… they are not all in money, and diversity is better
Fourth in a Series on 21st Century Economics, how men can liberate ourselves thereby,
… and the need and hopes for Social Efficiency
(c) 2013, Davd
The first rough draft of this [post] was titled “Job vs. Non-Job Income”; and as i began looking for a more inclusive word than “income” for the title, i saw in three “thesauri”, that “English usage” has been badly contaminated with excess attention to and representation in, money. Money does not deserve so much respect—as the Euro-currency crises and predicaments reported this year and last, demonstrate (and as Christianity and Islam also teach). My decision to use “earnings” was made after reading in an “encyclopedic dictionary” that “earn” derives from Germanic words for harvest via the Anglo-Saxon side of “English”. A harvest represents the combination of human labour and natural growth; thus, “earnings” acknowledges that what we get for our labour is not all our doing (but as any farmer knows, does depend greatly on our skill in frustrating natural diseases, pests and processes that attack our crops.)
- – - – -
“Getting a job” ties one far too tightly to money. Working for a diversity of earnings is more prudent, more efficient, more liberating. If we seldom think much about “diversity of earnings”, that may be an accident of recent history; and to a significant extent, an artifact of the convenience of money measures for writing and talking about economics.
In the third quarter of the 20th Century, millions of Canadian, European, and “American” workers “got by just fine” living mostly through spending the money income from jobs (and in most jurisdictions, paying lower taxes than they pay today.) Attitudes and outlooks formed in those “fabulous Fifties” and the decade-plus that followed, largely replaced the more cautious—indeed, wary—attitudes and outlooks that previous generations had learned between the World Wars.
We would be wise to learn what we can about money’s limitations and weaknesses from history, rather than by painful experience such as theirs was. The “bank job offshoring” scandal which CBC Radio began featuring on the first weekend in April, and has continued to pursue, is one of many indications that many present-day workers are already learning some lessons about the 21st Century by painful experience.
The scandal began when some 45 Royal Bank employees complained that they had lost their jobs and were being required to train Indian nationals to replace them. (CBC Radio The Current, April 9; cf. CBC Radio News, April 7, “World Report” 0800 and 0900) On The Current, interviewees were a Ryerson University faculty member whose name i wrote down as Ron Babbin, and a woman with a long name which i could not transcribe from AMT’s pronunciation, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and who probably addresses these subjects often, since she “used a lot of well-turned sound bites.”) Both agreed that the chief objective motivating job replacement is lower labour costs—in a phrase neither of them used but others have, “a race for the bottom [wage].” I cite this because it is a clear statement that wages are being forced down and that for-profit capitalist employers will pay less-and-less, not more-and-more. To the extent that work is paid for in job-wages, expect the rates of pay to go down.
One thing wrong with money as compensation for work, then, is that wages are being driven down in these times—if money’s your reward, expect less. It is not the only thing wrong with money.
Economists tend to name as money’s virtues, currency and storage. Currency refers to the fact that anything fit to call money, can be exchanged for any commodity or product on the market. If you have apples in surplus and want a hand-knit toque, it’s fairly likely that you can find someone with whom to make the swap; but if you want a tempered steel band (or circular blade) for your sawmill, it may be necessary to resort to money; and if you want to rent a car to drive on a Florida vacation, money may be the only way to rent one.
Storage refers to the pseudo-fact that money can be held for a long time without losing its value. There have been such times—times when money put aside for a decade lost little of its “purchasing power”—but there have also been many times in history when money’s value deteriorated rapidly. In 1923, Germany’s Deutschmark lost over 99.9% of its value—yes, in one single year (Wells, H. G. 1961: The Outline of History [Book Club edition] p. 905. Is it any wonder Germany is demanding strict and even drastic actions by financially weak Euro-currency states?)
History teaches, and bad financial news from Europe implies, that money’s “storage” advantage is a sometime thing—and this may not be that kind of sometime. By the time we know for sure, it will be too late to take precautions if this is a time when one should “get one’s wealth into some form other than money.” So while it makes good sense to have some savings in money—the amount you expect to spend in the next few months, or perhaps 1-3 years if you are retired—the general prudence of diversity teaches us that one’s wealth should be held mostly in forms other than money.
The best forms in which to hold wealth, then, are stable and productive forms. Farms are a good example, for those who can farm. More generally, the tools of a trade whose skilled work you can do, including commercial kitchens in some locations, fishing boats, sawmills, and welding shops, are more valuable than the money price they represent.
What is less apparent to people today, but follows logically from wage decline, financial predicaments, and price instability, is that one’s earnings should best be received in a diversity of forms.
In the “Dirty Thirties”, people who had farms had enough to eat. Even big gardens helped immensely. Some families resorted to making their own clothing again. Men who cut their own firewood, and their families,
kept warm. Financial chaos did not much disrupt direct subsistence.
Work other than “jobs” has three earnings advantages at least:
The earnings include more direct subsistence;
They often can be taken in different forms and at different times at your—the worker’s—initiative;
.. and surprisingly, they are often larger in dollar amount.
Long, long ago there were no jobs, but men have always worked; and “back before civilization,” nearly all our work was done directly to produce food, clothing, and-or shelter: We hunted, fished, and foraged for food, and later-on, gardened and then farmed. It was enjoyable work, too: Notice that men today hunt, fish, even forage [clams, oysters, mussels, berries, mushrooms and wild plants mostly] as sport. (Nobody i know works on an assembly-line or does paperwork for the fun of it!) Gardening is a popular hobby with both sexes and all ages. Farms are popular vacation destinations; offices and factories are not.
Hunting “brought home” skins which men and their families used for clothing and shelter, and as humanity dispersed from our tropical places of origin to occupy most of the earth, we learned to make an impressive variety of clothing and shelters: Cedar-bark capes, robes and hats [and elsewhere, similar garments of wool, mohair, cotton, and linen]; igloos, longhouses, stone houses, thatched huts, and tipis; mukluks, sandals, leather and wooden shoes… all made by the people who lived in them. Generally, the men and big boys did the heavier, large-muscle work and the women and older girls did the quieter, small-muscle work: Because women went through pregnancies and cared for infants, they were less mobile; while men, with our greater mobility and specialization in the large-muscle skills, could do heavier tasks more easily.
When we worked for direct subsistence—and when we do so today, from planting a few vegetables and some fruit trees in the yard to mending our clothing and re-roofing the house rather than hiring it done—the work is all there is to it. No fussing around finding someone to hire; no comparing estimates and reading contract drafts for “weasel words” and deceptive phrasing—and no need to have a job nor drive to it nor pay taxes on the income from it, to get a fraction of those wages to pay the contractor.
I know that a farmer can grow vegetables more cheaply than i can, in hours-of-work terms, by using his farm machinery; but when they are grown i have to go to that farm and get them; and i have to work for money to pay the farmer, plus money to pay taxes on the wages before Her Majesty will let me spend the remainder … you get the idea.
So yes: Direct subsistence is advantageous.
(Income Taxes, in Canada, are so organized that the lower your taxable money income, the lower the percentage of that income you must pay to Her Majesty. Yes, it’s legal to work for direct subsistence and not pay taxes on the food you grow for yourself, nor the value of darning your socks, nor the labour you did building that woodshed to hold the firewood—nor the firewood itself, if you cut it on your land or “on a permit” rather than buy it. You can even give some food and some firewood to a friend.)
I listed flexibility as an advantage of self-employment; but perhaps it is easier to read about the disadvantages of job rigidity: If you work in a conventional job, the hours you put in and the pay you receive are usually prescribed in advance, and rigidly: You must be at “the place of employment” for specified hours on specified days, whatever the weather, whether or not your car broke down or your children or your grandparents are sick, etc. The pay is likewise rigidly prescribed, whether or not you need that much, or maybe need more. You can’t make rational, sensible, humane day-to-day trade-offs of time for money if you have fixed hours of work and rates of pay. You can’t pick when you work nor how long, in response to the peculiarities of the day or the week … and only the fact that it’s become habit since World War II, for most men to work in the form of “jobs”, keeps many of us from recognizing just how foolish, how inefficient in human terms, that is.
If you are “self-employed” or a member of a worker co-operative [business owned and bossed by the workers], you can usually arrange much more humane and efficient hours of work—so your work takes less out of you and the people closest to you… and it might well pay you better in money, on top of all that.
Yes, perhaps surprisingly, in addition to having more flexibility, non-job income is often larger in dollar amount: Lorne Logan, a sociology student from Nova Scotia, compared the incomes of workers at the Michelin tire factory near Halifax with workers living “traditionally” with good but unpredictable amounts of pay from farm work, fishing, logging, tourism, and one-time “projects”. He found that traditional workers earned more over a span of a few years, but that their earnings were not steady nor predictable. Men who needed predictable, steady income to make regular payments, wound up working for Michelin at lower overall pay than those traditional workers who were able to manage without needing to commit themselves to time-payments (Logan, 1975).
So why do so many men do so much of their work “in jobs”? Living on borrowed money is one reason; but i believe most men can discipline ourselves to live on what we already have. We were taught to live from “jobs” by growing up in families whose “breadwinners” had jobs, because “getting a job” is a multiple-choice exercise rather than a more substantial design and planning task; and because “the economic news” refers to jobs and employment measured in jobs vs. a “labour force” defined as the sum of the number of people holding jobs and the number of people seeking jobs. People developing self-employment aren’t counted; people declaring self-employment are sometimes treated as “really” unemployed but making a few bucks somehow in the meantime (CBC Radio News [Moncton], April 5th, 11AM).
Maybe, just maybe, one reason people without jobs earn more in subsistence and often even in money, is because gradually, the job holding population is being self-selected for “lazy minds?”
Lazy mindedness is not all the cause of today’s “job disadvantage”. For-profit employers are driving wages down by “outsourcing” and by hard negotiation. Even government departments are “hard nosed bargainers” these days. The rich resource stocks that facilitated mass-production industrialism, are largely gone, the human population is beyond the carrying capacity of renewable resources unless we can manage impressive efficiencies. Governments are taking more from the money economy in taxes, especially as the retired population grows relative to the total.
Perhaps most important among the reasons that self-employment offers advantages over job employment, is efficiency: More of the self-employed man’s work produces earnings, less goes to waste. Flexibility is more
efficient than rigidity; working at or near home is more efficient than commuting; working to grow or make what you need is more efficient than working for money and then doing more work in the form of shopping. In coming “posts”, i expect to look at these and probably one or two more aspects of efficiency.
