Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “modern life”

A Terrible Modern Man – Tom Rossi

Those of you who know me or at least know some of my writings are probably wondering who I could mean when I say, “A terrible modern man.” Could it be George Bush? Dick Cheney? Newt Gingrich? No, no, no. Those are examples of terrible government officials… and maybe even terrible human beings.

No, I’m talking about myself. I don’t seem to be well adapted to life in this period. I think I would have done better in the paleolithic.

Modern life demands certain things, like that you make money. For most of us, this isn’t so easy because we have to make enough to pay rent or a mortgage, buy decent food, pay for transportation, pay for health insurance (or save up for the inevitable leg amputation after a Tiger attack), buy clothing, take care of the kids in various ways, pay for electricity and phones, etc., etc., etc.

Life in the modern world demands that a person find some niche in which to earn a living and then concentrate on that one thing to the exclusion of all else. Most Americans (like so much of the world) have an incredibly narrow, monotonous job, doing the same task, over and over. Whether it’s welding together an endless series of pieces of metal of the same shape and size, or it’s checking over insurance applications for errors, it’s SSDD – Same S***, Different Day.

There are, of course, jobs that have lots of variety, but those represent a tiny fraction of the jobs in America and they require either a lot of specific training, a special talent, or both. This in itself means developing some ability to the exclusion of other interests.

This is what I just can’t seem to do. There are jobs out there that I would love. But I’d have to pick an area to study and train – a much more narrow area than the broad studies I’ve done so far. I have this terrible fear that, once I’ve chosen and spent much effort, I’ll find out that there’s no demand for that specialty, but if I’d just chosen something a little different, I’d be fine.

This indecision is somewhat new to me since my brain got cut open by Dr. Spetzler a few years ago. He did a miraculous job, but something like that is bound to have some lasting effects.

These days, Oprah and others are always talking about “finding your true vocation,” or something like that. But I always feel like they’re talking to people who have worked for years at a very successful career and have $250,000 in the bank.

But the thing that bothers me about the modern world is that there seems to be no room for the generalist. Plenty of scientists, economists, and policy wonks have said that generalists – broadly trained in several different disciplines and capable of synthesis between and across many areas – are exactly what’s needed, now. But I see no job announcements for these (my) types. The jobs are always for someone who has drilled down in some super-specific discipline and is a stone-cold expert in something like the effects of soil calcium concentration on the growth of orange-skinned casaba melons in northwestern Zimbabwe.

That’s what you do in graduate school – drill down. Drill down because you need to do a study that can be completed in two years, all by yourself, and then write a dissertation all by yourself too.

But real life is all about teamwork. And this isn’t just my own brand of idealism… it’s a fact. I’m a great team-player, but I find it very difficult to do the solo work that might lead to the opportunity to be on a team, someday. I find it too difficult to choose because I want to be that generalist. But generalists in science and policy are only the people at the highest levels – those who have worked their way to the top of some organization like an NGO. And because the way these individuals have been successful was to be really good at something tiny and specific, they often see their new, generalist appointment from a narrow perspective that reflects the specific discipline that they know so well.

Oh well. Maybe my future is as a contestant on Jeopardy. But I just know they’re going to get me with that damn Shakespeare category.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Riots… In Canada?

I’ve been on a vicarious high this week. The Boston Bruins, last Wednesday night, won their first Stanley Cup since 1972 – the days of the legendary Bobby Orr.

Of course since I’m a fan of the Bruins, their winning makes me a winner, right? OK, I’ve already pointed out how stupid that is. But I’m still happy. And I have to admit I have cheated a little. Because of my complex hockey history, I’m a fan of three teams, the Boston Bruins, the L.A. Kings, and the Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Quebec Nordiques). But I’m much more a fan of the game than any team.

Relax, this hasn’t changed to a sports column. What happened after the Bruins glorious victory provides quite an insight into human nature.

Hockey is perceived as a violent game. For those of you unfamiliar, the game is full of what is called, “checking”, where the player is run into, sometimes VERY hard, by a player on the opposing team. This is generally completely within the rules and not a big deal until someone goes beyond good sportsmanship and just tries to hurt the other player.

It’s also true that you see a lot of fights on the ice in hockey, but outside of the pros, the rest of us usually end up having a beer afterwards and saying things like, “You got me pretty good with that one punch, there.”

Up until now, I have had two views of Canadians. Since I was once a part of the world of hockey (at a relatively low level) I have known a lot of Canadians and I have heard a lot of their stories of fights. I also knew a guy from way out in the farm-land boondocks of Saskatchewan who had worked at a bar where there were some very serious fights.

But my view of the typical Canadian was exemplified the other night by a guy I bumped into – who happened to be from Vancouver. It was the night after Boston’s game 7 victory and I was proudly wearing my Bruins Jersey while hanging out in San Francisco. He spotted me and he smiled and said something like, “I’ll bet you’re pretty happy!” I said, “You bet! Great series, eh?” Funny that I’m the one who said, “eh.”

Anyway, he told me that he was from Vancouver and I immediately said that his team had played really well and nobody should be ashamed about it. He agreed and we talked for a while about the riots that erupted in the streets of Vancouver after their loss. He was certainly ashamed about that. I said, “That’s not at all my image of Canada.” He said, “Mine neither.” I said that this wouldn’t have happened in Montreal because people would be afraid of messing up their suits and ties. He laughed. Montreal fans used to dress up for the games.

Even while the riots had started, inside the rink the real Canucks fans were cheering for their great team – even though they had lost:

That’s class.

So how does a riot happen when there’s really no great injustice as motivation? The answer (if it is an answer) is “mob mentality.” People in a crowd, especially when they are already emotionally worked up about something (and even more if they’ve been drinking), can all of a sudden start to follow and imitate the crowd’s most rebellious and active members. They can participate in or accept others’ criminal behavior. They can act in ways that they would never act on their own.

It’s just a theory of mine, but I think that these situations are opportunities for our imprisoned, inner-selves to finally cry out – even if it’s in completely inappropriate ways. The life of the modern human being is essentially an all-too-well-defined cage, even when it seems a pleasant cage. Many books, TV shows, and movies have explored the idea that humans value freedom above all else. But modern life is about stability, predictability, indebtedness, and strict rules of behavior for thousands of situations. Any release from this cage, no matter how stupid, unproductive, or even harmful can sometimes be welcomed.

Uh oh. It seems I’ve bitten off a huge bite to chew again. Maybe I’ll have to come back to this in a future post.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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