the erroneous confidence that through war on these things–meaning their eventual elimination–we can achieve peace. ISIS, too, wants to achieve peace through war, but what they’re searching for is ideological uniformity. Given the complexity of human nature, uniformity is a pipe dream. Even if they succeed in setting up whatever kind of society they’re trying to build, the kind of brutal intolerance for differences of opinion will eventually cause them to implode.

Of course, Ferguson isn’t Syria, and the police aren’t ISIS, but war is war: divisive and singleminded.

Peace is balance. These things are going to be with us for a very long time, and in many arenas it may serve us better to police when we can and war when we have to.

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My Summer Vacation, Part III: Flying High With Ms. Biscuit

Manila. We were just cleaning up after one mess, when another fell from the sky. Unless you’ve been vacationing in your fortress of solitude for the past month, you’ve probably heard every bit of news about the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine, so I won’t go into it much, except to say that boarding our own flight, prefixed with “MH,” there was a definite chill in the air aside from the blast freezer that is Filipino air conditioning. It was quite apparent that everyone was doing everything they could to think about anything but high-altitude death.

Everyone, that is, except for one woman.

Let me digress for one moment here. Air travel, in general, sucks. Before being allowed anywhere near the aircraft, there are queues, scans, queues, more scans, queues, questions, queues, and, if you happen to be flying in the US, the surrender of dignity and the very real possibility of nudity. And of course, there are more queues.

But once you’re up in the air, flying doesn’t need to be a horrible experience. It’s not the subway, where the accepted method of communicating with your neighbor is keeping your mouth shut and your eyes on the floor or some other inanimate object. In fact, airplanes are one of the few vehicles in which turning to your neighbor and attempting conversation is still almost universally considered not weird.

Almost.

It was about 20 or 30 minutes into our flight, right around the time when those who were going to try and catch a nap on the four-hour flight were getting comfortable. A loud voice popped my comfortable bubble of pleasure, just as I was settling into a book. It wasn’t the tone that screams danger–just the kind that indicates that the four hours are about to feel like six.

“Rosemary! Rosemary! You have to try these biscuits! My children love them!” the woman crowed from the row behind us.

And so it began. Demands for biscuits and drinks came first, quickly followed by an analysis of the crash of MH17, particularly the fact that many, many AIDS researchers had been on board. If there is one thing that nervous passengers trapped in a flying metal cylinder six miles up do not want to hear, it is an analysis of a recently doomed flight from the same airline. People were turning around, giving her the evil eye, but some part of her brain interpreted “potential angry mob” as “rapt audience.” And in a sense, we were. She was so loud that almost everyone within three rows had their airline-issued headphones on. And even then, we were captive witnesses to her life story, as told to Rosemary from one middle seat, across the aisle, to another middle seat.

She has three kids: two daughters and a son. One daughter is 27 not married, and worked for Microsoft in Singapore, but moved back to the Philippines. Her mother, of course, wants her to get married, but she (or her mother) is having trouble finding someone at her level.

And then, before launching into the story of her own life, she wanted more biscuits.

She got married at 21 in London. “I was born Hindu, but in 2008, God touched me, and I was born again.” I got that part through a loud fight scene in the movie Ip Man, which I’d thrown on because reading was a fool’s errand. The guy next to me turned to me and we shared a moment. No words were spoken, but we both knew what we wanted to ask: “Now show us on this doll: where did God touch you?”

The story of her religious revelation and conversion to Christianity (a marvelous topic on which to crow loudly while on a plane returning to a Muslim country, by the way) continued unabated for as long as the biscuits lasted. Mercifully, they ran out quickly, and she flagged the cabin crew down for another hit.

“We’re sorry, but we have no more biscuits.” No more?! No more. Just three. No more. Okay, just one, then. “Ma’am, we have run out of bisuits?” But couldn’t they go back and check, pretty please. No. Why? There are none left. It took a delegation of cabin crew to confirm that there were, indeed, no more god damned biscuits, so please shut up about them already. Rebuffed, Ms. Biscuit turned to the topic of bodily functions.

Rosemary has knee problems, and so did Ms. Biscuit, until she started taking something called MSN. I may have changed my mind about her if I thought she had been injecting the Internet into her knees. But nope. No NSA geeks tapping her lower extremities. Oh well.

As we descended into Kuala Lumpur, Ms. Biscuit asked Rosemary to look her up in Indonesia because clearly they had a spiritual connection. As did we all–at least with each other. The level of hostility toward this woman was incredibly tempered, considering how long she had held us all captive. On a flight back from Laos, friends of ours (not terribly inclined toward hyperbole) were witness not to Jesus, but to an epic fight between a German woman and a Malay man after the woman politely asked a group of first-time flyers to please stop praying so loud because it was freaking people out. The man took offense and launched into the woman with a tsunami of invective. The crew apparently tried to calm the man down, but he threatened to kick everyone’s asses, and shook his fist in righteous anger. The woman cowered and broke down sobbing, and the two were separated, the woman moved to the front and the man to the back.

The point is that it could have been a whole lot worse. The B story of this is that on almost any flight in the US, this woman would have been asked to not shout across the aisle, and if she didn’t stop, would probably have been gagged and bound in a very not-sexy way. So maybe we need more doms working for the airlines. No whips, just good knot work.

Coverless

Crazy clients have drained me of my creative will today, so I’m going to jumpstart my brain and go after the daily prompt.

Does it ever make sense to judge a book by its cover — literally or metaphorically? Tell us about a time you did, and whether that was a good decision or not.

I haven’t bought a physical book in a long time. I think it started as a way to thin down my ever heavier load, because transporting an entire library is a pain, especially when I’m still moving around a lot. Some books I like to have physically because they or their authors are special to me. I have my nearly completed Philip K. Dick and Hunter Thompson collections stored away back in the States, but the content stays with me digitally.

Thing is, I never bought a single one of those books, even the first one of each collection, because of the cover art. In fact, I can’t remember a single book that I bought because I liked the cover. Something you may have figured out about me after all these posts is that I’m cautious by nature. I start at one point and feel my way around until I can prove to myself that a suitable second step is solid. Outside the world of books, this has failed me on multiple occasions, when things I thought were perfect (or even good enough) proved not to be, typically in a spectacular fashion. And it has prevented me from pursuing opportunities that, in retrospect, would have changed my life for the better. But it seems to have worked well in general. I’m not a complete wreck, so that’s something.

With books, I will read a bunch of work from one author, and then jump to a different book related to that author in some way. It could be an author who cowrote a book with the current author I’m reading. It could be an author with a similar style, or from a similar era–like the Hunter Thompson-Tom Wolfe- Terrence McKenna-Thomas Pynchon-Philip K. Dick nexus–or the Davis Sedaris-Sarah Vowell-David Rakoff trifecta. From there, branching out is fairly easy. I can go back and find the works that influenced those writers, go forward and find the next generation, who used those authors as influences.

With digital publishing, it seems that more and more, cover art is far less important than how an author is connected to a reader’s current library, whether through genre, co-authorship, or writing style. Partially, this is because digital books don’t have true covers, but mostly, it’s because there are fewer and fewer physical spaces to browse for books. In the digital space, say on Amazon, you don’t walk down aisles of a genre, looking for a cover that pops out–you have an algorithm linking your past purchases and stated interests to certain other authors and titles that are guaranteed to be a hit with you.

But that doesn’t let us branch out very much, does it? We get stuck circling the drain in our genre of choice. We’ll satisfy ourselves with things that we like, but there’s not much room for growth to different genres or to books that might challenge us a bit more. It’s easy to put down a digital book and never come back to it. You never have to explain to guests, with at least a little shame, why you have a book on your shelf or on your coffee table that you know nothing about.

Perhaps cover art is a necessity of sorts. It appeals to us on a level that we don’t get from the cold science of digital marketing. In a way, maybe we do need to judge books by their covers more.

Phone Monkey: Porn Brain

PhoneMonkeyPNGI recently wrote about the negative neurological effects of exposure to constant complaining and negativity, and one of the comments on that article mentioned that porn could inflict the same damage. Always amused by our human tendency to overdose on everything, I looked into the issue a bit more.

The JAMA study, referenced both in a Time article and an IFL Science post, is actually wildly incomplete, given the titles of these two articles. At least the title of the Medical Xpress article, which cites the study, is more honest with the reader. I understand the temptation to slap a juicy title onto an article that is inconclusive at best, just because sex is involved. Sex, and porn in particular, are taboo topics, and people love taboo, despite their protestations, and page hits mean ad revenue.

But I’m not here to White Knight porn. It’s a drug, and like anything else done explicitly for self gratification, is best done in moderation. The participants in the JAMA study who watched the most porn were also found to have the least grey matter, but that doesn’t mean anything. Correlation is not causation. Brains with less grey matter might be more prone to porn addiction, or any other addiction, for example. Or it could be a crazy coincidence. The sample size was very small and only included men.

