[YT Response] What is a Leader? My response to Activision Blizzard Mass Layoffs (YongYea, Schreier, Palmeri)

As YongYea rightly points out, this is all rumour at this point, but the situation is still kinda yucky because it is most likely true: Activision is going to lay off a lot of developers while maintaining high salaries and bonuses for the upper level workers. [EDIT: Layoffs have commenced. Around 800 staff laid off.]

He sums it up in the comments below the video: So Activision can afford to give newly appointed executives $15 million worth of awards as part of their welcoming party, but meanwhile employees are getting laid off and devs are being asked to cut costs. Corporate greed at its finest.

When YongYea asked why the upper levels (the CEO or CFOs) aren’t taking paycuts to save money and keep developers on, I wondered the same. There may be many reasons, but it is a stimulating question when compared to the story YongYea pointed out regarding the Nintendo CEO taking paycuts after the 3DS and WiiU failure.

It got me thinking.

I had to, once again, mull over this odd pattern that I see going on. Amid corporations asserting that they are working toward an equal, diverse world while at the time leeching on low-level workers, I can’t help think of the increasing silence of an NPC student in my Gothic Literature class. Let me elaborate.

During the Gothic literature and adaptations course I took, there was a girl who was extremely “woke” and far left, who spoke all the academic culture studies buzzwords, and who admitted she was less familiar with older forms of literature and was “willing to learn”. I mentally referred to her as a Linda Sarsour clone because this classmate wore a head-covering as well. As we dove into the knotty entanglements of Oliver Twist (a well-known piece of literature chronicling a boy’s journey through victimization, crime, and a hard-knock life), the silence from the far end of the table grew deafening.

This isn’t simply because the NPC girls couldn’t understand Oliver Twist. It was because they didn’t know how to SPIN it. After all, Oliver Twist explores the hardships of the British people in terms of CLASS – not race or gender or an intersection of either.

If you think about it, class struggle is rarely spoken about today on its own.
[See Note 1 below] This is because anyone can surmount class with luck, networking, a good idea, hard work, risks, or a combination of all of the above. Howard Schultz’s story (Starbucks owner) comes to mind – the rags to riches kind of story that constitutes the American Dream. So, to a certain extent, history has proven that the class struggle has become complicated by possibility.

On the other hand, is it entirely absent? Well, if we listen to YongYea’s discussion about Activision, we can see that class and monetary inequality is still a huge problem – which no one is talking about.

Instead what we do get are “intersections” where we always see the class struggle as being subsumed under other identities like race or gender. Therefore, women or black people (or black women) not making enough is considered a societal problem, but the nameless devs about to lose their job…? Well, that’s just bad luck.

In my opinion, class is no longer about bloodlines as it used to be long ago, but it now divides along the lines of money. Although I do not believe all CEOs sit around smoking cigars on a big chair, many are unwilling to lose a little in order to save the little man on the ground.

On the other hand, the Nintendo’s CEO taking a paycut reveals to me a lot more about the healthier forms of social responsibility built into Asian society, wherein everyone from the top down are seen as a single entity, regardless of position in hierarchy. This doesn’t always happen – corruption and greed taint all great social structures – but the inherent ideas of Asian culture feel a bit more balanced to me in terms of the relationship between the individual and the corporate/community. In some ways, it feels more Biblical to me – no destruction or denial of hierarchy, yet a revolutionary way of looking and performing hierarchical relationships.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Spiderman’s Uncle Ben

Let’s look at one of Japan’s greatest cultural outputs in the modern century: Naruto talking to Obito in Naruto Shippuuden.

Obito: Yes, that’s how I feel. There’s no need to voluntarily tread a steep and rugged path, not knowing what’s ahead. You’ll have to step over the corpses of your comrades. Anyone would choose a shortcut with a fixed outcome. Yes. The goal a Hokage should seek is world peace.
Naruto: What the hell are you talking about? What I want to know about isn’t a shortcut… but how to navigate the steep and rugged path!
Obito: Would you still say that if the final destination… were the same?
Naruto: Who can tell in the beginning which one is the dangerous one? You never know until someone starts walking. The Hokage is someone who endures the pain and takes the lead in front of everyone… So a Hokage never walks over his comrades’ corpses. There is no shortcut to becoming the Hokage!

Naruto Shippuuden, Episode 385

I want to draw attention to Obito’s words: You’ll have to step over the corpses of your comrades. Obito sees the world as place that leads to inevitable victimization of oneself and others. His response is a totalitarian/authoritarian take over of individual will in order to force world peace.

