The catch-22 of frugality

Frugality can be a matter of necessity or choice. Also, it can mean frugal use of money, but also of other resources such as land, energy, time, etc.

It would seem that high-density housing makes relatively efficient use of land and energy. It would also seem that it costs more than low-density housing. A frugal person (especially one who is frugal out of necessity) would prefer small living quarters over large living quarters because less land, in theory, costs less money, and less square footage costs less money to heat. Less house or apartment should also be less expensive when it comes to maintenance. So why can’t we have what, by the yardstick of frugality, would be the best of both worlds; a small house on cheap land? Perhaps part of the reason is because many people, especially successful people, have finally figured out that high density living is more desirable than low-density living, and so America may well at some point join most of the world in having suburban ghettos instead of urban ghettos. A more insidious reason might be a built-in property of the market mechanism itself:

conserve what’s most expensive

Market actors have the strongest incentive to conserve those resources that are most expensive, so developers will make more effort to use every square foot effectively in places where land values are high. This also affects the ideological tug-of-war between advocates of sustainability and advocates of growth (i.e., affluenza). The fossil fuel apologists and other right wingers love to gloat that “the greens love high fuel bills.” I suppose we love high energy costs to the extent that we believe that high energy prices are the most effective incentive for energy efficiency and energy conservation. Being an anagorist (market abolitionist) I’m not sure I buy that theory about how “incentives work.” At any rate, high-density development in a cheap neighborhood seems to be too much to ask of the market. Is there some Iron Law of Economics to the effect that a walkable neighborhood in the U.S.A. has to be either a college town or a ridiculously gentrified east or west coast city?

the (first) customer is always right(est)

The frugal consumer will generally buy used, not new. Same for those who try to practice “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The designer of a product such as a house or car is thinking primarily about the first buyer. Someone who is in a position to be in the market for a new car is someone who is basically established—has steady-eddie income and established credit. This goes at least double for someone in the market for new-construction housing. These consumers are in most cases upper middle class and up. To the extent that these manufacturers and developers are thinking about the second hand buyer, they’re thinking in terms of maximizing resale value. While this means meeting the needs of at least a portion of the people who aren’t looking at new, it probably means the more affluent portion of that population, more than the less affluent. And of course the second-hand customer is “righter” than the third-hand customer, whose wants and needs are at most an afterthought.

is there a sweet spot?

Is it possible to build small-square-footage housing on cheap land? Is it possible for an affordable (that is, cheap) neighborhood to have high population density? Perhaps that’s how it was in the “pre-war” era, except that back then the market’s verdict was that high population density had negative utility. Is it possible to design an automobile in a way that prioritizes fuel economy and durability with high priority and purchase cost with medium to high priority, while de-prioritizing “performance,” “luxury,” etc.? It certainly seems to me that the constraints standing in the way of such a set of design priorities come from economics, and not science or engineering.

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Does work undermine freedom?

John Danaher asks, “Does Work Undermine our Freedom?

As soon as I got as far as the title “Employment as a Limitation on Self-Ownership,” I reflexively thought of Abolish Human Rentals (Support Worker Cooperatives) Personally, I don’t buy the idea of “self ownership” as I consider “self” (myself, yourself or anyself) as being in a category entirely separate from the category of ownable stuff. I think slavery is something that should not be made light of, so for that reason if no other, I prefer “human rentals” over, say, “wage slavery” (an oxymoron) as a description of what employment is and does.

Despite my rejection of the term wage slavery, I consider myself (among other things) an anarcho-syndicalist, so I believe that a workplace that is both worker-controlled and cooperative is an absolute prerequisite for work not undermining our freedom.

The second phrase that grabbed me is Karl Widerquist’s “effective control self ownership.” This idea sort of captures how I think of these things, but is unfortunately a self-ownership-based model. I think more along the lines of the probably similar-but-not-the-same “capability approach” of Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum et al. The approach emphasizes functional capabilities (“substantive freedoms”, such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities). One area where I differ from this is that I crave the freedom not to engage in economic transactions. It should be noted, however, that this attitude is borne out of frustration in my experiences with the market economy, especially the labor market. If gainful employment were a lower-hanging fruit, as it were, perhaps I would be able to see free markets as friends rather than enemies of freedom.

