A Modern Day Dilemma, Explored.

This Aeon magazine article, long and meditating on details, encapsulates my ideas – the kind of ideas that are increasingly becoming my main point of interest – on the two major irreconcilable forces that drive our identity: the fulfillment (or lack of it) that we find in work and our desire (and inability) to be good people. Can we have day jobs (the kind that can pay our bills) and be the good guys at the same time?

As I wrote a lot of posts on the topic, I could not have better condensed my sentiment into a simple sentence:

“The innocent moral imperative to stand on your own two feet helps sustain structures of inequality that have come to seem – no lesser word will do – barbaric. The work ethic has a lot to answer for.”

In other words, as we struggle to survive under the current economic structure and get better at it, as we become more resourceful at and more dedicated to our jobs, we inadvertently help sustain this vicious circle of inequality. What we think of as a virtue – being good at what you do, or, to be more precise, being good at no matter what you do – is, in fact, a vice.

The author makes a point that television, albeit a what we call high-quality TV, can actually provide an idea of what it would take to be a better person while doing your job, as opposed to merely lament, as old traditional TV shows did, on how meaningless our day work is. Here I want to put the TV part aside, however, and just focus on author’s superb analysis of the status quo.

“The work ethic used to mean putting yourself on the line. Today, physical risk has been replaced by speculative risk.”

The author juxtaposes a cop and a finance guy (and we don’t really need a TV show for that) to demonstrate that, while both work hard, one of them gets all the goods and the other is assigned with protecting the former’s property while risking his life doing it. If you’re doing good at your day job, like enforcing the law or care for the sick or the elderly, does that make you into a sucker? Then he goes to make a point, or rather ask a philosophical question, that I have been pondering for years:

“How much of what we call respectable work is something that nobody under any circumstances should be allowed to do? Such subversive questions are actively provoked by the long-running gangster shows The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad. These particular series are all about men, and all a man wants to do is provide for his family. But given the rules of the game, providing for your family might entail committing acts you can’t tell your family about, including murder. That’s just how it is. It’s not your fault. You’re just doing your job.”

By veiling our dedication to our jobs, no matter how unethical, in a shroud of ‘providing for the family’ is a mental escape that many of us use to get through the day. And because we’re so busy, we have no time to examine it, to think of it from this angle, let alone to change anything about it.

It is interesting to see the author to conceive a situation, albeit utopian, where we would reconcile the competition and cooperation: a Zombie apocalypse. This is a situation where we would abandon a sharp division of labor and our individual specializations. As I routinely mock finance guys who go out of their way to seek physical hardships, whether out of boredom or excess energy or preparation for a total economic collapse, perhaps there’s some real truth to my scorn. These demonstrations of physical prowess are their subconscious manifestations, perhaps even a longing, for the world where the real meaning would exist. But if and when the real Zombie apocalypse happens and we’re forced to apply our physical skills to survive, the upheaval would also force us to have a conversation about what it means to do meaningful things. Are we prepared or even mentally equipped to have that conversation?

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My Two Cents on Debt Ceiling at Policymic

Here. With references to Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad!

There can be no half-measures when the full faith and credit of the United States is on the line. In 2011 Obama chose a half-measure, when he should have gone all the way. He’ll never make that mistake again. The U.S. always pays its debts. Even if the Treasury has to break some laws to do it. Obama realized that a few weeks ago. Ryan, Cantor and Boehner are beginning to realize that now.

 

Why Walter White is like GOP.

It’s hard to ignore the metaphors so abundantly offered to us, to use at our discretion, by the writers of Breaking Bad.

BreakingBadFinale225

When I first started watching Breaking Bad this past August – a one week crash course of watching the entire 5 seasons, holding my breath and with my jaw on the floor – I found myself celebrating Walter White’s liberation, even though it came via abominable means. The meek and scared school teacher making $43K a year, stepped upon and humiliated by his students and his car wash boss, with terminal diagnosis, a few thousands to his name in the bank, in those ridiculous tighty-whities, those “sensible” Clarks shoes, driving that pathetic Pontiac Aztec – how could one not feel sorry for the guy and not cheer his finding his mojo? How could an average middle-class working man not relate to this character?

But it would be naïve to expect that line of story – Walter White, the kind and powerful drug kingpin who only seeks to provide for his family – to keep us on the edge of our seats for 5 years. Turning him into a Hulk-like character would be, no pun intended, a death sentence.

“Provide for his family” – a guiding mantra that we hear from Walt White throughout the entire series, while being an initial justification for his new occupation, at this point is just an illusion in Walt’s mind. The damage that his actions brought to those dear to him is beyond repair.

Walter White has created a monster. And then lost control of it. GOP, the moderate, mainstream, Rockefeller-type that dominated US political arena for decades has been devoured by Uncle Jacks that, when GOP called on them, came and collected. Without them the GOP is impotent, with them the GOP is doomed.

The parallel is too obvious to ignore:

“You don’t get to just clap your hands and say “I’m out” after building a drug empire, killing people and ordering people killed, and putting your friends and family in jeopardy: “’I built you,’ Walt is yelling. “’I created you,‘” Dr. Frankenstein insists at his creation as it tears him apart.”

Now Walt is in a corner, just like the GOP, from which it’s hard to get out without either admitting the wrongdoing, the entire premise of your existence for the last few years (or decades) and inability to do the right thing. Surrendering would negate his life’s work – leaving his family in a worse shape than when he started on this path. Digging his heels seems to be the only option to his entrenched mind.

“America, you stupid bitch!” We almost hear GOP screaming. “We’re only doing it for YOU, because we love you! You’re a family!”

But the truth is, neither Walt nor GOP demonstrate the love for those they supposedly go into such trouble to protect. It was perfectly captured in this review by Maureen Ryan:

“Walt did and does care about his family, but here’s the big lie: They were never his top priority. Not really. They were a priority, but they were not the leading priority. Control and self-aggrandizement were always his top goals, and as “Granite State” came to a close, control and self-aggrandizement were still the things that came first. Walt’s greatest crime is not just lying to everyone around him, but lying to himself, especially about that.”

Control and self-aggrandizement. Yeah, like this guy – the Uncle Jack of modern Republican caucus, only with more piety and a Harvard Law degree. Do you think he would hesitate to pull the trigger on things America needs now if it served his own interests and ambitions? Hell, he’s already pulling it. GOP has created him but now they’re having second thoughts. Walt White having second thoughts on the Uncle Jacks Nazi crew is an understatement of the year. We’ll probably see a great finale. In both cases.