Thoughts from a tree

This post has been percolating for a long time, long before the election nonsense. This is a truth we all need to think about, but brought to the forefront of my mind every time I hear about a lack of jobs somewhere.

First, there are lots of jobs still available, but they require skill of some kind. Unskilled labor is what is needed in increasingly short supply. And not all of the available jobs require degrees or working in an office cubicle. Trade skills (plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc.) can usually still be learned on the job and we currently have a dearth of them. Nurses and medical assistants of various types are needed. Any job that requires good face-to-face customer service hasn’t been replaced yet. Salesmen are always needed.

People may have to move to get a good job. Although I think telecommuting will become more and more common, it hasn’t reached that point yet. And for things like trade skills and nursing, there’s no way to do that over an online chat. I’ve moved for my job (which *can* be done via the intertubes), more than once. If I’d tried to stay in my hometown, as lovely as it is, I’d probably still be unemployed. If a small town loses a large number of unskilled jobs, it simply isn’t going to be possible for everyone to stay there.

No person took the jobs. No race. No country. No government policy. The problem isn’t that factories moved somewhere else, the problem is that jobs have been replaced by machines and better processes. Optimization and efficiency, those are the “enemy,” if you want to have one. Progress is what took the jobs. And they aren’t coming back.

The real problem is that progress hasn’t been distributed fairly. When someone invents a widget that allows a factory to run with 50% less man-hours required, does everyone get to work 50% less? Of course not, they simply get rid of half their employees. Maybe even more than 50%, and then tell the ones remaining (who now have to do more work) that they should be lucky they still have a job at all. And maybe the person who invented the widget gets a lot of money, or maybe they invented it during their hours at work, so the factory gets the patent, and they get a pat on the head.

And this isn’t something that only happens to factory workers. My current job includes taking things that other people do manually, and automating them. At first you think, “great, now those people can work on *better* things.” And maybe they do. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t learn the skills needed for the better things, and eventually get chucked. Maybe the company thinks they’ve got their automated systems down so well that they can just gut some of their departments (what AOL did when I was laid off in 2010). I had saved AOL *literally* over a hundred thousand dollars a month with some of the work I did, and that was my thanks. Recently, AOL had another layoff, so it’s fresh in my mind. I’m no longer in the know, so I couldn’t say what this one was for, but it’s still happening.

The thing is, even in Technology, which is one of the more in-demand job markets there is, we constantly have to learn new skills, and new tools. As soon as one problem is solved, a bigger one replaces it. There’s no such thing as “company loyalty.” No concept of being able to work at the same place, same job, for forty years, and leaving with a cushy pension. And one of the biggest things that IT does, is automation. Whether it’s a script to pull numbers together and put them into a report, or a robot to put together widgets in a factory, progress in Technology tends to cause fewer jobs somewhere.

And this is good, right? Progress is good, most people would agree. Having machines dig out coal instead of people, means fewer lives lost, and fewer people with health problems caused by mining. I mean, the real American dream would be not having to work at all, at least not in any kind of menial sense. Machines to do all the dirty work that no one really wants to do. For people to have the time to pursue their true passions and interests. To work less, and with joy at what we are doing.

But, the way the system is structured right now, we’ll never get there. The only people that get to work less, or not at all, are the people who own the factories/businesses (whether directly, or through stock). The only ones who get to live a life of luxury and leisure are the 1%. And every time improvements are made, they are the ones that benefit, while the people at the bottom get the shaft (or get the shaft taken away, I suppose, if they were coal miners).

Soon, there won’t be human delivery drivers or taxi drivers. Most people won’t even own cars, they’ll just order up a transportation pod to take them quickly from place to place. Which sounds great, until you realize how many jobs that will cost. Should we stop progress to preserve those jobs? I would say no, but at the same time, we need to think about how we deal with it.

How do we deal with a country that no longer needs the amount of workers we have multiplied by 40 hours a week, whether skilled or unskilled?

I don’t have answers, but I do have some ideas. Some are more practical than others, but I’m going to throw them all out here in the interest of brainstorming.

