The non-profit

Whitney at this point had twenty years’ close acquaintance with non-profit organizations like the museo—with schools, philanthropic societies, cultural institutions and the like. They were in fact her meat and potatoes as far as paid employment went, what first came her way, then by the merciless action of time and the advantage of previous experience. At forty now she had difficulty even imagining doing anything but communications work in such places.

Perhaps because she had a writer’s eye she had developed something like an ethnology of the non-profit—of the personalities who gravitated toward them, of their behavioral norms, forms of power, structures of meaning, modes of production and reproduction. She could have written a book on it if it all weren’t so dispiriting.

At the heart of it, at least among the professional staff, was a structurally conditioned mediocrity, though she would have used this term in a merely descriptive way to indicate a pervasive middleness—a middleness of ability and imagination, of vision and ambition, of execution and achievement—structurally conditioned, she hypothesized, by there being no real necessity to accomplish anything, as distinct from most areas of business and commerce, where one competes and profits or withers away. That she had now spent a week working on something that could have been completed by a simple python script in less time than validating a single contact by hand seemed so perfectly emblematic of that world was something she must hold onto it, write it down somewhere, should by some very strange chance there come a day she found herself writing that ethnography of middleness.

Gloomy as she was now she went on to picture what seemed the certain future of such formations, airless offices overcrowded with desks staffed mainly by women, though never as managers, all of them grinding away at some outmoded process, while the rest of the world relied on a single very fast computing machine circling in a geosynchronous orbit over the civilized earth.

The Italian Novel

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