Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jobs, revenants and status

People tend to believe that blogging is altruistic. The blogger creates content and gives to the audience for free. It's wrong, or at least it's surely not the case for me. Like everyone, I have "raw" ideas in my head. Even writing them down is refining them, but most of the refinement comes from the reader responses. I get good counter-arguments to rethink my ideas and stupid comments from "freindly helpfull ppl" to show that I'm on the right track. The readers don't even have to comment anything to give feedback, the subscriber and visitor numbers talk for themselves.

Something that bugged me for long-long time was solved in the last days due to this blog. I never understood what makes "job" a central point in the life of most people. They seem to be consensual on this topic and I'm completely locked out from this consensus. For me job has two purposes: to get money and to overcome challenges. Obviously there are challenges in other jobs too and also in non-job activities (like harder raids in WoW or scientific problems like the evolution stuff I was thinking about). Money is needed but I have enough savings for more than a year, so it's anything but essential.

The first thing that gave a hint about the other people's thinking was a comment on the random idea to mine the dead elementals near Dun Niffelem. A commenter wrote that "They day you spend an hour mining people's leftovers in this fashion for 80g or whatever per hour is the day you have to seriously re-examine your life." Since the income is much more than 80G/hour and surely give more than killing the elementals, I did not understand what his problem is. However I understood that his focus is not on the money but on the "leftovers". Somehow the money from the dead elemental was "worse" for him than money from the living elemental, even if the former is more. He also thought that mining leftover elementals is not just a stupid mistake but a reason to "seriously re-examine your life". And he also wrote "It's like mopping floors for $5 an hour.". I know that people hate such jobs but I don't really understand why. Of course $5/hour is low, but until you have no better opportunity, that $5/hour can be enough to get you food and pay the bills if you foolishly skipped creating savings for unemployed days.

I knew that I bumped into something important but did not know how or why? The relevation was granted by a most unlikely "angel": a crybaby. A guy wrote a ridiculous whine about the immorality and inhumanity of layoffs. Back then I did not think much, I was out of posts and was happy to be able to laugh on some moron and write a post for my blog at the same time. However it turned out that he is not a random loser. He achieved quite nice things, so when Tobold mentioned that he wrote a reply to my post, I took the effort to read his post several times until I found the key.

He accepted that "These [the employees] are people who have engaged in a very clear bargain with you - for a given amount of money per week, they will spend that time helping you collect wealth. It’s a standard economic transaction, on the face of it. And for lower level employees, that’s also where it stops. Someone else pays you more, you move on." However he continued with "past the point where you wear name tags and hair nets" things go different.

This "name tags and hair nets" came back again showing obvious importance to the writer. Who works with name tags and hair nets? Those who mop the floor for $5/hour. The almost mythical handling these non-name-tag wearing employees whose loss makes "effective" managers losing sleep made it clear to me:

This guy and many others believe that they are somehow "better" or "more noble" or "more valueable" than the name-tagged floor mopers.

Well, I hate to be the herald of grave news, but these guys are completely wrong! To the world you are just another guy. If some disgruntled banker shoots you down he will get exactly the same punishment as he would get for killing a drunken homeless. Your vote on the election worth exactly the same as the vote of the drunken homeless. If a momentarily sober homeless goes to the cassa first in the McDonalds, he will be served first. If the drunken homeless wins the lottery, he can buy a Ferrari, a car you will never have. The seller won't turn him down saying he is "not good enough" for the Ferrari (or if he does he has a multi-million dollars lawsuit coming). You don't have any VIP rights, exactly because you are not a very important person to anyone but your family and friends. Of course the drunken homeless also have (drunken) buddies and he is important for them.

Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago a nobleman was not just a rich man. He had power over the peons just because he was noble. He could harass them without legal consequences, he had exclusive rights (like hunting large game) and he had word in the royal council while peons didn't. Even earlier the hierarchy in the ape-horde was a crucial thing for all apes. The king-ape could kill lower ranked apes if they did not gave him "proper respect".

