The Legible Individual

(these are notes to future aphorisms written from the sleeper berth of a big rig)

The poets learned the technology of writing from the accountants and state legislators.  

While the poets predated the accountants, legislators and writing, the philosophers emerged after the technology of writing was discovered. With writing comes a kind of fixity, a physical fixity on the page,
Writing creates Reason. Writing makes possible what appears as a higher magnitude of thought: lengthy argumentation. Symbolic logic, mathematics, and the heavy books of the well known philosophers are not so much testaments to men's thinking, but examples of the elaborate constructions possible with the technology of writing. Men believed they had made discoveries about themselves and the world when in fact they had constructed idols of thought. Statues. Memorials. Stone and iron wrought structures to be erected in the town square and admired by all.
The legible individual arises from work. Man worked so hard to make the land farmable, to kill and chase away the animals, to cut down the forests, to care for his crops, that he declared this land to be his own. An excess of work creates the idea of possession. "This farm is mine," he says. "These crops are mine. I have worked so hard to grow them." And from this simple first idea of possession the philosophers who come later will say, "This mind is my own. These thoughts are my own. I have thought so hard to discover them." The accountants and state legislators made legible the farms and the stored grain surpluses, declaring they belonged to this man or that man, and then in a similar way the philosophers made legible the man himself, declaring these ideas belong to this man, this man to possess these characteristics. Legibility was foremost a technology of identification for the purpose of ownership.
Dodds writes of the early Greeks as attributing to the gods the dramatic outbursts of men. Madness was believed to be something divine. A horrific murder was believed to be the result of a god entering and acting through a man. The idea of total responsibility for each man--that a man should be in possession of every one of his acts--was not known to the ancients.
The legible individual is the man who possesses himself. He has made himself into an accountants ledger of characteristics and histories and beliefs, of likes and dislikes, of addresses and bank account numbers and balances and credit scores.
To have an identity is not different than owning a farm.
The technologies that came after the advent of farming were all to better it and make it more efficient. With the coincident idea of the legible individual--the man in possession of himself--technologies also appeared to make men more efficient in the possession of themselves. The computer is used to expand the state, enable more surplus, but also to assist men in making themselves more legible to themselves (and to the State) as individuals.
Men domesticate themselves with legibility just as the first farmers cut down the forests and annihilated the animals who threatened their crop.
Strangely, the brain shrinks in size as the man becomes more reliant on his technology. The brain is finally left with lesser functioning. Men remember less. The supposed organ of man's individuality is rendered useless. Man becomes all men, all working men. His legibility to himself no longer matters to him.
The future of man is work. He will no longer be an individual. The epoch of the legible individual will pass as only his work gives him definition. Then, finally, he will no longer even think of his work as what he is. The autistic is one step in this becoming. The autistic examines computer code for errors out of some obsession; not for pay, not for the hoarding of surplus fiat currency for the purchase gadgets and vacations. The autistic is the first step in the annihilation of the individual.
Legibilities change the world. It does not matter whether a new legibility, a new word and idea, 
makes sense or is logical. Legibility was never about logic. This is the failing of the philosophers. 

Legibility first appeared as accounting and statebuilding. It was only after its appearance that the oral singers and poets took it up and applied it to their art. Perhaps the philosophers were an offshoot of the first lawyers and politicians (Plato). The philosophers, like the poets, had previously not written anything down.
And "by writing it down" philosophy and poetry took the form of accounting and gave themselves up to state oversight and a general feeling of reasonableness and the personal triumph that accompanies this feeling. The introduction of writing to poetry and philosophy allowed for a whole vocabulary of new legibility within these areas which became known as disciplines with their own practitioners and schools and diplomas, and a whole infrastructure of legibility grew up around them. Philosophy and poetry could now aspire to the rigor of the state's laws.
Legibility promotes a reasonableness that fascinates certain men.
There could be no legibility before the first farmer. There was no legible individual before the first farmer.
The farmer became a legible individual by way of his work, his many hours of toil in the fields, which, formerly being forested and filled with animals, he transformed into a new vision of the earth. The farmer worked from dawn to dusk while the hunter sat by idly watching from the forest. The farm was the farmer's own. It was made his own by all the work he put into it. He must protect the result of all his work. It seems the notion of possession begins with the idea of protecting what one has toiled for. No one is really attached to that which comes to them by accident, or is granted to all men by the gods as an abundance. But what one has had to work long for one has a strong attachment: Possession.