  1. Get rid of the idea the idea that everyone needs to work forty hours a week to be “worthy”. Get rid of the idea that working crazy hours is something anyone should strive for. Consider a 30-hour (or less) work week to be the new norm for a full-time position. If that means that companies have to hire more people, that’s the idea (although research has shown that this can actually increase overall productivity). Spread the work around. If we invent more widgets that reduce the amount of work needed, everyone should get to benefit from it. This is the idea I feel most strongly about. I love my job, but I hate the fact that I can either work 40+ hours, or quit, with no middle-ground/part-time option. Working forty+ hours means I don’t have the time or energy to do the things I really want to, to do charity work, or to visit friends and family as often as I’d like. Unless something changes, I’ll eventually end up quitting (see #3.)
  2. Offer skills training and relocation services for those whose jobs no longer exist, or can no longer compete in a job market with too many applicants. Offer paid “internships” or apprenticeships to people who aren’t young and/or in college.
  3. Retirement should be planned to come sooner, not later. Just because we’re living longer doesn’t mean we want to spend all our good years with our nose to the grindstone. As people get older, they’re going to have more trouble keeping up with the new technologies anyways, so why force them to?
  4. Hire more teachers, and teacher assistants. Is there anything more important for us to invest in than education? If we’re going to “create jobs”, this would be a great place for it. And make education equal. All public schools should receive equal funding per student. Kids who grow up in poor counties, with poor schools, will already have the most difficulty acquiring the skills that will be a requirement for nearly all jobs in the future. Don’t make it even harder for them. This disparity creates a large part of the poverty gap and hurts minorities the most.
  5. While we’re at it, universal daycare for all. We’re long past a time where every household can have a parent stay at home, and if people have to move to find work, it will be even harder for them to find free daycare (from a friend or relative, who will no longer live nearby).
  6. Teach money management, living within your means, what compounding interest means, and how to invest intelligently, starting in elementary school. Teach everyone how to save and invest in order that they can achieve #3. Teach everyone how to become wise stockholders, so that everyone can profit from society’s advances.
  7. Anytime a public company does a layoff, they have to give stock to all employees (including those laid off) in an amount equivalent to at least one year’s worth of the savings they are getting. Exceptions for things like bankruptcies, but then the stock would be worthless anyways.
  8. Actual stock grants (not options), should be a part of every employee’s compensation package when working for a public company. Everyone should benefit from the work they do.
  9. Basic Income Stipend for all. Not really my idea, as I know this would be hard to pass at a time when just providing healthcare is so controversial. But others have brought it up a lot recently.
  10. Sort of unrelated, but schools should provide 3 meals a day, 365 days a year for all who qualify for free or reduced meals. Lack of proper nutrition can hamper brain development. Relying on brawn for job prospects will become less and less possible, as those jobs are the easiest to replace with machines.

We need to rethink why we work, what the point of having jobs are, why increasing the labor market is considered good, and how to get to that dream of the future where no one has to work.

The alternative is what we’re already seeing, a growing divide between those that can take advantage of progress, and those that are hurt by it. A new form of lords vs. peasants.

The Olive Branch

For those who want to insist that they truly don’t support what Trump represents, despite voting for him, actions speak louder than words. This is how you can prove to us that you mean it.

  1. Shut up. Don’t try to defend Trump. Don’t try to defend your vote. Don’t tell us we should just get over it, let it go, or “come together”. Don’t harp on about the riots (not sure what you thought would happen in a nation already racially charged by police brutality), or refer to the peaceful protests as riots. Don’t tell us we’re over-reacting. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people, but I’ve only unfriended the ones who tried to defend their vote to me. Give us our time to grieve without your obnoxious noise.
  2. Listen. Go read all the reports of people being attacked, of children going after children, of people afraid to let their children leave the house, of women having headgear ripped off, of women being sexually assaulted, or “Donald Trumped”, as one attacker referred to it. Go read about how happy the KKK is, and about all the people having race-based obscenities thrown at them.  Go read about all the people that are being told they should leave, or die, or hang themselves. Go read about all the people contemplating suicide.
  3. Imagine that you are one of these victims. That you have been told that your rights don’t matter. That you don’t belong here. That you don’t count as a person. That your religion or your love isn’t valid. That your gender, or your race, or your orientation, or your disability, or your neurological difference isn’t wanted here. That your life is worth nothing. That your feelings, your pain, your despair, doesn’t matter.
  4. Admit that you were wrong. Admit that you were hoodwinked, fooled, deluded, I don’t care how you put it, but that you didn’t realize what you were doing. You didn’t realize the repercussions. You didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, for anyone to feel less. Admit that you should not have supported a man whose entire platform was based on hatred.
  5. Repent. Apologize to all the victims of your mistake. Publicly, and loudly. Mean it, from the heart.
  6. Denounce all the acts of hatred that your vote showed approval for. Anytime you see someone harassing someone, step in. Every time you hear a comment that is racist, sexist, anti-muslim, anti-lgbt, making fun of disabilities, or mental illness, or any other form of bigotry, make it clear that you don’t approve. Whether it’s a joke online, in the office, or at home. Berate anyone who treats women as sex objects. Raise your children (if you have any) to treat all people with respect and dignity. Join peaceful protests for things like Black Lives Matter, or march in Pride parades. Treat women as equals in all things. Believe that all people are created equal, and act accordingly.
  7. Demand that your politicians also denounce these atrocities. Inform them that you do not support any legislation that restricts human rights. That you do not want a wall built, or immigrants kicked out. That you do not want to take away vital healthcare for the many people that depend on it. That you do want to prevent women from having access to affordable birth control, and the many other necessary health services that organizations like Planned Parenthood provide. That your concern for human life doesn’t end at birth.