Our mind still hold the mental schemes to recognize this "social status". People instinctively believe in its existence and importance. The big problem is that it's no longer a real thing in the Western world. In the medieval world a baron couldn't lose his baron status, even if performed treason. You can lose your job any time when the management finds your further employment unprofitable. One day you were "game development manager", the other day you are "unemployed nobody". This status loss, this "fall from grace" makes layoffs tragical to people.

The core of the problem is that you never were a "game development manager". You were employed to do that job. When I clean my kitchen, I mop the floor, but it does not change me into a "floor moper". When I'm playing WoW, I'm not transformed into a "player", and doing my job does not make me a "development engineer". I'm the very same guy moping the floor, playing the game, calculating the energetics of the new plant. These are things I do and not things I am.

Granted, I can sell my workforce higher than a guy with only an elementary school "diploma". I can buy things he cannot buy. But according to the laws of the country and in the eyes of the people I'm just another guy. I am richer than him, but I'm not "better" than him.

When I lose my job (because I will one day or another), I will lose an income source. When a status-believing person loses his job (or even think about losing his job), his self esteem will crumble. And he will whine and curse and write ridiculous posts like the mentioned one.

The moral of the story: there are no "lowly" jobs. There are unprofitable jobs and there are profitable ones. But if you exclude certain activities just because they are "not good enough" for you, don't expect the world to support this choice. If you need gold in the game, and has no better idea than grinding leftover elementals, go for it! The money you get can be used several ways for your improvement, while your noble rejection of such lowly work can bring you nothing but an empty pocket.

33 comments:

Shamalamabam said...

Excellent post. I've had similar thoughts, but I think you came to a much better conclusion than I have. What has always baffled me are those who say that they want to work until they die. Really? You can't think of any better use of your time than being someone else's employee? You're so close to the edge you can't possibly forsee saving enough to retire? I guess that's just another manifestation of the status idea.

Shalkis said...

Funnily enough, this same point was raised in a somewhat unexpected source, the Fight Club:
"You are not your job, you are not how much money you have in the bank, you're not the car you drive, you're not the contents of your wallet, you are not your f**king khakis!"

Sometimes thinking things through from an economical point of view can lead to new insights and even self-discovery. And/or mayhem. ;-)

That said, I do enjoy my job and could see myself working until I die. While it is a means to an end, it is also an intellectual challenge. I do things similar to my job at my free time. If someone else also benefits from it and compensates my efforts with a salary, great.

Grorg said...

"Well, I hate to be the herald of grave news"... lol, since when? I think this is one of the things I like about your blog, the brining ideas back to reality by questioning them. I might not agree or like some of your conclusions, but I do agree with many.

Back to the topic, I completely agree with you. That floor moper might be happy and sending money to support his family in another country, being quite successful for what he set to do. On the other hand the banker might be many thosand $ in debt. If you loose your job and need to mop floors to eat, so be it. That does not make you worthless unless you think you are.

Mausi said...

"They day you spend an hour mining people's leftovers in this fashion for 80g or whatever per hour is the day you have to seriously re-examine your life."

This means: If you really think about sitting in front of your computer and stupid mining elementals for 80 virtual gold per hour ... then think a second time about it.

You struggle with the line between real and the virtual world WoW. If you are playing WoW, you don't have another identity - you are sitting in front of your screen and do some virtual stuff. Someone non-WoW-player might think its quit boring.

WoW might be a model (but a very limited) to simulate real processes, but not more.

phoenixboy said...

Oh, and before i forgot i was checking the old files of that guy and he had say something among the lines of "We all just search something that cam make us exist, that cam make us feel significant, that make us not feel like broken toys. When we lose that,when nobody hear us unless we sue the company, we get mad"

The link is:
http://www.brokentoys.org/2000/09/22/broken-toys/
(PS : Everything that you post can and will be used against you, especially if you link it in the front page)

Yzy said...