Ketchup, Ammonia, Lizards and Oranges

I. Ketchup

It was 4 am when the light turned from red to green beside the door. The lumpers were finished offloading the trailer. I went to shipping and receiving for my paperwork. The old woman pushed a yellow paper across the counter.

"There was cargo damaged that you'll need to sign for. Two cases of ketchup."

I pulled the truck forward from the door and walked back and looked inside the trailer. There were two cardboard boxes. One was crushed. The other was stained and wet and stunk of ketchup. I thought to throw them in the trash and drive to my next stop, but I remembered it was necessary to report cargo claims to the high command.

The woman at high command in Green Bay, Wisconsin told me to put the two cases in my cab and I would be instructed later on what to do with them.

I wrapped the wet case in paper towel and lifted it out. It weighed at least forty pounds. I put it on the floor on the passenger side. I set the crushed case on top of it.

II. Ammonia

The cab stunk of ketchup. The damaged boxes contained thousands of Burger King ketchup packets.

I pulled in to some sort of chemical plant for my pickup. There were large silver tanks with steel hoses and the air was thick with ammonia. I got out and went inside shipping and receiving for instructions.

I was to wear at all times a hard hat, a respirator, goggles and thick leather gloves. Even when I was driving.

Despite the protection the ammonia stung at my eyes and throat. I drove to the back of the plant where a man said he would spot for me on a blind back around a building and into a warehouse. There was limited room to swing the cab around. No driver had tried it yet with a big sleeper cab, he said.

Wearing the hardhat and gloves and goggles and the respirator made for a very awkward back but after a few pullups I put it into the warehouse. They loaded the trailer with 43,000 lbs of urea on wrapped pallets.

III. Lizards

Vanco was the nearest Cat Scale. It was still early. The sun had just come up. 

Stockton, California is a nasty town and the Vanco truck stop is the nastiest of nasty truck stops. I pulled onto the scale and pressed the call button. Before the attendant answered a pair of lot lizards, a black and a white one, came up to my door.

"You looking for company, daddy?"

IV. Oranges

I followed the computer navigation past where I should have turned. In my mirror behind me I saw the trucks parked at a building. Then the pavement narrowed to a single track and went up a steep hill through the orchards. I was looking for anywhere to turn around. The pavement crumbled and turned to dirt. At the top of the hill the dirt road ended at a chainlink fence.

What to do now, I thought.

This dirt area at the hilltop was wider than the road I had come up on, but it was not wide enough. Perhaps I could drive into the orchard down through one of the rows of trees and drive in deep enough that I can back the trailer back out and cutting it hard, swing the cab around.

I turned slowly into the orchard between the trees. The truck tore oranges from the trees on both sides and the branches scraped down the trailer. This had to be done, I told myself. There is no other way.

I drove it in deep enough and then started to slightly angle the trailer back out, tearing more oranges from the trees. I had the windows down and it smelled wonderfully of citrus. The citrus smell overpowered the smell of the ketchup.

I made many pullups and slowly angled the trailer around. I tore more oranges and branches from the trees. It took me a half hour but I got out of the orchard.

V. Ketchup (Redux)

I dropped the empty in Sacramento and picked up the relay. It was 29,045 lbs. according to the truck computer. Anything under 30,000 lbs we were told it is not necessary to scale.

But after I coupled up and pulled away the load felt heavy.

There was a non-certified scale on site and I ran over it and wrote down the weights on each of the axles. I didn't trust the scale but the load scaled out legal. Still, something didn't feel right.

Sixty miles later I passed the first weigh station on I-5 and it was closed. I thought of the axle weight numbers I had written down. I realized they added up to over 76,000 lbs. I was pulling a lot more than 29,000 lbs. I pulled the paperwork out and saw there was a second page I hadn't looked at. An additional 11,000 lbs had been added to the trailer.

