I taught university level courses in sociology and criminal justice for over 30 years but I'm retired now. Still, I'll always be a sociologist, engaging in discussions about learning and teaching sociology, commenting on current events and offering book, video and website reviews.
I haven’t written here in some time because I’m working on another writing project that’s taking up a lot of my time, plus I have a number of other gigs that are taking my attention away from here.
I’m still very much concerned with social justice issues and, for today, the nature and reliability of science. I’m a scientist (retired). I care about the nature of the scientific method and that all of us can trust the findings of science. Science education is woefully inadequate for the task at hand, which is educating the public (all of us) as to the scientific method and how critical thinking is such an essential part of it.
The article I’m sharing with you here by Dorothy Bishop is aimed at educating us to the dangers of shoddy science and the ways that are leading to more reliable and trustworthy scientific findings and publication.
That said, there’s no accounting for the reliability and integrity of journalists and reporters who, without any background in science or any sense of the impact of their reports, publish misleading and often tentative or even false scientific findings. Journalists and reporters have their own deadlines and job requirements, I understand that, but not checking basic facts is unacceptable. The report falsely linking autism with vaccinations is a case in point. The fraudulent report made for what journalists might consider good reporting, but it fed into the general public’s distrust of science and scientists.
Add to that the general ignorance and fear that drives large segments of the population and we end up with a perfect storm of ridiculousness and absurdity.
As Gwynne Dyer notes, most people are fine as individuals but get us together in groups and we can behave very badly. People are strange indeed. I don’t see the future being much different from the past in terms of how humans behave. We haven’t evolved that much in the past thirty thousand years. We’re just as collectively short-sighted and stupid as ever and I don’t see that changing any time soon. We’re still strangled cognitively by our fear of death and our longing for immortality. That pushes us to allow our amygdala to dominate our behaviour rather than our frontal cortex. Good luck, all. We’re going to need it.
The three links below of several hundreds that can be found on the internet news sources these days indicate clearly the rapidly accelerating advance of automated technology moving towards the elimination of jobs.
So far, the action seems to be very widespread but is moving especially rapidly in retail as is clear from the evidence in Australia, Japan and the US. The rationale used to justify automation by Walmart management in the US is creative and ridiculous at the same time. Nobody in management wants to say that their companies are trying to reduce or eliminate their workforces altogether. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
Karl Marx predicted this very outcome in the mid-19th Century arguing that in their efforts to control or reduce their costs of production, businesses, after overproducing in the search for profits, turn to automation to control their labour force and return to profitability. The process has been going on for a long time.
It seems perfectly reasonable for businesses to try to become more ‘efficient’ by automating jobs that are tedious and repetitive, often dangerous. For individual businesses this seems like an effective strategy to control their costs and their processes. The problem is that there is anarchy in the business world, no coordination, and competition prevents cooperation between businesses in the same field of operations. The result is that there is a reduction in the aggregate number of workers in any given area and the reality is that bots don’t buy anything. Workers are also consumers so doing away with workers is doing away with your very own customers. Nobody I know in business is worried about taking customers away from their competitors, but if Walmart eliminates much of its labour force by automation that will inevitably also reduce its customer base.
So, the question is should you mourn or celebrate the loss of your job through automation? The answer is yes and no. The actual issue is not jobs, but income. You should definitely mourn loss of income. The loss of a job not so much. Jobs, i.e, employment, are not really in sync with the human capacity to work. Humans, as Veblen is quick to point out, are programmed to work, but if they are presented with meaningless, repetitive, boring work that is really to make someone else look good or get rich, they balk. So doing away with boring, stupid, meaningless jobs is a good thing in my mind. Several countries are now toying with a guaranteed basic income. It will take some time yet for the importance of this strategy to become more widespread.
We’re at a real crossroads at the moment. With the advent of advanced robotics, automation, and especially artificial intelligence, work will be required of fewer and fewer people for shorter and shorter lengths of time. There will be, in a very short period of time, a huge surplus of people as workers and a shortage of people as consumers. The elimination of tedious labour could result in an explosion of creative energy as people are freed to think for themselves and act according to their talents and abilities. However, they will need income to be able to do that.
One thing for sure, there will have to be a greater distribution of wealth because it does no one any good to hoard cash and take money out of circulation. It sure doesn’t help corporations involved in the sale of consumer goods. From this perspective, banks and financial institutions are at loggerheads with consumer driven businesses. There will have to evolve a very different ethic, one at odds with the current capitalist Neo-liberal one that I wrote about in my last blog post.
I love strange books with compelling titles and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth fits the bill. This book, first published in 1952 but with the seventh and last printing taking place in 1972, was printed in the U.S.A. It’s based sometime in the future and looking back to it’s publication in 1952 from a 2012 vantage point is a bit strange. Pohl and Kornbluth obviously had to design a future that was credible to a 1952 readership still infused with memories of World War II and trying to deny the existence of the Korean War. In some ways, that’s not too difficult a task, but in other ways the challenge is daunting. For instance, the characters in the book still use phones like in 1952, board planes on the tarmack at airports and smoke incessantly, but space travel is common. The book is about the marketing business and how it has evolved. Lies are common and the bigger the lie the better. Products are not simply advertized anymore. Marketing businesses create products to sell not based on their utility but on their salability. (How far is THIS from our current reality?) They are trying to sell people on Venus colonization. How can they make Venus attractive to potential colonists? It’s virtually uninhabitable. I leave it to you to find a copy of the book to see how the main character in the book, Mitchell Courtenay, gets along. What I want to highlight here is a simple paragraph on page 7 of my edition of the book which reads:
“Fowler Schocken inclined his head. ‘Thank you, Matthew,’ And he meant it. It took him a moment before he could go on. ‘We all know,’ he said, ‘what put us where we are. We remember the Starrzalius Verily account, and how we put Indiastries on the map. The first spherical trust. Merging a whole subcontinent into a single manufacturing complex. Schocken Associates pioneered on both of them. Nobody can say we were floating with the tide. But that’s behind us.”
Indiastries [my emphasis]. ‘Now that’s prescient,’ I thought to myself. Pohl and Kornbluth project into the future a trend that was in its infancy in 1952 with post-war globalization and geopolitics, that is, the corporate drive to find cheaper raw materials and labour wherever they might be. Of course, that’s a movement or trend that started long before epitomized by Christopher Columbus and his P3 venture, but did it ever take off after WW II. Now, global business corporations scour the globe like bottom feeders, looking for the cheapest raw materials and the cheapest labour. In the case of raw materials, its a little more difficult than with labour. Raw materials are found where they lie in the earth. It’s possible for hard rock mining companies, oil producers and other exploiters of the earth’s ‘natural resources’ to more to parts of the earth previously unexplored to uncover precious commodities like gold. Canadian mining corporations are all over Mexico, Central and South America mining and exploring for minerals. That doesn’t mean Canada has no gold left in ‘them thar’ hills, but the ‘business climate’ is much better in Mexico and the near absence of environmental regulation (or their enforcement) is just fine, thank you. And labour is cheap, cheap, cheap. For secondary or value added manufacturers and businesses operating in the service sector, the ‘Third World’ is their oyster. They’ve managed to cut deals with impoverished governments all over the world to set up export processing zones (EPZs) which are sometimes secured compounds, sometimes entire cities or regions, where powerful global corporations can set up shop, exploit cheap labour, pay no duties, no taxes, and face no environmental or health and safety regulations. Corporations have flocked to the EPZs. ‘Our’ corporations are abandoning North American, Japanese, European, Australian and South Korean labour and moving production to EPZs or other facilities in the ‘Third World’ at an exponential rate. There is no turning this around. China and India are big players in providing cheap labour for ‘our’ corporations making it hard to pick up any ‘consumer’ product these days that’s not manufactured there. But make no mistake about it. Those products are not Chinese or Indian products. They are Nike, Apple, Dell, Monsanto, Nestlé, Wal-Mart, etc., etc, products produced by cheap labour in poor countries bypassing ‘expensive’ labour ‘here.’
So, Indiastries. Looks like it’s well on the ways to reality. India harnessed as a whole by a single manufacturing trust. With how rapidly things are changing these days, how far down the road can that be? Pohl and Kornbluth were pretty prescient guys. Only problem I find with their scenario is who’s going to buy all these wonderful products made in India and elsewhere in the ‘Third World?’ Won’t be workers here because they’re putting us out of work as fast as they can. We’ll see how it goes.
This is a re-blog of a post I wrote in 2012. I think it’s quite relevant following my last post.
Suppose you need a trench dug. It needs to be 50 centimetres deep, 120 centimetres wide and 30 metres long. You’ve never had to undertake such a project before. You have a choice of tools: pointed stick, shovel or back hoe. It would take you no time to learn how to use the pointed stick, a small amount of time to learn how to dig with a shovel, but learning how to use the backhoe would take you a substantial amount of time. What would you choose to do?
Now, think about this. You have a choice. You can mobilize 1000 people to dig your trench, 100 people to dig it with a shovel or 1 person to do it with a backhoe. All three of these options would take exactly the same amount of time. What would you choose to do?
