Monthly Archives: April 2017

Who Gets the Job?

benetton-races_3481677bConnections get you the job in a corrupt organization, but they’ll get you absolutely nothing in a perfectly meritocratic organization (which doesn’t exist). In a perfectly normal organization, connections won’t get you the job, but they’ll get you the interview. In his controversial bestseller, In Praise of Nepotism (2003), Adam Bellow maintains that giving interviews primarily (or even exclusively) to people with connections is by and large a good thing. Despite what you might think, connections are an excellent filtering mechanism. What’s more, when you hire people with connections, the reputations of their connections are to some extent on the line. This gives everyone skin in the game. And that matters. Big time.

But of course, like all things human, hiring people with connections isn’t without its drawbacks. If people with connections are the only ones who get the interview, people with connections are the only ones who’ll ever get the job. For many organizations, this isn’t a problem; but for organizations like the CIA, it is. Soon after 9/11, the CIA realized that they needed to hire more sophisticated urban types from the coastal cities, more people with Arabic and Farsi. What’s more, they realized that they needed another corn-fed, blonde, blue-eyed Nebraska boy like they needed a hole in the head (they don’t blend in especially well overseas). If you wish to diversify your organization’s personnel, you have to interview people without connections.

In 1775, Samuel Johnson wondered at the hypocrisy of American slaveholders prating on and on about freedom: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Thinking along similar lines in 2017, we might reasonably ask: How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for meritocracy among people who got their jobs through connections? Once you let go of your attachment to that fiction known as the perfectly meritocratic organization, it’s easy to get over your resistance to affirmative action.

Can affirmative actions programs be gamed? Sure. Everything human can be gamed. Will the oppressed of today become the oppressors of tomorrow? Maybe. If they do, we’ll fight them. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Will minorities within your organization eventually become an entrenched interest group that fights to keep affirmative action in place long after its goals have been achieved? Probably. I’d expect nothing less (or more) from flawed human beings like me. But so what? That’s not a valid argument against affirmative action. It’s merely a sad reminder of the fact that the struggle for justice is without end.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

The Real World

10507119_10152224074252683_6351617770361211778_o-001Although the idea that reality might be little more than a collective hallucination has probably occurred to thoughtful people since the beginning of time, it has achieved widespread acceptance only amongst certain kinds of people. In ancient China, it appealed primarily to government workers, eunuchs, urban-dwellers, and bureaucrats who were, for the most part, divorced from the earthy realities of farming and child-rearing, and the bloody realities of animal husbandry and military life. Theirs was a world, not of blood and soil, but of numbers and words. This allowed them to develop a remarkably theoretical view of the world.

600x-1As I read Scott Adams’s blog-post this morning, it occurred to me that very little has changed. Articulations of this idea have changed—in ancient China it was couched in the language of Buddhism, in the twentieth century is was couched in the language of postmodernism, whilst today it’s often couched in the language of evolutionary biology—but the kinds of people it appeals to hasn’t changed. It still appeals to people who live in a world, not of blood and soil, but of numbers and words. It still appeals primarily to men like Scott Adams who are, for the most part, divorced from the earthy realities of farming and child-rearing, and the bloody realities of animal husbandry and military life.

I take a long walk in the woods whenever I’m tempted by the likes of Scott Adams. Spending time in the woods reminds you that a real world exists out there, outside of the virtual world of fire-light shadows that we create for ourselves (and each other). I say this not, I hasten to add, to denigrate the human-built world (I’m a city boy, after all), but merely to put it in its place. Aristotle was right: a human being divorced from political life isn’t fully human. But a person divorced from nature is something far worse.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

The Golden Age

“Creating the future is a frightening enterprise, especially when we do it without any awareness of the past. I am amazed how little we actually care to examine past human experience. It’s like hunting in a wood full of bears, ignoring all the disarticulated skeletons of dead hunters, and confidently proclaiming that bears don’t really exist. They belong to the past!”—Joseph Gresham Miller

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_The_Golden_Age_-_Google_Art_ProjectDo you dream primarily of what is, what once was, what could have been, or what could be? Your answer to this question tells me almost everything I need to know about you. Political conservatives locate their Golden Age somewhere in the not-too-distant past (e.g., the 1950s), whilst religious fundamentalists locate it somewhere in the unsullied early history of their movement (e.g., the Early Church for Pentecostals, the Pious Predecessors for Salafists). Progressives and starry-eyed idealists locate it somewhere in a future purged of the sins of the present, whilst Romantics locate it in a past purged of modernity, a pastoral place that looks a whole lot like The Shire described by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Most environmentalists seem to locate it in some eco-friendly pre-modern past wherein we all lived in happy harmony with sweet Mother Earth. Computer geeks locate it in a shiny future replete with flying cars, robots, and killer apps, whilst defenders of the status quo, apologists of the present like Steven Pinker, insist that we’re living in a Golden Age right now. The outliers, of course, are the pessimists, like Arthur Schopenhauer and St. Augustine, who insist that life in The City of Man has always more or less sucked, and that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a Golden Age.