The load was over 42,000 lbs. I needed to scale this thing immediately before I hit another weigh station.

My navigation said the nearest Cat Scale was 40 miles away. Fortunately, the nearest weigh station was 20 miles after that. Still, if the load could not be made legal I was over 100 miles from where I picked it up. High command would not be pleased.

I scaled it at the truck stop and went in for the ticket.

There was 34,000 lbs exactly on the drive axles. I knew the law stated it had to be under 34,000 but I couldn't remember if it was legal at exactly that number. Nobody at the truck stop seemed to know either.

The tandems were already all the way forward so the only way to move weight off the drive axles was by pushing the fifth wheel the one remaining notch forward. But this would have the effect of moving 350 lbs off the drive axles and putting me about 50 lbs over the steer axle 12,000 lbs limit.

I would need to cut at least 50lbs of weight from the cab. The only thing to do would be to jettison the ketchup. That would bring my steer axle weight back below 12,000. The ketchup would have to go. The high command would have to understand. 

I lifted out each of the boxes and set them beside a dumpster.

I pulled back onto the scale for the re-weigh and went inside for the ticket. 

It was a success. By jettisoning the ketchup I was now legal by 40 lbs. on the steer axle.


Exploitation, Part II

Private equity has shifted much of the legal liability of truck operation onto the driver. Private equity has accomplished this through lobbying the CMSA for expanded safety protocols that put all blame upon the driver and relieve the private equity ownership of liability. Both the private equity ownership and government can claim the public is safer. Its devious and well played on both their parts, because the accident lawyers (who are powerful politically as well) are still in business but are only able to strip the assets off drivers, not the private equity owned trucking companies. The federal government has added paperwork and requirements of drivers, hours of service regulations that when broken can trigger fines of thousands of dollars. So the federal government has opened up a new cash stream off the truck driver. 

The DOT has set up a points system with an account on each individual driver. These points accumulate as a result of citations and accidents and upon reaching a certain level cause the driver to be stripped of his CDL. Insurance companies also check a driver's points and may choose not to insure him. Because of the severe government oversight in trucking and frequent inspections, it is inevitable that a driver will get stuck with a bad trailer (1 in 5 trailers I pick up have a citable problem) and begin to have points added to his record.

At a certain point the driver will be done, out of the game. But this also serves the private equity spreadsheet men. For the elimination of older, experienced truckers who's wages have slowly risen by a penny a mile over a long period means they can be replaced with young, new drivers with clean records and, importantly for the spreadsheet, hired at the lowest per mile wage. As a result, trucking companies are always looking for new hires fresh out of trucking school.

In addition, there are the heavy punishments meted out by courts in recent cases involving truck accidents. One Florida driver was found to have been on his cell phone for 20 minutes during his DOT mandated 8 hour uninterrupted sleep in his sleeper berth. The judge and jury concluded this was evidence of negligence in an accident that killed 7 children on a school bus. The judge wanted to give him 7 years prison time for each of the 7 dead children. So the judicial system, district attorneys, and the public also get their piece of the truck driver, a person who they clearly view as not simply a public menace but a likely moral degenerate.

If wages had increased commensurate to the risks of fines and imprisonment (as well as because of government limits on drive time and introduction of paperwork) then a positive risk/reward for trucking might be argued. But since the Teamsters and other unions were broken, wages have stagnated despite drivers spending more time doing unpaid paperwork and being forced not to drive due to HOS limits.

It should be noted that mileage pay is also based off the distance between two cities as the crow flies, which, naturally, is much shorter than a truck route. Any driving done inside a city qualifies as 0 mileage. Additionally, the company has a policy that job assignments cannot be turned down. I recently had 2 trips with 2 two hour live loads (unpaid time) within Portland, which being within the city meant my miles driven was calculated at 0. That day I assumed the risks of fines and imprisonment in exchange for $0. 