Concerning the two prior categories of anti-work arguments: “intrinsic badness arguments (which claimed that there was something intrinsically bad about work) and opportunity cost arguments (which claimed that even if work was okay, non-work was better)”

Substitute “transaction” for “work” and I would agree with both arguments. My philosophical bent is utilitarian (specifically negative utilitarian) and both the above arguments are basically statements of rank-ordering of preferences. That which is better is preferable to that which is okay, for the exact same reasons that that which is not intrinsically bad is better than that which is. With me, it all boils down to rank ordering of preferences. Employment is what exists at the intersection of acts of work and acts of transaction. Employment is what transforms work from an end in itself to a means to an end. I like how S. Zoutewelle puts it:

Sure we need to survive, but let’s acknowledge the desperation under this drive to take everything we do, are or think and try to get cash for it. It reminds me of a young child who shows her father a drawing. He playfully offers her a dollar for it and 15 minutes later she comes back with 5 more. What got lost there in between the first spontaneous artwork and the 5 subsequent calculated ones?

The bottom line is this: In America today work is both a requirement and a privilege. It is a requirement because the world doesn’t owe you a living, and it is a privilege because the world doesn’t owe you a job. This is a property of every market economy.  There is no reason to believe that a “freed market” economy would be any different in this respect.  As far as I can see, the non-aggression principle directly implies work being both a requirement and a privilege, and these two things directly imply that survival is a privilege (and not a right). In other words, the non-aggression principle (NAP) implies social darwinism. This is why I think anarcho-capitalists, not left libertarians, are the true guardians and heirs of the non-aggression principle.  It’s also why I reject the NAP and why my antistatism of an antilibertarian variety.

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Quotebag #114

One of the things that sometimes seems to get lost when people talk about the power of the market to create efficiency is that a free market requires that information be shared and freely available and understandable by everyone. When information is withheld by one side or the other of a transaction, or when different customers for a service or product are unable to compare prices, the metaphor of the invisible hand breaks down.
There used to be, ‘Company Towns’. There are now, ‘Company Nations’ where every aspect of human life is governed by the whim of those at the top.
Competitiveness is what fufflers like best to exploit. Most non-fuffled life forms choose cooperate, out of an innate sense of self-preservation. Among the more evolved humans, competition is a display designed to please the gods, not to defeat your own friends.
Poor Richard:
Automation can easily exhaust any resistance we have.
The constant feeling that I could do much more for this world than I can possibly ever get payed for, if only I didn’t need to waste all my time doing things I can get payed for… There are few things so soul-crushing as the knowledge that this feeling is not mine alone, but is in fact commonplace.
all those bright well meant ideas drowning in a cestpool of advertising, warmongering, pron and what not.damn you interwebs you were the chosen one to lead us from darkness into light but kinda got high and wondered off…
From Arse To Elbow:
In a society where labour is increasingly superfluous, “work” becomes a positional good rather than an economic imperative. You can see the early stages of this in the shift to unpaid internships and the increasing cost of tertiary education.
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Public data infrastructure?

This is prompted by Who Owns Big Data? by Michael Nielsen at the “OpenMind” website. I was clued in to that post by a re-post of part of that article by Michel Bauwens at the P2P Foundation Blog. The OpenMind website doesn’t accept comments, and the P2P blog either doesn’t accept comments this long, or doesn’t accept comments edited offline and pasted to the comment form (it actually came back with an error message “you’re posting too fast, slow down”). So again, the blogosphere is the voice of the little people; the antidote to the we-talk-you-listen model of institutions, and those working within the system.

The “OpenMind” website where this content came from seems to be staffed by NGO types (at least one, it seems, is affiliated with UNESCO), so of course they’re looking for new roles for the large-scale nonprofit sector. They also, to a person, have academic pedigrees. Their world is one that is utterly inaccessible to my working-class born-and-raised self, thanks to the usual opportunity hoarding and the like. I loved open source back in the glorious nineties precisely because it was the age of hobby projects. Plus, the OpenMind website has a look and feel that seem to me, how shall I put it–“polished.” “Professional” production values. You know what I mean, I’m sure. The lack of a commenting facility also seems to say something, um, institutional.