But that’s all work for the scientists. The reason I’m writing this as a Phone Monkey article, is because it relates to complaining. Porn–or at least the flavor of porn we choose–depicts the things we can’t or don’t have, and the reward we get is sweet chemical release. Complaining works pretty much the same way: there’s a hole that needs to be filled [insert rimshot here], and a little tension-and-release  later, the consumer’s reward is compensation and maybe a little extra, resulting in the same release of chemicals in the brain.

Another parallel is the dehumanization involved on both sides. As phone monkeys, we’re unknown and invisible to the consumer, but we’re still expected to perform, often unrealistically. On the flip side, customer emails are often terse itemized lists of what was wrong and what needs to be done in order for the customer to achieve service-gasm. But by doing this, they make themselves into just one more visitor, in to get off and get out. Like Johnny Rivers sang, we’re “givin’ you a number, and takin’ ‘way your name.” Porn works the same way. Objects are used for pleasure by people who have come to view themselves as sexual objects. Parts and counterparts of a machine that grinds out orgasms.

There are enough porn-like service situations that, as with constant complaints, you feel yourself getting dumber and more prejudiced with each one. But obviously, not all customer service experiences are like this, nor is all porn. Some remind you of a sweet kiss, while others remind you of the weird sex you had with that person you met at the Phish concert and will never speak of again, but which you secretly pine for on rainy days.

http://pornhubcommentsonstockphotos.tumblr.com
Or it may remind you of that undergraduate philosophy class.

So, while your customer service rep may be suffering from chronic negative thinking and depression, he or she may also be racked with a form of porn brain from the constant tension and release. When I said in a previous post that I was having trouble talking to people at parties without going into a fix-it mode, this is pretty much what I was talking about. When one’s primary human interaction is dehumanized and confrontational, that experience starts to bleed through to one’s personal life, and after a while, even the most pleasant human experience starts to feel muted and robotic.

If we were all in the same physical location, our bosses would probably have us do trust falls and play seven minutes in heaven interoffice volleyball games, but we’re not, so generally we keep to ourselves and occasionally rickroll each other.

Phone Monkey: Bad Brains

PhoneMonkeyPNGHave you ever been on the phone with customer service and found yourself irritated that after every bit of information you give them, you hear a lengthy clickity-click of typing? The information you’re giving them isn’t that hard to remember for the ten seconds they’re going to need it, right?

Not necessarily. It is entirely possible that the brain of the person on the other end of the phone may be as pockmarked and scarred as the surface of Mars, if not physically, then at least mentally. Neuroscientists like Rick Hanson and Robert Sapolsky claim that constant exposure to complaining and negativity is not just psychologically detrimental, but is actually harmful to the brain on a chemical level. But really, this is just science confirming what everyone already knows.

Hanson notes in the article linked above that we are evolutionarily predisposed toward negativity. It’s what makes fight-or-flight responses work correctly, and is what has allowed us to survive as a species for so long. But, like old washing machines, our brains simply can’t handle large loads of dirty laundry. Constructive criticism is one thing, but long hours of listening to complaints and then voicing them to responsible parties overtaxes our brains. According to these neuroscientists, the damage done doesn’t just make us over jumpy, depressed, and overly negative–it affects our memory and attention span. If you take this kind of thing and crank it up to 11, putting the body in physical danger, you get the kind of damage that results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a complaint department, not exposed to explosions, war or sexual abuse, we mostly field tiny issues that require minor fixes, but we also deal with shockingly cruel and lewd language and behavior. This is why you will hear us typing, seemingly for ages, as you talk to us. We’re writing everything down, not just so we remember everything, but so we can get it right the first time avoid further negativity.

That leads me toward the fix-it stage. One of the small blessings of customer service is that all of that unpleasantness is channeled into a constructive process. It’s not (always) customers complaining just to complain. But that only helps so much. Self-help writer Trevor Blake’s book Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life not only identifies the damage caused by constant complaining, but proposes ways to mitigate the damage and alleviate the symptoms of it. Obviously, one of the suggestions, asking the complainer to fix the problem, is dicey. The majority of problems we deal with could be resolved between the customer and the offending restaurant without our intervention–and more efficiently,too–but many people choose to take the path of most resistance. Telling them to deal with the problem on their own is generally cause for more and more intense negativity, so we just handle it to make it go away.

