[work identity]

13 03 12020

i borrowed sayaka murata's international bestseller, convenience store woman, from a friend the other day (thanks, david!), and it inspired some thoughts on identity. it's a short, easy read with a plot that pulls at the heartstrings of readers across classes and cultures. its premise is this: furukura keiko, a 30-something woman (presumably on the autism spectrum), has worked at a convenience store in japan for 18 years. furukura is happy to play her role in society, and she does her job well--too well. everything she does (even outside of work) centers around the store's well-being and serving the customers of the convenience store. it's clear that she's built up her identity solely on being a convenience store worker. but increasingly, the narratives she's fed by her family and friends confuse her: "when are you going to get married? don't tell me you're still working that dead-end job." the book explores a wide array of themes, including gender roles, disability, class dynamics, and identity. before this starts sounding like a book review, i'll get into the questions that the story inspired in me. even in as a male in a completely different culture and socioeconomic class, furukura is still relatable. i think we can all ask ourselves, "how much of my identity is built upon my work?" for most of us, we contribute back to society for five days a week, roughly fifty weeks a year, until we retire. some people are content to use work as a means to an end (working for a paycheck to use to enjoy oneself), whereas others prefer that their work has a great deal of intrinsic value (working for the work itself). so, then, is it a good or bad thing if a person's entire identity is built upon their job? capitalists would love it. whatever your stance on capitalism may be, it's worth stepping back and considering. on the pro side, it's selfless and simple. a construction worker can point to a skyscraper and think, "i helped build that. this is my work and i derive my meaning from it. every day there is something new to build, someplace new that others can call their home, their workplace, the restaurant at which they had their first date. i am happy to have contributed, and my identity is not dependent on desires that might be more selfish or antisocial" on the con side, it makes one dependent on their job for their sense of self. what happens when, for some reason or another, they become unable to work? i write this in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. many workers are forced to work from home or, for those occupations that require a physical presense of the employee, forced to confront a day without work (most of seattle is currently quarantined). because i am more than a scientist, and because i am also an avid reader, a tech hobbyist, and a philosopher among other things, i won't feel lost when i pursue non-work or, down the road, when i retire.

[societal engineering]

23 02 12020

recently, i've finished reading the first two books of isaac asimov's foundation series, and they had me thinking about how to best organize a society. a little bit of necessary background--foundation is a sci-fi novel that takes place in the far future, where humanity has spread out in an empire among the stars of the milky way. a prominent psychohistorian named hari seldon uses math to predict actions of mobs/large populations and foretells with self-evident mathematics the fall of the empire in 300 years. instead of peaceful trade and coexistence, the empire is projected to fall into chaos, distrust, barbarianism, and cause massive amounts of suffering to quintillions of humans. without intervention, this interregnum between peaceful, prosperous periods is projected to last 30,000 years, but seldon and the scientists have devised a plan to set up two foundations on opposite ends of the galaxy to reduce this interregnum to just 1,000 years. while the rest of the galaxy regresses into the dark ages after a few generations because no one remembers how the technology works and planetary resources normally devoted to innovation, education, and discovery are paranoiacally diverted to self-defense, the two foundations remain the only bastions of progress and hold the archives necessary to begin anew. this premise brought my attention to our current society, where currently a debate rages about what direction we as the united states should take with regard to capitalistic vs. socialistic tendencies. as of right now, i'm a firm believer in certain aspects of capitalism because of its historical success of ushering humans out of feudalism and suffering on a massive scale and into modern society that is superior across all domains--there is no time in history in which you would rather be alive than today. when you consider the floor--the poorest and most disadvantaged in each society--the poor of today are significantly better off across all metrics (social mobility, lifespan, life conditions, freedom, etc.) than the poor serfs and slaves of pre-capitalist times, and that's something that's easily overlooked if one does not look far back enough in history to see how much progress we've made. can this increase in quality of life be attributed to capitalism? i believe it can, and there's ample evidence to support that belief. i am aware that the profit motive of capitalism has led to some appalling inequalities and dehumanization, and indeed pure capitalism does not result in an ideal society. however, we cannot ignore certain aspsects fo capitalism that have ensured the absolutely imperative survival of innovation, namely those of 1) competition and the survivial of the fittest ideas in the arena of the free market and 2) the invention of the corporation (literally, the body) which has mobilized and organized positive human intentions that transcend generations as well as national and cultural divides. this is a system that has proven itself beneficial for our species as a whole but that is not always the case for the individual. karl marx introduces a critique to capitalism: communism. in order to better understand today's prevailing sentiments regarding societal and economic organization, and having read many texts lauding the accomplishments of capitalism, i found it necessary to read marx's communist manifesto and das kapital to receive another perspective. the idea behind it is this: i trust myself to keep an open mind and remain rational about the arguments from both the capitalism camp and the communist/socialist camp. even now, i can think of pros and cons for both sides. i have already discussed a few of capitalism's strengths and weaknesses. as for communism/socialism, they take into greater account the individual's needs and desires and reframes issues into class struggles which are often overlooked by proponents of capitalism. such proponents sometimes exclusively view the so far mechanism (of capitalism) from 30,000 feet and fail to see its effects on the street level. communism/socialism is anchored on the fundamental story of human rights and the idea that any two people are equally important to soceity regardless of what they each can contribute: "from each according to [their] ability to each according to [their] need." at the same time, i have yet to hear a convincing argument against the freeloader argument/incentive to work (is it so radical of an idea that in order to take from society, one must contribute somehow? -- maybe not if robots do everything for us. we're not there yet, though.) as well as a compelling replacement for the motivation to innovate that's so intrinsic to capitalism. the burden of proof lies with communism/socialism to provide a better operating system than the largely capitalistic one we have in place right now. i hope that the better ideas from each ideology (not necessarily entire an ideology) will prevail in this analysis to come. one part of this debate is self-evident to me though. if we do not preserve science/innovation and instead come to rest on our laurels, we are done for.


