Worries About My Friends and Our Near Term Future

I worry sometimes.  Namely I worry about my friends and people younger than I am in general.  I worry about most of my friends struggling in life.  Most of my friends are buried in debts, mostly student loans, that they will be lucky if they ever pay off.  And most of my friends weren’t that dumb with their money or life decisions.  Most of my friends went to college because 1) we were told that was a path to a decent career and 2) we looked around and saw that there were no jobs that paid decently requiring only a high school degree.  Long gone are the days when someone could get a job as a factory hand or farm worker in their early twenties and hold onto that job for over forty years and retire with a paid off home, pension, and health insurance.

I’m seeing my friends struggle in their day to day lives.  Most are working a full time job and a part time job or a side gig.  Almost none of them own houses.  The only one of my close friends who owns a house is a high school teacher in a small town.  And he didn’t buy his house until he was in his late 30s.  They don’t own houses simply because they can’t afford a house and student debts.  I also have friends who have had medical emergencies.  One friend had to file for bankruptcy for medical bills.  One friend is fighting cancer, divorced, lost her children, and is still on the waiting list for disability.  Another friend of mine got a master’s degree only to find the best job she could get in a mid sized city doesn’t pay even 40 grand a year.  Her husband also works a low paying job and moonlights as an Uber driver.  He too has lots of student debt.

Now I know some unsympathetic people will be thinking, “well, that’s what they get for not majoring in STEM or going to the military.”  Well, one of my brother’s best friends pulled straight 4.0 all the way through high school and college and still got rejected for a state medical school at least three times before he was accepted.  As far as I know, he now has a decent career working in a medical lab.  Another of my brother’s friends didn’t finish medical school and residencies until he was in his thirties because of finances and run around from the schools.  Now he works as an emergency search and rescue doctor.  One of my cousins went to trade school for two years to become an electrician.  He worked for a couple railroads, got married, has four kids, and owns a small acreage in rural Nebraska.  But, he is now essentially self employed due to the inconsistent nature of railroad employment and his wife has had medical problems to where I think she had to give up her job as a nurse’s aide.  Another cousin works in web development.  Even though he has had to work for several different firms and sometimes take free lance work, he is doing alright because he has skills that are in demand.  At least for the time being.

Can we really expect most people to become doctors, nurses, webpage designers, computer coders, engineers, tradesmen, etc?  Yet that is all I hear out of “experts” and “business leaders.”  While I think it admirable that people like Mike Rowe want to encourage more people to consider the trades like plumbing, electrician, welding, carpentry, etc, I fear that too much emphasis on the trades will eventually lead the same problem that people who majored in business, law, humanities, liberal arts, etc. are facing now.  Twenty years ago, we were told to go to college and get a degree.  Many of us did only to find that every kid in the developed world was given that advice.  Now the degree doesn’t go nearly as far as it did even forty years ago, primarily because of so many people having degrees.  Then the kids were told “get a masters” or “do unpaid internships”.  Many did only to find that they had six figures in student loans to qualify for jobs that will never pay enough to pay off the loans, let alone pay off a house or even start a family in some cases.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if young people or my friends are angry about this setup.  Because while some jobs have been outsourced to cheaper places, many more were taken over by automation.  I have a friend who works in a call center for a bank.  I fear it’s only a matter of time before his job gets automated.  And, of course, no one in power cares about the twenty and thirty somethings struggling.  They didn’t even care about the  forty something auto or steel workers who lost their jobs to machines and outsourcing.

And it’s no longer just the US or Europe that is outsourcing and automating jobs.  Even China is automating and outsourcing.  Just a few weeks ago I bought some shirts online that were made in a small African country I had to look up on a map.  The US and Europe are just further along in this transition to a highly automated economy.

And of course, the US doesn’t have very good social safety nets or any empathy for those who lost their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet.  My elders like to brag about how well America is doing, how well we take care of our own, and how we are a great Christian nation.  If we cared about our own, than we wouldn’t be having an opioid crisis, mass shootings every day, increasing rates of mental illness, increased suicide rates (especially among middle aged men), and protests in every major city on a daily basis.  For our boasting about being such a Christian nation, we certainly don’t care about those who are misfortunate and had a rough go. Such hypocrisy.