I did some calculations based upon my work totals, which I broadly define as anything involved in the operation of the truck, meaning paperwork, ETA calculations, pre/post trips, hooking and unhooking trailers, live on/off loads, etc. Around 3-5 hours of my day I do things necessary to performing the job which are not actually driving, which means I am unpaid for those activities. A gross pay versus total hours worked leaves my effective hourly wages at under $10/hour, and this is, of course, working 7 days a week with total worked hours well over overtime. But as pay is calculated per mile there is no overtime for truck drivers. It is a crummy job, worse than a minimum wage job, and there is a constant risk of fines and prison time. It is an industry remade to continually suppress the cost of labor and to empower various institutions, both public and private, to feed off defenseless drivers. 


The Old Man

"You get all talky and the next thing you know you got no money and you're driving a truck."--Moraline in conversation with Maximin, on the transition from trader big money to poverty

I learned a lot from the old man from New York when he visited and trained me to drive the dump truck. The little old guy had almost 50 years driving experience. He had driven everything. 

What I remember most was he was a funny pleasant guy out of the truck but the second he got behind the wheel he got angry and started cursing and yelling. With that thick Long Island accent he scared the hell out of the payloader and scale masters and jobsite laborers. Portland people didnt know what to make of it so they shut up. He was pissed off all the time behibd the wheel. One time this yahoo guy in downtown Portland says, "put it over there." Over there was backing blind around 3 corners with trenches on both sides. "Oh, fucking put it there, eh?" Says the old man. 


Halfway there the old man sees the labrorer looking annoyed he's taking so long. 

"Hey! C'mere you!" He yells at the laborer. "What do you fucking think this is, a bicycle?"

The guy looked at him sheepishly now and said he was sorry. The old man acted like that on every jobsite we went to. 

I learned quickly to do the same when I started driving the dump truck by myself. They were vultures who only wanted to see you fail on the jobsites. You had to mistreat them to get any respect, or at least just to be left alone to make your dump. 

But when I started driving long haul over the road I went back to being nice and relaxed. I didnt think I would need to mistreat anyone. There werent any jobsites to go on. But there were other vultures all around me. The other long haul drivers. Then there were the idiots at the destinations watching you back in. There were idiot company drivers who even offered to spot for you just to fuck you up on your backing. 

The old man was right. Be pissed off all the time behind the wheel. Yell at everyone. It was the only way to be left alone and respected. 


Exploitation, Part I

Before graduating from the Fontana, California Schneider Training Academy we were to have one final 2 hour presentation. It was to be a presentation against unions and the unionization of truck drivers. In length it rivaled the presentation against sexual harassment and was considerably longer than any presentation of driving technique and safety on the road. 

A young bearded guy wearing a Schneider polo entered the classroom. He had a big smile on his face.

"Welcome to Schneider! We're so glad you have joined the Schneider family! You are now a part of something really special! How is everyone doing today?!"

There was no answer.

He tried it again but louder. "How is everyone doing today?!"

"I guess its early and you guys have been in training for a long time. I know its tough. I'm not a driver, but I know its tough."

He became serious.

"Now, I want to get right to the point here. This is very important. You are going to be approached out on the road. A man will come to you and make you promises. He will want you to sign something. It will all appear to be in your best interests, to help you. This man works for a trucker's union. If you sign something, anything, it will mean that money comes out of your paycheck. Do not sign. I repeat, do not sign anything. When you sign something I can no longer help you. If you sign something they will take your money."

So this fat bearded clown was the company shill, I thought. Part hype man and part shill.

"Come to me if you are approached. Call me. We can discuss it. But do not sign anything. I am here to help you and to protect you. We do not need unions here at Schneider. We have an open door policy. We have respect and communication. With respect and communication a union can add nothing. A union can only cost you money. A union can do you no good."

He became cheerful again and said he had a video for us to watch.

"This video begins with an address from our CEO. I love this address. You are going to love this address. It gets me so excited and pumped up! Just to see and listen to our CEO fires me up and this address you're about to hear is just awesome!"