Make the world a better, safer place, for ALL people. Try to repair the damage you have wrought. Then we can talk.

Why I’m done with them

My husband strongly disagrees with the idea that I should sever relationships with Trump supporters (which, sadly, include most of his family), so this is my attempt to explain why I feel that I have to take so extreme a measure.

I’ve been mostly off of Facebook for months because it was too depressing (literally). Too many stories about horrible things happening to women, to minorities, to the LGBT. Can’t read the comments section of any article, about anything, without seeing tons of venomous comments about women, or Muslims, or whatever the hate of the week is. I got tired of it all, so I shut it off. I also have already removed one toxic family member and one toxic in-law from my life, for reasons unrelated and prior to the election, and it’s been a great relief.

However, going backwards in time, on March 12th, 2015, Terry Pratchett died. This wasn’t why I sank into a deep depression, but it was the last straw on a mountain of straws, and even as I was tumbling ever downwards, I was cognizant of this fact.

I’ve been depressed before. During elementary school I seriously considered killing myself, but I didn’t, largely because of my cat, who wouldn’t eat any time I was away from home. Later I realized that suicide is a selfish choice, and I stopped considering it, but often, I would *wish*, fervently, to die, or wish that the pain I was in meant that I was dying, at last.

I’m telling you this, so when I explain that last year I was in one of the worst depressions I can remember, you have some context. There’s a very long story about how I got out of that depression, and I’ll tell you that later, but a couple months ago, I finally started feeling better and have been working on trying to put my life back together.

And then one my horses died, for reasons that are still unclear, despite a necropsy. And then our roof started leaking, and no one wants to fix it. And then the hurricane hit, and my other horse got sick, and still isn’t totally better, and I still don’t know if she might end up dying from what killed the other one. She’s a lot younger, and, frankly, a much nicer horse. The kind that loves people and anyone can ride. I’ve spent five times what I paid for her (he was free) on vets and I’m worried about how I’m going to pay the credit card bills. And a bunch of other things have been going wrong. I broke my computer. Twice. I broke my phone. Twice. And the screen is currently unreadable, covered in weird purple splotches (started when voting ended – coincidence?).

I tell you all of that to give you the context that I have been on the razor’s edge of falling back into that dark, deep hole of depression. I recently described myself to my husband as feeling like I was about to disintegrate and just shatter into a million pieces.

(And I know that other people have things a lot worse, but that isn’t relevant to this story)

One of the things I learned when I was recovering, is that I have a limited number of spoons. I have fewer than most other people, so I have to be careful how I spend them. Someone with more spoons than me can try to reason with those who can’t be reasoned with. Someone with more spoons than me can try to understand them, or whatever. But my spoons are precious, and I’d rather spend them on people who deserve it. I just don’t have the spoons to deal with bad people. I don’t have enough energy to endure them. I don’t have enough joy to overcome their toxicity. I don’t want to go back to that dark hole, though it may happen anyways. And so I’m done with them.

Life is too short short for me to waste it on those who won’t appreciate my effort.

This is the compilation of the reasons/excuses I’ve been given for why people would vote for Trump, and my response. Feel free to add additional ones in the comments, and I will address them.

  1. Mysoginists
  2. Racists
  3. Religious/anti-Muslim
  4. Economic Hardship
  5. Voted for party even though you recognize that Trump is horrible
  6. Believe Hillary is evil
  7. Trump isn’t really like that
  8. Voted for party because you had your head in the sand and didn’t really know anything about either candidate

1, 2, and 3 are simple to address – You’re horrible human beings and I will never ever want anything to do with you.

4 – First, you’re dumb, because there is no way that the man who doesn’t even pay his own employees is going to care about helping you get a job or better pay. Second, you decided that your own economic opportunity was more important than basic human decency. I feel sorry for you and I would support efforts to improve your situation, but I want nothing to do with you.

5 – You decided it was more important for your side to “win” than to do the right thing, and support basic human decency. I want nothing to do with you.

6 – You’re either gullible and insist on believing fake news sites, or you’re listening to your subconscious sexism. I feel sorry for you, but I have no patience for those who refuse to listen to facts and quote tabloids. Even if everything that was said about Hillary was true (and it’s not, she’s been more scrutinized than any other politician and repeatedly been cleared of all charges), it’s like a speck of dust compared to what Trump has done openly, on camera, and without regret. I want nothing to do with you.

7 – So you voted for a candidate whom you believe was flagrantly lying to you? That’s insanity. I want nothing to do with you.

I don’t hate any of you, but my time is too precious to waste, and too many people are already being hurt because of your selfishness.

Anyone who supports Trump is a toxin, and I’m removing toxins from my life. Thanks for showing your true colors to make it easier for me.

8 – Sorry, but you abused your voting privileges, and it may be four years or more before I’m going to want to talk to you, and only if you start researching your voting choices.

A very large chunk of Americans have endorsed bullying, sexism, racism, ableism, and a host of other depravities. A very large chunk of Americans have said that a person who can’t seem to open his mouth without insulting someone, deserves to have the highest seat of power in our country, and be representative of us. A very large chunk of Americans have decided a man born rich, but who can’t run a successful company even when evading taxes and not paying his workers, should be in charge of our economy. A very large chunk of Americans decided they’d rather vote for a selfish jerk than a woman who has spent her life trying to help others.

This is not just another lost election, this is a loss for humanity.

A Matter Of Perspective

Once upon a time, back when “car phones” were the size of dictionaries and Apple was a struggling company, I was in a car with a friend, waiting at a red light.

She glanced in her rear-view mirror at the driver behind us, said, “look, she’s talking to herself,” and laughed.

“She could be singing to the radio,” I said.

“No way. That’s not what it would look like.” She then proceeded to mimic singing, moving her body in time to the imaginary music and tossing her head.

This memory stuck with me for two reasons. The first was the added fear that, oh great, now I have to worry about people judging me from their rear-view mirrors, and for something as simple as singing. The second, of course, was that she was wrong. Not everyone sings like that. I don’t, for one. She assumed that everyone else must sing that way because she did. The only perspective she would consider was her own.

Some people might wonder why I’ve been writing these posts. And I’ve gotten some reactions I didn’t intend. Nothing bad… but I wonder whether I’m succeeding with my objective. I’m not out for sympathy, pity, or condolences. I don’t need to hear that people still like me, or whatever (and I’m not very good at handling compliments anyways). I’m happy with myself. I’m happy with my life. My friendships may be few, but they’re strong.

My goal, is to offer a different perspective. I want people to think about their assumptions about other people. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When they do something that bothers me, I try to think of a reason why they might have done that. I’ve gotten into arguments trying to defend someone’s actions with possible justifications. Granted, this optimistic viewpoint has burned me on occasion. And some people will cross a line after which I will assume the opposite. I still think that trying to imagine the perspective of others is a good idea. Maybe it’s natural for me to reach this conclusion, since I’m so bad at reading body language. I Might as well err on the positive side. Or maybe it’s because I know that I am so often misread.

I have unintentionally offended people many times. My default expression when I’m deep in thought apparently appears to be a glare.Some people who I eventually became friends with told me that they thought I hated them at first, because of this. Sometimes, I was just trying to remember who they were (I have horrible facial recognition skills). A teacher once said I gave her “the evil eye” – boy was that a fun parent-teacher discussion.

I give honest answers when the standard social convention would be to lie (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve lied since childhood, and each one still bothers me – please don’t ask me if I think your baby is cute). I’m rarely intentionally rude, but I often come across that way. Managers have yelled at me to be more tactful, as if it’s something I can just *choose* to do. It isn’t that simple. The social niceties aren’t instinctual. Lies, even “white” ones, are abhorrent.

I am not the only one with these problems.

Other people have different problems.

Just because something isn’t what you would do, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because some action from you would be an attack, doesn’t mean it is from someone else. And even if that girl *was* talking to herself, she didn’t deserve to be laughed at.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Imagine someone else’s.

