Why Are We Making Ourselves Miserable?

What is necessary to make a better world?

Fruggo_CC_1.0
Fruggo / CC_1.0

One thing that is almost never talked about – and yet which seems to be a huge problem for developed nations – is whether we are wisely allocating our time to make us happy.

We hear about productivity. More of it is assumed to be a good thing. And yet we rarely talk about how we are measuring productivity. Is it in material goods produced? In money spent?

Are either of those things good reflections of happiness or virtue?

In his 2009 article “Can’t Get There From Here?” Stanley Schmidt points out that as automation has decreased the amount of human labor necessary for survival, instead of giving us more free time to live, love, and pursue happiness and virtue, we have created new, completely unnecessary, work for ourselves.

Consider our standards for social acceptability: material goods, which often don’t actually make their recipients happy, are often viewed in our society as markers of competence and virtue.

For all our talk about saving the planet, if someone doesn’t have a car but rather lobbies for better public transportation, it is often assumed to be due to some essential failing on their part; taking the bus is something that poor people do.

Likewise, take the matter of clothes. A professional worker in America is expected by their peers to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on clothes each year. This is not merely a luxury or hobby; it is a necessity into which many people are forced to maintain an aura of credibility.

Take the matter of lawn care. Mowed grass is literally about the most useless plant imaginable. It has no nutritional or medicinal value; it does not improve the soil, but rather depletes it. Yet mowed grass, devoid of pesky “weeds” (which nearly all have greater nutritional, medicinal, and ecological value than untouched grass) is what is expected of a well-kept home or business.

Urban farming initiatives – that is, attempts to use one’s property in a highly efficient way to create a sustainable food source – have been discouraged on countless occasions by homeowners’ associations and zoning boards which deemed useful plants to be “unsightly” or assumed that a biologically diverse yard was a sign of neglect.

LouisXIV
Portrait of Louis XIV by Claude Lefèbvre, from which the Versailles; located at the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans at the time of this photograph.

Interestingly, the practice of mowed-grass lawns was begun by Louis XIV of France, the same monarch who was later beheaded by a populace outraged at his practice of intentionally wasting resources while the French underclass literally starved.

Louis XIV is also largely responsible for the modern concept of fashion. Faced with a highly competitive noble court, Louis had the bright idea to set ridiculously high standards for how a nobleperson and their estate must look if they wished to be considered in good social standing; this prevented lesser nobility from amassing sufficient wealth to threaten his power or popularity, by enticing them to constantly spend it on material excesses that were, in fact, utterly useless.

In our modern era, we may not be intentionally forcing each other to spend money in order to keep each other down. But “keeping up with the Joneses” is keeping us all down! Time, money, and space that could be devoted to building healthy, vibrant, sustainable communities is instead being spent on consumption, which is not only bad for the health of our bodies and our planet, but for our lifestyles.

After all, everything we discard unnecessarily is not only an example of material waste; it is an example of wasted time. And time, I think we can all agree, is more precious to us mortal beings than material or money. Somebody had to make everything you throw away.

It speaks to the backwardness of today’s society that we are taught to think of this as a good thing. We are encouraged to buy things we don’t need, that won’t make us happy, because we are told that this creates jobs, which allows somebody else to get paid enough to eat.

This fails to consider the question: if those goods are not necessary to our society, why is it necessary to pay somebody to do them?

If all of our society’s needs are met without employing everyone at 40 hours per week, why in God’s name do we have the expectation that everyone needs to be employed at 40 hours per week?

Why are we struggling to create jobs – things to do that are not necessary, or we would not be struggling to create them – at the same time we’re fretting and bemoaning as a culture the lack of time we have to spend with our families?

The ideas that “jobs = money” is so deeply ingrained that we now largely view it as immoral to get paid – and subsequently enjoy food, shelter, and healthcare – without working.

Which would be less nonsensical if we weren’t openly struggling to come up with enough jobs for people to do at the same time.

Our society does not have a productivity deficit; if anything, it has an excess, spending millions of hours and billions of dollars each year on things that are not actually making us happy. We are told that this excess consumption is good because it creates jobs, without considering the fact that creating unnecessary labor is actually a very bad thing to do.

