A recurring theme in Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago is the idea that the organs of the state always earned their pay. There was a mysterious solitaire player in the shadows, who had somehow orchestrated the incredible complexity of the plans to first arrest these men, and then these men, never at a pace that would suggest any pace other than a slow boil. I am now working as one of these organs, so I’ll explain how this happens.
Before, I’ve mentioned that you shouldn’t put your parents in a nursing home, or submit to the cold embrace of the state’s “care” yourself. Why? Are the workers especially dastardly? No, it’s quite simple. Pure arithmetic, really.
I have a period of about two hours to put 12 people to bed. Even the most angelic, selfless reincarnation of all Christian martyrs in one human body will only have 10 minutes per person, including walking time between the rooms (leaving, in reality, about 8 minutes). In each room, this person is charged with about 25 minutes of work, to include dressing for bed, basic hygiene (brushing teeth and such), a bathroom break, several medications, removing the garbage, etc. Heaven forfend that the person is not already in the room, and must be escorted 50 yards over the course of about three minutes! Because of this delay, someone will not have their teeth brushed that night.
One tries to rotate the people who don’t get their teeth brushed, but it can be hard to keep track when one is working a different list of inmates every day. Excuse me, I meant “residents”.
Imagine, further, that one of the staff is having car troubles. Now the list has 18 people on it, with the same 2 hours allotted to work (6 minutes apiece, assuming the energy to sprint between rooms). What happens if someone falls, or starts throwing up due to illness or a medication given in error? This happens often- as I’ve mentioned, the literacy rate among workers is very low. How much time can I afford to spend cleaning up the vomit? So you can see, emergencies are also viewed as extremely inconvenient.
Yesterday, I arrived to work to learn that we were working two people short (that is, three of five), and there were two trainees nervously waiting to be assigned to shadow a regular employee. Having been working here 10 months, I am by six months the most senior employee on the shift. Yes, I’m a thard, I know. The other “regular” employees have been around for two months and one week, respectively. I tried explaining to the shift manager that I couldn’t do the work of three people and also train someone, but this is the same shift manager who had caused us to be short one of the two people via a scheduling error (a fact I deduced, as it could not be spoken aloud). Sheer stupidity, which abounds in the field. Anyway, you can guess how much use such a person is in an emergency- she was out of the building in record time. It is technically her responsibility to cover for the missing workers, but she apparently has a new boyfriend and a more pressing responsibility to find a new father for her brood. It is hard to blame her for seeking happiness elsewhere- we are merely shift workers; we earn our pay and then flee for the hills.
You can see that Stalin didn’t have to be a genius. More and more, it seems he was a simple, medium-functioning sociopath in the right place at the right time. He needed only to demand three hours’ work in ten minutes from everyone in the Soviet Union, and then show them the instruments that would be used on them if they reported failure. The details of this mystical logic worked themselves out. Thirty prisoners in a traincar built for ten? An easier fit than thirty-one, and there is always someone who can fit into your old uniform. Mystical logic.
If you’re wondering, yes, I have proposed systemic fixes to all of these problems. I haven’t heard much back, but the new year’s “Employee of the Month” program is running smoothly and on schedule. Too bad January’s employee of the month is leaving for greener pastures in June. As am I in May, having termed this retreat a “fighting withdrawal”.