Life after jobs can be good, substantially because it need not be so wasteful.
CBC Radio, 2013. Radio News [Moncton], April 5th, 11AM; “World Report”, April 7 0800 and 0900. The Current, April 9
Logan, Lorne D. 1975. “Transition in occupational choice: A case study of traditionalism and influence in a Maritime community.” Paper read, Canadian Sociology-Anthropology Association, Learned Societies,
Wells, H. G. 1961: The Outline of History Book Club edition, vol, 2. Garden City, NY.
(How are they funded?)
Fourth in a Series on 21st Century Economics and men’s work.
(c) 2013, Davd
Old men like me can remember times when “the world of work” was different; and in particular, we remember the “heyday of the job” between demobilization after World War II, and sometime between 1971 and 1990. That can be useful for context and comparison, but when we want to understand how “the world of work” is today, it behooves us to look at younger generations.
I can name two friends whose children’s jobs, i happen to know: One has two sons and a daughter; one has one son and one daughter. Their jobs: One police constable, one prison guard, two nurses, and one computer security [engineer? Technician? I'm not sure.] Each of the two has one child in law-enforcement and one in nursing; so it’s not a matter of either one’s family specializing in either field.
It is a matter of who’s hiring … or was … in the cases of these two men’s children, hiring for some of the best paid jobs available these days. Law-enforcement, “health care”, and computers, especially computer security, are among the categories of work where hiring is still relatively active … and they are all defensive in some sense. There will be work in these fields in any modern society that’s not in disarray; but in the vigorous growth of the Industrial Revolution, they made up a much smaller fraction of all jobs, than they do now—and even in these fields all is not rosy.
I also know the “jobs” my own children have: One is a graduate student in computer science, one a theatre technician, one a refrigeration mechanic, one a self-employed construction tradesman specializing in renovations, and one a car-body repairman: Three work in repair and maintenance (a good field for hard times when fewer people will be buying-new and more people will be maintaining what they have), one in entertainment, and one is studying “computers”.
I can hope that three of those lines of work—the ones in repair and maintenance—have a more optimistic employment future than “law enforcement”. Each is enhancing someone’s subsistence, and more efficiently than the alternative of getting a new house, car, or ‘fridge: They are maintenance-and-improvement jobs. They are also “funded” by the specific people who benefit. Policing, prisons, and most “health care” are funded by governments, and the news of the past year-or-so, tells us that many governments, including the one of the province where i reside, are over-extended. New hiring in any “government jobs” is likely to be minimal.
As i was drafting this blog, the McDonald’s chain of fast-food “restaurants” held a major recruiting blitz (on April 11th.) “McJobs” is now a slang word, originally named for the chain, but applying to similar low-wage service [especially food service] jobs. Because they do not pay well and are rather tiring, these are jobs that “burn out” some workers and drive out others as soon as those people can get something else instead. Fast-food outlets are often hiring because their jobs “have high turnover”; and they have high turnover because they don’t pay well for what they cost in effort and stress.
(If the economy “contracts”—if there are fewer people with the extra income to spend on a hamburger or chicken sandwich at such places instead of a sandwich made at home—there will be fewer “McJobs”—and quite plausibly, few people will miss them. Those who took minimum-wage work under pressure from the bureaucracy, pretty surely won’t.)
For now, anyway, it seems the minimum-wage “sector” is doing the most hiring. On April 21st, ten days after McDonalds held their jobs-day, CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” began hour 2 with a Maureen Brosnan sound-bite-collage which she titled “The Double Grind” (and program host Michael Enright referred to as: “The barrista generation”). All the statements were by young women university students or graduates. One statement of which i managed to write down over half, was an approximate summary of the point: “Now that everybody and her mother has a university degree [it doesn't assure you of success].”
Fifty days earlier, on March 2nd, CBC Radio News featured the contraction of the United States government, which contraction began that Saturday because their Congress could not concur on how to replace “the sequester”, a fairly drastic program of reductions in US Government work, which were enacted months ago, before last autumn’s national election, as an incentive for the new government to settle disputes that the last Congress could not. Apparently, the incentive failed. The cuts are forecast to slow border crossings, reduce shipments to and from the US, and reduce US demand for Canadian resources and goods.
What “the sequester” definitely is doing, is reducing the amount of work done by U.S. Government employees: It’s one more indication that governments, which were among “who’s hiring” until quite recently, might not be doing much hiring and might even be “laying off”, in future.
There are other indications right where i am: The Government of New Brunswick has announced reductions in the workforce of their hospital administrations. L’Etoile, the free weekly French-language newspaper i receive because this road has mostly Francophone households, has indicated several times since last summer, that policing costs are more than the Acadian municipalities can afford; and i’ve heard hints of similar stress on Anglophone municipalities in the rest of the province.
I don’t get local news “from all over”, but the imposition of terms of work on the teachers of Ontario, and their angry objections, were in the national news recently: Another instance of government-job qualiy in decline.
On Sunday, March 3rd, the day after they reported on US Government contraction, CBC Radio News included a story they called “Telecommuting challenge”; based to some significant extent on the fact that Yahoo corporation is ending telecommuting, and requiring all employees to work at their offices, saying that cafeteria and hallway discussions produce valuable ideas. A Cisco Canada official, however, said allowing telecommuting results in a productivity gain. The firms named in the radio story were electronics and in particular “networking” related, not agriculture, food service, garbage collection, manufacturing, medical care, policing, prison operation, retail, … or even “live” theatre. My best interpretation of the story so far, is that even in a ‘hot’ field like computer technology, jobs are losing the worker-friendly quirks that made for a “heyday of the job” 1-2 generations ago.
On the CBC Moncton morning show, that week, one Meg Wilcox reported that young workers, especially single young adults, predominate in social media and other “digital” jobs, partly because of the irregular hours. The future is digital, was the message: “If you’re a newspaper layout artist, your days are numbered” said one sound clip.
Who is hiring, then? Based on what i’ve noticed in the past year or so, the available jobs are those that pay least, plus a declining number in social control and medical-care. Some newly available jobs have recently been degraded in quality: Automobile worker unions accepted lower pay and lesser pensions for new-hires—so that there could be new hires; and Ontario’s teachers made their displeasure at imposed terms of work plain enough to be repeatedly reported on the national news.
In Alberta, one son told me, there are still quite a few jobs available in the trades, but many are in locations where living costs are high and amenities, somewhat scarce. Near Victoria, a correspondent wrote, his daughter “was unemployed for months while sick, but now has a part-time job as a cashier at a local supermarket at minimum wage—needless to say we have to help her out with the rent.” A middle-aged man he knows, “could only get day-by-day pickup jobs for months, but recently landed a job with a local appliance store.” Victoria doesn’t read to be a good place to hunt for a job.
A Manitoba teacher with forestry work experience says he could get work in either field, and would rather log than substitute-teach: “The kids love to play a game called ‘sink-the-sub’ and they’re getting damn good at it.” He reports that there are also jobs available in skilled agriculture (operating machinery, especially), carpentry and other renovation trades, long distance trucking and tour bus driving, but that many employers prefer middle-aged workers to the young.
Despite forecasts of modest improvement, the March unemployment rate was higher than February’s. Hiring overall, was much less than the Federal Finance Minister and his colleagues predicted. It could imaginably be, that McDonald’s won’t need to have another hiring blitz anytime soon: The people working for them now will have fewer better-alternative jobs to leave for, and there will be less money in the public’s pockets, to spend at their “restaurants”.
Henry Ford was famous for many things; one of them was that he recognized the importance of customer numbers, and paid the men working in his factories enough that they could afford to buy the cars they made. (Another of the first big industrial employers was “the textile industry”, whose products were sold to the general public, not just to the rich.) Ford’s strategy succeeded, as best we can tell from history—during a time of rapid industrial expansion about 100 years ago, when his first assembly-line factories began production (e.g. Duiker and Spielvogel, 1994: 816-8). What we might wonder—and perhaps worry—today, is whether the phenomenon will now “operate in reverse.”
Who’s still hiring? Those who pay least seem to be hiring most; and most employers who pay twice minimum-wage or more, seem to be hiring less if at all. There is some demand for farm workers (where there are farms) and truck drivers; and the high average age in those areas of work is probably an important cause. We can expect that “health care” and law-enforcement retirements will be at least substantially replaced. Overall, the “Job Market” offers less purchasing power for more work, than it did 50 or 25 years ago.
My best guess is that today, few men can find “a good job” so good as to equal the alternatives in self-employment, be that in the form of co-operative [worker-owned, worker-run] enterprise, or farming, or repair and maintenance—or, because “attitude and motivation matter”, in any work you really enjoy.
The next ‘post’ in the series will look at a reason some readers might not have considered before: It’s better not to have to take all your earnings in money.
Third in a Series on 21st Century Economics, how men can liberate ourselves thereby,…
and the need and hopes for Social Efficiency
(c) 2013, Davd
Economic growth is “stagnant” today, in the patois of the radio news interviews; pension investments are not earning what their planners forecast, so now retirement income is uncertain; and my son the refrigeration mechanic assures me that modern fridges and freezers are less reliable than those made in the last century. I’m sure there are many and diverse other items of bad news that could be added to the list. The news we hear and read repeatedly contradicts a fundamental expectation of 20th (and 19th) Century economics: The Industrial Revolution was expected to give each generation better than their parents had. In this 21st Century, that’s not happening.
The 2013 Canadian Federal Budget speech stubbornly insisted that economic growth would resume, that money would go ’round more quickly in 2014 and 2015 and that thanks to economic growth, the 2015 budget would show a little more government income than expenditures. The Opposition leaders expressed doubts (as Opposition leaders usually do) and seemed at least as convincing, especially since the Budget specifics were few. And “New Brunswick,” an old province which serves the country by housing many more of the old and weak than of the most capable in proportion to its population, got no cost-of-living increase in transfer
The Industrial Revolution was expected to give each generation better than their parents had, but now that’s not happening.
Why not? The reasons are substantially ecological: The Industrial Revolution depended on cheap raw materials, and especially on cheap energy, that’s the biggest reason why not. That last sentence is “in the past
tense” because raw materials are no longer cheap. For instance, when i began driving, gasoline cost 19 cents per gallon: Now it costs $1.33 or so per litre, which translates to $5.03 per US gallon and over $6 per Imperial gallon. There is no way that wages have gone up 25-30+ times over that same time span. As a former chief-economist (for a major bank) named Jeff Rubin, has been saying on tour with David Suzuki: “Feed [the economy] cheap oil and it runs like a charm; ration it expensive oil and it seizes up.” (CBC Radio Ideas, March 13.)
