The Badassity of Migrant Workers

If the pioneer and frontiersman spirit has disappeared in most Americans, it’s alive and well in migrant workers.

Imagine traveling all the way from Guatemala to Maine to pick blueberries, or from Nicaragua to Alberta to tend cattle, or from Mexico to Washington to harvest hops. There are people who do this, and they are badasses.

The people who make this journey often do it with few resources, and in spite of laws, ruffians, and thousands of miles. And they do it with vision: to support a family back home, or to make a new life possible for a family here.

There is almost unheard-of long-range thinking, courage, self-discipline, work ethic, and resourcefulness. Why are we not doffing our caps to these people?

There may be a language and cultural barrier, but it’s a true shame if we don’t get to know them and understand the realism in which they’re rooted as well as the ambition that lets them dream and travel vast distances for a better life. These people could teach us something. If the “spirit of America” is or should be anything at all, it’s embodied in the risk-taking of the migrant.

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Privacy Is Trust, Trust Is Freedom

Remember Google Glasses? Turns out they are still a thing.

Granted, they’re for manufacturing and specialty industrial purposes now. Google discovered that people weren’t quite ready for glasses that recorded everything.

I was talking with someone today about how useful it might be to have Google Glass in construction/maintenance/contracting work. He was remarking how it would be cool to be able to see what employees were doing.

I get it. There’s a strong incentive to minimize employee waste – because many employees really do waste time. And I have no doubt that some companies will try to implement greater levels of employee surveillance as technology increases.

But here’s the thing: only responsible people can create massive value for a business in the long term. Only people who are free will choose to be responsible. And only people who are trusted believe that they are free.

People who are watched – and know it? They’ll feel so much unease about avoiding the perception of unproductiveness that they’ll worry their way into it. Surveillance of any kind is an enemy to long-term productivity – at least of the kind worth keeping. Even a high-knowledge job with exorbitant pay would feel like slavery (and produce about the same poor results) if it was surveilled.

Privacy gives even employees some small piece of space or time to call their own. And ownership will be the better model, even if it isn’t perfect. Turn the cameras off.

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We Don’t Recognize the World’s Justice

“. . . the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

If you don’t think that evil is punished and good is rewarded, I get it.

A fair number of corrupt people seem to enjoy wealth, status, and even long lives. Lots of war criminals and ordinary criminals get away with it. Few direct restitutions happen anymore.

But justice is still working.

Depression, unease, fights that happen behind closed doors, the breakdown of physical or mental health, constant distrust and paranoia- these are reality’s punishments for attempts to defraud it. People pursuing evil may appear to be fine physically, but they will suffer mentally.

Similarly, those who do right may not see outsized positive physical impacts (they will usually see some). They may receive the bulk of their just desserts in the form of stabler relationships, better sleep at night, and a general trust that people are good (or at least not out to get them). These benefits may be small, but they add up over time.

Justice is inexorable because the mind is inescapable. Don’t let it’s invisibility discourage you.

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I Don’t Want To

“I don’t want to.”

When was the last time you heard this from an adult?

Children have no problem speaking their minds about their preferences. You’ll hear this several times a day at least from a 3 year old – at least until they’re shamed out of it.

Surely we adults haven’t stopped *not* wanting to do things. It’s just that now we’ve acquired the habit of bending over backwards to avoid saying what we want.

We “can’t come” or “won’t be able to” or “had something come up” or “have to be somewhere.” If we do say “no thanks” we feel obligated to add caveats and explainers.

Sometimes these are legitimate responses. But come on: sometimes they’re just our way of avoiding something we don’t want to do – and avoiding the need to acknowledge that. It’s understandable: people rarely want to blunt enough to say “no, I’m not interested.” But it’s probably unhealthy that we so rarely bring our own preferences into the picture.

It seems like we feel like we need to have unselfish reasons for everything we do – something probably learned from negative childhood reinforcement. So we rely on (or manufacture) external circumstances rather than just speak our minds. And our friends are left wondering if we don’t like them or just don’t like bowling.

Why isn’t “not wanting to” enough?

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Are You Properly Enjoying Your Wealth?

I know what you’re thinking.

“I’m not wealthy. This blog post isn’t for me.”

Actually, it is. Historically speaking, you are one of the wealthiest individuals who has ever lived.

It takes relatively little effort to provide for your own really essential needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. Setting aside people who feel the need to give their kids or spouses lots of unnecessary doodads, vacations, etc, the “bare necessities of life” have never been cheaper, particularly if you live in the West. A small amount of labor can keep us alive – anything over that is just bonus.

But how many of us really appreciate or enjoy the freedom that comes with that wealth?

Commutes, 9 to 5 commitments, and inflexible job-centric living suck away most of our days. We spend the best parts – the sunny parts – inside. We plan to be tied down. We force ourselves to tolerate things and people we don’t enjoy. We worry about the opinions of those people. And we never quite experience the full fruits of the freedom we have.

I’ve been seeing some of that freedom as I’ve experienced voluntary unemployment. I feel rich – particularly in time. If I want to go browse an outdoors store or stock up on books from Goodwill, I just do (I did today). I don’t care if it’s 1 PM. I don’t have to worry about being at somebody’s desk. If I want to go to the cemetery and read a book in the sunshine, I can (I did that today, too).

I’m already doing hunting-gathering for income sources, so I’ll be adding some constraints back to my life soon. But just having this brief space of time is useful. Having full possession of my time now is showing me how I want to feel even when I don’t have all my time to myself. I want to feel as wealthy as I am in fact.

What about you?

Are you savoring that many of life’s best things (nature, time with friends, books) are free or cheap?

Are you savoring the time you save from not having to work all that much?

Are you savoring the fact that you can go anywhere you want anytime you want?

Are you savoring your freedom?

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Elitism for Everybody

While not everyone is great, everyone can be.

This may be my most American idea.

As Gordon Wood argues in American Characters, we live in a populist country founded by elitists: a strange twist in history that has given to a mass population personal role models who had extraordinary (if flawed) personal character.

We’re taught from an early age that we should look up to and imitate founders like George Washington – a landed aristocrat – and Thomas Jefferson – who was reading Latin and Greek classics in his teens. There’s an idea in most of our educational systems that we can be like these men.

That’s a pretty crazy idea. It’s a pretty wonderful one, because it’s true (we can exceed those men). And it breaks categories.

It’s not a pure egalitarian idea. Egalitarianism is a leveling force. This idea calls us to go higher, and to be as good or better than men who were superior to their cultures.

But it’s also a revolutionary idea. In calling everyone to become elite, this American idea redefines aristocracy. It offers admission to anyone – if they’re good enough, that is.

It’s a hard belief to maintain, but I want to believe and try to act in a way that assumes that everyone can (in some way) become great and virtuous. It may be the idea that makes America special. It’s the idea that makes it possible for me to work hard to make the world better. I want to believe that there is some profound and great potential in every person.

As far as I know, that idea hasn’t been disproven. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the idea of “egalitarian elitism” may not have been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and left mostly untried.

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