I have no idea how many times I was told “get a job you bum”, “man up”, or “McDonalds and Wal Mart are hiring”.  I, and millions of people in my age bracket and lower did everything we were told.  We still struggle.  And we don’t have any empathy from anyone, not our rulers, not our businesses, not our parents, not our schools, not our churches, and not even from each other.

Unionizing is not an option like it was a hundred years ago because most jobs can or will be outsourced or taken over by machines.  Sure we are on the road to an automated economy where most of the grunt work is done by machines and computers.  But, what is the point if 1) we don’t ditch this idea that everyone has to be defined by what they do for money, 2) most people can’t afford anything beyond the basics because most jobs are done by machines, 3) we have few social safety nets to make up for the fact that most people aren’t able to work in fields that can’t be easily automated.

We may need some things like universal health care, universal basic income, free continuing education, complete overhauls of tax systems, and a general overall shift in public attitudes towards work and compassion for others.  But I don’t see this happening anytime soon, at least not in the US.  I don’t think it will happen in the US in my lifetime simply because most of my countrymen don’t have empathy. Our leaders certainly don’t.

I do believe if our species can survive this transition, which is probably the greatest transition since people settled down and started farming instead of hunting, fishing, and gathering thousands of years ago, our descendants can have a really cool future where creativity and science can bloom.  But, I fear the transition will be a lot tougher than it has to be simply because of many people’s attitudes towards work and their fellow man.  I fear we will lose a few generations and much of their gifts in this transition.  But I guess we as a species lost short term to ultimately be better off when the Industrial Revolution began back in the late 1700s.  I do have great hope for the long term outlook for civilization and our species, but I fear it will be brutal getting there.  And the fact that I won’t live long enough to see the fruits of the seeds being planted today fills me with great sadness.

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Stop Telling Me How Lucky I Am

Kind of burned out on people lately, including friends and family.  But the strange thing is I’m also burned out on loneliness too.  Spent more or less months trying to avoid angry, rude, and irritable people.  And when I do make an effort to socialize, most people just want to complain and moan.  Being that I am actually making an effort to find out what is going right in my life and the world in general, this doesn’t give me much to talk about with even close friends.  And lately it seems EVERYONE has been having bouts of anger and depression.  Even my close friends are so negative it just sucks the life out of me.  My moments when I’m the most happy is when I’m isolated and just not hearing from anyone.  It’s been this way for a long time.

I don’t know what happened to people, at least my friends.  It seems like everyone just got irritable and angry all at the same time.  And it doesn’t matter what my friends’ circumstances, married friends are angry, divorced friends are angry, elderly friends are angry, family members are angry, etc.  About the only halfway content people I talk to are single facebook friends and my own mother.  Seriously,, what is bothering everyone?  I really truly want to know.  What is it?  And oddly, when I have bouts of irritability and depression, my friends and family get scared senseless thinking I’m about to have a psychotic breakdown.

I never understood why I, with a mental illness, am held to higher standards than everyone else.  If I get angry, I’m having a breakdown and not just a lousy day.  If I’m overly happy, it’s a mental quirk and not just a winning streak.  If I want to be alone, I’m being anti social and not just needing to recharge.  And my personal biggest pet peeve by far, since I don’t have to work being on disability pension and I have a supportive family, then I am freaking lucky.  Seriously?  I mean, seriously?  I lost almost everything and people tell me I am lucky.  What gives people?  I lost my chance at a career before I could even begin fulfilling my potential, I lost my shot at getting married, I lost my shot at having children, I lost any shot at any kind of prestige, I lost my honor, I lost most of my friends, I have a college degree I will never use in any kind of job or anything else, I have a phobia of leaving my apartment complex, I lost my ability to read people, I lost my ability to trust people, I often have flashbacks to bad experiences in my past, I’ll be in poverty for the rest of my life, I lost my physical health because of my mental illness, and I’m probably going to die younger than most of my friends, peers, and family.  Tell me exactly where the lucky part comes?  I seriously want to hear it.