OMG u sounded romantic and delusional on this post... No classes? Human rights? The life of a beggar is the same as the life of rich/important man?

Only time that's true is when u vote.

LarĂ­sa said...

I really hate the prejudices people have towards certain "low status jobs". People who look down on them really don't have a clue. I've seen managers working more or less like slaves, no-lifers on the verge of comitting suicide. Are they really winners in its true sense?

Once I met a woman who worked halftime cleaning toilets and such at a hospital. She told me about how some doctors treated her like if she was less intelligent, someone that should be pitied - or just ignored. In reality she had CHOSEN this lifestyle. She spend most of her days writing books - she was an author. And she wanted a supporting job that didn't take her whole brain capacity - she wanted to be able to keep thinking about her novel writing while working - and studying people at the same time... There's always so much behind the surfice that people who classify others because of their jobs miss completely.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful post. I agree with the fact that in reality all people are the same, one job does not make you better than someone else.

SmokY said...

True, there are no lowly jobs - I love Discovery Channel's "Dirty jobs", and have a lot of respect for people doing these jobs. However, if you're getting $50 an hour and another person is getting $5 an hour and both of you are bringing exactly the same benefit to your company, something's gone horribly wrong...
Also, check into the way Ferrari Enzo's were sold; I'm certain we can negotiate a reasonable finder's fee when (theoretically - there are no longer in production) they refuse to sell one to you and you sue them for millions :-)

bodphrah said...

Good post!

The only argument I would say is mabye people with a certain celebrety status, you basicly see them get away with murder (OJ Simpson) or if they do get busted they get low jail time...that is until as you say lose their 'status'.

Its a valid point though, with the people I know in game in WoW you get the people who do the dailys and grind the herbs/skins/ores and are slowly but surely getting enough to get 'the bike' even if they don't act as the businessman.

Though it is always the poor useless people who beg for cash, it's interesting to know in the compare achivement>statistics>Charecter>wealth section, its rather interesting to see how many people are out their are lazy enough not to do anything.

I wonder if Blizz will ever make something for these people which they are used to similar to the dole.

Honors Code said...

The dignity of work is how the job is performed, not what the job is.

Ana said...

Being one of the "Bobs" (Office Space reference), I have no delusions about my worth to a company beyong their immediate need for myself as a resources at a particular point in time.

However, financially speaking if I get paid $250 per hour and someone else gets paid $5 per hour then obviously I am more valuable. My employer "values" my work higher than the other guy's.

Maybe what you are trying to say is that it is wrong to derive a sense of personal worth from your accomplishments at work? Or that you shouldn't derive a sense of accomplishment by comparing yourself to others?

But if I worked very very hard (through educating myself) to become an resource that is expensive for my employer to purchase why shouldn't that be a sense of pride? I am a BMW and that guy is a Ford. He can be totally happy being a Ford, I don't take that away from him. But obviously I am not "equal" (again, financially not morally) to that guy.

phoenixboy said...

The problem isnt that you are proud of your job. The problem is when you start thinking that you are better that the other guy just because you studied, you get payed more, etc. Pride doesnt come for having a lot of stuff, it come for having more that the other guy. And when your self-value comes almost exclusively from your job is kinda sad.

mwigdahl said...

Ana, I don't think he's trying to say you shouldn't take pride in your accomplishments at work, just that you shouldn't take pride in simply being employed in a particular position.

Education and accomplishments are personal; they can't be taken away. Feel proud of them as you will. However, your employment status is not personal. It's at-will, contingent on the support of others, and can be revoked at any time.

GG's point that you should not let your employment status dictate your self worth, lest you lose it when it is taken away from you by forces beyond your control, seems pretty valid to me.

Ana said...

@phoenixboy

Why is it "wrong" to be proud of earning more that that other guy? That seems like a moral precept held by you. (Maybe something to do with Christianity? or Communism?)

