Whatcha gonna do about it?

23/04/2013 § 6 Comments

The US is a confrontational place. I was going to say ‘violent’, but that’s not the right word. ‘Confrontational’ is better. The jostling, the up-in-your-grill-ness, the staking a claim — it comes through all the time.

How many times have I heard, ‘whatcha gonna do about it?’ Hey, that’s my seat! Wait a minute, I was parking there! There’s a line waiting here! Oh yeah, whatcha gonna do about it!?

There’s the other way of saying it, too, the resigned sigh. The DMV closed early but didn’t let anyone know. The bank put my deposit in the wrong account and charged me for an overdraft. The insurance company is denying my claim after they pre-approved it. Oh yeah [sigh], whatcha gonna do about it?

I remember being 19, and 22, and 26, like the Tsarnaev brothers. I remember the anger and frustration. First, dealing with other guys who were willing to challenge you over a comment or a girl or a beer or a driving manoeuvre. And then there were the institutions with their bureaucratic procedures: fill out these forms and take them to that office and have them signed by that person and I-don’t-care-that’s-how-it’s-done.

It wasn’t any better being middle class and in elite universities. In some ways, it’s worse. They existed long before you and will continue long after you’re gone. They don’t care and they don’t need to. If you don’t like it, someone else will happily take your spot.

What to do? To deal with the individuals, you learn to ‘handle yourself’ in those situations. Confront or defuse, fight or flight, save face regardless. Ironic, isn’t it, that dealing with other people is called ‘handling yourself’.

With the institutions, well, it’s really suck up and deal. Choose the hill you want to die on, as a friend used to say.

But what if there’s not enough upside? What if there isn’t enough money or prestige or security on the line? What if all the promises of some future with a job and wife and house and car and all the books and booze you can manage — what if they start looking hollow? And you start thinking you’re never going to make it, it’s never going to stop being a fight, you’re always going to be pushed around by incidental bullies and petty tyrants.

Whatcha gonna do about it?

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§ 6 Responses to Whatcha gonna do about it?

  • Grant Taylor says:

    As is often the case, an artist has captured this insight very well, I think . They were also pretty much on topic with this too. I guess there could be quite a number of similarities between living in the US in the mid-80s and now.

  • Options:
    1. Underground economy. Ignore the state and institutions except when you’re absolutely forced to; play nice when you’re forced to because you know they care more about public opposition than about what you’re really doing.
    2. Entrepreneurship in a state that won’t punish you too harshly for doing something new. Then either stay small enough that you don’t get hassled, or somehow manage to get big enough to be able to ignore them again. My parents kept their small business small because they didn’t want the hassle of having full time employees and all that comes with that.
    3. Academia actually still isn’t that horrible. There are lots of official things you’re supposed to be doing, but so long as you just ignore the admin emails until one gets pointed out as really being really important, rather than replying “Screw you, I’m not doing that”, there’s a fair bit of freedom. Just never get sucked into one of the soul-killing admin jobs. And don’t hope that you can ever change anything or achieve anything within the institution that requires that the institution show some flexibility or willingness to countenance change. I can’t change the ethics committee, but I can decide never to do research that requires their approval. See? Simple.

    What happens writ large though? I’d love to see serious academic work on Roissy’s hypotheses.

    • Bill says:

      These are all good options that allow you to be creative and in charge of something. But in order for them to be ‘enough’, they have to provide enough validation to support a man’s ego through the inevitable confrontations. For example, ‘I don’t have to worry about the jerk who dinged my car with his monster truck, because I run my own business that takes care of me and mine.’ It doesn’t help, too, that the macroeconomy can be depressed, so one’s failures can be about lack of aggregate demand rather than bad business ideas or practices.

      Academia can be just as bad. Lots of people striving for a few places means a lot of ‘losers’ out there. Now, fourth place with a PhD isn’t as bad as fourth place with a GED. In a sense, getting a PG degree already reflects a certain level of success.

      These options all seem to be about avoiding confrontation. That’s certainly a possible survival strategy. It’s the second time this morning I’ve been reminded of Bukowski. But avoiding confrontation also requires a certain maturity and perspective that may not be available to your average 19-yr-old.

      • Being a Thane of all the major cities in Skyrim and Archmage at the College of Magic isn’t enough?

        Agree that academia is a tournament game; my noting was from perspective of one who wins a position, not a recommendation that others have unrealistic expectations of the likelihood of securing a position. And fourth-place with a PhD could be worse than fourth-place with a GED if we consider opportunity costs while completing the degree.

        I avoid confrontations I cannot win. The State is basically Tony Soprano; I’ll try to avoid picking fights with the IRD or choosing occupations that would require frequent interaction with people who can put me in jail if they get mad. And there’s no chance I win any road-rage fights with anybody other than the elderly, so I’ll avoid that too. You read Offsetting so you know what fights I’m likely to pick.

        Roissy’s hypothesis, or my interpretation of one of many of them: provoking confrontations can increase a man’s dating market appeal where (enough) women aren’t looking for long-term spousal potential in their dating matches while young.

      • Bill says:

        On the underground economy:
        http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/04/29/130429ta_talk_surowiecki

        So, yes, people find ways around the difficulties.

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