The obvious question that readers will ask upon reading this post is “how do we get people paid if they are not working?”

There are a few methods to consider.

The immediate problem with the idea of eliminating unnecessary jobs is that this will leave some people completely jobless, while others remain employed at the same gainful economic level. Some entire industries may be phased out or drastically reduced in size if people stop buying things that don’t make them happy.

And yet, isn’t finding a way to distribute time and wealth to maximize everyone’s happiness preferable to upholding the vaguely vindictive principle that “if I have to work to make a living, so should they?”

Isn’t it a more promising prospect to find work for these newly unemployed people to do that actually matters – such as community improvement or learning useful new skills – better for our society as a whole than treating them as useless because they don’t presently fill an existing production niche?

Isn’t it more appealing to reduce the number of hours of labor required of everyone by equally distributing work and resources, rather than creating unnecessary and counterproductive tasks to consume our short lives?

People will say that this smacks of communism, and that communism doesn’t work. However, there are two important caveats to that:

1) There is nothing about this concept that precludes a free market. It may communities to take a less competitive approach to distributing wealth – but making sure that everybody’s eating in a world where farming processes are distributed between the home garden and automated commercial farms run with minimal human labor should not be a large challenge.

Jesus_Livioandronico2013_CC_4.0
Photo by Livioandronico2013 / CC 4.0

2) Communism has only gone badly when it has been enforced over large scale by a government. These remote governing bodies, predictably, failed to anticipate both the needs and abilities of their people (hence causing “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” to fail miserable.

Historical practicioners of voluntary communism include the disciples of Jesus and Ghandi. Motivated by care for the well-being of people whose needs and abilities they actually knew, these people practiced communism quite successfully until they were eventually forced to integrate into a wider, competitive world.

“Competition” is the name of the vice, here. It is what is making us all miserable. Competition for the best lawn; for the best clothes; for the best paycheck to brag about; for the best car.

Competition for things which are probably the true passion of only a tiny percentage of the population; and which for the rest of us represent burdens on our time, energy, money, bodies, and planet.

Some top economists are recommending a solution to the problem that sounds downright blasphemous to our deeply ingrained “work = wealth = virtue” sensibility. Their suggestion? A government-enforced maximum work week of 20 hours.

The logic is surprisingly straightforward: in a world where we suffer simultaneously from some people lacking any employment at all and others working so many hours they do not see their families, limiting the amount of work any one person can do will force a redistribution of labor and pay.

A mandatory 20-hour work week would also fundamentally change the bargaining scene when it comes to wages; every worker would have to reckon for wages they could survive on at 20 hours/week, and employers would have to expect to pay them.

We might also see a “reverse inflation” (since inflation is largely a result of competition for goods and services among consumers) whereby the price of everything is forced to drop according to what people can afford.

Of course, as with the endeavor of raising workers’ wages to increase the health of your business, enforcing a mandatory work week cap would likely not be successful by itself. As with the restaurants who drastically reduce workers’ pay and then see profits rise, other initiatives would also be necessary to help workers, consumers, and employers make the best use of their resources.

But perhaps such measures could work towards the demise of Louis XIV’s influence in our culture. A mandated shorter work week could, at least temporarily, substantially reduce pressure to appear rich through wasting unnecessary resources.

What do you think?

Gay Marriage: What It Means, And Why We Need to Be Careful

Pierre_Bona_CC_3.0This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. As of today, it should be legal for same-sex couples in any state to apply for a marriage license. First, let’s talk about what this means from a legal perspective. A few benefits of marriage that previously were not guaranteed to same-sex couples include:

  • Custody rights. Without the legal protection of marriage, same-sex couples ran the risk that the state may not recognize both members of the couple as legal guardians of their children; this meant that if one partner died, the other could be left with no rights to the children.
  • Hospital visitation rights. Due to confidentiality laws surrounding healthcare procedures, often only immediate family are permitted to visit people who become incapacitated and so cannot communicate their own wishes about who visits them in the hospital. Under these circumstances, same-sex partners were not previously guaranteed visitation rights.
  • Health insurance. Many healthcare family plans will only cover immediate family members; previously, same-sex partners were often not recognized as immediate family and so were not eligible for health insurance benefits through many employers.