Academia, in spite of its elitist tendencies, was a big part of the open source scene of the glorious nineties; maybe most of it. Many open source developers had a day job that was staff-not-faculty at some university. If this job paid enough to live on, and wasn’t as draconian about non-disclosure, non-compete and EDS-style training cost clawbacks as was private industry, then right there you have all the ingredients one needs in order to have the luxury of contributing to open source. There also seemed to be more activity of that sort in Europe than in North America, but I’m not sure. Before 1993 or so, .com domains were somewhat exotic against a backdrop of .edu domains and their overseas equivalents.

The surrender of open source to either monetized linux distros or free-will offerings of corporations is a mixed curse (the mirror image of a mixed blessing) as (1) at least there is still code in the public domain and (2) that model does have the virtue of scaling to larger and more sophisticated applications. I still think the reason it happened in the first place is because of austerity–an ideological commitment to a leaner public sector, especially when it comes to paid jobs. Those university computer lab staffers and (“supported”) ten-year-track graduate students of the 1990s had creative luxuries that are almost unimaginable today.

Wikipedia happened because Jimbo Wales was independently wealthy. OpenStreetMap is “in partnership with MapQuest” and so, like the monetized Linux distros, has become at least semi-commercial, which is probably better than simply folding or something, but may well be a step away from rather than toward the public data infrastructure we all dream of.

Some 15 years ago I first proposed Pubwan. At the time, I was thinking “public wide area network,” but my thinking on this evolved into more of a public distributed database. Now that “Big Data” is the rage, I’m starting to think maybe I was on the right path to begin with, focusing on hardware. It becomes more clear every year that overwhelming informational advantage can be decisive advantage, and organizations (let alone loose federations) that are not in a position to run server farms and/or large-scale network infrastructure, probably have no potential to play an active role in humanity’s informational future. This is sad, as I’m only a little more trusting of Big Philanthropy than I am of Big Business.

Back in the day, there was something called Fidonet that was pretty purely, decentralized, hobbyist, non-monetized, whatever else you would like. The catch was that if you whittled it all the way down to the hardware level, the platform it ran on was the telephone system. As far as I know, there is no precedent for assets of that type to be managed by non-profit organizations. It’s either public monopoly or private monopoly.

Consider the following two statements from Nielsen’s article:

In general, I am all for for-profit companies bringing technologies to market. However, in the case of a public data infrastructure, there are special circumstances which make not-for-profits preferable.

But it’s difficult to believe that having the government provide a public data infrastructure more broadly would be a good idea.

It’s almost as if the First Commandment underlying the public communications of organizations such as OpenMind is “don’t buck the neoliberal consensus.” This is the kind of kabuki I have come to expect from the kind of people who are established in careers…

Then there is the question of what we would like a public data infrastructure to accomplish. I would propose the main mission would be to act as a countervailing force to commercial big data practices. A strategy to replace information asymmetry with information parity. Work against the fact that information doesn’t want to be free and make no bones about it. Fight the tendency of commercial websites to dispense single data points by offering members of the public the ability do ad-hoc queries against large datasets. Also, put personal devices in people’s hands that feed behavioral and other data first to their users, and afterward, assuming the permission of their users, some subset of that data stream might go directly into the public domain. With any luck, it will find its way into social science research; a more worthy cause, in my opinion, than market research.

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Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

Thomas Frank: Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?

I certainly miss the seventies, and not just because I was a child then. The seventies were the age of the single adult. One reason for that, no doubt, is because that’s when the BBG happened to be passing through the “young adult” portion of the snake, but I believe that other factors may have played an even bigger role in that. In the 1950’s or earlier, there was no socially acceptable place for a single young adult. Colleges were explicitly understood to be “in loco parentis.” My mom spent her single years living at the YWCA. About the only other housing arrangement for a single adult would have been a boarding house, which probably had its own version of “in loco parentis.”