When i was a student, rockfish and goberge cost about 25-35 cents per pound; today, a pound of either fish will cost you $4-$10. The price of basic white fish has gone up at about the same rate, over the decades, as the price of gasoline! Fish are supposed to be “a renewable resource”, while petroleum is “non-renewable”—what went wrong?
Basically, “what went wrong” is the second ecological reason jobs and the money economy aren’t what they used to be: The ratio of the human population to the productivity of the Earth—to Earth’s carrying capacity, in
Catton’s  term—is at or near overload. There are at least twice as many people alive [and therefore, eating] today as there were when i was a student. The oceans have not got bigger; the capacity of this planet to produce fish has not increased and may have deceased; but the human “demand” for fish has at least doubled.
Non-renewable resources like oil are being used up; by now most of the best deposits of them are gone or
nearing exhaustion. Renewable resources like fish and timber are now “harvested” at or even above their rates of renewal; it takes more work to produce the same amount of either, than it took fifty or even twenty-five years ago. The price of food, clothing and shelter is higher relative to the wage level, than it used to be.
To use a recent example, my neighbour Smitty told me that five years ago, stove-pipe cost a dollar or two per foot. This year, it costs six dollars per foot, plus tax—the prices of iron and manufacturing energy (and of transporting the raw materials and the finished pipes; perhaps also the profit demands of the factory owners and the retailers) have at least tripled the cost of stove pipe in less than a decade. Wages haven’t risen one-tenth that fast—and now, for many jobs, they are actually falling not just in “purchasing power”, but
even in dollars.
Raw materials cost more because more work is required to get them from poorer sources, and because as more countries industrialize, more factory demand drives up the price. They cost more work to get because the best stocks have been exploited: From “fracking” for oil and ‘natural gas’ to mining lower-percentage ores of iron, gold, copper, and other minerals; to having no more old-growth forests to log or untouched fisheries to net; the costs of extracting raw materials and providing energy to transport and process them, is far higher than it was during the glory days of the job, back in the third quarter of the 20th Century.
The high pay of those mid-20th Century jobs came from raiding the storehouses of the Earth. It’s analogous to making wine or beer from a kit (or from your own crops, but a kit is a simpler example.) The concentrated malt syrup or grape juice is brought back to normal strength by adding water, and then you introduce the yeast. The yeast finds itself in what for a yeast, is Paradise: A sugar solution at the right strength to ferment. The yeast devours the sugar, turning it to ethyl alcohol and getting nourishment from the process. A “population explosion” of yeast is part of the process; and of course, the sugar is consumed. As the sugar runs out and the alcohol and carbon dioxide (the gas that gives beer and champagne their bubbles) accumulate, the yeast stops reproducing, and depending on how much alcohol it has produced, it goes dormant or dies.
“The Industrial Revolution” began with inventions during the third quarter of the 17th Century—about 200 years before “the glory days of the job”. The inventions turned coal—which had been used as heating fuel but not mechanical power—and petroleum, and later electricity, into “motor fuels”. Without the technology developed during that third quarter of the 17th Century, they were relatively neutral features of the earth; after the inventions, they were to developing industry as grape and malt sugars are to those yeasts. Much like the yeasts, industrialism devoured these new resources; and much like the sugar in a beer carboy or a wine vat, they were “nonrenewable.” (I don’t claim credit for this analogy; it came from Catton’s Overshoot , and i believe he got it from an earlier source.)
Even the standing timber of an ancient forest (think Douglas fir, western red-cedar, Nootka yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, and Sequoias) or a salmon run whose size depends on its balance with predators and competitors as well as food species, has a sustainable harvest rate far lower than the rates at which these West Coast resources were harvested in the 20th Century. (The cod stocks of the Grand Banks were similarly over-exploited, beginning earlier in history.)
In human terms, since we’re supposed to be able to think and yeasts are not, you could even call it plunder. There is very little left to plunder, in the once great Coastal rain forests and semi-Mediterranean forests of BC, Washington, Oregon, and California; in the salmon runs that extended from Eureka [California] up the Oregon, Washington, BC and Alaska coasts, and now are too small to fish commercially in the southern part of that range; in the cod stocks of the Grand Banks; in the easy oil fields from Alberta to Texas; in the way of rich metal ores. One might say Capital and Labour plundered together and while they argued over the division of that plunder, both took in more than they could have done sustainably.
No plunder, no easy profits and high-paid jobs in the same business. Why the plunder happened during the past 200-300 years, was a matter of inventions which made it possible to profit from raw materials which before then, were relatively neutral features of the earth’s crust and what grew on it. There was no need to plunder; but capitalism is a powerful way to quickly exploit opportunities, and Soviet “socialism” did much the same thing. Young men today are somewhat justified in damning that plunder and those who did it—but cursing won’t undo the plundering.
If exhaustion of cheap raw materials has made industrial manufacturing and its products more expensive, it has had less effect on the old craft trades that depended on, indeed consisted of, highly skilled labour done by strong and accurately guided human muscles. These trades are traditional men’s strengths; they do not provide a fast road to riches but they do provide a means of subsistence for a family household (to which the other household members can contribute when there is especially much work to be done—something seldom if ever allowed in job employment.)
Farming was the largest of these trades before the Industrial Revolution, in that the number of farms was much more than the number of blacksmith-shops, carpenter-shops, chimney-sweeps, fishing boats, logging crews [of 2-3 men and 1-2 horses], plasterers, stone-masons, teamsters, weavers [a trade women also followed, though the heaviest looms tended to require men's strength], or of any of the others. Today there are a few new trades, including concrete finisher, electrician, motor-vehicle mechanic, and welder.
The skilled-muscle trades were generally at an economic disadvantage while cheap fuels and large rich ore bodies gave mass production and long-distance hauling a temporary subsidy; but much of the disadvantage was temporary. Mass-production fits best with mass extraction of raw materials and mass transport of raw materials and intermediate and finished goods. Craft tradesmen tend to work alone or in small groups and fit best with small-scale raw material extraction. As massive industrial sources of raw materials become rarer and-or more costly to access, and as smaller scale production technologies develop, the mass advantage is ending and might even reverse.
Land degradation, and in the case of forest land, “stand” degradation as well, have been widely acknowledged. Farming as a craft tends to improve rather than degrade land; and ecoforestry, which is capable of restoring forest lands and stands, is a craft rather like traditional farming. The very maintenance of renewable resource productivity depends on craft stewardship replacing Industrial Revolution exploitation.
The skilled-muscle trades “are coming back”, and somewhat improved by the technologies that accompanied industrialism. They will not grow in numbers as fast, nor to as great a total, as “good jobs” did in the third quarter of the 20th Century; because they are not subsidized as “nonrenewable resources” subsidized industrialism. They will, i predict, offer the best opportunities for young men in the first half of the 21st: They will pay less in money and more in quality of life than the “good jobs” of the last century, and likely pay more in both than most of the available jobs of this one.
Where have all the good jobs gone? Some are being done by automated machinery. Some have been replaced
by not-as-good jobs in foreign enterprises, which is the main theme CBC Radio’s The Current found when examining this week’s bank scandal; its buzz name is “offshoring”. Some continue to exist on less generous terms (especially, less pay relative to the cost of living and lesser pension benefits.) Some have been changed for the worse but still have their old names (which is what old colleagues wrote me about professorships such as i left in 1990.)
More generally, the largest single reason the jobs available in 2013 don’t average nearly as good as those available in 1963 or even 1983, is that the industrial economies no longer enjoy abundant, cheap raw materials, and especially, abundant cheap oil. The second largest reason is human population growth. The means to pay workers well and put them to more pleasant work, that were relatively ample in 1963, derived from a smaller population and greater abundance.
The 21st is an “after abundance” century. Social, economic. and political tactics appropriate to times of
resource abundance and continued economic growth, are quite likely to do more harm than good. “Get a job”, as advice or as a personal purpose, represents such a tactic.
To repeat: Young men can fairly reasonably expect to live on wages, but should not try to support a family from wages unless they have an especially high-paid profession or trade. Even then it’s a a risky “bet” (which it was not, 50 years ago.) Many writers have warned young men of the dangers of civil marriage as revised under Feminist lobbying pressure. This “post” and the last are warning young men—and women—of the dangers of depending on an “Industrial Revolution” economics which has lost its basis for continued growth.
If we look at “who’s still hiring”, it’s not encouraging; and methinks that will be worth describing in a future “post”.
Meanwhile, don’t believe promises of economic growth. Remember the wine yeasts. For another crude but
perhaps instructive analogy, animals grow by eating a lot; and those with less to eat, grow less. “Industrial economies” haven’t the abundance of feedstock to grow like they did two generations ago. If you want to prosper, efficiency is a better strategy than plunder.
That’s a hint. .. which i’m working to develop for another future post.
Catton, William R., Jr. 1976 “Why the future isn’t what it used to be (and how it could be made worse than it has to be.)” Social Science Quarterly 57: (September) 276-291
Catton, William R., Jr. 1980 Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Urbana, London, and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Paperback 1982
CBC Radio-1 Ideas, March 13 2013. Broadcst of a presentation made by Jeff Rubin and David Suzuki at the Calgary Public Library, as part of their national tour to disabuse Canadians of false expectations of long term economic growth.
My 20th Century Experience of 21st Century Work
(c) 2013, Davd
This is not written mainly to tell a personal story—it’s written “for example”, since i obviously know my own experience better than that of others. Its main message is that today, becoming someone else’s employee is seldom a man’s best use of his talents and energy… while two generations ago, as summarized with general rather than personal facts in the “Life After Jobs” post, it often was. I was working then—50 years or two generations ago—as a student en-route to a well-paid fulltime job that fit my abilities and interests. If i were that age today, i doubt i could get the same fulltime jobs i enjoyed in 1966-88; a job of the same name wouldn’t be as good as they were; and with luck—maybe also some prayer and reflection—i would know better than to take the fulltime jobs most men of my ability and social origins can get today.