But we all know that this isn’t just about legal rights. If it was, why would anyone oppose it? This is also about national identity. American conservatives are frightened because this symbolizes a divorce of the standards of the U.S. federal government from the Christian religion. In theory, it has always been the case that church and state were separate in the United States. The Founding Fathers, though most believed in the benefit of religion, recognized the diversity of the early colonists; though all of the colonies were predominantly Christian, they had come from a variety of Christian stripes in an era when those differences were very important.

The Puritans had originally fled England because they were persecuted for following the wrong strain of Christianity, according to the Church of England; which, in the days not long after Europe fought bloody wars over the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, made them practically two different religions.

Others were Quakers, Masons, and other groups that, while Christian, were largely shunned and feared by the more dominant Christian factions. The 13 colonies were arguably as diverse in religious and national character as the States are today. And yet, somewhere along the line, America lost touch with the intent of separation of church and state.

Somewhere along the line, being a God-fearing Christian became part of being American in the eyes of many Americans. I would place this “somewhere” in the mid-20th century. It was in 1954, after all, that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, which had previously simply read “one nation, indivisible.” It was in this mid-20th century, during the U.S.’s culture war with the Soviet Union, that the Soviets established atheism as a state religion and we tried our damnedest to establish Christianity as ours. Now, we seem to be rejecting that national identity – and there is a deep-seated fear in the minds of many Americans, arguably tracing back to the Cold War, that rejecting a Christian identity means embracing an atheist one.
RainbowFlag
It follows, in the minds of these people, that rejecting a Christian identity means that Christians will be endangered in the U.S., just as they were in the Soviet Union. Let’s not make them right. It’s easy to say “there is no risk of that – we would never persecute people for having beliefs different from our own.” And yet, the Christians who are upset about the legalization of gay marriage say the same thing. It is so easy to accidentally do.

It is not uncommon in Internet circles to hear Christians being slammed. I routinely need to police my own comment section – both for Christians being abusive towards non-Christians, and for non-Christians being abusive towards Christians. Hatred is a cycle. Let’s not continue it.

Tomorrowland – Why it’s a Drastically Underrated Film

All Things Strange and Unusual

Tomorrowland1

There was as much confusion as hype over the recent George Clooney movie, Tomorrowland.

We saw the previews and asked: “What on Earth do we expect for this film?” It appeared to reek of Disney and read like a kids’ film – the very name seemed to be designed to appeal to small children with no sense of subtlety. Yet the trailers also promised violence, suspense, and an apocalyptic dystopia scenario.

So what on Earth were we to make of this?

This same marketing problem has plagued several of my favorite films – unfortunately it is a malady that often strikes truly original pieces, those that dare to portray radically new concepts or use unique combinations of styles. Audiences don’t know what to expect it to be, so they simply don’t go see it.

Well, let me tell you what to expect. It’s definitely worth seeing this movie.Tomorrowland2

It’s difficult to…

View original post 515 more words

Does increasing workers’ pay also increase profit?

Bradley J / CC 2.0
Bradley J / CC 2.0

We have been hearing a lot lately about the cycle of poverty and the desire to raise minimum wage.

Proponents of the measure say that a $15 per hour minimum wage will give more purchasing power to a huge swath of workers, leading to an overall economic boost; opponents say that simply increasing the dollar amount ignores the real problems and will only lead to inflation. Worse, opponents say it will bankrupt many small businesses and raise the price of basic goods and services for all consumers.

That’s why I found this article so interesting. Fortune Magazine becomes one of many media outlets covering Bar Marco, a restaurant in Pittsburgh that decided to do away with tipping and raise all of its employees’ wages to $35,000 per year. The result? The restaurant’s profits have tripled in just two months.

Of course, increasing wages is not the only change Bar Marco made in those two months. Before drastically raising wages, the owners spent a great deal of time researching and brainstorming ways in which more invested, better taken-care-of employees might be able to increase the restaurant’s profits. In addition to the higher wages, all employees are encouraged to think of ways to improve customers’ experiences and reduce waste and spending.

