Being Nigel

I recently expressed some of my dissatisfaction with my current career:

It received much more of a response than I expected, but I stand by this statement 100 percent. And it’s not “yardwork” per se that I enjoy (though I do). It’s actually creating something and doing something that does not involve wallowing in minutiae while sitting at a computer for eight or more hours per day.

There is a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the contemporary office job. This is for two main reasons:

  1. It is highly unnatural; and
  2. There is little to nothing to show for your efforts.

Where’s the sense of accomplishment in shuffling through emails? What pride can there be in spending hours contributing something infinitesimally minute to some project that you have no ownership over and does not affect you?

And in the case of law, everything is air. Everything is made up. A law doesn’t exist. It’s a shared fiction that everybody agrees to abide by under pain of financial injury or physical imprisonment. However, these things can be changed relatively quickly–today’s wrong is tomorrow’s right.

Plus, it all keeps coming. All of it. There is no end to the busy work.

This can’t be unique to law, but at least some other jobs probably provide a more tangible sense of accomplishment. I think of somebody working on creating software, or designing a building, or even a guy on an assembly line or out landscaping: At the end of the day, you’ve created a thing. I know it’s easy to romanticize physical labor, and I know it often doesn’t pay as well as our wonderful brand new “service economy.” But hear me out.

Remember the movie City Slickers? Remember when it’s “Career Day” at Billy Crystal’s character’s son’s school and the other dads have interesting jobs, but Billy Crystal’s character, who sells advertising space on radio stations, finally admits that he “sells air”?

That’s a lot of us out here today. Men, especially. No wonder Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby decide to do something traditionally masculine and become cowboys. It’s a comedy, sure, but there’s an undercurrent of something real there.

Some days, I have an overwhelming urge to fight. I want to fight and get hit and hit other people and not know if I’m going to make it. I want to bleed as much as I want to make others bleed.

Other days, I want to go out in the forest, chop some trees, and build a house. Or a palace. Or make a castle out of huge rocks. Just because.

Although I hate the term “midlife crisis,” because it’s usually used to mock men who are unhappy with their work situations, the feeling is totally understandable. And I’ll tell you what I think it stems from: doing what we were told we should do. Continue reading “Being Nigel”

“Amateur” versus “Amateurish”

provsamateurforex

I love how musicians, especially rock musicians, for some reason equate “knowing the rules of music” with “being a worse musician or songwriter than someone who deliberately doesn’t know any rules.” I find that laughable.

Yet I also find laughable the idea that just because somebody doesn’t have the stamp of approval from “the academy,” what they do is somehow sub-par. I tie the music to writing and technology, trust me.

“Amateur” doesn’t mean you’re “amateurish,” as I explain in this video.

I also start with another shout-out to author Adam Lane Smith and his excellent debut novel, Making Peace.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

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No One Can Do the Work For You

People want to be told what to do. This is a fact, despite our protestations to the contrary. Many of us crave leadership, reassurance, a direction.

But when when we get this, we resent the fact that we still have to do the work to get where we want to be.

Otherwise, we resent that we’re being led by the nose and micromanaged.

We’re a fickle species, aren’t we? Especially when it comes to the King of All Topics to Be Avoided: religion.

Me, I’m not a very good listener.

I had an interesting conversation the other night with two co-workers, one who is a Catholic and the other who had actually studied and trained to be a Catholic priest, but ended up not taking his vows.

The discussion was far-ranging, covering things like the nature of belief, why rituals and rites are important, where morality comes from, and the vital role played by tradition and study versus personal interpretations of Scripture.

But what I started thinking about after this conversation really got my mind abuzz.

One attack used by opponents of religion (though their ire strangely always seems focused only on Christianity…) is the idea that, if God were real, why would He allow any suffering on Earth? “Show us a sign, losers!” they demand, as though God is a puppet to dispense blessings, or a slot-machine that just the right prayer worded just the right way can force to give a winning spin.

Such a deity would be a puppet master, treating humanity the way that lots of pagan gods, from the Greeks to the Norse to the Egyptians did.

He would be telling us what to do…and make us do it.

Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, of Jesus and John, Peter and Mary and Paul lets us figure things out on our own. He may give leadership and guidance, but instead of fastening us with a leash, He opens the door and let’s us make our own ways through the wilds of the world.

Why is that?

I think a lot about how our interactions with others mirror God’s interactions with his creation. Even the Deists viewed him as a “Watchmaker,” so to speak, setting the machine in motion and hiding behind the scenes.

Think of God as a Father: The way He relates to us, his “children,” if you will, is a model of how we should relate to our own children as parents. Particularly the example of Jesus (“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”)

A good parent isn’t one who coddles their children. This ensures that the child will grow up to be a fearful and risk-averse adult, always appealing to authority for help, unable to make anything resembling an adult decision.

But what about being a teacher? It sounds kind of similar, doesn’t it?

Continue reading “No One Can Do the Work For You”

The Comprehension Gap

The logo for the organization Reading Is Fundamental

I feel it is obligatory to write about the whole Google memo thing; it’s all everybody is talking about anyway, so why not chime in?

“Because enough is enough, Alex!”

Ah, but I think you’ll find my take to be slightly different than your average customers’.

(See what I did there? It’s called foreshadowing).

So the memo, what some are calling an “anti-diversity screed” and are characterizing as “arguing that women are not biologically fit for tech roles.”

Which begs the question: did these outlets even read the memo, or are they lying about it?

You see, I am not here to discuss the contents of the memo, or its now-fired author James Damore, or even discuss what this means to the future of the American workplace–if you want to read a good article about all that stuff, check out Lord Adeonistake on the whole controversy.