Specifically, 50 years ago, i was completing my Bachelor’s degree en-route to a Ph.D., and then to being Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and full Professor—which during the third quarter of the 20th
Century, were good jobs, well-paid by my standards as a local truck driver’s son. During the last quarter of the 20th Century, those jobs lost the independence and choice-of-tasks which had made them more enjoyable than most other jobs that paid about the same.
In 1990, the terms of work changed for the worse in the specific workplace where i was: The Administration unilaterally stated that “faculty” could be required to teach evening classes, off-campus weekend classes, and summer classes, which were optional before. (Tradesmen got overtime rates—150% to double their normal pay—for evening and weekend work, in those days; and regular-school teachers were free to go where they liked when the children were on summer vacation.) Research, which was one of my special strengths and the most enjoyable part of the work for me, was less valued than when i was hired and promoted. I went to a psychiatrist for job-related stress, which turned out to be good luck, because it led to losing my job with a severance payment.
Since 1990—since i was still in my forties—i have not had a “job”. I’ve worked, i’ve earned money, but i never had a regular employer. I was 47 years old when the severance terms were determined and i ceased to work for what i’ll call a run-of-the-mill university, not the worst and not the best, in the early spring of 1990. I have not held a job since then. Colleagues who wrote to me in the 1990s told me indirectly that i’d got out at the right time—the quality of work life got worse rather than better in that decade.
The severance payment was ruled to be income by the bureaucracy, and i received “EI” only briefly before choosing an alternative programme that paid me a poverty-line stipend while i started a small commercial herb garden. From 1991—when i had very little crop to sell—until 2005, i was “the herb man” who supplied several fancy restaurants and a few produce managers with culinary herbs and “garnish flowers”. For about eight of those years i supported my youngest child—provided food, clothing, and shelter—and for one i also supported his next older brother. Much of the food and shelter, was produced by my labour and some of theirs, gardening, building, fishing, foraging, getting in firewood.
Our income, for a household of 2-3, was at or below the “poverty line”; but we ate well, dressed adequately if not fashionably, and had a 4-cylinder pickup truck (which logged more mileage for the garden than for our “pleasure”.) Living on Vancouver Island, we ate a lot of seafood, much of it foraged and a significant amount bought from the fishermen who caught it. Most important, my hours of work were more flexible than they had been as a professor, even before the imposition of evening and off-campusteaching assignments. Other than the day i drove to sell to several restaurants two hours from home, i could take time off-work when the boys stood to benefit; and on the sales driving day, one or both usually came with me and we enjoyed some ocean beach time when the selling was done.
I had a whole lot less dollar-income than my professor pay rate had been; but we lived well—and neither when i was a professor nor when i was a herb-gardener, did we ever eat money.
I do believe, as i wrote in the first of this series, that the hey-day of the job was from 1950-1975. In 1900, most Canadians, Americans, and Nordics were self-employed [as farmers, most often; but also as fishermen, loggers, mechanics, teamsters, blacksmiths, cleaners, .... and a few as professionals.] In the 1930s, jobs were scarce and not well paid. In 1940-45, most men who had jobs were soldiers or otherwise working for the war. In 2000, the “conventional wisdom” said that it took two working-class jobs to support a family (though at a level of spending and consumption well above “basic necessities”.)
Of my five sons, one has children; he is the one who is self-employed. A friend from B.C. sent me a beautiful photograph of his new sailboat, taken as he headed off on a weekend cruise through the islands of the northern Gulf of Georgia. He built that sailboat, and is self-employed as “Windjammer woodworking.” Two friends near here became unemployed when a major wood-products factory closed in Miramichi: One is now a sawyer, the other, a farmer—both self-employed. The famous ecoforester Merve Wilkinson (now deceased) was self-employed; as is Bob Eichenberger, author of the book L’Ecoforesterie. I don’t know the details of any of their incomes or finances; but indications are that all are living well—and that a significant part of their prosperity is direct subsistence.
I believe that a man’s work is a very important part of who he is—which makes a strong case for self-employment, on your own or probably even better, co-operatively with friends or kin. As i wrote before: If you take a “full time job” make sure that “job” is well fitted to your nature and interests—don’t go taking a job if you don’t love the work involved.
The history i’ve seen in my lifetime tells me that such jobs are increasingly scarce. The self-employed men i know show me that it’s more likely to turn out well, to identify a kind of work well fitted to your nature and interests, and take it up “on your own”—where “you” is a plural pronoun as well as a singular—than to “get a job” working for wages.
My income as a herb gardener was rather low, but my life satisfaction was rather high. My self-employed friends and kin are happier, i’d say significantly happier on average, than those who work for others.
Life After Jobs:
First in a Series on 21st Century Economics, how men can liberate ourselves thereby,
… and the need and hopes for Social Efficiency
(c) 2013, Davd
There will always be work, but a wise man will choose the work that fits himself and his times. The money is no longer as good reason to choose the “get a job” pattern of work, as it might have been 30-60 years ago.
The right work for you might be “fulltime”, “part time”, or “seasonal”. Many men will be best-off doing more than one kind of work at different times of day, on different days of the week, and-or in different seasons of the year. Many kinds of work will pay more in direct subsistence, or as contributions to building non-monetary wealth shared co-operatively, than in money. The two main criteria for choosing to take up work, should be aptitude and enjoyment—not pay—for most men today.
Since what you just read is unconventional and may seem radical to some readers, i want to summarize the history—most of which took place in my lifetime, but i am now an old man—that brought about the job-based notions of adult and especially men’s work, which it is now time to change. When you can see how job-based thinking came to be “normal”, it will be easier to see why its time is ending, perhaps already done.
Once upon a time, when i was a boy and a young man, many working-class jobs “paid well enough to support a family”; and many working-class men were the sole source of their household’s money income. Their wives “stayed home”, kept house, cooked and sewed, gave birth to the “Baby Boom”, and for the most part, were faithful to their marriage promises. Many of those wives, in the 1950s and late 1940s, were glad the war was over, had had more than enough of working for some employer doing [usually war related work], and considered it a good life to keep house and especially, to have babies and rear children.
A few had been old enough during the “Dirty Thirties”, to remember the unemployment of that “Great Depression” as personal experience; and remember that in those years, many men and women could not afford parenthood … and they told the younger housewives, over coffee and tea, how lucky they were to live “when times are prosperous”. (Even the young wives had experienced wartime, and knew to value peace.)
Those post-War years, from sometime between 1947 and 1950 to sometime after 1975, were the glory days of the job. There was a tremendous pent-up demand for housing and “consumer goods” (including cars and gasoline) which had been rationed or completely unavailable during World War II, and which many people “couldn’t afford” during the Thirties. Workers to build those houses (and a few apartments) and man the factories that made the consumer goods, were in demand; labour unions were well established from earlier in the century; and so, wages were good—usually, skilled-workers earned enough to support a family and have a few conveniences as well.
Most families consisted of a married couple and their children. A few included one or more parents (usually widowed) or siblings (usually not yet married) of the married couple. Most had one car, very few had two; probably more urban households had no car than suburban households had two. Television was a new thing, computers were wartime novelties built of vacuum tubes, each occupying a room larger than most people had in their homes, which some bureaucracies were adopting for record keeping but many universities had not yet acquired.
It is worth remembering (and may be “before the time” of many readers) that:
expectations were more modest in the 1950s. After a decade-and-a-half of austerity, or longer, a postwar couple considered a house of their own, a car of their own, and enough income to have children of their own, to be adequate fulfillment of the “American Dream”. The Canadian Dream was mostly similar, with snow shoveling more important than air conditioning and hockey more important than basketball.
The consumer goods were made by American and Canadian workers, not “automated” and not out-sourced.
As the 1950s became the 1970s, the visible social changes were based more on the Baby Boom producing a huge subpopulation of adolescents and young adults, than on ideology: Wilder music, and social and sexual experimentation, are phenomena more of the teens and twenties than of later or earlier life.
“Technology”, and especially computer technology, was absent from consumer goods until the 1980s and became commonplace only in the 1990s. Computers were invented during World War II, and initially used mainly to co-ordinate radar data with air defense. They became common in large data-dependent bureaucracies during the latter 1950s, in universities and the US space program in the 1960s, in factories during the 1970s and 1980s, and as individually owned consumer goods and in cars, in the 1990s.
Divorce, abortion, and homosexuality were shameful in the 1950s and most of the 1960s; men and women who married in those decades expected fidelity in their own conduct and that of their spouses.
It’s not just lifetime marriage, then, that has collapsed since 1970—it’s also the availability of jobs a man can get in his 20s or even late teens, work at until he retires, and rely on to support a family and then a decent retirement. Things have changed, and i dare say, drastically. A few news items will illustrate:
“Employment Insurance” changes, which especially affect areas where jobs are scarce in some seasons (usually winter in Canada), took effect with the New Year. Protests have been intense in Atlantic Canada, where many workers cannot find jobs in winter. The Government’s message seems to be “Willingness to work is not enough: If your jobs are seasonal, you had better limit your lifestyles to what the pay they yield in season, will support for the year.”—which conflicts with the experience of seasonal workers earlier this century and for the latter part of the 20th.
On January 7th, CBC Radio “Maritime Noon”, featured those “changes to Employment Insurance” and interpretations of the recent changes by a “Director Mendelsson of the Mowat Centre” in Toronto. “Have seasonal workers had it too easy?” asked Norma-Lee McLeod, the chief personage of the ‘show.’ Dr. Mendelsson seemed at first to equivocate, but after qualifications, stated he did think it unfair that year-’round workers pay higher “EI premiums” so that seasonal workers could have benefits in the part of the year when they are regularly laid-off from their jobs—or one might say, in the part of the year when their jobs don’t exist.
If it be unfair, why was it normal Government practice for so long?
On January 21st, CBC Radio News naturally gave major coverage to the US Presidential Inauguration … and as context, to the fading American dream, and specifically to the failure of recent economic growth and “prosperity” to benefit the working-class. (There is a complex irony to that context: Feminist jobs, and women’s jobs overall but to a somewhat lesser extent, are more “white-collar”, sit-down, small-muscle jobs [like “bank teller”, bureaucratic clerk, and keyboard entry, for instance] while men’s jobs are more “blue collar”, stand-up, move-around, large-muscle jobs [including carpentry, factory work, fishing, logging, mining, power-line maintenance, and welding]. White-collar work is neither really working-class nor is it “ruling class”. It has grown in amount and pay, better than blue collar work, since some time in the last quarter of the 20th Century—but it is less essential to subsistence, so pay has gone more to the rich [who vanishingly seldom do blue collar work!] and to the office workers, than to those whose work is most essential. )
On “The World this Weekend”, the day before Thanksgiving 2012, CBC Radio News reported that the unemployment rate in Spain is above 25%, and among Spanish “youth”, above 50%. Earlier, they reported on the Canadian Auto Workers Union “achieving” contract terms that protected the pay rates and pensions of older workers but accepted lower pay and lesser pensions for new-hires—so that there could be new hires.