One of the other fixes for constant negativity is to raise your shields. As I mentioned in a previous post, most of us already do this. And it works, but not without a cost, because what ends up happening is we look at the customer as a problem to be solved so we can move on to the next one. As full of anger and all-caps as you are, you have ceased to become a person with actual feelings. It also makes us feel a bit numbed and robotic, and our personal and romantic lives can suffer as a result. Many of us (and every phone monkey at my place of work) have other, highly creative interests outside of work, which help combat this. In my group of phone monkeys, there are a few writers, a DIY enthusiast, musicians, festival organizers, and photographers. During the slow periods, we work on our blogs, edit photos, tune mandolins and ukuleles, listen to podcasts and watch movies, among other things, because it engages other parts of our brains and takes energy away from the onslaught of negativity.

But every once in a while, we still might forget your name and call you Mom. Just roll with it.

X-Men: The Easy Way (Spoilers)

For those of you who have not had a Gold Class movie-going experience, I suggest you stay away. It will ruin all other movie theaters for you forever. But as far as I can tell, these cinemas don’t exist in the US–or at least not in significant numbers–so, for now, the average American is safe.

What is Gold Class? About four or five rows of eight fully reclinable La-Z-Boys in a theater with a standard size movie screen and servers that will deliver a menu’s worth of food, including beer, to your table. And this is for just around the same price ($18-20) of a 3D movie in the States. It’s also important to note that in normal theaters in this part of the world, talking on cell phones, chatting, clipping nails, and all the kinds of annoying behavior that get you kicked out of a theater in the US are fairly normal. So, really, it’s a necessity.

Isn’t this all a little too good to be true? Well … yes and no. It is because movies here are censored. I could probably get deep and dark about the hypocrisy and social dysfunction marked by the censorship of language and romance (yeah, even just a kiss), but not of brutality and violence, but I won’t because it’d just be pissing into the wind. There is something off-putting, though, about going to a luxury theater and experiencing weird jump cuts where characters mildly cursed (X-Men: Days of Future Past is still PG-13) or kissed. On the other hand, you’re drinking a beer in an electrically reclining La-Z-Boy and watching a movie on the big screen. Maybe it’s akin to being paid to look the other way, and show a lazy hypocrisy of my own, but I’ll take that bribe.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

From reading past posts, you may have gathered that my honeymoon period with comic book and superhero movies is pretty much over. There’s something that feels dishonest about the whole enterprise. The movies are very pretty, but they’re not particularly challenging, emotionally or intellectually. They’re cash cows, though, so they’ll keep rolling out.

That said, I actually liked X-Men: DOFP, even if I do have a list of critiques. I always like seeing the Sirs, but felt like Stewart and McKellen, and by extension their characters, were in the movie more as props and canon verification than as anything else. As he was in X-Men: First Class, Michael Fassbender is great as a young Magneto–troubled and apocalyptically sad, but still molded in steel. Likewise, James McAvoy, playing a scared and neurotic Professor X was fun to watch.

The biggest success, though, was Jennifer Lawrence ‘s Raven/Mystique character actually being a character with stuff to do and, well, character, instead of set decoration, as she seemed to be in the last installment. It was nice to see that character as something more than just a duplicitous back-stab machine (as demonstrated in the first three movies in the franchise) with no real motivation other than stock bad-guy programming.

Visually, the film is very nicely done. The fight scenes are well choreographed and the color themes in each timeline are put together well. I really liked the look and feel of the sentinels versus the cartoon version–having them smaller and more agile made the sense of physical danger to the characters more real than if they’d gone with the Iron Giant style. A personal favorite moment was the Fun With Portals scene.

Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters (American Horror Story, Kick Ass) was really fun addition. Watching him run around and cause his opponents worlds of trouble was both hilarious and visually interesting. But his presence and subsequent disappearance begged some serious questions, like “why isn’t he on the mission to stop Mystique from shooting Peter Dinklage in the face?” He could have had both those people, and Magneto too, bound to chairs for a cozy little chat before either could bat an eyelash. He could have won this movie blindfolded. It seems as if he kept to the sidelines only out of reverence for plot convenience.

Speaking of which, while I like Fassbender as Magneto, his character in this movie swung a little to far toward Evil Laugh or For the Evulz. We get that he’s a messed up dude because of what happened to him as a kid, but in this movie, he is given a way to fix the entire world without having to spill a drop of blood, and he still goes all murder happy. There’s no real explanation for why he goes nutty, other than valar morghulis, which makes it look like he became a villain again because the movie needed a supervillain. Having Wolverine–or any of the high-powered mutants, for that matter–kick the tar out of an unarmed, unarmored Peter Dinklage (Edit: apparently I got lazy and assumed that Game of Thrones actor = British; Dinklage is from New Jersey, and I’m an asshole; thanks for setting me straight, Art) would be a little tasteless.