These ideas are shared at a weekly staff meeting, when staff are also expected to hand in their “homework”: book reports on non-fiction books. The logic is that more educated workers are better able to contribute to the success of the business, and better able to make inspiring conversation with customers.

In addition to all these measures to maximize employees’ contributions along with their well-being, Bar Marco also switched over to local ingredients, which were apparently actually cheaper than outsourced ones, and smaller portion sizes, reasoning that Americans care more about quality of their dish and dining experience than about consuming 1,000 calories in a sitting.

Some still question whether Bar Marco’s model is generalizable. After all, although the owners have vowed to ensure that menu prices don’t increase as a result of these changes, they weren’t exactly low to begin with – most menu items fall around the $15 range. How much of that is a product of doing business in a big city with high property costs is hard to say.

The Washington Post reports on several other restaurants nationwide that have done away with tipping in favor for higher wages for employees. New York City’s Dirt Candy and Michigan’s Moo Cluck Moo are among other restaurants who have done away with tipping and begun a policy of paying employees $15 an hour – about twice our national minimum wage.

These restaurants, like Bar Marco, also made important changes to their workflow structure to maximize employee contribution and cut costs in other areas.

MooCluckMooMoo Cluck Moo trains all staff in a myriad of culinary tasks, making them less burger flippers and more bakers and chefs. This way, all staff members are prepared to perform a variety of duties, all of which contribute to a high-quality dining experience. These guys, unlike Bar Marco, still manage to serve $5 burgers.

Dirt Candy saves from the outset by serving vegetarian cuisine designed to be as delicious as possible, meaning that the restauranteurs don’t have to pay for meat and have a built-in appeal to a niche audience. Dirt Candy’s menu prices also hover in the $15 range, but again, that may be partially a function of paying for property in New York City.

So, could every restaurant improve employee and customer satisfaction alike by paying their employees $15 per hour, in combination with smart measures to cut costs and increase productivity? Could they continue to do this while offering $5 menu items that will fill you up? It’s hard to say.

What does seem evident from business models across the globe is that invested employees contribute far more to a business than those who feel “if these guys could pay me less, they would, but it’s illegal.” The return to an invest-in-employees ethos also promises to create more skilled, motivated professionals, and better-quality product for customers.

Income Inequality – We Need to Talk

IncomeInequality1
Lanekenworthy – CC 3.0

This blog is normally devoted to spreading positivity, peace, love, understanding, and all of that. We get more than enough negativity and combativeness in the outside world.

Indeed, we are here specifically to fight that combativeness which turns person against person.

But today, there’s something we need to talk about.

An increasingly divisive issue, in the United States and globally, is that of wealth inequality.  While that term may have seemed ridiculous a few years ago, it has been increasingly used as more people have become aware of the fact that a tiny percentage of the world’s people control most of its resources.

Protesters for income equality are often described as “waging class warfare” because they are “envious” of the rich and/or want “free handouts.” One recent article went so far as to suggest that poor Americans should stop complaining because they already have so much more than most people in the world. “How dare you complain about the top 1%,” the article asked, “when you are IN the top 1% from the perspective of millions of starving people?”

Dissecting this argument is interesting. On one hand, it is absolutely true that average Americans, including those who are upset about not being able to afford healthcare or higher education, do have access to many amenities that most of the globe does not. We eat better than most of the globe; we suffer from fewer infectious diseases as a result of having good hygiene and healthcare infrastructure; we have more opportunities to move up than many people.

The logical implication of the argument seems to be that average Americans should, if anything, be willing to sacrifice more to bring better lives to those overseas.

That’s not a bad sentiment. But let’s think for a moment about who controls the resources in America.

IncomeInequality2
M Tracy Hunter – CC 3.0

It is an unsettling fact that the richest 500 people in America have the same amount of wealth as the “bottom” half of the American population. On the surface of it, this would seem to suggest that these wealthy 500 are equipped to do as much good for the world as the poorest 150 million people in America combined.

That in itself is deeply unsettling. If money is power (and it is), we are effectively looking at a differential in which a single person among the elite has the same amount of power to change the world for better – or worse – as 300,000 low- to middle-income Americans.

