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Working for the Man

A scenario.

They train them to talk about cars, television, cartoons, to act “American.” But occasionally—

“It still won't connect.”

“Can you open the sound and audio control panel?”

“Sure...hold on.”

“All right. Now, I want you to mreoaw.”

“I'm sorry?”

“Can you click on the 'Drivers and Settings' box?”

A man in the newspaper: “In a global economy, this is the new frontier.” And yet it's still strange to me that we're outsourcing to cats. “Look,” someone said on television, “for years we've used them to catch our mice and warm our feet. And now they want a better standard of living. This is the other side of the coin in an interspecies economy.”

And: “if a cat can do a job, why shouldn't a cat do a job?”

Suddenly, it's all coming out—Amazon.com is run entirely by lemurs (always has been), and the shoe factories in Thailand employ snakes exclusively. “Snakes don't steal shoes,” said a Nike representative. “It's just good business.” The snakes did attempt to pull together and collectively bargain—for a while, it looked like the cobras were going to strike—but the movement was squashed by management, which threatened to release mongooses on the factory floor. There was a huge article about it, “The Union of the Snake is on the Rise,” in the Times. Which staffs its suscription processing center with moles—something their ombudsmanatee was forced to admit in a recent column.

For a while, it looked like some laws might be passed to keep humans on the job. Before they ran out of money, the AFL-CIO was running a series of commercials. The one that hit hardest:

   INTERIOR. AN OFFICE, CUBICLES, FLUORESCENT 
   LIGHTS. SOUND OF KEYS TAPPING.

         VO:
   Ever thought “a monkey could do 
   this job?” Well, guess what?

   INTERIOR. CHIMP SENDS EMAIL WITH
   MICROSOFT OUTLOOK, CHATTERS.

         VO:
   Microsoft has replaced its entire workforce
   with chimps. And not just Microsoft. Thousands
   of companies are “animal sourcing,” 
   taking jobs away from people. And what
   can you do about it?

   STOCK: CAPITOL DOME, WASHINGTON.

         VO:
   Thanks to the interspecies free trade agreement,
   absolutely nothing.

   SCREECHING CHIMPS THROW HUMAN BABY AROUND 
   LIKE A MEDICINE BALL, THEN BASH
   ITS HEAD OPEN AND EAT ITS BRAIN.

   SHOT OF MEN IN SUITS HAVING THEIR FEET
   LICKED BY DOGS IN TUXEDOS.

         VO:
   You might as well kill yourself. They've
   won.

Of course, if things are bad at home, it's sadder to see what happened in New Delhi. 60 Minutes showed that all of the workers who'd been trained to take tech support calls, and paid only a fraction of what Americans made—remember when everyone was up in arms about that, in 2004?—were being replaced, company by company, by tigers. Sure, they protested. But tigers cross picket lines with impunity, and a lot of protesters were badly eaten. After that it was open for business—the replacement of outsourced Bangladeshi health-insurance claims processors with hammerhead sharks was particularly awful, especially when the workers had to train their replacements, with—well, you saw the footage.

In the end, it's hard to blame the animals. They just want a better life for themselves. When you're graduating thousands millions billions of rabbits a year, of course they're going to work for next to nothing. And the animals don't have it easy. I read an article about how at least 60% of the outsourcing centers being built for dogs and cats are suspiciously close to local pounds. AnimalCorps, the leading outsourcing provider, claimed it was a coincidence, although there are increasingly reports of underperforming (“we prefer the term 'very, very bad'”) dogs being “sent to the back office” and never coming back.

It's not good for people, and it's not good for animals. When you see the dogs returning home, pushing through the door, their ears drooping and their eyes tired, and you run up to greet them, only to be pushed away as they curl up on their floor bed without even turning around twice, you know they're not working for the love of it. Just the other day my dog Rickets walked in from his job answering customer complaints for Oracle, and as I scratched his ears, he admitted he didn't feel secure. “Oh, they can say 'who's a good boy' as much as they want, but in the end it's all dry food, and no biscuits. They got mice that can do this job for half as much,” he said. “And chickens are really good at processing forms. You know what chickens will work for?“

“I do, actually.”

“I'm glad I don't have to say it, then,“ he said, pawing the floor. “Working for the man, you know? It's really only a matter of time.”


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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