But our life is filled with value judgements: these purple boots are "better" than those blue ones. That quarterback is "better" than that one. Noone is excellent in a vacuum, Nobel prize winners, Olympic gold medalists, and Top 40 raiding guilds are all "at the top" because they are "better" than someone else.

PS: I actually subscribe (to an extent) to Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy. If you are interested in pursuing this debate further it may be worth taking a look.

Gevlon said...

@ana: the main problem is that you even talk about "financial worth". It is told on the first economic class that there is no "worth" just "price". Your workforce *in this moment* cost $250/hour on the market. Maybe tomorrow it will cost only $25 or nothing at all (just think of the fired financial analists).

Secondly you suggest that your financial worth is something universal. 10G is more worthy than 1G. However if I'm looking for a car mechanic to my shop for $25, I cannot employ you for neither $250, nor $2.5. You are different from the car mechanic, not better.

Ana said...

@mwigdahl

I agree that placing self-value in the PERMANENCY of your employment status is a risky proposition.

But I have a great job today, by widely-held societal (all arguably subjective)and financial metrics (objective, if you would prefer to earn less rather than more) it is a much better job that that of the janitor.

I think I am perfectly justified, in gaining a measure of self-value from having this job, that ~1000 people applied for and I was selected for.

P.S. This comment was starting to look like a novel so I posted the rest of my response on my blog.

Ana said...

@Gevlon

You insist on using words like "better" or "worse." It seems that "value" somehow means more to people than dollar amount, when I am only intending it to mean how much I am worth in today's marketplace.

I am saying that today I cost more than the auto mechanic. (If my skills become obsolete tomorrow I can adapt and learn new skills.)

Why do I earn more than the auto mechanic? There must be something about me that makes today's marketplace price me higher than the mechanic?

Well, lets look at the basic Econ 101, cost and supply curve. Assuming that I am a "normal good" that means there is less of my skillset/abilities(whatever it is that I bring as a package) available in the marketplace and that is why I am priced higher than an automechanic.

Anonymous said...

This comes up a lot in the movie Good Will Hunting, which is a must-see if you haven't.

You're right, there is no "honorable" jobs, but it's different in WoW and real life. In real life, you may be getting paid more for being a sewer inspector than a McDonald's employee, but in a survey I'd say that most people would prefer to be McD's employee to avoid unpleasant environments.

mwigdahl said...

@Ana

"I think I am perfectly justified, in gaining a measure of self-value from having this job, that ~1000 people applied for and I was selected for."

The question, though, is whether you would lose that feeling of self-worth should you lose the job in a layoff where you know you weren't let off for cause. If this is the case and you still feel devalued, you felt self-worth due to your position and not the skills that secured you that position, and that's what I (and I assume GG) think is irrational.

It's also worth thinking about how the value attached to that irrational sense of self-worth over position can be exploited by your employer to get the better of you in the employment relationship.

phoenixboy said...

The only "concept" that i got is that your self-value should come of my principles, of the thing inside me that rules everything else, and that is because i cannot control what happens outside, the other source of self-value are unstable.

The only difference betwen me and a guy who clean floors is the fact that i earned skills from my own sweat, that i can do more things that him and get better paid.

Does that makes me better? No it just makes me able to do harder stuff and get more money/hour than him. And thats just the fair because he could do the same and he didnt (Dont give me that "circunstances" BS).

Geoffrey said...

I posted the original "re-examine your life" comment.

I apologize to real life floor moppers. I realize that these may be good jobs that people take pride in. I probably should not have used that analogy.

But I stand by my main point. This is a fantasy game. It is an escape from life. If you are playing it, there should be some form of ass-kickery going on. If I wanted to do something menial, plenty of that in real life.

I understand the appeal of gathering and finding riches, but cleaning up elemental drops is not it. You are not even mining real ore. You are mining VENDOR TRASH. How exciting is vendor trash?

I am not talking about exciting by real world standards. I realize that the average non-wow player is not going to be excited by Titanium or what have you, and look at you like there is something wrong with you.