But the situation is actually even worse than that. Because the 500 richest Americans only need to procure food, healthcare, shelter, etc. for 500 of themselves.

With the same amount of resources, the bottom half of America has to procure food, healthcare, shelter, etc. for 150 million.

As such, while it might be an admirable sentiment that everyone should devote some resources to creating a more equal, sustainable global system, it is clear that the wealthy are vastly better-positioned to do that than America’s poor or even its middle-class earners.

IncomeInequality3
Guest2625 – CC 3.0

Where this becomes particularly important is when we are examining the critics of people who champion wealth inequality. The article referenced above suggests that Americans should stop complaining about wealth inequality because there are people starving overseas.

However, the people who use that line of logic are often the same people who say Americans need to stop envying the wealthy and waging “class warfare” against them.

This suggests that critics of American inequality protesters are more upset about “class warfare” against the rich than they are about starving children in Africa.

What does that say about our priorities?

What do your reactions say about yours?

The issue we face goes even beyond the question of middle-class Americans, or lower-class Americans, or starving children in Africa, having all their basic needs met.

The question is one of global sustainability – research shows that when power is held by an “elite” class, that class is often so isolated, by choice or by accident, from the needs of everyday citizens, that they have no sense of what society needs to sustain itself.

This poses an obvious problem when the same people who control most of the world’s resources lack either the knowledge or the motivation do to what will sustain society.

This is why a NASA study recently found that a great civilization has, on average, about 125 years between the development of an “elite” class and utter collapse due to a combination of exhausted natural resources and violent social unrest if the trend is not reversed. America started showing signs of developing an “elite” class around the year 1980.

That means we’ve got a little less than a century to fix the problem, or go the way of the Roman, Gupta, and Han empires.

This blog will, by and large, be reserved for positivity and unity. But we can’t ignore facts in the name of unity. Pretending malaria does not exist won’t cure it.

And in fact, this subject matter is in keeping with this blog – insofar as we need to realize who our true enemies and allies are.

Your enemy is not your neighbor who has slightly different ideas about taxation, or personal responsibility, or what industries should or should not be socialized.

Your enemy is not the opposing political party, who in all likelihood holds extremely similar goals to your own.

Your enemy is those who turn neighbors against each other in the name of social issues. Your enemy is those who demonize others in your eyes by telling you how they are greedy, or lazy – how they intend evil.

Let’s be honest – almost nobody intends evil.

Our enemy is ignorance as to what is the right thing to do.

Sometimes, all people need to do good is a wakeup call.

Consider this yours.

My Declaration of Independance

Set Free From Fear

Dear eating disorder,

You’re not worth being formally addressed in a letter such as this but I must write to you for the sake of closure. This is a letter regarding my divorce from you.

It has come to my attention that I do in fact deserve love, acceptance and kindness contrary to what you were teaching me. As much as you tried to convince me that you were providing me with these things, the evidence in my life presents otherwise.

My relationship with you caused me to live in poverty by the means of lacking joy in every area of my life. Being used as your puppet withdrew me from my loved ones and potential relationships that could have been. I lost friends. It is only by the grace of God that I have rekindled some of the relationships that you caused me to damage. God is restorative and…

View original post 544 more words

Report: South Dakota has financial incentive to take Indian children

The Lakota Law Project Report

public_corruption

The Lakota People’s Law Project has released a 35-page report entitled “The New Boarding Schools: Racial Biases in the State of South Dakota Continue to Fuel Constant, Willful Violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act.” “The New Boarding Schools” examines the dynamics which foster consistent corruption in the state of South Dakota when it comes to their relations to the Lakota people. A major thread in our findings was the financial incentives which fuel the fire of institutionalized abuse against Natives.

Figures detailed in our report show just how reliant South Dakota’s economy is on the federal money received to fund their Department of Social Services (DSS). A staggering approximation of $63,000,000 is received annually, determined in proportion to the Department of Social Services’ yearly activity.

Former state governor William Janklow once told NPR reporter Laura Sullivan that this funding is “incredibly important” to South Dakota, going on to say, “I mean look, we’re…

View original post 304 more words

"Breaking the cycle of violence is the most important thing we can do. It is also the most difficult."