During the 1970’s “singles apartment complexes” emerged as a consumer market category (see here and here). In the midwestern metropolitan area where I live, the housing stock is overwhelmingly single-family (even in the city let alone the suburbs). More to the point, home ownership is a cultural norm, in which “single family” is specified in the norm. An astonishingly large percentage of the non-single-family housing is specifically designated as senior citizen housing. In my particular suburb there is a two-story limit on residential construction, and an extensively micromanagerial system of permits and inspections for rental housing, single family or otherwise.

In terms of American economic history, the 1970s get a bad rap for stagflation, and deservedly so, but the deep early 1980’s recession didn’t start until 1979. The 1973-74 recession caused a lot of temporary layoffs (If you’ve watched “Good Times” lately, that particular anachronism in the theme must have been good for a belly laugh). The 1979-83 recession was a major overhaul of labor economics; a systematic dismantling of the “permanent full time job with benefits,” that is ongoing to this day. The 1970s are that period of history sandwiched between the civil rights legislation of the 60s and the privatization push of the 80s-present. You have no doubt noticed that today there is a civil war within movement liberalism between people who prioritize job security and economic security, who see the postwar period as the high point of civilization, and those who place a higher priority on civil rights and feminism who describe that period as “dress for success, wear a white penis.” Sometimes the latter imply that the former are mistaken in placing a high value on economic security in the first place, and maybe occasionally even join neoliberals and other fuckwits in chiding people about the “old economy,” “legacy costs,” “opportunity society vs. security society,” etc. But the 1970s were, in some real sense, even in spite of the stagflation, a temporal island of “best of both worlds” in the implied employer-employee contract that built the American middle class.

As for Reagan, my theory is this: Affirmative action, for reasons rooted in political expedience (the perfect is the enemy of the good, you know the drill) was implemeted in a way that caused it to apply primarily to government at all levels, government contractors (IIRC correctly the very first affirmative action program was specific to federal construction contractors) and businesses with roles largely defined by public policy such as utilities and to some extent large publicly traded corporations (such as General Motors). For probably unrelated historical reasons, those were also the workplaces most likely to be union shop. Not surprisingly, the civil service and public utility workforce got noticeably blacker. Privatization became civil rights rollback by proxy. To this day clueless progressives are scratching their heads wondering why working class people vote against their own interests. While I’m not accusing anyone of anything, I humbly suggest as a plausible explanation that these “Reagan Democrats,” as of 1980, were not people steeped in the literature of Laissez Faire or Austrian Economics. But they almost certainly were people for whom the end of civil rights clawback justified the means of privatization and perhaps union busting.

And also, of course, the 70s were, as Perlstein noted, a time when America contemplated a future as a nation among nations, a transition that Britain and France seemed to have survived, if anything with an improved quality of life.

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Monetization = value subtraction

As we speak, they’re flooding the internet with noise. Surely you can’t have not noticed just in the last few months the absolute deluge of “numbered” article titles and aggressively promoted content farms that went suddenly from either nonexistence or obscurity to apparent extreme popularity; vice, vox, upworthy, business insider, the disgustingly slick “blogging platform”, ad nauseam.

Then you have formerly-respectable websites eagerly jumping on the clickbait bandwagon; Mother Jones, AlterNet, etc.

Apparently they have reached the conclusion that they cannot afford the luxury of not doing so.