I’m not even here to talk about the media: I do not expect honesty from them, nor do I expect them to be particularly intelligent enough to grasp what the memo actually said, which can be boiled down thusly:

The gap in representation in STEM fields does not stem from sexism, but from the AVERAGE PREFERENCES women make when choosing an occupation, some of which are driven by biological differences between men and women, and Google’s strategy of using discrimination to promote women, and certain other groups in general, does more harm than good.

That’s it. The author wanted more women to be working in STEM fields generally, and at Google in particular–in fact, he sounds like a fan of diversity (this is where reading comprehension comes in: did people just skip that part, or ignore it?). The memo is not “anti-diversity”; it is more “anti-Google’s current diversity policies, which he claims are not producing the desired effect, and are in fact causing more harm than good.”

A picture of the outside of Google headquarters

That’s a bit more nuanced, right? It’s not as good for clickbait, though. And you’ll notice that I am neither attacking nor defending the contents of the memo . . . I’m just trying to set a baseline of understanding so we know what we are talking about. It’s like in a formal debate or an informal argument: both sides need to be sure that they are talking about the same thing. Remember when that used to be important?

And yet, people want him drawn and quartered. People are frothing-at-the-mouth mad. You may find the contents of the memo offensive or distasteful–and that’s fine–but I certainly hope you at least read and understood what it actually said.

More shocking, to me at least, is this:

So many people seem to lack both a basic understanding of statistics and of basic reading comprehension.

And many of these people went to college.

This is what disturbs me the most. Continue reading “The Comprehension Gap”

Experts At Distrust

Trust

There are misconceptions everywhere. You’d have to be willfully blind not to realize this. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that’s not the danger. The danger is that very few like to admit that there are gaps in their knowledge and understanding. It makes us feel small, stupid, inadequate . . .

But such admissions also provide a healthy and much-needed dose of humility. But in a world where we carefully cultivate our images, such admissions are anathema.

And so we live in a time when everybody is an expert on everything, we are governed by our feelings (which, let’s be honest, has been the case for most of human history), and so few want to ask difficult questions or think difficult thoughts.

How did we get this way?

I don’t know. I suppose it’s some combination of classism on the part of the ruling elites, resentment on the part of the rest of us, the system being proven not to work as advertised, and nobody interested in bridging the gaps between us.

What’s that, you say? I’m being hyperbolic about the system?

Au contraire. If you look at the post-World War II neo-liberal world order, it is collapsing in spectacular fashion, and it really only took half a generation to do so.

But I digress. The problem as I see it is that there are thorny issues that need resolving, very careful resolving, but nobody trusts each other.

Continue reading “Experts At Distrust”

Make America Humble Again?

While neighborhood-scouting in the tony areas of Northern Virginia with my family, I saw a house proudly decorated with signs reading the following:

MAKE AMERICA HUMBLE AGAIN

I wasn’t able to get a picture since I was driving, but here’s how they looked: They weren’t homemade, so I know there’s some enterprising company wishing to express this sentiment (which only seems to arise when a Republican is president, but I digress), and there are obviously people who want to pay for this sentiment. 

The text was meant to simulate something, a name-card, maybe, reading “Make America ________ Again,” like a political mad-lob. The word “humble” was written in a cursive script in the blank space, and the whole thing was on a pinkish background. 

Not the sign, but the closest picture I could find.

The signs got me thinking about the concepts “America” and “humility,” which is a persuasion win on both the signmaker and the sign-hanger’s part. 

But given what I know about America specifically and geopolitics at large, was America ever humble?

It’s the same way people wonder if America was ever great (hint: It still is, but mostly in relation to most everywhere else). 

America began life as a gigantic “Eff You!” to the most powerful empire in the world. 

It prevailed against incredible odds, and somehow survived the difficult decades after, to emerge some two centuries later as the world’s only superpower.

It’s kind of hard to be humble with a history like that. 

Look, we all know it’s not going to last. All empires–because that’s what America is, like it or not–have their ups and downs. And they change forms. 

Look at England, for example. It’s not the same country it was in 1066, or even 1966.  And yet it persists. 

America isn’t even that old, and we already don’t exist as founded. We haven’t for a lot time. 

America as founded died a long time ago, and is now firmly in the “smells funny” phase.  Continue reading “Make America Humble Again?”

The People Dressed in Grey

What makes a leader? The ingredients of leadership are likely different depending on who you ask. But as this speech by William Deresiewicz, given to West Point’s 2009 graduating class suggests, solitude and the ability to be alone is a huge part of it. 

Solitude and leadership…a very interesting concept. 

It’s not exactly a recent speech, but it’s a powerful one. And it heavily references one of my favorite books, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The references to Conrad’s masterpiece resonated the most with me, not just in the idea of solitude and the importance of being alone with one’s thoughts, concentrating on ideas, and thinking things through–a diminishing trait in this technological age, especially among the younger setnd it’s importance to leadership, but in how Conrad discusses what doesn’t make a good leader:

In between is the Central Station, where Marlow spends the most time, and where we get our best look at bureaucracy in action and the kind of people who succeed in it. This is Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, the big boss:

He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. . . . Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. . . . He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. . . . He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? . . . He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause.

Note the adjectives: commonplace, ordinary, usual, common. There is nothing distinguished about this person.

We all know this guy: The nobody who seems to do nothing yet tells everybody else what to do. The kiss-ass who somehow rises through the ranks. The boss you never want to let slip anything remotely contrary or controversial for fear it will reach the ear of the exact people you never want to hear it. 

In short, Bill Lumbergh from Office Space

Inspiring uneasiness…

Doesn’t it seem as though people like this run the world? Why? Continue reading “The People Dressed in Grey”