Moving through life’s assembly line


From the time we are conceived until the moment we die, we are all products within the confines of society – moving through life’s assembly line.

The baby is born, product of sex between her or his parents. Physical and even personality traits to a certain extent are the product of genes. These will keep following the offspring across the ever ongoing assembly line as elements are added.

As the offspring grows and her or his experiences accumulate, they mingle with the genetically predetermined traits. The environment, interactions with people (who in turn bring in their own genetic and experience-related baggage), and the obstacles encountered will further mold the person’s internal journey and external progress. And vice-versa, ad infinitum, in a mutually influencing relationship.

Our Brave New World is happening now.

The boy and the girl enter the school section of the assembly line and each is stamped with labels there: tall, short, thin, fat, studious, lazy, sweet, impolite, brown, pale.

Our pre-conceived notions tell us this is a typical assembly line factory worker of Asian background, probably somewhere in Asia. (Public domain photo)
Our pre-conceived notions tell us this is a typical assembly line factory worker of Asian background, probably somewhere in Asia. (Public domain photo)

According to the label they choose to see proverbially tattooed on the child, and the value they place on it (through the lenses of the social experiences they themselves have acquired), the child’s classmates and even teachers distance themselves or come closer, insult or otherwise brand the child as popular, clever. These are fluid labels in themselves, titles often stripped a lot more easily than acquired.

The boy and the girl are faced with assembly lines that are at once similar and different. There are distinct expectations for them, still, somehow. Often these are socially predetermined and hard to peel off the mechanism of the assembly line. The boy still comes through the assembly line in front of the girl, and tends to reach the end of it before her, too (death).

The boy and the girl grow up into young man and woman – some labels have stuck, others have fallen or been taken off. Now that corporal and mental power and the array of desires and choices (or the illusion thereof) have grown, (constructed) sins have also accrued, and the negative labels become more strident and offensive: whore, fag, cretin, swindler, and so on.

These keep holding the same purpose: that of taking value away from the product (person), usually because another product (person), or set of products (group of people), feels somehow threatened.

So the shunned product tends to try to be more like the one shunning it, and ends up never quite finding itself, fading amid the masses on the shelves of society.

So much of what transpires on the assembly line is beyond our control, although we so desperately try to exert some. We must all sell ourselves, the version of ourselves appropriate for a particular occasion. We must all be chameleons. But our colors, and ability to switch between them, also come from labels, experiences, interactions.

The female product goes for her dream job (is it really her dream or someone else’s dream for her or both?), carrying with her whatever stigma or shiny tag (tall, short, thin, fat, studious, lazy, sweet, impolite, brown, pale, plus insert boob or ass or educational or professional qualification). The weight of her self-esteem, social station and positive and negative interactions and reinforcement helps determine whether she even tries for and later lands the job (how she carries herself and tackles the questions).

The interviewer’s preconceived notions, personal traits, mood that day, maybe previous experiences with someone who looked or behaved like the candidate, surely also play a big role.

What looks to be US Navy chefs working on the kitchen assembly line. (Public domain photo)
What looks to be US Navy chefs working on the kitchen assembly line. (Public domain photo)

The male product is often worth more on the pay scale, and sometimes more in the interviewer’s eyes. But other variations come into play, such as race, age, social status, criminal history, of course, and on the flip side, affirmative action. (Tall, short, thin, fat, studious, lazy, sweet, impolite, brown, pale.)

Plus, there’s always the possibility of being accused of spinelessness – while society says that women, of course, should be less bitchy. The new job produces a few new labels, reinforces or weakens old ones. New sins may also accrue.

Relations between products attracted to each other (same or opposite sex, gender fluid) become ever more bewildering for both sides of a pair.

They sometimes crash on the assembly line. Or move side by side. They get in each other’s way, get entangled, melded together even. Together they may even get stuck in some narrow section of the machine, or fall off. Love is often not entirely explainable and may seem quite random, and therein lies its power… to somehow stall the machine, though never quite break it.

Industrial structure in Lithuania. (Public domain photo)
Industrial structure in Lithuania. (Public domain photo)

Meanwhile, the high echelons of society take no actual pity over the traveling peons on the assembly line they think they control. We, the peons, tend to be just numbers and statistics that only acquire meaning when something horrible or wonderful seems to alter our predicted social course. We can be flicked off and put back on the shelves of society with one word, one legitimized command.

However, the “higher ups” are products themselves, although their tags are shinier, although they may be in denial.

One day, the product – no matter its set of labels or value of its brand – finds itself old. It’s past its expiration date and is no longer useful to society, except maybe as a symbol.

Abandoned factory with overgrown brush in Germany. (Public domain photo)
Abandoned factory with overgrown brush in Germany. (Public domain photo)

Most of the time, the product (person) is forgotten, buried along with her or his labels, a nicer label stamped on her or his grave – to also be weathered by the workings of nature and time. The workings beyond the assembly line we’ve all constructed and been constructed by.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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