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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

People do get good at things.

It’s more than interesting to get a peek at someone at the top of their game — no matter what their game is — it’s fun. We watch men in pajamas fight over a leather bag with a bladder in it on a striped lawn. Enjoying watching a man fillet some fish isn’t that strange.

The best kind of reality shows simply point a camera at the unseen parts of quotidian life. How It’s Made isn’t the best show on television. It’s the best show that’s ever been on television. Whenever I hear a politician or pundit talk about a modern economy like they understand it well enough to run it, I want to burst out laughing, or cry, or both. If you can’t even keep pictures of your dick off the Intertunnel during an election cycle, I imagine being Emperor of the Economic and Social Universe is probably well above your abilities. Politicians have to take tours of factories because to them, everything and everybody in a factory might as well be alchemy performed by men from Jupiter.

There’s a disconnect between love of work and the workplace right now. Most employees don’t like where they work, or what they do all day, or where they live, but the enormous weight of regulatory, legal and financial inertia that employment and daily life is freighted with keeps them in settings they detest, working with and for people they resent. Most of even the best drag their feet to get a feeling of control over their situation. Many actively sabotage their workplace to achieve a feeling of self-possession.

The employers react to the ambivalence or malice of the workers by attempting to micromanage their activities, and by occasionally changing out the workforce like a dirty diaper instead of a group of fellow humans. One set of politicians says that management is evil; the other set says the employees are lazy and stupid, and each makes their appeals to one tribe by promising to hurt the other. Every once in a while they both decide that the American population would be more useful to them if they were all foreigners, who will do what they’re told and say thank you for a slap in the face for at least one generation before they get uppity.

The dirty secret is that there is no difference between labor and management. People are people. The general tenor of life is not dictated by the eloi or the morlocks. The general view of other humans by individuals is expressed by everyone, and the manifestation of that general view winnows people into recognizable roles that can be demagogued, but we’re all fish from the same fry, and swim in the same tepid, dirty water. Most humans just don’t have a high regard for their fellow humans any more, and they don’t really care what they’re doing at work, and don’t take much pride in themselves. And people in management have the same attitude about their employees, not because they’re unlike them, but because they’re exactly like them. Everyone thinks everyone else can go to hell, and tries to get away with everything they can that won’t result in prison or the cable TV being shut off. It’s not a recipe for workplace harmony, or excellence.

When I was young I was taught by a dead society that dignity was internal; that a man that filleted salmon for a living could be noble by dint of his effort, comportment, and his value to his fellow man; that all men were created equal, but that their worth could (and should) be judged by how they behaved in this world, especially when they thought no one was looking. I was not taught that goldbricking and featherbedding and tossing a sabot in the gears was a road to dignity. I was not taught that lording over disposable underlings was a path to greatness.

But I’m talking to a wall. And there’s nothing but writing on it.

13 Responses

  1. Sipp: I take a fishing excursion each summer with my son and my wife's male relatives (Dad and 3 brothers) off Point Judith, RI. The captain handles the boat and his son, the first mate, handles the fishermen. After catching our limit of striped bass and while the boat is heading back to harbor, the mate effortlessly fillets the fish. Not a bit of good meat is wasted. I noticed that the sure movements of the man in the video match that of the mate on the boat. A couple of differences though, the mate also takes the skin off and he's doing this while on a moving boat, sometimes with some large swells. One other interesting bit of information, the mate is a full-time physics teacher and is just working with his dad over the summer and on weekends. It must be nice to have a teacher who also knows how to live and produce in the real world.

    Thanks for the link – always enjoy what I learn from you.

  2. Ah, the joys of a sharp knife and something productive to do with it. Reminds me of my cheffing days. I have cleaned more than my fair share of salmon, but never quite got the hang of doing it so smoothly. I worked with some crusty old bastards who could strip the whole filet off in one pass with the knife. Never did learn that trick.

