Friday, February 21, 2014

An Ode to Discipline

Discipline, duty, efficiency, restraint, hard work, soberness.  

We wave away such words as puritanical anachronisms, out of touch with newer values: find your passion, do what feels good, life's short; eat dessert first! And the "progress" accelerates:
  • State-sanctioned lotteries and casinos have burgeoned despite their predominantly hurting the poor, who can least afford to lose. The ultimate in regressive taxation.
  • Two-thirds(!) of workers take sick days when not sick.  Twelve percent said they took sick days just to watch March Madness! That's so societally accepted that corporations aren't embarrassed to push their recreational product by telling people to take a sick day. For example, the ad below was sponsored by a consortium of Tahoe hotels and casinos, the one below it by the Weather Network.
    The cheat-if-you-can ethos is yet one more reason  employers hire as few people and automate as many positions as possible.
  • Worst of all has been the increased use of mind- and body-damaging drugs. And now, a majority of Americans favor legalizing pot while almost no one (I'm an exception) advocates banning tobacco or even alcohol. They have long devastated humankind but adding wide use of pot, coke, heroin, meth, and party drugs I can't even name, would cause enormous additional damage to health (disease and traffic accidents,) to families, to workplaces. I have written an essay providing a mountain of evidence that legalizing "mere" pot is a nightmare for America. I challenge you to make a stronger counterargument.
We now have a half-century of experience with Stones/Dylan/Beatles/Grateful Dead-inspired libertinism, the permissive society. Are we so sure the permissive ethos has been a net good? For example, while of course, some young people have an excellent work ethic, millions of others will accept only a fine or slacker job, or make minimal effort to find any job, and instead hang out on their parents' sofa and play video games or watch soap operas, perhaps getting high. Their parents and especially their grandparents don't begin to understand such a lack of work ethic and neither can I.

The world would be far better if we all accepted that hard, honest work is not an option but a societal, even cosmic, duty--even if the job is far from ideal. True, there are no longer enough good jobs to go around but there are enough acceptable jobs for all but the weakest employees. And yes, a job as dishwasher, factory worker, sewage-treatment plant worker, or hotel cleaner is--with a reasonable employer--an acceptable job. It seems cosmically wrong for able-bodied people to reject low-level work in favor of letting a family member or the taxpayer pay them for not working.

Lest you wonder if I practice what I preach, no I never worked in a sewage-treatment plant but I was a bookkeeping clerk with a shared desk in Harlem, for two years worked the night shift as a New York City cab driver and, to this day, at almost 64 years old, work 60+ hours a week, at least half of which for no pay. For example, this is my 1,244th blog post, all carefully written and edited. I just finished editing it after midnight.

Yet some people would rather let the taxpayer support them  for 99 weeks than accept a mediocre job. I think little of such people.  

As magnificent as is Beethoven's Ode to Joy, I believe that at this stage in society's evolution, we might do better to listen to an Ode to Discipline.


Anonymous said...

Hi Marty:

I finished reading Amy Chua's Triple Package (it's a really good book that I recommend you read). Her book talks about what makes certain indoviduals and groups successful, namely impulse control and a sense of being an "underdog" while being "a group set apart" at the same time.

Her book says that we've lost these things as a society and as a result, are at risk of losing what makes us successful.

On a personal note, I'm a product of the Catholic education system, from nursery school to graduate school, and I credit my Catholic upbringing and education with giving me the discipline to have a successful career and behave as a responsible citizen.

-Your reader in Pennsylvania

Rex said...

As usual, I think you're right...usefulness to others is paramount...otherwise, net, you just end up causing a surplus of problems.

That said...and this is not a criticism, and I certainly do not think it's OK to be you think that you would be such a strong proponent of "dedicate your life to work" if you lived in a different culture/society/country? Living in America and as someone born and raised in this country, I totally understand where you're coming from, and I agree with you, but having said that...I can't escape the feeling that something is lost in the process...Other countries have richer cultures and traditions, community bonds are tighter, people seem to know how to enjoy each other's company more than they do here in America, and there is not as much of this relentless pursuit of growth and productivity. Examples that come to mind are many smaller towns and cities in older countries like Italy, the UK, France, China, etc. People can sit and chat and play games with each other for hours on end in coffee shops, tea houses, restaurants, parks...Chinese people really know how to relax and literally do nothing for hours at a time on the weekend/evenings...While you may not think this is healthy or desirable, I am certain that this has substantial psychological benefits...the rest of the week they are working like hell...For whatever reason, I think we in America don't really know how to relax and enjoy the simple company of others without getting loaded or high...Coffee shops here are more like pharmacies...people walk in, get their "fix" and rush out...

Marty Nemko said...

No matter where I lived, I would always opt to work as much as I could rather than loll in a cafe, etc.

Yes, I fear I will die younger from my work habits but I believe there's a good enough chance that I won't to justify keeping up my prioritization of work.

Anonymous said...

Marty, I think you're an inspiration so it pains me to say this. Please get off your high horse. Trying to browbeat and shame people into taking up whatever work and saying 'you will like it, you parasite' just comes across as elitist and arrogant.

Some jobs just plain suck. Retail, service, security. These are all jobs I've worked. And they've all sucked. The pay was low. People looked at me like dog dung they had tracked on their shoes. I was 'beneath' them. If I don't take the job, I'm a 'parasite'. If I do I'm a convenient target for all their contempt and scorn when something doesn't go right. It doesn't have to be this way. Employees should respect employers, but when employers take an attitude of 'this is my place of business. As long as I pay you a paycheck, I own you. If you don't like it, work somewhere else.', it becomes very difficult. And the fact is that many employers are like that now.

One last note. Sometimes dealing with other people is just awful and I need a break from them. Service to humanity loses its nobility when you have to keep cleaning up the same messes again. You can trot out all the scientists and cardiologists you want, but consider this. How many of those cardiologists get sick of seeing the same patient who has heart trouble because he just won't change his diet and exercise, despite the fact the cardiologist keeps telling him to. What about the scientist who may have the know-how to make a cure for various cancers but can't do it, because the sponsor paying for his lab wants more 'treatments' because there's more money in those.

I think you're an inspiration, Mr. Nemko, but please be realistic and stop looking at the employer/employee dynamic as an us/them. Taking what some label a 'decent job' isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Marty Nemko said...

Most recent Anonymous,

I'm sorry if that essay comes off that way, but frankly, I believe some people--especially the people who do eschew all but cushy work--do need to be told directly. They may reject the label immediately but I believe it's more likely than yet another oh-so-tactful encouragement to plant a seed that, when the time is right, will lead to their deciding that THEIR elitism (holding out for an elite job) is cosmically unjustifiable.

With regard to your other point, I was careful to say that low level jobs WITH A REASONABLE EMPLOYER constitute, in my view, a job that should not be turned down in favor of living off the taxpayer's largesse.

Travis Porco said...

One thing. Sewage treatment, while stinky is skilled and relatively high paying work. Putting it together with washing dishes and cleaning hotel rooms is a little bit weird.

Secondly, do you think that suicide is an ethical choice for people who cannot work:? If not, then, their are some things that are more valuable than work.

Marty Nemko said...


I made clear to say that it is ethically unjustifiable for ABLE-BODIED people to not work merely because the job is menial.

Whether or not a person is able to work, s/he should take advantage of the wonderful things life offers. A few things that come to mind: You Tube music videos, a walk in nature, mentoring someone, reading a book.