It’s raining again

15 02 2014

Snowing, actually.

Which pleases me: snowing and winter go together.

(Unlike rain. Thursday it snowed—big, puffy, beautiful swirling flakes—and then it rained, melting those beautiful puffs into slush. February rain sucks.)

Anyway, I used to mock folks in southern climes who freaked out when they got an inch or two of snow–ha ha! Look at those fools spin out!—but I’ve mostly gotten over my weather superiority complex. I mean, I decompensate when the temp climbs hellward of 85 or 90, so who am I to lord it over those who shiver below 40 degrees?

And laughing at the Georgians or Carolinians who slide into barely-snowy ditches requires one to forget that everyone is an idiot during the first snowfall.

I didn’t truly appreciate this until after I moved to Minneapolis and got my first car (Plymouth Horizon hatchback, RIP: gave its life after a long road trip west). Yes, I drove when I lived in Wisconsin and of course learned to do doughnuts (easier on a rear- than front-wheeled car), and helped push more than one car out of snowbank. (I don’t remember if I ever drove into a snowbank; if not, that had more to do with luck than skill.)

Anyway, now that I was living in a city and driving my own car and paying my own insurance, I also paid more attention to those many other drivers as well as to my own driving. And I noticed that every November (or October: see Minneapolis) when the first snow fell, drivers acted as if they had never before had to deal with this outrageous phenomenon of icy dust billowing down from the clouds.

They drove too fast. They braked too late, and then stood on the brakes as their cars veered sideways down the street. They drove too closely to one another. And—my personal favorite—they’d only clear a portion of the front window and maybe, maybe, a bit in the back before hitting the road.

That’s some smart driving, right there.

After the first snowfall or two, however, most drivers would get the hang of it, as if some part of their brains awoke from their brief warm-weather comas to say “hey, dummy, watch out!”, and they remembered to clear off all of the window and the lights and drive as if snow and ice were, y’know, slippery.

Or just not drive at all. That was my preferred method for dealing with big snow: stay off the road until the plows came thru.

Of course, one could be cautious and still SOL. It might snow when you’re out, or you might have to drive, and in Minneapolis the side streets and sometimes even the main drags wouldn’t be plowed down to pavement, such that driving was sketchy long after a storm ended.

And sometimes you do everything right and it still goes wrong. I remember one night driving down a small hill on Franklin Avenue toward the intersection at Third Avenue, stepping on the brakes, and having the car completely ignore the instructions to stop. I pumped the brakes, steered the car straight, but no dice.

The light turned red, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

So I did the only thing I could do: I laid on the horn as a warning to drivers on Third and slid right on thru that intersection. Luckily no one was in front of me, so the drivers on Third simply watched my Plymouth ski on by before motoring forth.

No one got hurt, and nothing happened. Lucky.

Upshot: snow fucks everything up, and it takes experience (as well as snow plows and salt and sand trucks) to deal with that fucked-up-ness. Folks in the north get plenty of chances to learn, so it’s easy to feel smug about southerners who will get only one or two shots every couple of years to get it right.

We shouldn’t. Because everyone’s an idiot driving in the first snow, and even the experienced need luck sometimes.

Everybody knows the dice are loaded

14 10 2013

If you are in the social sciences or humanities: do not get a PhD.

Nothin’ against the PhD—I quite like having mine—but the time it will take you to get your degree, and the income you forgo in the long slog through coursework, research, and dissertation, isn’t worth it, because the jobs aren’t there.

(If you are independently wealthy and/or are not planning to use your PhD to crack into the academy, and you only  want to engage in deep study of subject, go for it: at a good program, you will learn more than you could dream of. But for everyone else. . . ?)

Oh, the adjunct positions are there, plenty o’ those, but full-time jobs (be they tenure-track or long-term contract) in academia, with good pay and benefits and support for professional development? Nope.

Oh, some folks are working in those unicorn-and-pony FTE tenure-track positions, working their ways from assistant to associate to full prof, and I don’t begrudge them their good fortune. While there may have been some luck in landing the jobs initially (when hundreds of people apply for a single opening, the one person who closes the deal is not just able, but also lucky), most of those professors have worked very hard to secure themselves in that track.

But the hundreds who applied and didn’t even get a cursory “nevermind”, much less an interview? Some of them lucked out elsewhere, but many of them are, like me, adjuncts, and some have left academia altogether.

My situation may not be the norm insofar as I made certain (in retrospect, bad) decisions about my career in which I took myself out of the game early. I did have some luck, but not recognizing it as such, I tossed it aside. That’s on me.

But that a large majority of the US’s higher education system relies on PhDs to present themselves as professors to their students but are not treated as such by administrators? Uh uh. And as adjunct organizer Don Kovalic observes:

They’re also destroying the academy. Because as this happens, more and more students are going to ask, “why would I get a PhD? You want me to have a PhD to teach your students, yet why would I do that? Because it seems to me if I get a PhD, I’m going to end up making poverty wages. I can do that now without a PhD. I’ll go to Starbucks and do it.”