In Moncton, NB, the local CBC Radio news has covered a city bus system shutdown about which someone at a transportation-committee meeting in Miramichi remarked “They [the union] want a guarantee that there won’t be pay or workforce reductions through 2018—that’s unrealistic!”
Unrealistic? to ask that a bus system? in a growing metropolitan area, at a time when prices are rising and populations are aging, continue to pay the same number of bus drivers (and maybe mechanics and such) the same wages, for six more years? Let’s have a closer look at that; because it seems to imply that Atlantic Canada is not much better off than Spain and Greece, and the Dirty Thirties, known south of the border as the Great Depression, may well be coming back for a longer “run”.
Keeping the same rate of pay while prices rise, amounts to receiving less and less in “purchasing power”. Since when was accepting gradual “real income” reduction, unrealistically demanding?
Since politicians decided to admit that “social program[me]s” cost more than taxes can provide for them and the “Baby Boom” generation has enjoyed more affluence than its children and grandchildren can realistically hope for—that’s since-when.
In a time of declining real wages and increasing numbers of “elderly”, in a growing metropolitan area, bus systems can expect to have increasing ridership, not less. If there are going to be increasing numbers using the bus system, how could it be unreasonable to demand that the number of drivers and support trades, not decrease?
The union didn’t even ask for increased staffing proportional to increased ridership, as i heard the story. Implicitly, they accepted that the future will be, or at least well could be, less prosperous for their members than the past—and for that, they were locked out and called “unrealistic?” (If they were unrealistic, doesn’t that imply the working conditions of the previous several years, perhaps decades, were unrealistically good?)
I do not know if they were or were not unrealistic; i do know that what happened to them reminds me of Greece, Italy, Spain, and some worried writers in the USA. Slow declines in real income are not enough for some governments, from municipal to provincial (think Ontario Teachers, for instance) to national.
The old grey job, she ain’t what she used to be, says the news from Ottawa about EI, from Moncton about working for the bus system, from the USA of Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration, from Spain about employment rates, and from Windsor about pay rates. “Get a Job!” was much better advice 40-60 years ago than it is today—but there seems to be such a thing as social inertia; and it is being said by some, as if it made sense like it did then.
Many men today could find working differently than “Getting a Job”, liberating.
I’ve read several places that a single man does not need much money to subsist. If, for instance, four or more men buy a house containing one bedroom for each, and share the kitchen, social rooms, work spaces, and bathrooms, they can live fairly comfortably, including owning a car together, for about $5,000 per man per year.It is quite possible for seasonal workers to live comfortably year-’round on one season’s wages—but not necessarily possible for them to marry and rear children “on” those wages.
The CAW contracts with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler; the E.I. Changes, which mean that seasonal jobs which used to support a household won’t any longer; the Moncton city bus system’s lockout of a union that was willing to accept no pay increase and no new hiring at at time when ridership and food prices are almost certain to increase; and the demonstrations, maybe fit to call riots, around the unemployment rates in Spain and Greece—are telling us that the job-based lifestyles will not be as materially abundant, as economically prosperous, as they were when our parents and grandparents were our age.
To summarize: Young men can fairly reasonably expect to live on wages, but probably cannot support a family from wages unless they have a high-paid profession or trade. Even then it’s a a risky “bet” (which it was not, 50 years ago.) The latter-20th-Century stereotype of a suburban family with nice house, nice car, nice food and clothing, all paid for by one adult’s wages, may not be feasible for those who are now children, even with two adults working for wages.
Many writers have warned young men of the dangers of civil marriage as revised under Feminist lobbying pressure. This “post” is warning young men—and women—of the dangers of depending on an “Industrial Revolution” economics which is very plausibly collapsing.
In a famous aphorism, “The future’s not what it used to be.” More exactly, during the second half of the 20th Century, the great majority of average folks could raise families on the pay they get from jobs working for somebody else. The future is not going to be so generous: A smaller and smaller fraction of all jobs will pay well enough to support a family.
That didn’t need to be a surprise. It seems to this writer that the future of job employment started looking worse rather than better by 1990, and though my motivation was fatherly rather than financial, i got out at the right time. That story, i expect to make my second “post” of the series.
Meanwhile—don’t go taking a job if you don’t love the work involved (and i assume as i write that, that you wouldn’t love work unless you were good at it.) If somebody is fool enough to nag you to “Get a Job!” one good response is “Find me one that’s worth having”—which a generation ago included years of secure continuity, and a defined-benefit retirement plan indexed to inflation. 40-50 years ago, jobs worth having were plentiful… but living as if it were still 1963-73, doesn’t make sense.
Just What Part of Equal Protection Don’t You Understand?
(c) 2013, Davd
“Once upon a time, not so very long ago,” in many kingdoms by the sea, the landlocked Swiss Confederation1 (and after 1790, the Republics of France and the USA), men and women had different “spheres of life”. Women’s sphere was domestic; men’s, the world-of-outside-work—and of danger and adventure. Among farmers especially, they overlapped; but the sex difference was in the same direction if smaller. Women could range beyond the domestic sphere, though few seemed to want to; my own paternal grandmother was a respected Pentecostal preacher. Those who did enter “men’s work” also entered in some measure into the risks and dangers of that sphere. Women were protected from violence, not absolutely but much, much better than men—by sequestration.
Today, women in Canada have become aviators2, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, combat soldiers, professionals of all types, provincial premiers3—and for over sixty years, the Head of State has been a woman, with the probability that in future, that Crown will be worn more years by women than by men.4 To grant the protections of sequestration to all women today, is probably impossible; to grant them in principle is to set a double standard of protection—much the same one that left so many empty seats on the Titanic’s lifeboats, that even if all the 154 women and children who were lost, had been loaded into the boats, there would have remained 250-300 more places for men. The crew was so damnably jealous to keep men from entering lifeboats, that more than 250 men died for no good reason at all (yes, i’m taking care not to say that dying to let a woman live is always or even usually a good-enough reason. “Let the youngest be saved first”, for instance, makes more sense to me.)
Such excess zeal can also be found in the “White Ribbon Pledge”, which is cleverly worded to evoke misplaced chivalry. It is one reason i stayed home on December 6th5. That Feminist-declared “National Day of Rememberance [re] Violence Against Women” implicitly claims that violence against men is less bad… as does the “White Ribbon Pledge”. (If December 6th were a “… Day of Reflection for the Minimization of Violence Against Human Beings”, that i could support.) As long as the elimination of violence from human society is very far from practical possibility; the “White Ribbon Pledge” not to tolerate violence against women [sometimes, “women and girls”6] claims impractically great privilege for female human beings and conversely, denigrates men and boys.
Just for instance, a man signing that “White Ribbon Pledge” promises [implicitly] not to defend himself if attacked violently by a woman or girl. (See this post for the common childhood example.) Strictly read, he even promises not to defend his children by force if they are attacked violently by a woman or girl. What if Sonia Blanchette’s “ex”—or anyone—had shown up just as she was starting to kill their children7? Wouldn’t he want “to condone or commit” some (disciplined) violence to stop the killing? The “White Ribbon Pledge” is absurdly extreme.
Why not write a pledge, “to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence towards any human being”? If it is possible to carry out that pledge, then a pledge that protects only women and girls, not only declares female privilege, but tolerates violence to men and boys. Are Feminists visibly abandoning “gender equality” for privilege? Do women wish to bless violence against men? It seems some prominent Feminists do bless violence against men, and that might be one reason for the wording of the “pledge”…
… but beyond and separately from that, the elimination of violence from society would require a very different society than what Canada, the USA, Europe [and Arabia, China, etc etc] have today.
Law enforcement is based on violence. As Peter Berger wrote in Invitation to Sociology, even a financial investigation or a traffic ticket depends ultimately on the availability of police who can enforce it—meaning, by force. I doubt even five percent of the police, male and female, now working, would be willing to vow never to use violence while doing their work enforcing the laws. (I doubt they would be willing to vow never to use violence when the suspects against whom they were enforcing the laws, be female, either.) I even doubt that anyone who trusts the police, even “mostly”, would want them to renounce all violence, or even all violence against females.
If the subject be violence-against-women, the question be not “how to eliminate it”, because until women completely quit violence themselves [which i doubt will happen], eliminating is too extreme. The questions, in an age of “gender equality” in access to work, education, and public life, include how to replace violence with something better, for men and women…
… and include also, how much violence can be replaced? Our laws are enforced most often by intimidation, rarely by incentive; and the intimidation is ultimately based in the availability of police violence: It would be a good idea to work for a legal system based more on incentive and less on threat of punishment; it would also be a long, hard job, and vanishingly unlikely to achieve an absolute-zero rate of violence.
Canadian as well as US soldiers have been wounded and killed in war in this decade; a majority of those killed and of those wounded were men, but a few were women. Reducing violence, and finding the most appropriate rules for stating the desired “optimal minimum” of violence in social life, is a good objective—and will be a very difficult one to pursue, much less achieve.
With the subject of violence-against-women, naturally belongs the subject be violence-by-women, The most recent Canadian examples are probably Sonia Blanchette, named repeatedly late last year on CBC Radio news and charged with first degree murder in the deaths of her three children, and Nicole Doucet, who undertook to hire her husband killed.
Two other examples from earlier years are important because prominent Feminists have extolled what they did as desiderata: Lorena Bobbitt and Valerie Solanas, perpetrators; Valerie Solanas, advocate of women’s violence against men. There are others; those two got “brought to my attention” quite often. But imagine a man had said and done something analogous—not only would Feminists condemn him, men-in-general would also. It is our way as men to discipline such violence as we commit, and employ it with restraint; and men who misuse violence are not blessed: Gentlemen, the moral high ground is ours.
