jobs
2014-07-19

As I look through my personal sample of friends, it's hard for me to really identify anyone who "has a job," who has anything approaching the level of stability and security that was expected in generations gone by. Admittedly, my sample skews towards the young and counterculture, so perhaps it is biased.

Quite a few of my friends seem to scrape by with odd jobs, giving out flyers outside of events, or perhaps they work in retail or waiting tables or something. Massage therapists, yoga instructors, spin class teachers, funny how many jobs there are involved in feeding people too much food and then helping them waste those calories in machines powered by yet more fuel. I cannot fathom why someone would pay money to drive somewhere and park to ride a stationary bicycle. One person who teaches spin classes looks at me like I have three eyes when I suggest she might ride her bike fifteen minutes to meet me somewhere rather than drive.

My closest friend is a bright young man who primarily works as an art model, supplementing that work with a variety of other gigs. I suspect part of why he keeps to those things is because of a minor felony in his youth, something that, if I get the story right, he was entrapped under laws that really oughtn't be laws, but the stigma of that felony, I think, keeps him from being comfortable with approaching any sort of "establishment" job. But then why would he want to get mixed up in all that anyway if he can help it, it's much more fun to join the circus.

Quite a few get by with help from parents, from money earned and saved back when such a thing was possible, riding the crest of a wave that is fueled by student loans. They graduate, and then they take unpaid internships or fall into the same patterns is the rest.

I know a few in academia, I'm not very close to them mostly, but they are fueled by that same machine of student loans, selling people degrees - a degree and an education seem to be two entirely different things. Education, really, is free nowadays - there is more than enough free coursework online, from major universities and institutions such as the wonderful Khan Academy that there is no real need to pay for it... and there is no real need to actually learn anything to get a degree, you just pay the money and get the paper.

Quite a lot of people appear to be on 'disability,' which more and more appears to be a replacement for welfare - we've simply made many of the things that would have gotten people onto welfare into diseases. A half-decade ago we might have said someone was just a freeloader and didn't want to work, today they are diagnosed as 'depressed,' are handed pills and money.

I have one friend who is an intellectual property lawyer, the less said about the value added by this institution the better, except to note Elon Musk's rejection of the patent system, that a patent is basically a lottery ticket to win a lawsuit. I've got 18 patents or so, I made sure I got my bonuses from Nokia for those, because I know they're not worth a damn - people talk to me about patenting their ideas and I generally tell them there's no point.

I have another friend who is a brilliant doctor, who has pioneered laser surgery to get rid of eye floaters. He spent half his career convincing anyone this was actually a problem. Aside from the surgeons and trauma doctors, who can see they're doing real work, most seem to just be paid by the pharmaceutical industry to shove pills at people when they ask for them, most of which are little better than placebos, and the rest are of dubious value, treating problems we've brought upon themselves.

I don't have health insurance - I don't see where I really need it. I know I need to quit smoking and lose weight, I don't need to be told that, any other problems I have are cosmetic. Past that, we've got overdiagnosed cancer, leading us to fill patients full of poison, like shooting a thousand random people hoping to kill the one criminal. We're finally starting to be able to target that, send cops and spies into our cells to ferret out the bad guys. Medicine is coming close to completion, just as dentistry did.

I have rather a few that are involved in the entertainment industry - they also have no stability, if they do good work, they make their rent, but it's all hand-to-mouth, long hours, gigs gotten as favors from friends.

I have a few, mostly family, who earn a solid living doing good old fashioned hard work - drilling oil on offshore platforms, to fuel the other idle pursuits. They do well, but the work is generally hard and dangerous, and then you have my sister who is retired after a lifetime of working for US Steel - a company propped up by the government for longer than anyone will care to admit.

It just seems like everyone I know is scrambling for jobs and money that simply don't exist. Basically, we've automated the middle class out of existence. Most of the jobs are bringing data into the computers (data entry, cashier, etc) or bringing it out (packing stuff for amazon to ship it).

Creative pursuits pay well, if you are one of the very few who is truly talented and able to find out how to monetize their talent, though that too has been scraped to the lowest denominator. It amazes me that the porn industry continues to make any money at all, when there are so many willing exhibitionists working for the thrill of it, and I see that as a very direct example of what has gone wrong with more acceptable artistic pursuits like writing. Who reads books? We buy them, as if buying them was the same as reading them. I don't really pay for any artistic content - I should, but I'm skint as well, and I have no problem pirating everything I want.

The middle class in this country has been engineered into obsolescence, and the manufacturing jobs were pushed into other countries where life almost literally has no value; those workers are still needed for those jobs for a few more years only because robots haven't caught up yet and because they're cheap. What will happen when the other 99% of humanity isn't needed?

It's chilling, really. This is the result of ten thousand years of trying to improve ourselves, trying to make things better, trying to keep from starving or getting eaten by tigers or whatever. We invented agriculture and machines so that we could live our lives and have our babies without fear, and it worked. Unfortunately, it worked.

But we don't have a social structure that allows people to be idle, allows them to pursue the things that they could be doing with their minds, that encourages them to do these things, and in any case, every performer needs an audience, and if we did somehow all turn into artists and scholars, there would be no one to enjoy it, it's just a big circle jerk of everyone going to see everyone else's band and clap politely, because we don't need to go out hunting and gathering any more.

We've run out of frontiers. Until a hundred years ago, or two, progress was driven by fighting back the forces of nature, taming the wilderness, mapping the unknown. Oh shit, we're done. It's tamed, it's mapped, geography is done, there's details to be learned under the oceans in the rainforests, but that's just cataloguing to no real useful end.

For the last century, war was the last remaining driver, it gave us something to do and brought us further advanced faster than an eye blink, but now we've run out of bad guys and are essentially forced to turn inwards, our armies have become police and our police into armies because we have effectively become one world state.

Our spy agencies are really the most important thing... the NSA NEEDS to be able to snoop, because if we take that away, then only the bad guys will be able to snoop. With new open technologies available to everyone, a single person can cause more damage already than a legion could a thousand years ago, and the next stage will allow some disenfranchised youth in a basement to cook up some virus or nanomachine that will destroy the world. I know what I was capable of when I was fifteen years old and pissed off. Sadly, we need someone snooping into every detail, to act as the immune system for the body politic to prevent such a cancer. There's a strong parallel there between the NSA and cancer treatment - it's really the same problem.

There's only two real possible avenues, and neither is especially practical.

One would be to find new frontiers - to colonize mars, for example, something that strikes me as effectively on the same order of difficulty as colonizing the americas was for europe four hundred years ago, only without (it appears) any natives to try to stop us. But what will drive us to take the first step in that direction.

The other would be what the egyptians did - to create, effectively, great public works of art. I propose, for lack of a better idea, carving a great symbol of a man on the moon. We put a man on the moon, let's put The Man on the moon! So that if nothing else, if we burn ourselves out, the next conscious things on the earth, the cockroaches or whatever, will look into the sky and KNOW that something came before them. Perhaps intelligent disosaurs already did some sort of public works on this scale and we just haven't found it yet.

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Ello