    What I noticed right away in the video was the shape of his knife. That odd triangular appearance is the shape of a well-loved knife that has had many, many trips to the stone and has had all of its curves ground off over many years of re-sharpening by hand. It's a thing of beauty and tends to speak well of the person wielding the knife.

    As glad as I was to leave the kitchen a few years ago, it's nice to see these little reminders of the better aspects of professional cooking now and again.

  3. Sometimes, we do the right thing without even knowing we've done it.

    I listen to bulletins from the far lands and think to myself: twenty-three years ago I made the right decision. I'm not rich. I'm not even particularly well off by most measures. But I'm happy. I left a "good job" behind, taught myself a trade, became good at it, built a business and moved off to the fringes of society, where I've gained the advantage of being both labor and management.

    At least when I want to go fishing I know where to find the boss – who may or may not let me go.

  4. Blogger Leon said…

    you caught me out with quotidian…i'm not giving you Eloi and the Morlocks. i just can't know every book's theme…dandy though it may be.

    you're talking to the wall…are you listening. some walls are pretty smart. i saw one that told me to bloom where i was planted. i just try my best to use honest weight.

    (this thing needs an edit instead of delete button)

  5. This is one of the most succinct and best pieces of social commentary that I have read in years. Thank you!

  6. I really, really needed to read this tonight.

    Thank you for this.

    You are a good father, and a good man. And your family rocks.

    Time fills.

  7. There is a difference between labor and ownership. In the video we see a man who has taken ownership.

    I worked a few summers in a GM plant. There were a few workers there who took ownership of their job – they had pride in their work, put thought into it, and did it well. Most of the rest didn't care, complained about management, and debated when they ought to strike again.

  8. What happened to Detroit they ask.

    I can give you one example that may (probably) have led to the decline of Detroit. When I was a young single mom I worked two jobs while attending Jr. College. I was among the first wave of single moms trying to get a college education! After graduating I worked for several more years and finally opened my own little shop. It became very successful very quickly and I went out to buy my first new car. I chose a Pontiac Sunbird–could not afford the Firebird, but was thrilled to death with the smaller very similar model. I had to wait six weeks for my car to come in from the factory because I had ordered one of those new fangled roofs that was glass and opened up to the sky. I had also ordered “factory installed air conditiong”.

    When the day arrived for me to pick up my car from the dealer I was so excited. As I was driving off of the new car dealer’s lot I tried to roll down the driver’s window. The handle for the window came off in my hand. I backed up and the dealer screwed the handle back on.
    The next day I turned on my new “factory installed air conditioning” which proceeded to leak air conditioning fluid all over the rug.

    About a month later it rained very hard and the roof window leaked. But, that was not the most important thing that happened that day. OH NO. There is more. You see when the rain was coming down so hard some of it got under the hood of my car while I was driving about 50mph on the freeway. The water caused all the rubber bands to slip off and my car came to a screeching halt in the middle of the freeway. Not to worry–I only had two little girls in the car!
    All of this happened the first six months of ownership!!

    I called the dealer and he told me “too bad we have worked on your car several times and now we don’t have to work on it anymore” — or something to that effect. One of my customers told me about this “new program” they have. It’s called an “ombudsman”. I called the factory and get the name of the “ombudsman”. It was his job to interface with the very nasty dealer and the factory to help resolve the issue of my “lemon” car. The ombudsman instructed the dealer to take back the car and credit me for a new car–to which the dealer said, and I quote “tell her to go “f*&K herself”. The ombudsman was in near tears because if he could not get the dealer to co-operate with the deal that the factory was offering him, he could do nothing for me.
    I finally drove my car to the dealer’s, parked it in front of his big front window, and left it. The police of course came and towed it away.

    You want to know what happened to Detroit–that is what happened to Detroit. The year was 1977, but it was the beginning. California finally passed a “lemon law”, but that could not stop the decay that was penetrating all aspects of Detroit society.

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