The above is my biggest gripe about the movie on a technical level. But there is another inescapable problem, which is the lack of danger. Because these movies and comics are franchised into the next millennium, we know that none of the main characters are in any real danger. As the sentinels are tearing the walls down around Professor X and company, we already know that there’s another film in the series on its way, and that everyone is obviously safe for the next go-round. And Marvel would never let their most iconic figures die–not without the promise of resurrecting/ret-conning/cloning them.

Superhero movies habitually make the mistake of pointing the primary danger toward their heroes rather than toward something that’s actually vulnerable and can be written out of the universe. For all its faults, Thor: The Dark World pointed the primary threat at Earth. The Avengers did the same thing, with New York as the focal point. Obviously, you can’t erase Earth or even New York from the Marvel Universe, but at least they’re vulnerable. Iron Man’s fame, not his armor, keeps him alive. The day that he, Thor, the Hulk, or Captain America become, to quote Falling Down, “not economically viable,” is the day they’ll die for real.

And then if their deaths draw enough attention, the mystical power of money will revive them.

Phone Monkey: The Horse You Rode In On

“Well, I’ll just take my business elsewhere!”

We’re supposed to be afraid of that line because we’re losing business and sending it to our competitors, right? I assure you: we’re quaking in our bunny slippers. Our testicles crawl up into our bodies and our ovaries shrivel up like raisins at the very mention of the possibility of losing such a reasonable, flexible and understanding customer.

We get this line a lot, as does pretty much anyone who has ever had to work directly with the public. And maybe it would work in a meat-space business in an industry not as heavily flooded with demand. In our line of business, our primary customers are college students, many from countries where this type of service doesn’t exist. Taking their business elsewhere, where they’re from, might be significant, but as someone who’s around for four years, summers excluded, and then gone forever, they are replaceable. This even applies to the domestic students. After their four years, many of them are going to move away to areas where we don’t have service, or will simply stop ordering in so much when they join the Real World. And every year, we get a new crop of customers. If that seems jaded and cynical, you’re definitely on to something. I try desperately not to let that happen, but it’s a creeping eventuality in customer service work.

Why do we get this line, anyway? Can’t people just take their business elsewhere without faking a fuss? Why do they need to tell us?

The short answer is they don’t need to. Like a girlfriend or boyfriend listing all the things you did wrong (in their eyes) before dumping you, it’s catharsis pure and simple. They need the emotional release, and want to hear the fear of loss and grief of failure in our voice as we try to salvage an unsalvageable situation. But most times, the customer is one who’s been a problem since day one, and all we needed was an excuse to say goodbye. If we said that we were sorry to see them go, we’d be lying. We say it anyway.

Who could be such a pain in the ass that you’d let them go so easily? Isn’t that mentality antithetical to the ideas of customer support and customer service?

Last things first. No. We are support and service professionals. Our job, like a bra, is to support. It’s the customer’s responsibility to make sure that they ask for a 28B when they have a 28B problem, not to ask for a 28B and then blame us and storm out when their 42DDDs don’t fit into it. You might be surprised how often that happens. But we’re professionals, so we mostly just go in the back and get a bigger size, and then everyone’s happy.

The customers that end up being a bigger pain in the ass than they’re worth are the ones who demand more than we can or will give them. We offer credit toward future purchases, as many online retailers do. Today, for example, after much bad noise, I was able to get a refund for a customer, who had claimed on the phone that a refund was all he was after. Great. That sounded reasonable, and if I had to take an earful from someone at the restaurant to do it, well, that’s my job. Not so long afterward, the customer emailed in, saying that the refund was “not enough.” Obviously, he was angling for credit.

Let’s pause for a moment and pretend we’re back in that lingerie store. Mmmmm … frilly things. A customer walks in and says, “Oh dear! It seems that when I got home, I realized I’m a 34C, not a 34B, can I return these for a refund?” Sure. Definitely. Why not? Here’s your money back. Have a great day! “Oh, sweetie,” they say, “you misunderstand. It is your fault for giving me the wrong size. So why don’t you either give me my bra for free or reach into that cash drawer and offer me something good?”

To this, the obvious response is, “Hey, why don’t you go jump off a bridge?”

While phone monkeys are generally punching bags, we’re also gatekeepers. Beggars, thieves, and trolls will be turned away. Take your business elsewhere. Please.

And, of course, have a great day!