Clean slates

Earlier this morning, a friend posted his New Year’s Resolutions, and the first was to de-clutter. That hit home in a hurry, because Mom was always a hoarder, and at the time of her death that illness had started to spiral out of control. For most of her adult life, Mom always had more rooms than she needed to live in. The rest were for stuff.

I almost took after Mom’s example until, at the age of nine, I was begged to consider the consequences of doing so. That step taken, I began reluctantly to throw things out.

The twists and turns of my own adult life have been a tremendous help in preventing me from acquiring too much stuff of my own, but I believe that simplification is too valuable spiritually to put out of mind in any case — even for those fail or refuse to believe in any sort of Deity or Maker.

I moved to Lawrence two months after Mom’s passing. I brought a duffel, two smaller bags, and wheelie backback which contained clothes, for the most part. I put aside three fruit crates containing keepsakes, books, towels, and bank statements that my grandparents shipped to me six months later.

Six years on I’ve furnished a one-bedroom apartment on the cheap, started a DVD library, added thirty or forty CD’s to that library, and filled a 24″×42″ bookcase — largely due to the fact that I fall within the scope of Simon’s professional generosity. I own fractionally more clothes, and I possess the basics of a decent kichen that I rarely use because I’m a bachelor slob. There are two boxes of computer parts stashed away in one of my closets. I’m also one router, one UPS, two computers, two displays, nearly two gigabytes, and one set of speakers ahead of where I was at when I moved here, when my only rig was a Pentium III hand-me-down that was due to be defenestrated from Sellards Scholarship Hall, according to its previous owner.

I think it can be said with confidence that most of my inherited acquisitive impulses are shunted into things Internet-related.

It’s not much, even for a 36 year old bachelor… and I worry that it’s too much.

The Rules

When it comes to my purchasing decisions, my typical thought process goes like this:

  1. Can I eat it?
  2. Can I drink it?
  3. Does it hail from the genus Nicotiana?
  4. Will it replace broken hardware or obsolete software?
  5. Can I wear it more than a half-dozen times in the next year?
  6. Can I use it to return a favor to anybody?
  7. Is somebody due a gift, or some other encouragement to smile?

On the rare occasions when I go through that list without yielding a “yes,” I start down another that requires at least two “yes” answers:

  1. Can I afford it without sacrifice?
  2. Will it allow me to do more or better work than presently?
  3. Will it help me to recover from any lease-, work- or life-related contingencies with relative ease?
  4. Will it improve my social standing out of proportion to its retail price?
  5. Will it replace something that was previously lost, stolen, permanently loaned, or broken?
  6. Will I learn from it?
  7. Will it entertain me more cheaply than a cable television subscription?
  8. Is it requisite to a meaningful and pleasant date?
  9. Will it provide me with comfort equal to or greater than a meaningful and pleasant date, in proportion to its cost?

The trick with the second list is to avoid rationalizations: how, exactly, does it fulfill at least two conditions?

Framed differently, those are my “Need” and “Want” criteria.

Clutter falls mostly in the “Nice to Have” category. I don’t have one of those, and I don’t willfully collect anything that can’t be streamed over Cat5 cable.

Music

John Mellencamp, “Paper in Fire”
@amazon
@allmusic

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To the Rafters?

To the Rafters? —by Ben Henick, 27 November 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic