Monday, July 12, 2010

World of Work

You know a problem is getting "serious" when the NYT does a feature on its front page, American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation. The story is a profile of the agonies of 2008 Colgate grad Scott Nicholson, the unemployed millennium gen, solid son of the solidly middle class. The latest example of an economy gone bad. Comments attached to the piece
and the letters to the editor that followed, give him and his family a pretty swift ass kickin. He appears self indulgent and his family enable him.

No one in this story, or the related comments, challenges any of the basic premises underlying Scott's predicament. He must be thankful for any job offer. He must get out of the house. He might move to Europe where the job possibilities might be better. Scott must get better at becoming a wage slave to a system that doesn't need or want him.

During the same week Alternet picked up a story from Psychotherapy Networker / By Mary Sykes Wylie, appropriately titled: Has the American Dream Become our Nightmare?

That title could be thought to be the first of a set of fundamental questions that needs to be asked and answered. Other questions that we all have to ask include: How might Scott spend his days in ways that don't make the rest of our lives materially worse? What is it that we need, if anything, that Scott might help us acquire? How might Scott evaluate what he really needs? What are Scott's lifetime ambitions; where does he want to be, with whom, and how many of his ambitions involve money? Obviously none of the answers to these questions or even how to pose them were part of Scott's education.

Colgate senses the angst in their graduates. Their response in justifying $54.000 in annual costs to attend include assisting the host community by buying up buildings and placing University offices within them, publishing studies that demonstrate the Colgate grads do better salary-wise then many peers, and bringing back Alumna with a job to share their experiences as a demonstration of "you too can do it." In this case the alum is a vp at MTV.

What Colgate might do: They could rethink their curriculum in terms of 21st century reality. They could sponsor teach-ins on the most critical issues of the day. They could assist their students in conceiving of and moving into a world that was sustainable, ethical, and elegant. They could strengthen their career counseling department. To be effective they have to anticipate the world their graduates are going to enter. The university could provide transitional housing for grads while they determined their next moves. They could incubate entrepreneurial alternatives to traditional job searches. The university might provide goods and services: health care, senior activities, child care, food service, art activities, to their neighbors, enriching the entire community. Any number of grads might be part of the delivery mechanism. Most importantly the university is going to have to become the well spring of alternatives to a system that is so fundamentally broken.

The best example of what is required is exemplified by the award winning documentary film, TEE Shirt Travels, embedded here.

Filmed in Zambia, this film explores the unintended consequences of western do-gooders shipping second hand clothing to a nation in "need". In the process we wiped out their indigenous textile industry and created a nation of re-sellers. It is heartbreaking. And just when you think you can't stand it any more you have the testimony of the stated dream of an unbelievably hard working Zambian young man. His ambition is to have a car. We have shortened the distance between the continents. We have shortened the timeline of civilization.


  1. Colgate will never do any of that. So long as the government continues to back educational loans, tuition will go up as colleges charge more and more per credit hour of underwater basket weaving, etc. I would rather my own child go to a community college or trade school and hopefully learn something that will actually be useful, like how to fix a car or speak a foreign language, than I would he go to Colgate (or any other university) for a liberal arts, business, law, medical degree, etc. The current system is in place to over produce so-called professionals to oversell services that we would likely do just as well (or better) without.

  2. James Howard Kuntsler on the subject

    Where we are now, to me, is the real dark time, the proverbial moment before the dawn. The depravity of our culture, Disney merchandise, cool ranch Doritos, and all, is something that people of the future will marvel at for centuries to come. The purity of our surrender will fascinate them. They will conclude that we looked into the abyss... and decided that we liked what we saw in there.