We’re all Nero now.

It's over.


Maybe you’re aware of the recent federal raid on Gibson Guitars.  There’s been a lot of talk about this around the internet.  It’s sad, sick, wrong, etc. etc. that a job-creating American manufacturing company has been crippled by the federal government for hazy legal reasons.

There’s something that’s been bothering me about the discussion of this situation though.  Several times I’ve heard that Gibson is anomalous in this day and age, an American manufacturing company making a profit.

And it’s great.  Manufacturing is the basis of a healthy economy.  That so little is actually made in the United States is a fantastic proportion of the reason that we are in decline.  Wealth comes from creation.  Turning raw materials into something a person can use is the most direct way of creating wealth.  Importation, marketing, retail, service and all of the other activity that comes between the creation and consumption of a product are important to the economy, but without the manufacturing none of it is possible.  And the more we allow manufacturing to take place outside of our country, the less self-sufficient we become.  For years we have been the world’s customer, and recently we’ve been borrowing the money needed to buy the world’s goods.  By creating money instead of wealth we’ve allowed the world’s economy to become balanced on the tip of a needle.

So any manufacturing that happens in the United States is something to be celebrated.  But it strikes me that the success of this particular company is kind of perverse.  They are making guitars, a recreational product for sale to persons with disposable income.

Other paragons of American manufacturing are similar.  Harley Davidson makes a lifestyle product.  Apple products are useful for industry, but the company’s success is a result of addressing identity concerns in its marketing.  Philip Morris makes a fairly useless product.  The list goes on.

Certainly there are lots of American companies that make things that have little to do with entertainment, lifestyle, recreation or rely on their customers having disposable income.  Caterpillar comes to mind.  Case IH and Marlin Wire make products that are truly necessary for the ongoing interests of civilization.

Any manufacturing is good for America.  And a diversity of manufacturing is even better.  But as the decline goes on, it’s the companies that depend on disposable income that are going to fail soonest.  There are only so many people on the earth that truly need a new guitar.  The rest of Gibson’s customers will fall off as their money loses value and their incomes wear thin.  Meanwhile, the guitar heroes of the world will be selling fewer records.

There’s a parallel universe where things are simpler and more honest.  In that universe the citizens of the United States all take turns at opposite sides of the bar.  Six hours mixing drinks, six hours drinking drinks, six hours drunken slumber, and six hours nursing a hangover.  Repeat.

True facts about hard work

The subject of “hard work” keeps coming up in my life.  Not in appropriate places, such as the job site, but on the periphery of life as a concept, something to think about in the abstract, something to casually dissect to see if immutable truth can be separated from folk talkes and nonsense.  Something to subject to analysis, not because I want to prove it wrong, but because I want to find the parts of the concept that are going to help me live a better life.

Hard Work, as it is generally presented to young people in need of advice, tends to be sold as a magical act.  If you work hard, everything will work out.  Hard work is the key to success.  It takes no talent to hustle.  If you want to make it look easy, you’ve got to work hard.

Hard work is lauded with regularity, and I wonder if it is this routine celebration of something that is seldom defined that has caused hard work to take on a kind of mystic halo that obscures the real thing that sits at the core.

I feel an urge to deconstruct these ideas that we have about hard work, but unfortunately even after the stretches of time that I have thought about the subject, I still can’t seem to put my finger on hard work as a mythology.  Maybe I should leave that kind of stuff to cultural anthropologists.  Lots has been said on the subject.  A favorite book of mine is Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America by Tom Lutz.  If I remember correctly, he dismantled the American work ethic and the mythology of hard work pretty well.

So instead of pissing around with useless interpretation that will be done in eventual time, if it hasn’t been done already, I think it would be more useful to detail some of the things that I know for sure about hard work.

1. Hard work good and hard work fine, but not always.  All work is not equal.  Some work is more important that other work.  And here I don’t mean that cleaning the latrine is less important than being president of the USA.  Instead I mean that it’s less important to hose the latrine out if you haven’t dumped the sanitage yet.  First things first.  You’ve got to think.  You’ve got to plan.  The power of hard work is neutralized when you jump in and get going before you even know what you’re doing.