I’m told I’m lucky because I get several hundred dollars a month from the government because I can’t work.  Yet, in the next breath I’m told I’m unmanly, a freeloader, and a drain on humanity because I receive disability.  Which is it?  As far as everyone who is defined by their job and takes pride in how much their work sucks, millions of jobs will be taken over by machines within the next fifteen years.  We are set up to see more science, tech, and social change in the 2020s than we saw in the previous forty years.  If I wasn’t so worried about social problems and potential civil war in my country, I would actually hope and pray that people who tell homeless and disabled people “get a job you bums” end up losing their jobs and everything they worked for.  People like that don’t have empathy or compassion.  And getting kicked in the gut by forces beyond their control is the only way stubborn fools like this are going to learn.  You too may find out you are more subject to the whims of chance than you could have ever imagined.  I certainly had to.

The worst part of being told how lucky I am is when my friends tell me this.  I’m lucky because I’m not divorced or have kids I can’t afford.  No, I was smart in not marrying someone I wasn’t compatible with because I wanted to look good to self righteous jerks who don’t have to live with my decisions.  I was smart in not having promiscuous and unprotected sex that resulted in years of child support payments for kids I rarely get to see.  I was smart for ending dead end relationships and not chasing women I had nothing in common with just because they were attractive.  I was smart to not take on student loans once my scholarships fell through.  Yet people tell me I’m lucky because I don’t have a small fortune in student loans.  People tell me I’m lucky my parents helped me out in college.  Yet, these same people won’t acknowledge how hard I worked in high school and college to get the grades I did (not like they care anyway).  No one knows how many weekends I spent at home doing homework and getting ahead in my classes, while many of my classmates, peers, and rivals were spending their weekends getting drunk, getting stoned, getting laid, and generally partying themselves senseless.  Spent most of my weekends doing homework and trying to make myself a better human being in my teenage years.  The only break from that routine was spending a few hours in church every Sunday.  I didn’t get to enjoy my teenage years as much as most people, but I also didn’t make many of the bad decisions either.  And for this I’m passed off as being lucky.  What my friends call being lucky I choose to call being smart.

And I especially love how people tell me I’m lucky my parents helped me with college.  Sure, my parents made decent money.  But they made that money because they were smart, worked their hands and minds to the bone, didn’t have any kind of social life during their working years outside of church, etc.  And we are condemned as lucky.  No, what most fools call being lucky is really more accurately called not being stupid.  My family knew many years ago the days of massive amounts of high paying blue collar jobs requiring only a high school degree were going to end, as they did.  My father knew even in grade school there was no future in the share cropping my grandfather did.  Even my grandfather, who never even went to high school knew this clear back in the 1950s.  Some may think my grandfather a hypocrite in pushing my father and his sisters so hard in school when he himself never went to high school.  No, grandfather was being smart and didn’t want my father or my aunts to fall into the same trap he did.  He wanted a better life for his kids.  Most parents used to not only want this but actually try to make this happen.  In my family it was enough to push my family from generations of dirt farmers and shop keepers most my family was to the medical professions of my parents to the engineering professions of my brother and his wife in only a few generations.  It was enough to ground me and make me smart enough to manage a serious mental illness and look almost normal to anyone who doesn’t really know me.  So, tell me I’m lucky if you wish.  But you will never know how smart and hard I and generations of my family had to work for you to damn me as “lucky.”

On Minimalism or Why I’m Not Pessimist Even Though I Don’t Have Money or Job Security

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I have never learned the fine art of being able to let go and no longer care.  Maybe that is another trait neurotypical people are born with that we the mentally ill aren’t. Even though one of my favorite comedians was George Carlin, I have never been able to bring myself to the nihilist thinking of if the world is going to fall apart then I’m going to enjoy the ride down.  I think I’m more of an idealist in that I know we as a species have problems, issues, and baggage but we can compensate for said hangups and move onto something better.  I guess I never quit dreaming and seeing what we can as a species accomplish.  I missed the memo that said I had to be a pessimist and a grump once I became a man.