Look at Naruto, who instead champions individual choice within an interdependent community: The Hokage is someone who endures the pain and takes the lead in front of everyone… So a Hokage never walks over his comrades’ corpses. Here, leadership is linked to sacrifice and servanthood. It doesn’t involve sitting around smoking cigars in a cushy office while laying off people; it doesn’t involve making expenses at the cost of the little guy at the bottom. The Hokage, the leader, is on the front lines fighting alongside lower levels of hierarchy. In fact, at his best, the Hokage is leading the charge and will be the first to fall. Therefore, when it comes to leadership and decision-making, the Hokage has to treat the hierarchy below him as an extension of himself.

This symbology of the sacrificial leader resonates throughout history. Right away, I remember John 13, which outlines a story where Jesus washes the disciples feet. After that he tells his disciples to do the same.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

I also think of Shakespeare’s Henry V, wherein the King with his men, outnumbered by the French, face death. Henry V gives a rousing speech suggesting that their goal is to maintain the honour of England – and he is putting his own life on the line for that cause. He then suggests that everyone who joins him is his brother in adversity.

KING: […] No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V, in Act IV Scene iii 18–67

This famous phrase, “we band of brothers”, has impacted other creators and has been used in various cultural and political situations since then. This is because the ideal of a sacrificial leader resonates with us. We want to believe that with great power comes great responsibility – and we want to see those with hierarchical power take responsibility and take the hit as much as we do in the lower ranks.

Tolkien also depicts this in LOTR, now properly depicted in Jackson’s films.

Faced then with corporate greed, YongYea’s denunciation seems apt. Juxtaposed against other possible styles of leadership and management, Activision feels like a bloated corpse of greed and ambition. What is so sad is that these self-same corporations that supposedly support equality and diversity get away with ongoing severe income and class inequality.

In short, the media’s over-concentration on other matters such as “intersectional [insert problem group here]”, crying out over racism or gender wage gaps or what have you feels like a sleight of hand, wherein the real issues that are experienced by lower (sometimes white) class workers are being dismissed. In the same way, I have seen for myself how academics dismiss historical white poverty and indentured servitude, while also admitting to driving in from their country-situated homes. It makes me wonder if they decry gentrification only because having city spaces dedicated permanently to the economically disenfranchised will prevent unwanted spillage of the lower classes into other areas. The silence of the Linda Sarsour clone in my class exemplifies the lack of ability to speak out for lower class folk and perpetuates ongoing exploitation of said labour. Their pursuit of social justice will result in either the exploitation of the masses a la Kaguya or in a brainwashed society through propaganda a la Tsukiyomi genjutsu.

I stand with YongYea and Naruto, wanting a world where the path to respectful treatment may not mean the elimination of hierarchy or social systems as a whole, but will result in leadership and management treating the lower ranks as an extension of himself/herself. This is true justice for society.

Note 1

Just want to add that the definition of class is rather murky as well. Class in the old times didn’t simply refer to wealth or political agency but was more connected to families and land. Later on, class referred to economical, political, or social agency – with higher classes having more of a say than lower classes. As living standards and democracy hit Europe and the Western world in general, class structures appeared to vanish. I think perhaps that they have vanished if we were to define them by historical definitions… yet economic inequality does persist. Sometimes for good reason, sometimes not.

Even more insidious is the middle class Academic rhetoric which aligns itself with the lower classes and casts its eyes upward at the “1%”. The 1%, it appears, has it’s own 1%. So just as there are massive gaps between the rich and the poor, there are massive gaps between the very rich and the so-so rich. I would also posit that due to the luxury of a fairly easy life in the West, the self-righteous middle class lost perspective in understanding that they themselves could be seen as part of the 1% when taking global poverty into consideration. Just having running water in your tap that is drinkable is not a given for everyone.

Therefore, I would say that class is really complicated and is a problem by no means solved. In this blog, I want to simply look at the large gaps that exist between upper and lower levels of managerial power and how that impacts wages. I also want to look at how meritocracy is undermined by the exploitative acts of those in power. Meritocracy claims to reward those who take the most risks, do the most of the work, or do the best job, yet here we see people being favoured who may not be fulfilling any of those requirements just stated. Therefore, you could say that I am less concerned about defining the gap between the lower hierarchies and those in leadership and am more concerned in positive frameworks of leadership in general.

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