2. Hard work is for you, not for them.  On a job, you work as hard as you can at the task you’re assigned.  Even if you know that the task is unnecessary.  (Yes, it’s recommended to try to point out inefficiencies when possible, but often enough the “problem” will be fixed by eliminating the guy that’s making it visible.  The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.) But as you kill yourself to acheive nothing, remember that you are not doing this for the boss, the company, your colleagues or anyone else.  You are working hard for your own purposes.  You took the job for a reason, whether it be the money, the benefits, the resume entry or to stay out of prison.  Always re-evaluate your work situation, but when you’re there work hard to the point that it’s necessary in order to be a good employee.  Still, don’t waste your time working hard if no one knows about it.  Despite any propaganda that might say otherwise, there is no team.  You work for you.  For several reasons, being a team player will make your life easier at work.  But ultimately your motives are still selfish, aren’t they?  Less grief, less stress.  Maybe the best way to say it is that when you’re working at a “job” (ie something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t getting money for it) you want to get as much money as you can at the least cost of effort and spirt to yourself.

Off the job is different.  You may have a family, and that requires work.  You may be single.  That also requires work.  You have a yard, or a pet or a hobby or any of a thousand other things that are important to you just because they’re important to you.  You put effort into these things and no one tells you twice to work hard.  And that’s all for you.  Nothing could be simpler.

Simultaneously, there is that aggravating crap that comes up in life that promises no financial gain or personal satisfaction, but still must be conquered because the result of ignoring it would result in disaster.  These things are called problems.  They must be eliminated with all haste.

It’s normal to grumble about the work that problems require.  You shouldn’t have to be doing this, you say.  Why do you have to go downtown on your day off?  Why do you have to spend hours on the phone hassling with the insurance company?  Why do you have to pick the neighbors dog crap up off the lawn every morning? Etcetera etcetera.

The fact is, though, if you didn’t have the specific problems you have, you would have other problems.  The world is problematic and always falling apart.  In nature, the floors are always dirty.  Nothing is ever exactly how we would like it to be, because as human beings we have an unalterable need for things to be other than they are.  So much suffering goes away when you accept the fact that maintenance is inevitable.  Fix it and move on.

3.  Hard work now makes easy work later.   Stamina is measured by our upper limit of exertion.  The higher that upper limit, the easier the average things become.  The classic illustration of this fact is the man-on-deck in a baseball game swinging two or three bats to make swinging one feel all the more easy.  And since the harder you work now the easier your work will feel later no hard work is ever completely pointless.  At the very least you are contributing to your stamina.  So why not push a little further every time?  Go the extra inch in everything you do and by the end of every day you will have gone the extra mile.

4.  Hard work impresses people.  Usually it’s not the boss.  Bosses, for some reason, never give enough credit where credit is due.  Maybe it’s part of their job.  (And also, incidentally, maybe it is why we are always our worst critics, because in reality we all work for ourselves.)  But your coworker, your customer, your friend or family member may be watching closely enough to see that you are busting your ass.  Maybe.  Often times not.  So much work goes unnoticed.  But still, you never know.  It’s not rare for someone to admire hard work and say absolutely nothing about it.  The point, fortunately, is not to garner compliments, but to improve your image.  Yes, image is important because perception has such an effect on everything.  If you are seen as a hard worker, that perception will prevail even when you aren’t putting your whole self into the project.  There is a thing called “confirmation bias”.  If you aren’t aware of this phenominon, Google it now.  I will define it quickly for you in any case: Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to find evidence for things they already believe.  Whether that thing be right or wrong, the human mind has a way of supporting what has already been decided.  Once you are aware of this psychological phenominon, you should start seeing it all around you.  (… though this itself may be an instance of the phenominon, which leads to some paradoxes.  That is another subject.)

5.  What else are you going to do? You’ve got things to do.  They aren’t going to go away.  There’s no way around it, you’ve got to do your work. So why not make the most of it and do your best job?  Of course, this goes beyond working hard.  To do your best requires attention and care.  But working hard is a good start.  Roll up your sleeves, remind your body who’s in charge and dive right in.  It’ll be over soon enough.