St. Augustine argues in The City of God that Original Sin has so corrupted human nature and the natural world—with sin, disease, and death—that the reformation of the individual and of society will always, of necessity, have to be a highly circumscribed exercise. All is not possible, insists the Bishop, because the freedom to do good is habitually hemmed in by this-worldly corruption. “The choice of the will,” avers Augustine, “is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins.” St. Paul the Apostle likewise believes that decisive victory in the war against sin is not possible in a fallen world; the battle is, instead, fated to rage on and on, even within his body: “I know,” he once lamented, “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:18-19). Like Paul, Augustine maintains that there are some intractable human problems which the individual and society will have to grapple with again and again, until the end of time. Perfection can be nothing more than a noble goal in The City of Man. Always before us, yet perpetually out of reach. A beacon on the horizon of a fallen world.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

The Battle of the Sexes is Bullshit: A Review of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017)

imagesAt the dramatic climax of Traffic (2000), Michael Douglas’s character, the guy in charge of the War on Drugs, breaks down in the middle of a press conference and goes off-script: “If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?” The overarching message of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017) is of a similar stamp: namely, that the martial language employed by “social justice warriors” and “men’s rights activists” is a toxic dead-end. The Battle of the Sexes is bullshit: “Rather than enrich the realm of politics with the difficult business of intimate life, identity politics flattens the personal until it fits into established intellectual categories.” If the hawkish ideologues who fan the flames of the “Gender Wars” in Social Media Land are to be believed, then our own families have become the enemy. But how can you wage war on your own family? And why would you want to? Your spouse isn’t the enemy: “The central conflict of domestic life right now is not mothers against fathers, or even conflicting ideas of motherhood or gender. It is the family against money.”

The Unmade Bed is a deeply moral book. And Marche treats his subject with all of the seriousness it deserves. But it’s also a remarkably funny book. The following scene is a case in point: “I was at a bachelor party, one of those bizarre rituals in which men have to stoop to their stereotype as a kind of recognition of common brutality, and we were all drunkenly heading to a strip club when my wife called. She needed to talk. A man she worked with called her ‘Honey.’ It pissed her off. It pissed me off. It pissed me off that this classic old-school garbage should survive. And so I found myself enraged, genuinely enraged at the sexism of a world that would call my wife ‘Honey’ just as I was entering a business in which I was going to pay to see women naked. Such are the everyday minor anti-epiphanies of living through the twenty-first-century rearrangement of gender. They subtract from rather than add to what I thought I knew about myself and others.”

Marche’s discussion of housework in the last chapter is equally hilarious: “Housework is the macho bullshit of women. And, in this light, it is perhaps not surprising that men have not started doing more housework. Men might be willing to lose the garbage of their own gender stereotypes, but why should they take on the garbage of another? Equality is coming, but not the way we expected. The future does not involve men doing more housework. . . . Caring less is the hope of the future. Housework is perhaps the only political problem in which doing less and not caring are the solution, where apathy is the most progressive and sensible attitude. Fifty years ago it was perfectly normal to iron sheets and vacuum drapes; they were necessary tasks. The solution to the inequalities of dusting wasn’t dividing the dusting; it was not doing the dusting at all. The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is that simple: Don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. . . . Never make the bed. . . . A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”

As Marche demonstrates, in loving detail, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not, and we’re going to have to find a way to muddle through it together. We didn’t create this mess, this mess of world-historical proportions, but it’s ours to clean up: “Instead of furious despair, what our moment demands is humility and compassion.”

—John Faithful Hamer, Parenting in the Age of Studies Have Shown (2017)

River Wisdom

The saltwater seas have lessons to teach us,
same is true of the freshwater lakes,

but these are not the lessons taught
by the world’s great rivers.

Long before we were connected by
highways and railways and airways,

we were connected by rivers.
And it is thus great rivers like the St. Lawrence

which remind us of our connections
to everything else.

He that hath ears to hear,
let him hear The River.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

(photo credit: Sebastian Furtado)