The scientists, engineers, doctors, and humanitarians of the world have done some really amazing things just since I was old enough to start paying attention twenty five years ago.  And twenty five years is just a blip on the radar of human history.  I would have been life time hospitalized in 1966.  I wouldn’t be blogging in 1986 with the audience I now have (I appreciate all my visitors).  I wouldn’t be able to keep in contact with my college friends in 1996 nearly as easily as I do now.  My father always told me one of his greatest regrets was not keeping in contact with his college and Air Force friends more and taking more photos when he was in school and overseas.  With Facebook I hear from people I was just casual friends with on an almost weekly basis.  I have even had good conversations with people I have never met in person.  But because we have similar interests we can connect quite easily.  With my cell phone I can cheaply talk to friends and family at all hours or call for emergency help.  In the late 1980s about the only people who had cell phones were Wall Street tycoons.  And as good as my $99 Wal Mart cell phone is, I don’t even really need it as much as I used to.  Anymore I can most of my banking, order books through Amazon, order clothing (I have an odd size so I have to special order sometimes), and even get pizza and deli delivery via the internet.  If I were so inclined to get back into the dating game, I’d just go to any one of a number of internet dating sites and let their algorithms match me to a woman with similar interests.  None of this was possible when I was growing up.  It is an excellent time to be alive.

For years I have heard that my generation of Americans was going to be the first that was worse off than their parents.  As far as I’m concerned, we’re worse off only in certain areas.  Sure GenXers and Millenials have higher levels of student loans and more job insecurity than did the Boomers and World War 2 generations.  But what money we do have can go much further than in the past.  You really think Andy Griffith could have accessed an entire encyclopedia of knowledge on his rotary phone in the 1960s?  You think that Archie Bunker would have as good of a chance to survive cancer in the 1970s?  Sure many of the high paying manufacturing jobs have left Europe and North America, but blame technology and automation as much as China or trade deals.  Just Google the monetary worth of manufactured goods in the U.S. or E.U. and compare it to before the beginning of automation.  It’s probably higher now though done with fewer laborers.  Yes you may be discontent with your job as a convince store clerk or a fryer cook at KFC, but with as cheap as many things are getting now, you may not need the $40,000 a year job right out of college to have an alright life.

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I make less than $15,000  per year from all sources.  But I still have two computers, an automobile, a cell phone, a good wireless internet connection, no debts, and I’m not going hungry.  Yet according to the U.S. government statistics I am living in poverty.  But I have pretty much everything I want and definitely everything I need.  I don’t need the four bedroom house with the picket fence (especially not when I have pay home owners’ association fees, property taxes, shovel snow, and fix my own plumbing when the pipes break at 3 am on Sunday morning).  I think the ideas of having a large house in a good neighborhood, a mini van and an SUV, lots of trinkets to impress people I don’t care about, a stressful job that could be automated or outsourced at a moment’s notice, a marriage that is always strained because of not enough time with the wife and kids, are overrated.  I never got the memo that said I had to have all of that to be happy and content.  I don’t have any of those “hallmarks of success” and yet I don’t feel like less of a man because of it.  Some people may think less of me because I don’t have a lot of money, a prestigious job, a trophy wife, children, a big house, or a SUV.  But that is their hangup and a reflection on them, not me.

Sure I make less money than my parents did (and many of my friends can claim the same thing).  But we definitely have more flexibility, more adaptability, more connectivity, better access to knowledge and information, and less of our budgets are going to basics like food and rent.  Even with as little as I make only half of my money goes to food and rent.  And I don’t even get food stamps.  Take heart GenXers and Millenials, even though you may never have the job stability or the money your parents and grandparents had, you definitely have more freedom and flexibility because you are not as tied to one area.  And you GenXers and Millenials will find out that once you get your debts completely knocked out (which will take time and discipline), you will find you can live on much less than you thought and you suddenly have lots of options.  My parents are tied to their small farming village because they would have to sell their house, their acreage, their cars, and most of the trinkets they acquired over the years of being tied down.  Me, besides my bed, my dresser, my book shelf, and my two couches, I can throw everything I own in my car and be moved within a few hours if need be.  And being able to do so much more online now, I can easily transfer to a new bank, new insurance company, and find pretty much whatever I need wherever I wind up.  I wouldn’t give up my freedom and flexability so I could be tied down just because I have a house and some money.  Freedom and flexability are currency in the information age.  I wouldn’t want to live in the past.  I would go nuts from the lack of freedom and lack of options.