I am talking about a in-game WoW standard of excitement. Mining for vendor trash has to be one of the most unexciting things I can think of to do. Even with skinning, you have a chance at an Arctic Fur or something to brighten the day, and the average skin is at least a real trade good. This is way way more dull than skinning, and that is saying alot.

Geoffrey said...

And the "reexamine your life" - I stand by that part too.

I understand the draw of WoW, and I used to play quite a bit and enjoy various aspects of the game, including raiding, socializing, PvP, crafting, AH profits, all in somewhat equal portions.

Having experienced the fun things in WoW, I can safely say when you reach the point where you are spending any significant time mining dead elementals, you have lost control and priorities. There is something better you can do with your real life time and WoW time. Way better. I think it's time to step back and re-examine things.

In the end, all WoW time is real life time. And if you are not doing ass-kickery, time to reflect on what it is that is driving your actions, and think about serious change.

Mr. V said...

I find it very conceded to think that somehow, because you make more money than someone, you are better than that person. What about the man who lives in the wilderness, makes no money, and lives off the land. If he is at peace with himself and one with nature, if he finds meaning in his life, how can you say that just because you make a lot of money, you are better?
Is your life spiritually fulfilling, or do you base how you feel on the objects around you? Does that BMW make you feel that your soul is at ease or just make you happy for the moment, knowing that you are one to be envied? I’m sorry but this world is more than just your stuff, or the things you can afford. Sure those things are nice, but if you base who you are off what you own, or the job you work, well than I do not envy you at all.
I envy the man who can be happy with nothing, aside from the essentials of life, food, water, shelter. If you can find happiness in any situation, no matter your bank account statement, your car in the driveway, or the house you live in or where ever you lay your head, than in my mind you are a winner.
I’m certainly not condoning laziness, but think of back in the pioneering days; they did not have credit cards, sports cars, plasma TV’s, or anything that we now take for granted. Sure life was tough but they found a way to get by and a way to be happy. If you are your job, if you are your money, and how much you make, if you are the car you drive or the trophy wife/husband you married; YOU should be the one to “….seriously re-examine your life."

Geoffrey said...

Mr. V., you have set up a strawman argument.

No one has claimed that because her or she earns more money, she is "better."

The only claim made is that the value of the labor the higher-paid person provides is deemed to be higher by society, hence the higher hourly wage. This is by and large a true statement and is very difficult to contest. There are aberrations where perhaps someone is paid more than that person is worth, but by and large, wage has a direct correlation to the value of that labor to society.

Gevlon said...

@Geoffry: the higher payed person is deemed higher by his employer and NOT by the society. Just think of the drug dealer. His buyers give him lot of money, yet he is deemed "criminal", the lowest possible being by the society. Just because guy A pays you $100/hour, you can't expect guy B to also pay you the same, or threat you like guy A.

Anya said...

@ Geoffrey: Must be nice to know what everyone in WoW should be doing to enjoy the game! So, if I take your comment seriously, it means that unless I do some serious "ass-kicking", I am playing the game incorrectly? Thanks for educating me! You then go on to say: "I understand the appeal of gathering and finding riches, but cleaning up elemental drops is not it."

So, because you do not understand why something may be fun to a WoW player, that player must have "lost control and priorities". You, Geoffrey, must be omniscient! You know how to play WoW better than anyone, you know which activities are better than others, and you know when people should re-examine their lives; is there anything that you don't know?

Anonymous said...

re: Status-'delusion'
For one thing, yes, status doesn't affect who someone is. Status can change many times for a person that stays the same, essentially.

However, status does exist, precisely for the reason you mention: people believe in status. Whenever it's illegal to discriminate based on status, people *probably* won't do it, but there is a thing called private discrimination (which is perfectly legal) that is (over)done each day. Consider how - say - you could indeed be rejected for a date because you earn $200,000/year for mopping floors. Not very likely but possible.