The blogosphere still exists. So what if it’s “so 2006.” It’s the real deal; the real voice of real people, most of whom are amateurs, which is to say, people doing something they love. It still exists, but now you have to be really looking for it to find it. You have to filter out a shit-ton of noise to get to the signal. Noise is a “value subtracted” feature of the internet. It makes it take a gigabyte to do the work of a megabyte. I did more meaningful communicating 25 years ago on a 2400 bps modem, and Usenet was as useful for the essay form as blogging. The combination of the UNIX finger and talk commands was as useful for instant messaging as any of the “instant messager” platforms. IRC was as useful for online chat as any present day monstrosity in that space.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For hardware we have Moore’s Law, which has increased the performance specs of computing equipment in the hands of ordinary people by something like 10 orders of magnitude in 30 years. For traffic we have the fact that implementation requires monetization combined with the fact that, at least when it comes to informational goods, monetization requires value subtraction, so the monetizer has something to sell “back” to its audience. This currently takes the form of signal degradation (content dilution, SNR reduction). There has literally been enough signal dilution to cancel out the gains from Moore’s law when you consider the total payload in HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash content and other traffic involved in reading a 100-character message via a web-based email provider, or a 300-word blog post on a lightly-monetized blog. Note that I don’t even mean blogs monetized by their writers. The present blog is on, which now shovels up video advertising. In terms of bandwidth, a picture is easily worth a thousand words, and at 30 frames per second, 34 seconds of video is worth a thousand pictures. Assuming you aren’t using Ghostery or something similar to read the present post, you could easily be downloading a million times more bytes of advertising than of content.

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The real reason I am an anagorist

Trigger warning: Quoted passage at end of article contains words not approved by the FCC.

It may be that the ideological self-label that I created for myself and call “anagorism” looks to some like a set of principles crafted to serve as some kind of a foundation for a social movement, or a new society, or maybe a political platform. What it really is is an anguished, gut-level reaction to the kettle of brine I find myself in, being the person I am, in the historical period in which I’m living, with the cards I’ve been dealt.

I don’t want to get too deeply into my life story here. This isn’t actually a squick with me; just approval of the privacy of living people in my life other than myself. The most salient thing I can say about myself is that I’m a “mild mannered person.” The neighborhood in “ideological space” (think Political Compass, or better yet AIS Ideology Sorter) that contains me and also contains those I criticize most harshly is given to endless arguments over definitions, and is also usually math-oriented (logic-oriented) enough to be passionate about definitions, so I will offer (for the purpose of this post) a definition of “mild mannered person.” A mild-mannered person in the anagorist sense is someone who will cheerfully go places where their presence is known not to be unwelcome. These places include places to which the mild mannered person has been invited, either specifically or by sets of non-discriminatory critera that I happen to meet, and also include places understood to be open to the public. In places such as these I am mildly extroverted, often popular and always self-assured. I’d like to believe that at least some of my time in such spaces is also productive, contributory, facilitative of others and even (though it pains my anagorist soul to say it) profitable.

The flip side of this most enjoyable personal characteristic that is mild-manneredness is that in my own peculiar case, the one thing I won’t do (at least without a lot of kicking and screaming) is invite myself into a place, a space, a situation or even a conversation. As with all personality traits, there is an uninvited dilemma. Quirks beget thoughts, thoughts beget actions, actions have consequences and problems demand solutions. Since a personality trait sets this recurring calamity into motion, we must identify it. Where does it fit into the taxonomy of quirks?

  • Is it a character flaw?
  • Is it a skill deficit?
  • Is it someone being unwilling to bite the bullet and do something they don’t want to, but is nevertheless needful?
  • Is it a voluntary challenge (perhaps borne of some supposed virtue), in which case the uninvited dilemma is over whether it’s one yours truly can afford in these times?
  • Is it a disability?

Cue the drone note which is the recognized cultural cue for “ominous.” As the “P”“S”A plays out go through the bulleted lists of all the explanations for Junior’s behavior that are in the ballpark of our comfort zone. Maybe he just likes trucks, perhaps? Maybe it’s autism.

In the spirit of working with well-defined terms, disability may as well be a Stirnerian Spook. Just now I tried a search on theories of disability. In the first results page alone I have:

  • social model of disability
  • (the maybe synonymous?) social theory of disability
  • spectrum model of disability
  • critical theory of disability
  • learning disabilities theory
  • anthropological theories of disability
  • corporealities(?)
  • Vygotsky`s social constructionist view on disability
  • feminist perspectives on disability
  • “How to win your Social Security disability claim”

The above are more or less in the order they appear. It hasn’t escaped my attention that the first item on the list (which also seems to be the runaway favorite of much of the neurodiverse blogosphere) is the social model of disability. As an added bonus, it is featured in DuckDuckGo’s (top of the page) “#zero_click_wrapper” feature, which somehow bolsters my already-high opinion of DuckDuckGo. Even more pleasantly astonishing to me is that it took until the twentieth ranked search result to get to the lawyer (not that there’s anything wrong with being a disability lawyer, but clearly my search terms didn’t ask for a lawyer…). That bolsters my opinion of #DDG even higher.