They’re destroying their own system, and they’re going to wake up and realize that students and parents have decided that there’s no use for the university anymore.

The game is rigged, only no one wins; it’s just that some lose more quickly than others.

If it’s not quite the academic version of MAD , what  Joshua said at the end of War Games, nonetheless seems a propros: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

h/t: dmf

Nothing left to lose

7 07 2012

I’m a lazy, lazy woman.

Sometimes this can lead to problems (especially when laziness is combined with or otherwise abets procrastination), sometimes it makes my life easier (as when a desire not to do things in a particular way leads to a better way to do those same things), and sometimes means someone else gets there (wherever “there” is) first.

Not getting there first is usually considered a bad thing, but in the case of laying out my objections to libertarianism, my laziness has meant that others have done the work—to which I will now simply link.

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

That is what we are about to argue, but it is based on months of discussion with the Bleeding Hearts. The conversation was kicked off by the critique one of us—Corey Robin—offered of libertarian Julian Sanchez’s presignation letter to Cato, in which Sanchez inadvertently revealed the reality of workplace coercion.  [more]

That intro was written by some of the good folks at Crooked Timber, Corey Bertram, Corey Robin, and Alex Gourevitch, in a kickoff post on workplace coercion, Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace. This was followed by Coercion vs. Freedom (taking on Tyler Cowen & Alex Tabarrok’s critical responses to the post) by John Holbo; Infringements on Worker’s Rights (where are the women in all of this?) by Belle Waring; Let Me Be the First To Second. . . (again on Cowen, and different schemas of coercion), by Henry Farrell; and, Henry again, Markets and Freedom (commenting on Matt Yglesias’s misunderstandings). I assume there will be more posts on CT about this, but this gets one satsifyingly into the weeds on workplace conditions.

To be honest, I would not have started my critique of libertarianism on these grounds—would have started with something even more basic, such as the misconception of the human condition on which libertarianism unavoidably rests—but another drawback to laziness+procrastination is those who get there first start where they want, not where I want.

More substantively, I think the CT critique, insofar as it is a liberal critique of libertarianism, fails fully to grasp the structure of workplace (or shall I say, labor? ) inequality and owner-domination—which is simply another way of stating that it is not a Marxist critique of labor relations.

Chris Hayes’s book, Twilight of the Elites, offers yet another perspective on this issue by taking on the notion of meritocracy. He notes

We hope that the talented children of the poor will ascend to positions of power and prestige while the mediocre sons of the wealthy will not be charged with life-and-death decisions. Over time, in other words, society will have mechanisms that act as a sort of pump, constantly ensuring that the talented and hardworking are propelled upward, while the mediocre trickle downward.

But this ideal, appealing as it may be, runs up against the reality of what I’ll call the Iron Law of Meritocracy. The Iron Law of Meritocracy states that eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanisms of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible. The Principle of Difference will come to overwhelm the Principle of Mobility. Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up. In other words: “Whoever says meritocracy says oligarchy.” (via David Atkins)

Atkins notes that insofar as liberals and leftists focus on a merit-based politico-economic system, they miss the role of luck:

But to call Lloyd Blankfein “lucky”, or to say that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were simply “fortunate”–that’s something altogether different. That’s revolutionary. It cuts against the dominant discourse of the institutional left and right to reorient the entire social contract. It challenges not only the ethic of equality of opportunity, but also the legitimacy of much of the inequality of outcomes.

No, not revolutionary, not even close, but a charge which may destabilize pat theories of merit-based systems. And, anyway, I think John Rawls addressed this forty years in his Theory of Justice: you need to set up a system wherein the luckless may still lead decent lives.

More to the point, for the theory of “luck” to be revolutionary, it would have to go beyond (as Atkins does not) the usual genuflection to “hard work” (Hard work is still a key to success, of course.—DA) to inquire into both the nature of said “work” and what counts as “hard”, as well as what role luck plays in determining the definitions themselves.

Consider lazy-based example: If I set up a scheme which allows me to do more with less effort or work, would that work still be hard? Add luck: What position would I have to be in to allow me to set up said scheme? How would I have gotten into that position? And what are the chances that the politico-economic system in which I lived would not only have and allow me access to the resources necessary for set-up, but would also recognize the scheme and its outcomes as desirable?

Shorter version: what counts as merit and merit-worthy varies, such that luck is itself at least partially a function of that variation.

I’m interested to read Hayes’s book because I wonder how far he goes in his critique of merit, and whether he thinks the concept should be altered or expanded or should instead be tossed. I don’t know where I stand on this beyond the sense that the morality of merit should be downgraded, but even that sense is merely a suspicion, not a full-fledged argument.

Perhaps that’s one place I could add something to the critique of libertarianism (and, for that matter, capitalism): the justness—to the extent they care about justice—rests on a naive definition of merit, such that those who have more deserve to have more and those who have less deserve to have less.

Or maybe I’ll have lucked (!) out again with my laziness, and Hayes will have gotten there first.