A pudgy middle aged man with a receding hairline appeared on the screen. He wore a sport jacket with an open collar and began to speak in a monotone voice about the values of respect and communication at Schneider. He went on to speak of the company's greatness, and it was then that I became distracted by his eyes which were slightly off from the center of the screen. They moved from right to left as he droned on and I realized he was reading off a teleprompter. I started to doze off. 

"Man that was great! How great was that!"

The company shill had awoken me.

I listened for awhile longer to his pro-Schneider and anti-union talk and I began to hate him. He had the sincere enthusiasm of a house nigger. He had betrayed each of us drivers for what he believed was a seat at the master's table. It was the worst sort of deficiency of character, and one he hoped to cover over to himself by getting us to agree with him and not join the union. I had only contempt for him.

"Does anyone have any questions?" asked the shill.

I raised my hand.

"How many times the average driver's salary is our CEO's annual income? Is this multiple increasing or decreasing?"

"I'm not sure I understand the question." The shill looked confused and uncertain. The others in the classroom turned around to look at me.

"How many times the average driver's salary is the CEO's salary? Over the last ten years is this multiple increasing or decreasing or staying steady? Its a question of income inequality."

"Oh, I think I understand your question. And that's a great question," the shill smiled, "And I can look that up for you. Come and see me after the presentation." He seemed to have regained his professional confidence. For a moment perhaps it had been in the balance.

But I did not approach him when the presentation ended and the shill made no attempt to stop me as I left the classroom. I hoped that the others had realized as I did, that whatever this bearded company clown shill was for, you, as a driver, had to be against. The message had not been wasted. Respect and communication be damned, the union was our only hope.


The Asphalt Scar

It began with animals. Perhaps the smallest. It was a way through the forests and brush to get to something to sustain them. It was perhaps the best way to reach the water. Or the best way to pass when the seasons changed. 

The way through for these animals drew other, larger animals. Some were predators who fed upon the smaller animals who used the way. Others used the way for the same reasons the smaller animals did. The grasses were worn and pushed aside where the animals passed through. Wood ticks hung from the stalks of grass along the way waiting for the warmth of a passing animal to attach themselves and to feed.

One day a man appeared and used the way of the animals. He was drawn to the way just as the animals were. He found it led to a lake. There were fine views of the mountains that surrounded the valley. He called the way down to the lake his own.

The man built his house upon the lake and the way of the animals that was now his own he named Lakeside Way. He had a family and they used the way and now the animals were scared off. It was a human way now. It was a path. 

Then, later, the way was laid over with cinders for horse and carriage, and later with pavement for automobiles for the families who now vacationed at the many homes upon the lake. 

Then the local planners dammed the river that fed into the lake and the valley was washed out. The damming was necessary for hydro-power for electricity in the city and the cost/benefit analysis made it right. The first man's home and the vacation homes were now under the waters of a much larger lake. 

But part of the old road remained. A much larger road that was being built by the federal government was paved over the old Lakeside Way that was not under the lake. The federal government called the new asphalt road an interstate highway. 

Animals were drawn to the highway for the food that sometimes was thrown from the vehicles. Other animals tried to pass over the highway and get to the waters of the lake but were run over by truck drivers who's company policy is not to avoid animals. 

Along the interstate highway were deer without heads; in one place there were hundreds of crushed jackrabbits who had attempted a group crossing. There were dead skunks and racoons and other smudges upon the road that were unidentifiable. Men in their automobiles crashed and maimed and killed one another. It became a place for scavenging and for death. The vehicles passed so quickly over it. The way of animals had become an asphalt scar upon the land. 


A Trucker's Chapel

At Love's Truckstop off I-95 in Woodburn, OR

The wages of sin is death, he told me. But the love of Jesus Christ the Lord is your forgiveness. Later that night I got down from the sleeper in the cab and went and urinated in the tall grass behind the chapel. It was a clear night and I could see across the dark fields to some silos. Beyond them were dark mountains. I thought of the wages of sin. Then I thought of my wages of 32 cents a mile. I walked back through the rows of idling big rigs. The noise reminded me of how the cicadas got every seven years. I climbed up into the cab and went back to sleep. 
Copyright © Moraline Free