A friend of mine is a liberal lawyer and author. He sent me a draft of an article he is writing. Like all his stuff, it is well-written. One thing he discusses is how during the heyday of a unionized workforce in America people had contract rights in their jobs. If they were fired, they could arbitrate. Now, we have moved to a tort system where people sue for discrimination, which is way, way more expensive. He also mentions that he speaks to audiences in Europe they simply cannot grasp that most jobs in America are terminable at will. No matter how many times he explains it, they can’t grasp it. He also claims that during the era of a unionized workforce, workers got more vacations, and had retirement plans which paid fixed amounts of benefits, and workers had longer vacations, and worked shorter hours, etc. and generally people had greater faith in the country and thought they were getting a better deal in life. I am not doing justice to a draft of what promises to be a very, very interesting article. So, don’t spend too much energy arguing why these points are wrong. When it is published I’ll link to it and he can speak for himself. Anyway, as I was reading it, I was seeing more and more that the problem is not so much his analysis as the divergence between his and my basic understanding of the world, and how it works, and what is possible.
I started to draft a response, but it turned increasingly into a rant which was not really on point. So, I plunk it on here instead.
We have major differences in our basic assumptions about life, some generational (b. 1963) and others more probably personal. For example, it never occurred to me even once in my life that I would ever work in any job where I was not terminable at will and I never have. I have been fired twice and I quit a law firm where I was not wanted, which was a similar experience, though it lacked the moral quality and human respect of a face-to-face termination. One guy, my “mentor”, ha, told me that certain people wanted to get rid of me, but I had something like the fifth highest billable hours in the firm, so there was hesitancy to do so. Working like an animal allowed me to exit on my own schedule. I have never dreamed that I’d work a 9-5 job, and I never have. In the Summers in high school I always worked seven days per week, five or six at one job, with Saturdays and Sundays washing dishes, and I would get a night shift, too, if I could. On the one occasion where I was treated like shit, I walked out and never went back. When I was a paralegal I worked well into the evening and on weekends all the time, and the only reason I go home earlier now is to eat dinner with my kids. I have never consciously “assessed” this approach, which I simply took, and take, as akin to gravity. It has also never occurred to me, ever, that anyone would provide for my retirement but me out of my own pocket. All my life as far back as I can remember thinking about it, I have assumed that Social Security would be broke, gone, inflated into meaningless, whatever, that the government would have nothing to do with my material well-being other than detrimentally, and that I’d better find a way to sock away some dough. I have never expected the government or the cops or the public schools to do anything just or fair or anything other than be a source of patronage employment and havens of ineptitude and petty tyranny. I have always been extremely polite to cops because I have just always known that if you crossed one, he’s got the gun, the club, the badge, and will go into court, put his hand on the Bible and lie through his teeth and you’ll be f*cked. This too is the order of nature. I never saw anything in my direct experience growing up in Avon, Massachusetts to make me think otherwise. It is not so much that I somehow became “disillusioned” about government or cops or schoolteachers, as that I have thought like this from the get-go based on experience and anecdotes from the world around me. I had to get to the University of Chicago for college to meet people who were not stupid yet who sincerely expected the government to undertake and do projects which would actually help people or be good or useful. I found this unspeakably strange, disequilibrating. They saw “social justice”, where I saw a bag of money which you could get at based on “who you know”, and I had always assumed that anyone who said otherwise was naive or in on it. I still find it almost impossible to believe at some deep, emotional level, even where there is evidence, that any government program is any good at all unless you were paid to run it. Also, there is a sort of knowing, jovial, roguish cynicism about government in Massachusetts, which is far beyond what you see even in Chicago, which was part of the air I breathed growing up. People there talk about being “on the State”. My mother’s uncle was a smoke inspector for the city of Boston. Legend has it that he spent about 35 hours a week at the race track. This was not considered wrong or even weird. Also, it has never occurred to me, ever, that I would “retire” for any significant amount of time. My Dad was just forced out of his job at 75. He’d have worked until he died. He was doing OK, based on what his students have told me, but the powers that be hate him because of his political views — forthrightly arch-Conservative, and because he has high academic standards and told them to their faces what he really thought of how they run the place. He was in a guerilla war with his employer since 1974 and they finally won. That is my vision of a noble life — you have your principles, you fight the good fight as effectively as you can, you will probably fight it alone, and you do it even though in the end the bad guys always win. Also, I can’t get too worked up about not having European-style retirements. I have always assumed that I’d work until I was too decrepit to do anything at all, and that I’d have a heart attack at my desk and die in the ambulance. I have no problem with this vision. Death is inevitable. Whatever. By the time I’m too old to work I’ll be too blind to read, and I don’t play golf or like boats very much, so frig it anyway.
I think it all boils down to the simple phrase “you’re on your own”. I don’t have to like it, but I have never seen anything to make think it wasn’t true. There’s you, your family, your friends, the odd good person you meet. You have a duty to take care of them. Sometimes you can do some good for them or for the people who cross your path. Beyond that, with rare exceptions, anybody else who says they are going to anything for you is lying, particularly any organization or business (though you occasionally get what you pay for) and especially any arm of government. We live in a fallen world. We place our trust in God almighty, and mostly for hereafter, not here. Not much good is going to happen in this life. The few good things that exist in the world need to be carefully protected and cultivated, with a realistic appreciation of the limits of the possible. And those limits are cast in cement.
And, hey, have a nice day.