I know what I would do in this situation. I’d hire the guy with the backhoe. I wouldn’t for a minute contemplate hiring 1000 people with pointed sticks to dig my trench. That’s because it’s realistic for me to make this decision in the time and place in which I live. Obviously, if I lived 30,000 years ago, I would not have the option of using a backhoe. A pointed stick would be my only option and I would easily be able to mobilize all the help I need among my tribal members.
It seems like a no-brainer to think that history has been a steady progress towards more and more sophisticated technology: pointed sticks to shovels to backhoes. However, not everything is what it seems. Let’s see what this situation looks like for someone starting from scratch. Let’s make the scenario really simple. Let’s have you dig a trench 3 metres long, 30 centimetres deep and 20 centimetres in width.
The pointed stick is indeed a very simple tool and can be gotten with very little effort, sometimes by just picking one up off of the ground under a tree. Simple tools like this allow a person to get right down to work. A little sharpening with a sharp rock might help if an already pointed stick couldn’t just be found, and some hardening over a fire could make the tool more durable.
The shovel is a whole other thing. To make a shovel, even a fairly basic one, requires some wood and shaped metal, preferably a hard metal. So, while the person with the pointed stick is hard at work digging the trench, the person who has chosen to dig the trench with a shovel is looking around for a suitable piece of wood for the handle. That shouldn’t be difficult, although the wood may need some shaping. But then finding a suitable metal by mining will be more challenging. Extracting the metal from the ore by smelting then forging the metal and shaping it before fitting it on the handle will complete the project. Chances are pretty good too that more than one person will be involved in the making of a shove. There may be a specialist wood worker, a miner, a smelter and a blacksmith. By the time the shovel is ready for work, the pointed stick wielding worker may well have finished digging his trench.
The backhoe is hopeless if the challenge is to start from scratch. The guy with the pointed stick would have already cut half a million trenches in the time it would take a person, or even an army of people, to build a backhoe from scratch.
The Social Character of Human Production
What this all means is that human labour must always be assessed in its social context. All of the tools mentioned above have a certain amount of labour in their making. The sum total of the time it takes to dig a trench with a pointed stick, a shovel or a backhoe is only part of the story. The time it takes to fashion said tools must also be taken into account when calculating the time it takes to make something or accomplish a particular task. The labour embedded in the tool prior to when the digging actually starts is called crystallized labour or dead labour because it’s no longer active, having already played its part in creating the necessary tools to do the job. There is very little crystallized labour in a pointed stick, a lot more in a shovel, and a massive amount more in a backhoe. So, which tool is the most efficient? It depends on the social conditions under which the task is undertaken.
The reality is that the more sophisticated the tool, the more crystallized labour contained in it. In the case of the backhoe, there are centuries of accumulated knowledge, techniques of raw material acquisition, processing, shaping and assembly probably including thousands of workers in many parts of the globe over many, many years. It also includes the work performed in the petrochemical industries that bring the machine alive so it can perform its duties. The pointed stick and the shovel have no need for extraneous inputs in their operation. Of course, once a backhoe exists it can, with one operator and enough diesel fuel, cut in a month as many trenches as a person with a pointed could cut in a lifetime.
The crystallized labour included in any tool is part of the necessary capital required to produce anything. The tools themselves are capital. Another thing: the amount of capital necessary to produce the backhoe is social capital. It’s taken masses of people centuries to come up with the backhoe. It’s not the work of any single individual. A major aspect of this process is that pooled capital is subject to appropriation by people who organize the productive process but who don’t actually produce anything themselves as individuals. A backhoe is a product of the accumulation of capital and its control by a small minority of the population. So, historically what has happened is that the productive forces, particularly the tools and knowledge needed to make things happen have been increasingly socialized then privately appropriated. That’s history, folks. But what exactly does appropriation mean?
Appropriation means that ownership of the means of production has historically been privatized or concentrated in the hands of a few individuals as soon as there appeared the need for a division of labour or specialization in the productive process. The objective of appropriation early on was to remove control over the process from the people who actually used the tools and did the work. Frederick Winslow Taylor, in the early 20thCentury, created scientific management, a process whereby specialized workers, craftsmen, were removed as active agents in the factory to be replaced by managers who broke down the productive process into its constituent parts assigning workers, now disenfranchised, to accomplish just one task along an assembly line. Workers no longer individually created products but contributed only to one task in the process of the creation of a product. The quintessential expression of scientific management early on was implemented by Henry Ford in his assembly-line production of automobiles.