From that high ground, let’s reframe the question: How much can violence against men be reduced, with good rather than harmful overall social consequences? Most men i know would like to minimize drunken brawls, bullying, and whacks upside the head with cast-iron frying pans (this last being stereotypically, a way women attack men rather than a way men attack anyone8). Few would like to limit police dealing with serious criminals to saying “Now you be nice!” (Even fewer would like to be police who are so limited. Peter Berger also wrote in Invitation to Sociology, that while British “bobbies” did not carry guns routinely, they could be issued them if the situation seemed to warrant.)
The “White Ribbon Pledge” promises more than a Common-Law legal system (or any other legal system about which i know enough to assess) can deliver. Its wording treats men as legitimate targets of violence “by omission.” Any man endorsing it is a fool—or at least, has been fooled. A woman endorsing it might be a fool, a scoundrel, a sexist—but not egalitarian.
The short answer to any effort to promote a biased pledge like that is “I want equal protection for both sexes.” If the situation has confrontational aspects, one might well add “Why don’t you?”
If you get an answer that’s a dispute—an effort to justify a privilege of violence for women—make note of it. There’s a virtual certainty it’s inconsistent with any notion that Feminism promotes “gender equality”.
1. The usual way to open many European [including English] folk-tales, of course, was “Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a kingdom by the sea.” Take a look at the map of Europe [including England], as of any time in the past 200 or more years, and you’ll find that most kingdoms do include some sea-coast. The Confederation Helvetica [the name that gives Switzerland the code CH] is one of the very few European states that has no seacoast—and no history of being ruled by a monarch, since the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden began the Confederation in 1273 (Wells, The Outline of History, 1961: 628.)
3. As of February 2013, the premiers of Alberta, “British Columbia”, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Quebec are women. Those provinces include the three largest, and both “petro-powerhouses”.
4. This follows “doubly”, given the new rule that the firstborn is heir to the Throne regardless of sex, from the simple fact that women live longer on-average. First, a Queen will on-average live to a greater age than a King. Second, a Queen following a King will take the throne at a younger age than a King following a Queen. Her current Majesty became Queen in her twenties; her mother lived past the age of 100; her son Charles is approaching retirement age and is fairly likely never to become King. (I am aware of some claims that elite families produce more sons than daughters, which would affect and perhaps cancel this lifespan-based inference; but have not seen convincing evidence of the claims.)
5. On December 6th, Canadian Feminists hold ‘events’ by various names, to remember a multiple murder in Montreal as if it had been a massacre, which it wasn’t; and pressure men and legislators to support, among other things, the “White Ribbon Pledge”. If there had been a Finnish Independence Day event nearby, or a group of men had agreed to hold a demonstration or vigil promoting equal treatment, either would have been good reason to “go out”, and i said so to one member of a prospective men’s group in Miramichi—but no event materialized. I am ready to confront those who nag men to “sign the White Ribbon Pledge”; but i prefer to do so in the company of sympathetic men. (see e.g. Genesis, ch. 39, and www.cotwa.org .)
6. When i searched duckduck for a “white ribbon pledge” example, New Zealand returned “to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence towards women”; a Wisconsin site returned “I pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women and girls.” Those two examples made me aware that there is no single definitive text.
7. CBC Radio News, 6 December 2012, 6AM and 8AM, reported Ms. Blanchette had just been charged with first degree murder in the deaths of their three children.
8. I still recall a remark made by a woman about my weight, not much below my height, and at least ten years younger, sitting at a table in an Anglican Church with coffee and tea in front of us, around the turn of the century. She stated plainly that if her husband ever did something that really outraged her, she would kill him in his sleep with a frying pan. “He’s got to sleep sometime”, she emphasized.
(c) 2013, Davd
“Mother Nature” has been personified as such, for much longer than i have been alive. Some would probably contend that the Goddess[es] whose religions are older than even Judaism (making them about twice as old as Christianity—or even older—and perhaps three times as old as Islam) are “Mother Nature” as She should be worshipped.
No, “She” shouldn’t. There’s too much that’s more harm than good, even too much that’s monstrous in “Nature”, for that. The “Mother Nature” image is used to imply nurturant fecundity; the reality of natural processes includes earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes, pestilences, broken trees by the thousands, and even mass starvation.
Two very recent examples are the winter storms that have blasted three feet of snow onto Northern New-Brunswick this third week of February, making drifts as much as twice that high. Elsewhere in the Atlantic region there was less snow, but “Mother Nature” still closed airports, bridges, schools, some roads, broke power lines, and destroyed a Nova Scotia fishing boat with five good young men. The violent rainstorm that crossed Atlantic Canada at the end of January is another esample: It removed the snow cover at the end of January, so the early-February cold could damage more roads and kill more tender roots; and broke a huge number of trees. That’s not “knowing and doing what’s best”… it’s more like throwing tantrums.
They are not isolated incidents, either; nor are they the worst by any measure: Consider the Richter-9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that wrecked a large area of Japan (of which area Fukushima is most famous), the Haitian earthquake, Katrina, and the hurricane named Sandy that did so much damage to the Northeastern USA last year, for a few of many extreme examples.
“Mother Nature” seems to have some kind of violent mental illness.
More accurately, of course, nature is not a mother and has no mind to go ill. Personification of nature as a wise mother is common, though; and shows up with various amounts of seriousness—despite being false on the great preponderance of the evidence, from geological and meteorological disasters to Rocky Mountain pine beetles, spruce budworms, white pine blister rust, Boreal Forest fires; lemming and hare population cycles, the disappearance of the dinosaurs; anthrax, bubonic plague, HIV; and even acne, bunions, and psoriasis.
A U.S. Wildlife Management Institute publication, The Farmer and Wildlife, (revised ed. 1969, pp 8-9) shows an overweight, grandmotherly cartoon-woman handing out “Mother Nature’s One Year Plan Production Quotas” to the mice, rabbits, pheasants, skunks and squirrels. On the back cover, the surviving numbers of young are stated for rabbits [8 out of 20], pheasants [6 out of 30], skunks [3 out of 4] and squirrels [4 out of 8]. Were human infant mortality that high, who would call it good mothering?
The Wildlife Management Institute’s purpose in publishing the booklet, was to encourage farmers to provide more and better habitat for wildlife; their reason for using the Mother-Nature image seems to be to give the presentation a “folksy, light touch.” (Other graphics in the booklet are consistent with such a reason.) The message of that “Mother Nature” cartoon is more about the prolific reproduction of wildlife than about “nature” being motherly; after all, farming itself is human intervention intended to improve on natural processes.
In The Closing Circle (Knopf, 1975), Barry Commoner states four “Laws of Ecology” which are similarly folksy, but in more of an undergraduate dialect. The first law is “Everything is connected to everything else”, the second is “Everything must go somewhere”, the fourth is “There is no such thing as a free lunch;” and the third is “Nature knows best.” None is phrased as formally as a scientific law would properly be; and consistent with the “folksiness”, Commoner’s explanation of “Nature knows best” [pp 41-45] is not absolute but relative and metaphorical.
At the end of the explanation, he says neither “never depart from what you find in nature” nor “let nature take her course without interfering” (which are what one might infer from an absolute reading of “Nature knows best”); but “… man-made organic compounds that are … active biologically ought to be treated as we … should treat [drugs]—prudently, cautiously.”
Though he does not explicate the process of evolution by natural selection, he refers to it implicitly; and that is how i would have stated the basis for his “third law”: After millions of years of evolution, natural organisms and processes are well refined and efficient; so any change is much less likely to improve on biological nature than to damage it. The way Commoner explains his “law” does not disagree—nor does it personify “Nature”. The way he states the “law” might seem to personify, and that merits “debunking”.
Nature, then, is not a mother—not even an abusive one. The “wisdom” in nature results from millions of years of evolution of species and ecosystems. Combined with that “wisdom”, which is more accurately described as organisms and processes which have evolved to be well refined and efficient, is a large random component which is often destructive and sometimes violently so.
So while it’s false to say Mother Nature is mentally-ill; it is less false than saying Nature is motherly or nurturant—because to the extent Nature be treated as a personality, she’s not sane, but rather given to fits, some of them very destructive. By my standards anyway, saying Mother Nature is mentally-ill is not appropriate “out-of-the-blue”; but is fair comment in response to an invalid metaphor, especially if that metaphor be used to imply that females, or Nature in all “her” randomness, know best.
\The Road to Heaven and Hell
A Métis Folk-Tale with some Christian roots.
A man and his favourite dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.
He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had died many years earlier. He wondered where the road was leading them.
After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like really fine marble. As the road reached the top of a long hill, the wall was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he reached the arch, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother of pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold.
He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out, “Excuse me, where are we?”
“This is Heaven, sir,” the man answered.
“Wow! Would you happen to have some water?” the man asked.
“Of course, sir. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought right up.” The man gestured, and the gate began to open.
“Can my friend,” gesturing toward his dog, “come in, too?” the traveler asked.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.”
The man thought a moment, then he turned back to the road and continued the way he had been going with the dog.
After another hour’s walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road which led through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.
“Excuse me!” he called to the reader. “Do you have any water?”
“Yeah, sure, there’s a pump over there.” The man extended his nail-scarred hands in greeting and pointed to a place that couldn’t be seen from outside the gate. “Come on in.”
“How about my friend here?” the traveler gestured to the dog.
“There should be a bowl by the pump.”
They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveller filled the bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.
When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree waiting for them.
“What do you call this place?” the traveller asked.
“This is Heaven,” was the answer.
“Well, that’s confusing,” the traveller said. “The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.”
“Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That’s Hell.”
“Doesn’t it make you mad for them to use your name like that?”
“No. I can see how you might think so, but we’re just happy that they screen out the folks who’ll leave their best friends behind.”
– received from the Port Alberni Métis Association
There are four Classic Virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice; and three “Theological Virtues”: Faith, Hope, and Charity. The most important virtue missing from both lists is Fidelity; and this is my favorite Métis story probably because it is a Fidelity story. After nearly five decades as a sociologist (B.A. 1963, Ph.D. 1966), my educated opinion is that a society lacking in any of the Classic Virtues, or Charity, or Fidelity, cannot long endure. (Faith and Hope are good for a society; i am not sure if they be essential.)