Wow, I didn’t realize it had been a year since the last time I did one of these. I’m such a slacker 😦

This is a short one too, but I wanted to share this link before I forget: Newly re-discovered fairy tales

I’m always excited about new fairy tales. While the ‘classics’ are great, it’s important to remember that they cover a somewhat small spectrum of the world, and were compiled by people with an agenda. One of the fascinating things the article discusses is how the new collection makes obvious the gender-bias and white-washing done by the Grimms in their collection.

However, what I’d really like to start seeing more of is non-European fairy tales. And I’d like to see a Disney Princess moved based off one of them. One of my biggest disappointments with the Disney Princess movies has been their treatment of non-white characters. Why is it that every non-white character has to have a historically-based story line, instead of a fairy tale?

When they decided to do a black princess, for instance, why not celebrate a folk tale from Africa? They could have even just followed the book closer (I mean “The Princess And The Frog” by E.D. Baker, not “The Frog Prince” fairy tale), and it would have been a fairy tale type of story.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love all these movies, and I’m glad they at least *tried*. I just feel like they could have done even better. Studio Ghibli has several great examples of fairy tale stories that aren’t European, and they’re awesome! Wouldn’t it be great to see something like Princess Mononoke based on Native American mythology? How about a heroine that has to deal with Anansi?

Every culture has their own type of fairy tales, even if they don’t necessarily have “fairies” in them.  Stories of myth and magic. Stories originally composed to teach morals or lessons. Legends. Folk tales. I want all of these stories to be shared and remembered.

How I Learned To Be Human

A lot of the time, I feel like a fake. Someone just pretending to be “normal.” Not that I will ever really pass for normal, but there are varying degrees. By this I mean someone who isn’t about to get locked up, ridiculed, or ostracized. Social interactions are the worst of course, but it goes beyond that. Faking my job. Faking relationships. Faking that I care. How much of that doubt is just low self-esteem is hard to judge, because in some ways, I *am* faking it.

Asperger’s is often referred to as “High-Functioning Autism” (whether or not those should be two distinct labels I’ll let someone else argue about). The definition of “high-functioning” appears to equate to someone who can function in society. You tend to hear about Asperger’s in regards to children. Parents freaking out, mostly. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that by the time we’re adults we’ve learned enough to fake it. I feel like parents should calm down a bit. In the end, their kids will be fine, more or less. They’ll figure it out. Maybe they’ll never win a popularity contest, but so what?

I think it’s the worst for girls. What we suck at is social skills, yet girls are the ones who are expected to be good at being social. Boys are more likely to be forgiven for “anti-social” behaviors and more likely to be encouraged if they express desire in odd intellectual pursuits. We’ve got all those absent-minded professor and Bobby Fischer archetypes to point to and say “well, maybe he’s like that.” Not a lot of examples for girls. A woman who doesn’t have people skills is a lot more likely to be persecuted than celebrated, regardless of what else she does. Hopefully less so today than in the past. At least there are fewer being burned at the stake.

My upbringing was probably easier than most girls like me. If my parents ever freaked out about my behavior, I didn’t know it (admittedly, part of that may be related to how many other Aspy family members I have). The private elementary school I attended had very small classes and an inclusive attitude. It wasn’t until I went to a public middle school that it was clear to me how horrible I was at making or keeping friends. It wasn’t until high school that I cared enough to try to change.

It’s difficult for me to understand people. I’ve often wanted the ability to read people’s minds. Why did they do that? Why did they say that? What do they mean? One of the things I like best about books is how they get inside the heads of other people. They help me to understand. I prefer books with multiple points of view. Seeing how different characters react to the same events is fascinating. I’m not a fan of first person though; it feels too much like having someone chatter *at* me, instead of seeing inside them. I want to see how the gears turn, not hear what the clock sounds like.

It’s not just books though. Movies, TV shows, video games, music – anything with a good story can teach something about the human experience. About what it’s like to be normal. Or not normal. I’ve read several stories about Autistic kids who first learned to express themselves because of Disney movies. And I love Disney movies. How much of my own adaptations are thanks to them? As Elsa clothes herself in ice, I clothe myself in stories. Each one a thread in my garment of pretend normality.

Even some of my eccentricities are another shield, in a way. If they remember my tie-dye, maybe they won’t remember something else. Like how I’m not good at meeting their eyes or smiling. And if I do manage to stay focused and smile? If I succeed in carrying on a normal conversation, about nothing important? Then I feel like a fake. Someone who learned how to pretend to be human. And I always was a fast learner…