Workers were not too pleased about having their control over the productive process wretched from their large calloused hands so the early 20thCentury featured some of the most active labour protests and strikes in history. Needless to say, the process by which control over production shifted from workers to owners and managers started much earlier than in the 20thCentury as did labour strife. Regardless, the 20thCentury has proven to be THE century of capital’s monopolization of the productive process. In doing so, it has broken down the production of commoditiesinto specialized activities and has globalized the process, a situation made possible by shipping containers, cheap air transport, the internet, just-in-time production tied to supply chains, and the vassalization of countries.It’s clear that the few individuals and the organizations they represent who control global wealth are finding it increasingly difficult to find effective investments. The reasons are simple in conception but complex when aggregate global capitalist activity is considered.
A Shrinking Rate of Profit
As Marx noted, the only way a capitalist can make a profit through surplus value is by not paying his workers full value for their labour. In fact, profit is essentially the appropriation of unpaid wages. Veblen contested this Marxian notion in his The Place of Science in Modern Civilizationbecause, as he argued, who says workers deserve the right to the full value of their labour. Nevertheless, it’s still true that for many millennia human production has predominantly been a social affair so why shouldn’t we all share equally in what we produce? Well, we could and we might still, but we haven’t to date except for the odd ‘primitive’ situation millennia ago or in more and more marginalized indigenous tribal situations today.
So, as we carry on today with increasing automation, computerization, AI, and technological innovation, the margins of profit continue to shrink because the more capital or dead labour is used in the productive process, the less room there is to extract surplus value from the process and make a profit. If, for example, Macdonald’s were to successfully replace all of its workforce with robots, it would find it more and more difficult to make a profit by paying its workforce less than the value that it produces. And, of course, robots don’t buy hamburgers, don’t pay taxes. The value of labour embodied in them as capital will allow for some profit to be extracted from the business of making hamburgers, but that basis for the creation of profit will quickly dry up. As the graph below shows, the amount of capital expended in the productive process is increasing historically while the share of labour in the process is steadily decreasing and/or devalued. Where we are along this process is anyone’s guess but I’m certain that we’re well past the midpoint and probably closing in on the far right side of the graph.
So, as workers we have been systematically excluded from ownership and control over the productive process. Still, Marx found reason to be optimistic about the future. That’s the subject of my next post.
These estimates are completely arbitrary of course but are included to approximate the variation in values that are obvious in the scenario introduced.
Vassalization: My word for the process by which the finance capitalist global oligarchy has come to treat countries. Certainly, since the 1970s but as a process going back to at least Bretton Woods, finance capital has turned countries or nation-states into vassals. From this perspective, countries are no longer sovereign or democratic, but instead are subordinate managers of the working class and guarantors of private property and private accumulation of capital.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) thought so. He’s the guy who formalized the calculus, also called the felicific calculus, but he wasn’t the first one to think along those lines. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) came up with the bones of the same idea much earlier and others followed, e.g. John Locke. It seems that the English were quite concerned with their hedonism and the notion that they should be individually in charge of it.
Now, the hedonistic calculus has far-reaching significance for capitalist social relations, our conception of the nature of society as consisting solely of market relations, liberalism and certainly for economics. It has also infected our moral sense in a big way.
The hedonistic calculus as conceived by Bentham looks like this:
A pleasure or pain varies in (1) intensity, (2) duration, (3) certainty, (4) propinquity; when we take wont oaccouzd the other pleasures or pains that might result from the act or event which produced it, it varies in (5) fecundity and (6) purity; and, when we take other persons into account, it varies in (7) extent. In directing our conduct, we seek that pleasure which is most intent, of longest duration, most certain, nearer, and so forth. These ‘dimensions of value’ as Bentham calls them, are significant only because they indicate Bentham’s conviction that we are able to fix these dimensions quantitatively, add up the quantities, balance the totals against each other with more or less mathematical precision, and select the greater. ‘Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side,’ Bentham advised, ‘and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it to be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole, with respect to the interests of that individual person; if on the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole.1
So, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham and the other classical liberals start their argument with the notion of individual sovereignty, that is, that the individual is the focus of their analysis and has complete charge of his behaviour which is always determined by a calculation of the pleasure or pain involved in any given act or situation. (I use his in the last sentence because for most classical liberals her was irrelevant.) Of course in pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain we must not harm others. That’s why Hobbes argued that we need a permanent sovereign. The sovereign’s role is as arbiter of disputes between individuals became, when you get right down to it, we are all in a power struggle with everyone else and we’re driven by fear, so someone has to keep order. Individualism is critical to classical liberalism. Society starts and ends with the individual or rather, society is just a set of market relations. It’s handy that the individual is in charge of himself because, then he can sell things and acquire things. he can’t sell himself, obviously, that would be slavery, but he can sell his property and buy and sell land. For the landless, however, with no land, the only property they have is their labour-power, their ability to work. So, men are free as individuals.