Recent linguistic research on chimpanzees has determined, “… that chimpanzees are smart enough to recognize the meanings of some signs, but they are not cooperative enough to use language. That principle forms the basic thinking of contemporary research into language origins: When the human lineage became cooperative it already had the intellect to use words at the level of a two-year-old. That was enough to get our ancestors started talking; from then on they went down a new path.” (Bolles, 2011) Our intelligence and our human distinctiveness depend on language—which comes from and whose development depended upon—co-operation. It is worth mentioning, that my best dogs have all been able to understand 100 words or more, perhaps as many as 1000—they cannot speak with the mouths and throats they have, they cannot utter “sign language” with the paws they have; but they can understand about as well as Bolles says chimps can, though “conventional wisdom” says that chimps are more intelligent overall.
When men hunted and women gathered, as our human nature was forming, fidelity to the hunting team was essential, or as i wrote in a recent post, “… when societies stand on strong philosophical foundations, keeping promises one might more wisely not have made, is an honourable duty: Those who live well while keeping such promises are heroes; those who fail while keeping such promises are tragic heroes; those who evade their promises are unworthy of further trust.” That old cliché “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” might more accurately be written “The road to Hell is paved with broken faith”. In that sense of the word, faith too is essential to societal health—and close to being a synonym of fidelity.
Fidelity is a canine virtue, but not a feline. Men stereotypically have more affinity for dogs; women, for cats. Perhaps there is a clue here, to choosing a wife if you dare to marry in these times. Choose one who loves dogs better than cats—and substantially for their fidelity.
Finally—will we indeed have dogs in Heaven? I cannot tell you for sure; but i do notice that the best dogs, like the best men, have the four Cardinal Virtues, the three “Theological Virtues”—and on average, are if anything stronger in fidelity than we humans, even we male humans*. In this case, we should learn from them rather than try to make them more like us.
(reflection © 2013, Davd)
* cf. Mowat, Farley, 1963. Never Cry Wolf. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart
Eat, Pray,Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. New York: Penguin, 2007.
Review (c) 2013, Davd
I acquired this book as i acquire many books, at the Public Library table where they sell off books deleted from their collection and books donated by the public. One afternoon late in November, i found and bought Robert Bly’s Iron John in hardcover, and Eat, Pray, Love in paperback. Appropriate, that seemed, because i expected to read Iron John more times over, and loan it out more often … but as a book to review, Eat, Pray, Love has a large public and specifically a large Feminist following; and merits some comment for that reason. Iron John is a more complex book whose theme is myths in the sense of guiding cultural stories, and merits re-reading, reflection, and perhaps even research into those myths: A larger, more scholarly task that will take so long i won’t forecast when [nor even promise that] a review might be done until it is.)
Eat, Pray, Love is the account of a “terminate the marriage, have a lot of fun, do some serious contemplation too, and find herself” experience, by a woman who was a successful writer before the experience began. It is charmingly and fluently well written, as a successful writer’s book ought to be (Ms. Gilbert’s first published book appeared ten years earlier, and she refers to being sent from New York to Australia and Indonesia by publishers, at their expense.) She confesses that she has been selfish and self-indulgent in some of the things it relates; she does not claim to be perfect or even saintly (though she does write that despite her self-indulgent side, she has been blessed with at least some of the joys of sainthood); and she relates a tale which most readers, however good Feminists they might be, should not seek to imitate.
Warning—mine, not necessarily hers—this is the story of a year in the life of one of the most fortunate women on the planet. Most of you won’t be that lucky, so don’t try. There are also spiritual concerns for those who are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.
Specifically, Eat, Pray, Love is divided into 108 numbered vignettes: 1-36 for Italy, where Ms. Gilbert learns to get-by speaking Italian and eats enough of the best food she can find to gain 23 pounds [p. 110]; 37-72 for India, where she “prays” following the ways and customs of a Yogi Ashram; and 73-108 for Indonesia, where she coaches a native guru’s English, helps another healer get herself a house, and connects erotically with a handsome Brazilian gem dealer. Actually, some of the Italy vignettes relate the story of her divorce and introduce her non-Christian [spirituality?]; so Eat gets a little less treatment than Pray and Love. All the sections end in delighted success… for Elizabeth Gilbert, as she writes it anyway.
Tempting, that, if one were a woman with an imperfect marriage—and what marriage (what job? what friendship or business or project?) is perfect?
But what about the husband she left? In vignette 2, she follows four repetitions of I don’t want to be married anymore [italics hers], with an eloquent but [imho, conveniently self-serving] refusal to write anything about the reasons she left him; in vignettes 5 and 9 she informs the reader how difficult the divorce was—and as i read these three main references to the end of her marriage, they seemed to show the writer to be self-absorbed. There’s not much concern there for the well-being of her husband or the lover she took up with upon (or was it while?) leaving her husband.
That lack of concern for those men’s well-being—Ms. G. does seem to like men [which some Feminists don't!] but on her terms rather than terms of fellow-feeling and consideration—meant to me, that the writer was somehow not yet fully human, at least, not in relation to those two men; and though i do write as a man who is aware the sexes differ, i can name women whose acts and words showed they cared about and seriously inconvenienced themselves for the well-being of men they knew: My sister and grandmother, for instance.
(Still, loving one’s friends “as oneself” might be a male teaching more than a female; it might even be a reason Jesus was born male and had men for his disciples. Perhaps i should return to that topic in a later blog.)
It seemed before i ever opened the book, from what men wrote in the comments on “androsphere” websites, that this is an easy book for women to mis-use. When i had read the beginning and the end, and skimmed some of the middle, it seemed rather obvious why: This is a Princess Story. Elizabeth Gilbert is a Princess, of the celebrity sort. The obvious mis-use of a Princess Story is to try to imitate the Princess, expecting to win the same good fortune. Tucked away early in Eat, Pray, Love is a warning that few will.
Ms. Gilbert is a skilled and entertaining writer, but a very poor bet as someone to imitate beyond working to improve one’s writing. As her first face-to-face guru, a ninth-generation Balinese medicine-man named Ketut, told her, “You have more good luck than anyone I’ve ever met” [p. 27] … and this particular Balinese medicine-man had met hundreds of foreigners, as well as even more fellow Balinese.
Those women readers who have a roughly average amount of good luck (the great majority), as well as the relatively unlucky, undertake to imitate her at their peril. Resist that temptation! The Princess Syndrome may seem to have paid off for one tall, blonde, exceptionally lucky New York writer; it very seldom pays off for average women.
Consider the divorce, whose costs are acknowledged but quite briefly relative to the length of the book… and in a way that partakes both of Princess and of “sex role reversal”. Ms. Gilbert was the high-earning spouse [p 11], and to leave the marriage, she paid more than most low-earning spouses could afford… and then, as the Balinese medicine-man predicted, got so much money to write about her year in three far-flung parts of the world, that she could afford to go there: Not quite becoming chatelaine of the Palace, perhaps, but far more than average women have any business expecting. Gilbert’s adventure is appropriate only for the very well funded.
Was she morally justified in abandoning her marriage, living with another man, then divorcing and taking off on a year of Princess adventuring? By Abrahamic morality—the morality of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—No. By Feminist morality—if that’s not an oxymoron—the comments on men’s websites seem to observe that she was self-justified (“let your feelings be your guide” instead of the conscience men are admonished to honour and women used to be.) Perhaps the marriage was a mistake—but when societies stand on strong philosophical foundations, keeping promises one might more wisely not have made, is an honourable duty: Those who live well while keeping such promises are heroes; those who fail while keeping such promises are tragic heroes; those who evade their promises are unworthy of further trust.
(What, then, of her spiritual delights in India? Two Christian teachings come quickly to mind. First, the Devil can masquerade as an “angel of light” [II Cor 11:14]; perhaps she was deceived. Second, our Creator is forgiving and merciful [Islam also prays often to “Allah .. the merciful”]; perhaps her “pray” months were blessed as the fruits of repentance and merciful blessings followed. Perhaps there could be another reason i did not think of. But it is sad—and also befits a Princess story—that we do not know from what is in the book.)
That Ms. G. was paid handsomely to write this book, may perhaps be a sign of societal decadence… as may the facts that it became a “best-seller”—and has seen much mis-use, according to the comments on men’s websites.
As i picked this book up from the sale-table it seemed to me for a moment that the subtitle read “One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indiana.” I would have been more impressed if that had been true. For an American woman to settle into a prosaic farm-and-industrial state of her home country and practice a faith among her homely countrymen, would be a better achievement for me—and ordinary folks generally—to honour in times of decreasing affluence; than for her to enjoy being a world-traveller after rejecting an upper-middle-class suburban marriage (but are Princess Stories ever realistic?)
I take no issue with the title per se: Eat, Pray, and Love are good things to do—with discipline, humility, modesty—and especially fidelity. We all need to Eat, for sustenance of course, and it is reasonable to expect to eat also for enjoyment if you cook well or swap chores with a good cook. To stay healthy, eat prudently; and don’t expect great food adventures as your due.
Pray, i suggest, mainly by listening for guidance rather than making demands. Remember that God spelled backwards is dog, and y’know, there seems to be some validity to that quirk of English: The way we love our dogs may indeed be an indication [not an exact duplicate] of Divine love for humans. Good dogs do beg—but not promiscuously, and they accept discipline, and they are faithful.
Love, faithfully (and don’t put eros in first place.) Which means, which entails, valuing the beloved’s well-being as much as your own; or if you’re merely human, at least half as much and preferably
almost as much. I do not know how one can love in that sense while getting a divorce she wants and he doesn’t, while saying in deeds that a lifetime promise she made has become a lie, because she really doesn’t want to keep it. If a promise means what the word says, then “really doesn’t want to keep it” isn’t good enough reason.
Perhaps i should wind-down this review with the story of a promise kept, to a faithful dog. George was 11 years old, and animals given to Shelters at so old an age are very often “put down”. I had sold the home where we had lived since George was 8 weeks old and my son Erik brought him home, then taken George with me on a two-month pilgrimage; and on return, started on a house-sharing project with the help of a church—which help turned out to be too little to get a house to share by late November. For the same reasons that had brought me a good price for the house and land i sold, rental dwellings which a big dog could share cost well over $1,000. per month. The most appealing forest land i could afford, though, was located east of the Prairies; we were in B.C. Considering only myself, i could have rented a small apartment for much less than $1000, and waited for Spring—but George wasn’t welcome in such apartments.
I drove George across Canada in December, rather than turn him over to a shelter that would more likely kill than shelter him—because his life depended on me, and i valued his life and his company that much. To tell you the truth, i would not have imposed on George, the burden of being ‘adopted’ by strangers at that age, nor happily have lived in an apartment without him: We had done too much, too well, together. (Can a society that values marriage less than i valued an old dog, long survive?)
