Thursday, August 20, 2015

Really bad jobs

One show we have loved as a family is "Time Team" which is basically competence porn.  A group of professionals comes together for three days to investigate an archeological site.  They all work from their different disciplines to tell the story of what they think happened.  It is all very polite and British and even when they disagree it is very collegial.  I like how it shows my girls how the whole range of disciplines and ways of thinking have something to add to understanding how we live.  I also like how the show reminds me how much people are people regardless of the time or place.  It reminds me of the role I play in the link of ancestors.

Lately we have been watching "Worst Jobs in History" by the same presenter and he goes and learns about these horrible jobs and tries them.  Most of them are stinky, hard and/or boring. Again, this is a good reminder that as my job may frustrate me at times, overall I have it way better than many people most of the time.  I am not required to work with offal or risk death. 

I enjoy watching this with Runa as it gives us lots to talk about and really brings the history alive.  One show also addressed people in the workhouses and the attitude towards poverty at the time.  This segment horrified Runa when she learned that they thought that poverty was a reflection of your goodness as a person and a moral failing.

Horrifying to her, but really still the mindset, although we pretend it's not.  Are you poor?  Then you must be lazy or stupid.  As a society we don't want to think about what actually got people there or interventions that would help.  We don't really care that you were systematically abused, suffer from mental health issues or lack the social capitol that we take so for granted. 

I have long been working through a book about the invention of statistics after the French Revolution - where the creation of aggregate unemployment data, the author argues, allowed people (States/churches) to look at poverty from a new collective level.  No more were you dealing with a real person with a name and a story that you knew, but you could deal with "the poor" both distancing them from the society as a whole and making it more morally acceptable to generalize them and treat them poorly.  I may have a relationship with a specific poor person, but likely will not have the same relationship to the poor.

As a civil servant, I have seen the dimensions of this issue come up again and again.  We can best care for people when we see them in the whole context of their lives and stories - in an indigenous world view.  But, that is potentially more expensive up front (maybe not in the long run thought if the interventions are successful) and more open to complaints/legal risk.  We seem to be swayed most often by the higher up front costs and less open to the stories we here around the successes of these alternative approaches. 

As an economist I try to tell the full cost story and hope that supports the moral imperative behind some of these changes.  Is that a cop out?  I hope that I can bring my skill to the table and that I get to work together with all those  professionals who have other tools and parts of the story.  There is so much I want to do once I get these children launched in their lives and able to read and take care of themselves.  Sometimes the dysfunction in my own house is overwhelming, but I am working on being where I am and doing what I can.  Do you feel overwhelmed with these big social issues sometimes?  Is that maybe why competency is so appealing to watch?

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