Friday, September 27, 2013

Be a dabbler, not a diehard

I was chatting with a fellow who used to be a shop teacher in the local high school.

He was whining on about how training all the kids all the time that they have to be the best and it's a hyper-competitive world and if they're not in the top decile they have essentially flushed their lives down the toilet, may not be doing the kids any favours.

Ironically, while he's still a teacher, he's not a shop teacher anymore, because the school board has been closing down all the old-school technology programs. You know the ones; those archaic throw-backs to a time when people knew how to fix cars and repair plumbing.

We're in the cyber era now. Nobody needs toilets anymore. We're shitting digital, aren't we?

Call the virtual plumber.

But Buddy may have had a point. Brainwashing the youngsters into believing that the world runs on some sort of dog-eat-dog perversion of meritocracy may look good in a Ministry of Education policy paper, but it ain't the real world.

And further following the line of reasoning put forward by Buddy, he suggested the students do a mental experiment.

If all the six-number folks at the school board head office stopped going to work, how long would it take you to notice?

If all the $18/hr custodians in your school stopped going to work, how long will it take you to notice?

The respective answers are of course never and immediately.

Yet we want to motivate every child to work really hard and over-achieve their entire life so they can become the guy who will never be missed.

What's wrong with that picture?

In hindsight, I've concluded that he was getting at something important.

I had a prof at U of Guelph, Ken Menzies, who was always threatening to write "the" book on the best of all possible societies.

Now I know what you're thinking; "oh great, another Ivory Tower wanker is going to share his utopian fantasy world!"

But Ken wasn't like that at all. In fact, Ken was so laid back that he never got around to writing the book.

Nevertheless, over many pints I was able to plumb his mind and get to the nitty-gritty of his perfect society.

Ken figured that we all would be better off if all the jobs in the society/economy were rotated regularly among all the citizens.

Common sense would of course impose a little bit of structure on such a practice. Virtually everybody could have a shot at being a convenience store clerk for a year, but I'm not sure we'd want just anybody checking into the neuro-surgeon job for a year.

But as a general policy, I have to say Ken's vision has some merit.

We'd all get a chance to dabble in a bit of this and a bit of that. You'd never become a diehard about anything.

And while such a mindset is foreign to our way of looking at things now, think of where we could go with it.

If everybody had spent a year as a trash collector, there would be no public support for the politicians who get elected by promising to privatize trash collection.

We'd realize that the trash collector merits a living wage, just like everyone else.

We'd realize that we need to pay taxes to provide this living wage.

I suspect Ken's utopia would run into rough water when they sent riff-raff like me in to run a hedge fund while the hedge fund managers do their garbage collection stint.

Then again, that might be a win-win too.

When Steve Cohen finds himself making license plates for a couple years, I could just slide in there and run SAC Capital Partners.

The minions need never know!

Dabbling vs. diehardism benefits other pursuits as well. If you're pissed off at US foreign policy, settle for tossing a few tomatoes at the local US consulate.

Forget about the suicide vest. That's got such an aura of "finality" about it, which is fine if you happen to be one of those Christian or Muslim fanatics who think you're going to spend eternity at the feet of Jesus or with 72 virgins respectively, but in reality it just means you're over.

Not to mention that your friends and loved ones will be stuck on no-fly lists forever.

And when you're throwing tomatoes at the US consulate, forget about rotten tomatoes. That just leaves a lot of rotten tomato goop on your hands and really messes up your accuracy.

So give up those fantasies about being the best of the best at this or at that; if you don't like your year as high school custodian, just wait till you get your year as school board superintendent.

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