We had a bad wreck going off an icy curve, but we got ourselves and a trailer full of goods to the destination. He had two good years after we arrived, before his body failed him; and his last several months he and i trained Fritz, then a pup and now another impressive garde-travail and companion. George’s body is buried next to a young apple tree that is likely to make good cider, and i bless his grave whenever i walk by.
My own kitchen is not as good as the best ones in Italy, but i cook rather well, and i am content. My prayer garden is smaller and less lush than that ashram in India, i suppose; but my prayer-life there goes well, and i am content. I have acknowledged before preachers, priests and neighbours that i will finish my life without erotic companionship, and i am content with asexual philios-love, fidelity for fidelity.
I cannot judge Elizabeth Gilbert’s life, nor really, even her book—only assess, for i too am merely human—and i can assess only the book, which recounts but a few percent of the life. For us men, it seems to repeat the warning—beware interdependence with women who think they are Princesses. For women, i suggest a more probabilistic warning—beware emulating the likes of the author, she is one of a fortunate, tiny minority. The writing is charmingly fluent, but factually, Gilbert’s is the story of an almost impossibly lucky woman—just as that Balinese medicine-man said.
Just One of Many Reflections of the Value of Men.
(c) 2013, Davd
On New Year’s Day itself, i did make a Resolution of sorts—to continue propagating and “trialing” apple varieties to find those best suited to homestead use in “Northeastern New Brunswick.” I doubt any formal Resolution was needed; but formalizing one, emphasizes my commitment to this project, to regional self-sufficiency, and to an “economics of goodwill” (cf. Schumacher, 1973) where money is less important than friendship and co-operation.
So what has that got to do with manhood and the differences between men and women? Much: Let’s go through the plans that resolution confirms, for this spring, summer, and fall.
Late this winter, as the snow begins to melt away—which may be Spring on the calendar, since this is Canada—i am likely to tackle “dormant spraying” for the first time here. (In the part of BC where i had a dozen-plus apple trees, such spraying wasn’t really needed; there were no large commercial orchards near by, and fairly few apple trees other than mine; and the climate was “short summer Mediterranean”, with very dry summers that kept the populations of pest insects much smaller than they are here.)
The job, as i have seen it demonstrated in photographs, entails packing 5-20 litres of miscible light oil spray (approved by Organic Gardening [1961, 1978], by the way) in a pressure container on my back or side, while carrying a 1-4 metre long spray “boom” with control in my hand and nozzle at the other end, to direct the spray onto the bare branches. I have seven bearing-age trees, one 3-4 metres tall and at least as wide, two 2.5-3 metres tall and wide, and four “newcomers” averaging 2m tall and less wide, to spray; so if the boom is a more comfortable 1-2m long, then at some times i will need to hold that boom over my head while working, for 10-20 minutes or longer.
This is the kind of work where, as i discussed further last August, men’s guided muscles are much more powerful–and accurate–than women’s. Marvin Harris [1989: 328-330] points out that it is where subsistence depends on the hard, accurate work of plowing with an animal, and inferentially where subsistence depends on other large-muscle, precision labour, such as hunting big game, that men have great honour in pre-industrial societies… and if “dormant oil spraying”, and quite possibly a few other sprayings later in the season, is “men’s work”, transplanting is even-more-so.
In the spring, as soon as the ground is thawed, i should dig 5-10 holes and transplant trees into them: Two or three in the prayer-garden, and 3-8 in the larger orchard area. One or two of the holes may “need to be” a metre deep and more than a metre wide; the lesser holes will need to be about a metre wide by 65-80 cm deep. They will be dug “by hand” using a spade, a shovel, and a digging fork; and while digging them i will probably remove dozens of stones ranging in size from a fist’s to perhaps as much as one cubic foot. The heaviest might actually weigh more than i weigh, though quite possibly the heaviest will be only about 50 kg—still more than half my weight.
Picture a 70-year-old woman doing that work.
As a 70-year-old man, i will do it more slowly than i did the same kind of work 20 years ago, or 40—but i expect to do it, steadily and without harm to my body, as my grandfather, and my friend Pat in BC, did such work when they were 70; and as i did such work last year, when i transplanted four two-year-old apple trees, three “tub stock” and one natural, full-root-spread specimen (plus several rooted layers which required relatively small holes).
I am not saying that no 70-year-old woman could do it; i am saying that a far larger fraction of 70-year-old men can, than of 70-year-old women—which, more generally, is what “men’s work” really means: Healthy, average men can do it safely and indeed, can benefit from the exercise; women who can do it safely and at least somewhat comfortably, are a small fraction of all women.
With the hole dug, and the dirt that came out of it piled on a heavy tarpaulin, i will screen some “pit run” by shoveling it onto a 2×3 foot box whose bottom is half-inch steel screening, then picking up the box with five shovelfuls in it, and shaking that box by hand. The sand and pea gravel will settle into a heavy wheelbarrow; the larger gravel will be tipped onto a pile, and the largest stones will be thrown on another pile, for later use on the work roads and paths.
The lighter wheelbarrow will carry firewood bark, garden trash such as Levisticum, Mentha, and Monarda stems, and compost or manure, to the hole. The firewood bark and trash will line the bottom of the hole; then a mixture of dirt with a little sand will just cover them. With the hole “lined at the bottom”, i will mix dirt taken from it, sand, and compost and-or manure, in the heavy wheelbarrow. Then i will dig up the tree to be transplanted, unless it is a bought-specimen—and i expect to buy two at most (if any), while moving five or more young grafts and seedlings that are presently in a “grow bed” and should be put in permanent sites before they start growing this year.
The trees that are dug-up here, with some of their old soil, will be set on a piece of very heavy tarpaulin and slid to the hole. This will minimize root disturbance—and should be done on a cloudy, even rainy day, for the sake of those roots. The tree will then be stood in the hole, and the dirt—organic fertilizer—sand mixture gently settled around the roots. This is hands-and-knees work, involving spreading the roots horizontally and vertically so they occupy the enriched ‘soil’ and compete little or none with one another, with good growing tips pointing outward to enter the surrounding ground during the summer—in other words, it’s exacting, heavyish, hand labour that depends on hand-to-eye coordination, and machinery can’t do it nearly as well.
(Probably, i will either drive a tall 1×1 stake into the ground at the bottom of the hole before putting in the tree, to which to tie the transplant for a few weeks; or else drive three short stakes outside the hole after transplanting is done, and anchor the lowest branches of the transplant to them with hay twine. The three-stake-and-anchor method is normal with tub stock, whose root ball should not be broken up; the single-tall-stake method is normal with bare-root “whips”.)
With the tree moved, placed, and surrounded by enhanced soil, i will walk 2-5 buckets of water to the site to “mud in” the transplant, perhaps adding more enhanced soil as the mudding-in settles the tree. Finally, i will “mulch” the spot, probably with “fines” of firewood bark, to provide temperature modulation, catch any heavy rains and pass them gently to the soil below, and begin building a normal soil profile. Moving one tree, well, is 1-3 hours of hard, exacting manual labour. Moving 3-5 trees in a day, is a hard day’s work. Chances are that i, as an old man with other things to do as well, will move 2-3 trees in each day i work at that.
I will do that set of tasks which really good planting requires, at least five times, perhaps ten, and the earlier the better (once the ground has thawed, which requirement will automatically keep me from doing it too early.) My grandfather spaded his garden by hand at the age of 80, and he was smaller than average for a man—five feet four, if i recall correctly, though perhaps he had been a little taller when younger.
Again: Picture a 70-year-old woman doing that work, or even a 50-year-old woman. Humankind evolved with a sex-division-of-labour for good reason: To grow our big brains, humans needed to be born less fully developed than smaller-headed animals, and then spend several years dependent on our parents (Morgan, 1973; Morris, 1967). Human babies depend on milk and on food specially prepared for babies, much longer than do the newborns of other species; so mothers were tied to babies for most of their young-adult years, during human evolution. Women evolved to have higher proportions of body fat, more delicate hands, wide pelves, and backs unsuited to many kinds of heavy manual work, for good reproductive reasons.
It’s a man’s job, to plant and spray apple trees. During the summer, there may be more spraying to do (cf. Rodale et al, 1961: 642-8). In the fall, there will be picking, some of it with a specially built basket on a pole; this picking is less “man’s work” than the planting and spraying, but still goes a bit
easier for us at the long reaches. As winter approaches, we may have heavy mulch and compost to wheel to the larger trees, and spread under them; again, this is less “man’s work” than the planting and spraying, but still goes a bit easier for us. Protecting the trunks is about equally easy for either sex.
Apples are remarkably good food for people who live where winters are cold. They can be eaten many ways, even drunk as cider. Their pectin and other peculiarities are good for us, perhaps to the extent of ameliorating the ill effects of saturated fats—which are commoner in Northern than in tropical diets. Many apple varieties store well, including Brunswick, Empire, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Liberty, and especially Spy; so even in mid-winter and the “hungry gap” before spring vegetables and strawberries begin to produce, they allow some variety within the apples we eat from the cellar. Cooked apples are easily preserved because their acidity prevents botulism, giving us the flavours of less-storable varieties for modest effort.
As a man who likes perennial plant horticulture, i chose apples as one of the foods i would grow—and “trial”—well beyond what i need personally, to be one of my contributions to neighbourhood and regional self-sufficiency. Not everyone should grow a big orchard; but many other kinds of subsistence work, including firewood, hand gardening, even farming and fishing, also call for men working hard and accurately with our muscles, and with a diversity and rhythm which is not the same as conventional “fulltime” wage work.
More generally than growing apples to share, i’ve resolved to do what i, as an old man, do best. Transplanting apple trees is among the heaviest of that work; and if last year is any guide, it’s healthier than driving to the grocery store. The natural man is more valuable than “the consumer” whose main way of acquiring his—or her—needs is by spending money at retail outlets.
Harris, Marvin, 1989. Our Kind. NY: Harper and Row.
Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.
Morris, Desmond, 1967. The Naked Ape. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. Bantam Paperback, Toronto, 1969
Organic Gardening magazine staff, 1978. The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
Rodale, J. I., and the staff of Organic Gardeningmagazine, 1961. How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
Schumacher, Ernest Fritz 1973. Small is Beautiful:Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs. (1974, New York: Harper and Row. Cited in a 1974 Abacus edition, London; several other editions exist.)