At any rate, far be it from me to claim to have a disability. Disability may be a definition under negotiation, but claim has a very clear meaning in our culture, in our society, in our legal system, etc. One does not make claims one is not immediately and decisively prepared to back up. That is not a character flaw, skill deficit, unfortunate obligation, disability, or even voluntary challenge. It is on the short list of core planks in the Code Of Conduct by which I live. While hesitation in the making of claims is something that should be expected from everyone in the name of sheer decency, it is a phenomenon that interacts with the original personality quirk I call mild-manneredness, as I have provisionally defined it. To invite oneself is to claim welcome, if not membership or even right to enter. It is a tall claim indeed, and is of course frightfully outside my comfort zone.

Those of you who may have read my posts prior to the present one may be aware that anagorism is most obviously an economic ideology which I advance. This is no accident, and building a worldview around this particular personality quirk leads so directly to the subject of economics that it’s utterly scary. My experiences in the actually-existing economy range from disappointment (in myself, of course) to abject failure.

The most disappointed I’ve ever been with myself in the aftermath of a J.O.B. interview involved a smallish local firm that manufactures electronic devices for use by Deaf people. I think I could have handled better the question “are you open to/prepared for learning American Sign Language.” I give myself half credit (whether I should or not) for addressing it 100% as a linguistic question and 0% as a disability-related or even Deaf-related question. The question I really feel I flubbed is the one about my comfort level in a customer service role with customers, some of who have special needs, which often entail the use of the teletype instead of the phone. The honest answer would have been something like

Are you kidding? I’m far, far more comfortable with text than with speech, as means of communication go.

As in any J.O.B. interview post-mortem, I try to understand why the obvious answer was not forthcoming when the window of opportunity was open. In mosbunall (most but not all) cases my problem is not being quick enough on my feet; of being caught by surprise or otherwise unprepared for the question. In this case, the words were fully formed, worded pretty much exactly as in the above text. The problem this time was clearly hesitation, and this time it wasn’t hesitation due to my mental process being too slow for the task, but possibly the exact opposite. There were many, many thoughts hashing themselves out in my head that the critical moment. For one thing, part of my mental process literally froze at the word sequence “comfortable in a customer service role.” How to explain this, um, I once heard the urban legend or not about some Arctic cultures having an afterlife-for-bad-people belief described as a very cold place. In my own Cardinal Utility Function, purgatory is a temp assignment in customer service. Hell, of course, is a permanent job in sales, but purgatory is bad enough. It’s hard to create the impression of an enthusiastic and positive candidate when the job you’re applying for is your personal purgatory-concept, especially if your list of character defects, skill deficits, or whatever you want to call them, includes Pinocchio Syndrome (a generalized inability to lie with a straight face). But that’s only the beginning of the mental storm brought on by that admittedly reasonable, relevant and fair question. It gets down to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the fact (which caught me entirely unprepared that day) that until then my attitude toward the uninvited “disclose or not disclose dilemma” was “not in my house,” meaning my policy was basically one of not Going There. Would outing myself as someone less threatened by machines than people (or people’s voices and ears, anyway) effectively out me as possibly asperger? Alternately, would it out me as someone whose strong suit isn’t communication skills? Would it out me as someone who doesn’t have customer service as their Dream Job? Or would it just out me as one cold, unemotional creature who prefers machines over people? This is actually only the tip of the iceberg. My point is that in this moment if in no other, not being fast enough to come up with a prompt answer was categorically not the problem. The problem was what golfers and I suppose others call “paralysis by analysis,” and in this case it definitely wasn’t slow, deliberative analysis, but it wasn’t cursory analysis, either.