08 02 12020

a thesaurus might classify the relationship between these two words as 'near antonyms' and yet i find they coexist fairly often in my peers. everyone has insecurities, but 1) how open one is about discussing one's insecurities and 2) the extent to which those insecurities affect one's life varies. people can be insecure about many aspects of their life, the most common being 1) appearance and 2) lifestyle. we all know the instagram feed is a highlight reel--few people post about what they do for work or a picture of their morning commute and understandably so--accounting spreadsheets and bus stops are not interesting. but those scenes are among the most representative of one's life. who are you trying to fool with a feed full of your smiling face under strict lighting conditions?that's not one's life--that's not even 1% of one's life. is it so imperative that others see you through pink glasses? it seems dishonest to others and one's left living with the dissonance between oneself and one's personal brand. no wonder one's so deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. one's selfie isn't really self love so much as love for the constructed persona. a cure for both narcissism and insecurity, i think, is the overview effect. there is a picture that was taken 30 years ago when voyager 1 turned around for one last look at its home. it's called the pale blue dot. reflecting on it, divisions turn to dust and, in the words of bon iver: "at once, i know i was not magnificent." emerging from this subliity is a mandatory mission to do everything to decrease the odds that our flicker of significance dies in its cradle.


08 01 12020

what is liberty? today in lab in between experiments, i link hopped around the internet trying to figure out what's happening to democracy, its merits and pitfalls, and whether it's clearly been the most successful governmental ideology. for the most part, the people have received what they wanted under democracy because the government respresents its people. occasionally, however, people elect demagogues when populism trumps (haha) rationality. can the lay person be trusted to vote for what's best for themselves and society? few people have the time to fully analyze political platforms and make an informed decision, so it seems that most voites are cast based on who can best command the attention economy. plato warned of democracy in 'the republic'. he considers democracy an unjust, thrice-devolved form of government following aristocracy (ideal state ruled by philosopher-kings, not to be confused with the bourgeoisie), timocracy (rulers electedby honor rather than intellect), and oligarchy (rulers elected by wealth--we'd probably call this a plutocracy) in the chain. in a democracy, he argues, people have too much liberty, are consumed with unnecessary desires, and have no order by which to live their lives. (by necessary desires, plato means those desires that we have to survive as individuals and as a civilization.) the us today isn't a pure democracy in this quasi-lawless sense, but has elements of oligarchy (lobbyists), timocracy (military and civilian honor), and aristocracy (evidence-based policy). a modern-day version of plato's aristocracy would look something more like a technocracy, where "decision-makers are selected on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge." wouldn't that be ideal? maybe in the future we'll have a governance ai appointing decision-makers under the constraints of civilizational survivability and certain human rights. maybe we lose our liverty to directly choose our leaders, but when a system can govern us objectively better than we can govern ourselves, would that even be a bad thing?