Saturday, June 13, 2015


Several months of active job-seeking has made me an involuntary expert on the kinds of employees that companies are currently looking for. As I do with nearly everything, I've tried to learn some larger lessons in the process that can better serve my values, as well as my survival.

Many job posts appear to be recruiting the business equivalent of a soldier who will be involved in a project that is like a battle with high stakes that is part of a war with a cunning and powerful enemy. Their terminology often suggests a competition in overdrive following a strategy with no margin for error, learning, or realistic luck. Several decades of experience have taught me that these impressions generally match reality; and my investigation of its dynamics and their larger implications has convinced me that the existential threats now faced by humanity are direct consequences of blind obedience to that reality.

As I discussed in my blog post "Evaluating Competition," a sustainable and healthy competition must have goals and rules that support values that everyone – participants and those impacted by the competition – knows about and agrees to. Our current economic competitions arguably do not meet this test, especially since a few participants with an excess of power have corrupted them in order to acquire more power with the goal of dominating everyone and everything. To just keep what we have, the rest of us must follow their lead, with predictably disastrous results since we are already critically degrading and depleting the ecological resources needed for the survival of our species and many others on the verge of extinction at our hand.

I have personally struggled to act according to my values, whose definition has also been a struggle in the wake of proving to myself that there is a horrific lack of dependable guidance in my culture. In my writing, I have been building a case for those values and a body of guidance that can be used to serve them. In the rest of my life, I've experimented with what guidance I have, learning from both my successes and my failures along the way. Hovering over the whole process has been the need to keep what I have until I can find and enable a better way to live, which has meant flirting with the path to disaster and thus becoming more familiar with its many potential incarnations.

The simplest guidance comes from what might once have been common sense. People should work together to meet everyone's basic needs over the longest possible time, and use only what's left to increase personal happiness. Knowledge should be accumulated and used to predict the influence of their environment on them, and predict the consequences of their actions on each other and their environment. To enable all of this, everyone must understand and share common values, the pre-eminent being the lives of all people and respect for the creatures on which they depend. If what people do can affects others, they should make them aware of it; and if it potentially affects the survival of others, the others must agree to it. Clearly, our present way of life, embodied in economic competition, does not meet any of this guidance.

Other guidance involves details, and the latest installment applies to the use of knowledge. It comes out of research I started a decade ago while trying to predict the time it would take to complete various projects. While it remains little more than a partially-tested hypothesis, its predictions are consistent enough with my experience to present it as a means of evaluating more than what I originally intended (which is also a way to test it). One important prediction is that it is unlikely that any project or task attempted for the first time will take less than twice the minimum possible amount of time, and it will most likely take at least four times that long. If an organization claims to be able to achieve the minimum time, they are equivalently claiming that they have access to the less than 50 people in the whole world capable of doing so, which is extremely unlikely. As a corollary, if an organization does take the minimum time, then the quality of the result is likely much less than advertised. These first-time projects are the ones that make businesses competitive because of their uniqueness (based on the economics of low supply and high demand), while projects that have transitioned into full-scale production with several thousand times the minimum time invested in the process will have maximum quality and lower cost, but lose their uniqueness quickly, especially if the minimum time shrinks so much that other organizations – competitors – can duplicate it.

One of the business buzz words I've seen pop up recently is "disruption," which I read as the intentional and continuous conversion of an organization's activities into a set of unique projects so that competition can be accelerated. If coupled with super-optimistic time projections, this virtually guarantees the end of high quality, as well as lack of employment for the vast majority of the population (since only a very few people can come close to achieving the desired results) unless there are roughly as many businesses as there are people. Thus, the term matches all of its meanings: fracturing society through income inequality; requiring dishonesty to confuse the meaning of quality; sabotaging the health of business participants and their families by locking in a perpetual level of stress; and further destroying the Earth's habitability by multiplying resource-intensive and waste-producing activity.

To me as a world citizen, our greatest imperative as a species is to get back to basics, which starts with meeting everyone's basic needs, which includes leaving resources for other species so they can maintain our planet's habitability. The remainder, if there is any (and I doubt there is), can be used for the purpose most of our current economy is geared toward: increasing personal happiness beyond the basic level. Doing so requires examining our lives as objectively as possible in terms of basic values, which includes first identifying and agreeing to those values. Living any longer in our present state of apparent limbo (or increasing anarchy of meaning) is not optional if most of us wish to survive much longer; we may in the interim be able to justify to ourselves continued service to the system we know, but it ultimately won't be worth the cost.

To me as an individual, my present course is becoming rapidly indefensible, much as I felt as I was wrapping up my book Death Stoppers Anthology. An acceptable alternative is not yet in sight, but I'm learning quickly and am confident that I'm on the verge of discovering it.