The real kicker is that the customer service question wasn’t the worst part of the interview for me. But no-o-o-o-o, the interviewer just had to Go There; he asked the most dreaded question of them all:

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Until then the worst thing I ever did in J.O.B. interviews (but unfortunately did shockingly often) is literally freeze in the face of an interview question. But no-o-o-o-o, this time my face actually betrayed my disgust with the question. I literally felt my disapproval of the question exit my head through my face and even literally “saw” the mysterious “receipt of message” thing I saw in the textbook for the Communication 101 course I got a C in way back when. This is actually an unusual feeling for me. I don’t claim the unfamiliarity with this reaction means I’m autistic of course, but I don’t claim that the fact that it happened at all makes me non-autistic either. Reluctance to claim things works both ways, after all. Like anyone drawn to the neurodiverse blogosphere and the diverse and fascinating range of ideas it contains, I seem to have things in common with the neurodiverse people, so I can’t help but want to be their ally.

Perhaps paradoxically: While addled by Pinocchio Syndrome, I can actually be quite poker-faced in some situations. Even in J.O.B. interviews, I have been (I believe, I actually claim) completely nonreactive (not reactive in an other than “pro-business” way) in the face of ethically or legally questionable interview questions, inappropriately personal questions, prompts for enthusiastic approval of the virtues of At-Will Employment, you name it. And yet faced with this totally legal, totally legitimate, even plausibly relevant question, which is not even in bad taste, I lost it. I literally lost my cool. It (of course) wasn’t even my first time with the question. What the hell happened? More importantly, WHY? More to the point, why does this decidedly innocent (if annoying and certainly cliché) question meet with such manifest disapproval in yours truly?

Let’s consider the other of the two most cliché J.O.B. interview questions:

What is your greatest weakness?

I used to stumble if not freeze for this one. One side effect of the infamous customer service interview described in the present article has been that I now know an answer to this question (I don’t claim that it’s the answer):

If asked a question that can conceivably be parsed as a yes or not question, I will interpret it as such.

As luck (?) would have it, I haven’t run into this question in an interview since coming to a sharp realization of exactly why it bothers me, in spite of it being an all-too-common question. For one thing, J.O.B. interviews have become all-too-uncommon due to, um, the economy? Also, I’m not getting younger, and while hard to prove (i.e. claim) by a preponderance of evidence, I have come across numerous second-person anecdotal indications that age discrimination might actually be a thing.

So, why “invent” an ideology, a personal but not private “school” of, dare I say, economics? Why anagorism? The job interview story above isn’t what turned me into an anagorist. It’s just an illustrative example of how my mind works, humbly offered as a rough facsimile of a credential for my having any business participating in Autistics Speaking Day. No, what turned me into an anagorist is the fact that the American economy of my childhood, when at least in theory the Post Office, if no other place, was a place where there was a fairly direct link from a high civil service exam score to an actual J.O.B. offer. I’m sure the way it really worked was a lot less straightforward and probably less fair, even back in those halcyon times. But the fact that the civilization I lived in thought to create such a venerable institution as the United States Postal Service gave me hope that perhaps the universe cares, or at least I live in a universe in which there are sometimes compassionate people in positions of influence.

My third job, and the first paid job I got via my own agency (my parents had set me up in my first job, and my second job was a Work Study job) was a place on the data entry pool and eventually the payroll of a temp firm. I had no experience save the job my parents set me up in. I had by then three quarters of a BS degree in math. That was my resume. The assignments were way too few and far between to even begin to afford the simple dignity of being economically self-supporting, but I always try to emphasize the positive. I was actually being paid for services in money, and it wasn’t because I was related to someone and it wasn’t because the government was subsidizing my wages. For better or for worse, I have always found actual offers of employment to be quite the hard-won prize indeed. I believe what got me this one is the fact that there was a typing test. This was an old-fashioned typing test on an actual typewriter. The branch manager was a little disappointed that I only scored 31 wpm (I didn’t even know what would have been considered an impressive typing speed; this was all very new to me) but seemed impressed that my copy was letter perfect, with no errors or corrections whatsoever. Unlike the public perception of a postal job (and my perception at the time) it was an intermittent job with absolutely nothing in the way of benefits. Not a grown-up job by any meaningful measure. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in the private sector, passing tests can lead to, if not a real job offer, an offer of money for services. Five years into the Reagan “revolution,” it was still possible to get nonzero income from zero salesmanship. I felt like there was hope for the world, hope for the future and hope for me. I soldiered on. I worked hard. I won indications of approval from satisfied clients. Like Navin Johnson, I was a somebody.

