Yes, Jobs Warp Workers

Is
This why Canadians are Too Nice?

(c)
2013, Davd

I’m glad i never had the job of Bus Driver, but it does have some advantages over “white collar work.” A bus driver knows rather exactly what the job entails: There’s a specified route to follow, ’round and ’round and ’round—and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round—for a specified number of hours. Along that route are marked stops where people can wait to get on the bus and where people on the bus can ring to get off; so if there’s someone waiting to get on or someone has rung to get off, you stop at that designated spot; and otherwise you don’t. You basically never stop where there is neither a designated “Bus Stop” nor a signal [light or STOP sign], though traffic may now and then require stops to wait for someone to turn left or walk across the street.

Mighty repetitious, is Bus Driving; but it’s useful, honest work and if you do it competently, you don’t have to spend much time or attention on office politics, fancy manners, or pretending that your brand of bus is better than the competition. You probably ought to be at least half polite to the passengers, but if some ignorant character steps onto the bus and asks for directions to a Celtic-Pagan festival or a Tamil-calligraphy school, and you don’t know that information, you can say “I drive a bus route, I’m not a tourist guide. Pay the fare and I can take you to a Tourist Information place a mile down the street.” Most people know what a Bus Driver’s job is and isn’t, so such questions will be rare.

Even driving bus for a living will warp your personality a little, but not nearly as much as selling cars, furniture, investments, life insurance, real estate—nor being an advertising agent or copy-writer, consultant, lawyer, politician, prison guard, spy, or even tax collector.1

In general, “trades” jobs warp the workers’ personalities least, professions like engineering, medicine, and architecture, a bit more, and professions closest to money and persuasion, warp workers the most. An accountant who does tax returns for ordinary people and some paperwork for trades businesses will [on average] be less warped than an accountant who specializes in “lawful” tax avoidance or works for an anonymous numbered corporation.

There are two basic causes that i can readily name, why, and how, jobs warp workers: Bureaucracy and the “Profit Motive.” They overlap, but not very much. The Profit Motive pressures workers, from the lowest sales[wo]man to the “Executive Suites”, to put getting money ahead of everything else—which, Christianity and Islam both teach, is evil (the usual Christian references are Matthew 6:24, and Luke 16:13)

Bureaucracy pressures workers to fit everything into its categories and processes; and to act as if those categories and processes were all there is to reality. One book in particular, The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union, gives some quite striking, even outrageous examples of bureaucracy run-amok, such as leaving piles of fine timber to rot because the loggers had a quota to fill and the processors didn’t need that much; and Black Sea pleasure beaches being dug up for sand and gravel because no official appraisal had been put on their amenity value. (Because the government the book describes has been closed-down, it makes a convenient example. .. Don’t doubt for a moment that bureaucracies in Canada and the USA can do outrageous things as well. In Canada, consider the frustration and eventual suicide of Earl Silverman; in the USA, of Tom Ball.)

There are two basic processes that i can readily name, through which jobs warp workers: Lying and Good Manners. They overlap more than do bureaucracy and the “Profit Motive.”

Many jobs warp employees by pressuring them to lie, and to present what truth they say in ways that mislead; and the stereotypical job of that kind is selling used cars. (One way to assess a politician intuitively, is to ask yourself, “Would I buy a used car from this [wo]man?2 Try it the next time there’s an election campaign!)

Bus driving doesn’t have that pressure-to-lie problem. Neither, to any great extent, do most trades.

I don’t actually hate Good Manners [cf. “being Nice”] but i do believe strongly that fairness and truth are much more important as guides for human conduct. “Good Manners” often entail saying what the listener wants to hear, or saying something that is hard to understand if the plainly-said truth might make someone “feel bad.”

Jobs pressure employees to be Nice by making them categorical subordinates rather than semi-equals with their supervisors (as they are in most worker co-operatives and as prehistoric men were in hunting teams.) They pressure them to be nice by making customer satisfaction more important than high performance. (Restaurant cooks, as tradesmen working out of public view, are under less pressure for Good Manners than are waiters and waitresses, who work out front [and depend on ‘tips’ for a significant fraction of their income].)

To a great extent, those pressures to lie and to be Nice, can be named together in one word: Timidity. Job employees are not as brave as those same men would be on their own3. “Bureaucratic timidity” is so well known as to be a catch-phrase.

From what we know of human evolution and hunting-gathering societies (e.g. Harris, 1989, Turnbull, 1968), it seems a very good guess that those job-men would be bravest—that men in general, would be most brave—in small co-operatives! (Men should not over-react to regimentation by trying to be “lone wolves.” Wolves themselves know better than to be loners [Mowat, 1963]—shouldn’t we also?)

Self-employed men, and retired men, seem to me to be relatively straight talkers… and no surprise. They have no boss to pressure them to say something Nice that if not outright false, misrepresents the overall truth. On employees, the circumstances of bus driving (and restaurant cooking out of sight of the public, etc.) exert less such pressure than say, those of restaurant management or “service”, and of most administration.

Men probably become straight-talkers at retirement by leaving the job-pressures to be Nice, behind. The workers i most respect, are not offbeat characters; rather, they have chosen their work—not taken jobs to make some money to live on, but chosen to do some kind of work they genuinely enjoy doing. For a few examples:

  • Bernard saws lumber and manages woodlots

  • Bob grows much of his own food and is restoring a Quebec mountain forest;

  • David-in-BC builds boats, and occasionally “does high end construction.”

  • Lawrence is a Benedictine priest who also has high skills in Prairie organic agriculture;

  • Mark is a Pentecostal preacher who is helping his church achieve greater local self-sufficiency;

  • Otto is a “perennial student” working on computer systems and Japanese modern art forms;

  • Pierre did “agricultural extension” and social animation in Latin America and Africa;

  • Stan farms, specializing in beef and basic grains and vegetables.

These men chose their work for reasons that are theirs, not some bureaucracy’s or for-profit corporation’s. Bless them!—they are among the least warped, the most authentic men in Canada 4.  If our future can be bright even with the ecological predicament we face, their examples say much of how it will be.

References:

Harris, Marvin, 1989. Our Kind. NY: Harper and Row.

Komarov, Boris 1980. The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union. White Plains, NY: M. E. Sharpe
Mowat, Farley, 1963. Never Cry Wolf. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Turnbull, Colin M.1968. The Forest People. NY: Simon and Schuster paperback.  This is considered one of the best widely published ethnographies of a hunting-gathering society.

Notes:

1. As usual in my writing, the order of these occupations is alphabetic. So is the order of the names of working men further down in the text.

2. I first saw this test applied to Richard Nixon, many years ago. As the Nixon example indicates, it can be applied to winners as well as losers, and to top-ranking politicians as well as to small-timers. One might even wonder if it was recently applied to one Julia Gillard… in her case, perhaps more in re charm and popularity.

4. and one or two other “nation-states” i won’t name for privacy reasons.

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together “in peace and brotherhood” for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.

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