Also ask yourself why mopping floors is so badly paid. In theory the offer for such work is low (everyone prefers to do something else), so pay should be high, according to supply and demand. But pay is low because pay expectations are also shaped by the status-perception of applicants (this job can't pay much, it's a floor *mopper* job!).

Kraftstoff said...

Lum didn’t talk about one kind of job being more “noble” or “lowly” than the other. What he was saying is that the recruitment, training and layoff costs of say an engineer compared to a burger flipper is much higher.

In the particular high-tech industry that I work in, new recruits tend to be really productive after about ~6 months. Compare that to someone working at the check-out of your grocery store.

Whereas you can lay-off and find a replacement for the second more easily, you can go for months trying to find someone who really fits a certain engineering profile.

There are sound, long-term economical reasons to keep people aboard even during times when they are not employed at 100% capacity.

Firing them will in the short-term make your bottom line look better, but between the money you pay for severance packages and non-competition agreements for those who have been let go, and the time and effort you have to invest afterwards finding a replacement on the job-market, do dozens of interviews, train them, integrate them into your teams, etc. there a potentially huge opportunity costs.

Again, compare that to a “name tags and hair net” job, and you’ll see the difference that Lum is talking about.

This is nothing against the people working those jobs, but you’ll probably never let go one of them just to see them the year after on a trade show spearheading a competing product like it happened to me. You’d curse your employer of being so shortsighted of ever firing him in the first place, just because he had no project assignment at the time.

I can choose my employer as much as he can choose to hire me, and keeping a cool head in an economic downturn is certainly something that I look for if he wants me to work for him.

Geoffrey said...

Gevlon, assuming employers are rational and prefer to pay someone the least they can get away with, what you said is untrue. It is not just your employer that values your labor at $100 per hour, but competing employers must value it somewhere in that range as well. That is what the market bears for that type of work, so therefore that is why you are paid that.

And yes, Anya, I am making a judgment on the way other people may play WoW. I think some activities can be judged to be boring based on their monotony and lack of reasonable reward compared to other activities. And if someone is insisting on doing a highly monotonous activity for little reward, in their "spare game time", a certain conclusion can be drawn from that, and I am drawing it. Based on my knowledge that you are a human being living in a human society, I am generally familiar with opportunities you may have in this human world. And mining vendor trash in WoW is a really really poor allocation of your resources. If you think that is fun, you should re-evaluate your definition of fun.

zwinglisblog said...

Just thinking a little bit...possibly a very little bit. You be the judge.

I believe there are some noble jobs out there. I believe that the people doing them either retract or enhance the "nobleness" of the job. I understand this is strictly my opinion. For me, people with jobs of service tend to stand out. People that work in the Emergency Response domain, Medical Care, Education, etc. These people hold a very high place in my mind. The Janitor at the local school places higher than the Janitor at the professional sport complex down the way.

I know, its crazy. ;)

Pangoria Fallstar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pangoria Fallstar said...

"Based on my knowledge that you are a human being living in a human society, I am generally familiar with opportunities you may have in this human world."

My son's asleep, I'm waiting in LFG for PuG heroic. I go mine what someone else doesn't and make 80g an hour from vendor trash, while spamming LFG channel. I'm sitting here doing my hobby.

All hobbies are a "waste of time". But we enjoy doing it, ie FUN. Is the vendor trash mining really fun? No. But the gold I make by being lazy while saying stupid things in LFG, "Pimp Healer lfg HC, you deal, I heal, he peels".

You,Geoffry, cannot tell me what I find to be fun. You may not find it fun and have your opinion about it, but you can't tell me that I don't find it fun.

And you come into here, saying you used to play WoW. Now you do something better with your life because it was less ass-kickery, and more grinding right? Good for you. People here are still enjoying this hobby. We really couldn't care less about you thinking you are better now that you don't play. Fact is, whatever you are doing now as a passtime is just as much a waste of time as playing wow.

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