Things changed. My work life has been interrupted by things too personal to discuss here due to my approval of courtesy to the privacy of others, but at any rate, I fell into the “no recent work history” trap. The same agency where a sufficiently good typing score opened doors was now one where a sufficiently long absence from the workforce (assertively stated as six months) closed doors. That alone didn’t turn me into an anagorist, but it’s a contributing factor. Other contributing factors include the many mostly subtle but very additive ways in which various cracks in the economy, it seems, are being systematically identified and sealed. By this I mean cracks through which a person might reap even tiny nonzero income from zero salesmanship. Would it absolutely kill me to make a cold call? Of course not. At least, I don’t have any reason to believe so. I’ve even tried it a few times, and without doubt I will again. Does it have to be the case that I spend a few hours bracing myself to do the deed and another few recharging myself afterward? I don’t know, maybe there’s a cure for that. But I can’t help but wondering, would it absolutely kill the employing class to publish (make public) information about vacancies, including the ones that are easy for them to fill? The logic seems to be that if it’s at all possible to fill the job with a family member, a friend of the family, or perhaps someone who happens to be in the “network” of someone affiliated with the firm, then placing a help wanted ad, posting on a website, what have you, would be at best redundant. But would it kill them to do so? What if we could arrange for it to be possible at no cost to them? Is doing business with the unvarnished public that painful? Certainly it isn’t when they’re on the selling side of a transaction.

Here is some text from Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy that may or may not shed some light on my embrace of the non-market, non-state sector, and anagorism in particular:

POE theoretically had no leader. It was an anarcho-Marxist collective.

The real leader was, of course, an alpha male. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt Stuart, and he was one of the smartest men in Unistat at that time. Unfortunately, his reptile biosurvival circuit was imprinted with chronic anxiety, his mammalian emotional-territorial circuit was imprinted with defensive aggression, his hominid semantic circuit was imprinted with an explosive blend of Black street cynicism and New Left ideology, and his domesticated sociosexual circuit was from Kinksville.

F.D.R. Stuart claimed that the purpose of POE was to accelerate the dialectical process of evolution toward the classless society where all would live in peace, prosperity, and socialist solidarity, and there would be no cops.

The real purpose of Stuart’s activities was to get even. The other primates in Unistat had raped his mother and jailed his father and driven his brothers and sisters into street crime and junk and generally maltreated him all his life. In addition they called him by an insulting name, which was nigger.

Second in command in POE was Sylvia Goldfarb, a refugee from God s Lightning, NOW, the Radical Lesbians, and Weather Underground. She was even smarter than F. D.R. Stuart, but she deferred to him, despite her feminist orientation, because he was a true alpha male who was a Mean Motherfucker When Crossed and had even more rage in him than she did.

To Sylvia, the purpose of POE, she said, was to create a world where all men and women, all races and all classes, all humanity, lived in loving harmony and ate uncooked fruits and vegetables.

Her real motive was also to get even. The other primates discriminated against her for being female, for being Jewish, for being highly verbal and a Teacher’s Pet, for wearing glasses, for being an atheist, and for several dozen other reasons at least. They also called her by an insulting name, which was dyke.

The third founding member was Mountbatten Babbit, who was a cyclical schizophrenic. He wigged out once a year, on the average, and had learned how to medicate himself with phenothyazines to keep those periods of Bizarresville down to a few weeks each, but during those dilations of ego he was likely to be anybody from Napoleon to a Vietnamese Buddhist. The rest of the year he was a brilliant research chemist and computer expert, but it was hard for him to get a good job because of his several incarcerations in mental hospitals.

Babbit said he was in POE to create a rational world guided by sound scientific and libertarian-socialist principles. Yeah, he wanted to get even too. The other primates called him a nut or a fruitcake.

The other members of POE were equally brilliant and equally desperate.


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