Because society is a set of market relations, the price of land, labour, etc., is derived in the marketplace. Logically, then, the market should be left alone to determine the value of everything, including labour power. The role of the sovereign in this should then be to protect the market, to ensure its independence and logic.
Conveniently, Hobbes, who was instrumental in getting classical liberalism off the ground, rationalized his view of man as derived from what he considered man in a state of nature. Macpherson suggests that Hobbes must have been smoking some good weed because he didn’t recognize that his ‘man in nature’ was really a particular specimen of ‘civilized’ man. It’s clear that none of the classical liberals were about to identify class as a variable in their theoretical musings, either. Men are individuals and their lives are determined by them alone. They owe nothing to society, nor does society owe them anything, unless it’s protection from violent death and market stability. Every individual is responsible for his own life and failure or success. Station at birth was meaningless. If you detect the ideas of quietism and social darwinism in these ideas, you’re probably on to something.
In all the received formulations of economic theory, whether at the hands of English economists or those of the Continent, the human material with which the inquiry is concerned is conceived in Hedonistic terms; that is to say, in terms of a passive and substantially inert and im- mutably given human nature. The psychological and anthropological preconceptions of the economists have been those which were accepted by the psychological and social sciences some generations ago. The hedonistic conception of man is that of a lightning calculator of pleasures and pains, who oscillates like a homogeneous globule of desire of happiness under the impulse of stimuli that shift him about the area, but leave him intact. He has neither antecedent nor consequent. He is an isolated, definitive human datum, in stable equilibrium except for the buffets of the impinging forces that displace him in one direction or another. Self imposed in elemental space, he spins symmetrically about his own spiritual axis until the parallelogram of forces bears down upon him, whereupon he follows the line of the resultant. When the force of the impact is spent, he comes to rest, a self- contained globule of desire as before. Spiritually, the hedonistic man is not a prime mover. He is not the seat of a process of living, except in the sense that he is subject to a series of permutations enforced upon him by circumstances external and alien to him. The later psychology, re-enforced by modern an- thropological research, gives a different conception of human nature. According to this conception, it is the characteristic of man to do something, not simply to suffer pleasures and pains through the impact of suitable forces. He is not simply a bundle of desires that are to be sat- urated by being placed in the path of the forces of the environment, but rather a coherent structure of propensities and habits which seeks realisation and expression in an unfolding activity. (page 74)
Classical economics and classical liberalism share the same psychological assumptions: people are responsible for themselves, they are basically lazy and must be ‘encouraged’ to work, they are fearful and basically want to kill each other all the time. Veblen was as strong critic of classical economics and liberalism as well as their psychological assumptions. In his The Instinct of Workmanship, Veblen makes the compelling case that we (humans) are born to act, we are not by nature quiet and still, needing to be prodded into action.
I would not be so bold as to suggest that Hobbes and Locke in the 16th Century were looking for a philosophical justification for capitalism. Macpherson writes in his book The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism that by the mid 17th Century in England, more than fifty percent of the population were servants, that is, wage workers. Their living conditions as well as those of the upper classes begged for theoretical justification.
It’s really quite astonishing to me that since the seventeenth century (and before to some extent) the kinds of ideas produced by the classical liberals still hold in most of the world. Of course, they have been modified according to historical circumstance and place. They have also taken into account (with Bentham certainly) social obligation and have evolved into the liberalism of the welfare state among others. However, there seems to now be a move back to classical liberal ideas. Libertarians are pretty much classical liberals although you’d never want to call them that to their faces. They would explode right there in front of you. ‘Liberalism’ is again a bad word but there is so much muddle out there right now, it’s almost impossible to use words in any meaningful way when describing politics and sovereignty. Members of the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative party in Canada would quiver and shake at being described as liberals, but liberals they are if we define liberals as focussed on (at least the semblance of) individual freedom, etc. They bear all the marks of classical liberals. They eschew taxes, want small government, release the market from any constraints, dismantle all social programs or at least privatize them, and hate ‘socialism.’ You might find it strange for me to even entertain the idea that Russian or Chinese societies are basically liberal, but they are in a real sense. They’re never been communist, but that’s an argument for another day.
Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope that humanity will turn itself around, realize how stupid the assumptions of classical liberalism are and act accordingly. The values of classical liberalism are the dominant moral ideals today: work hard, don’t be lazy, no matter how shitty your job is go to it every day, be responsible for your actions, buy things, lots of things, don’t ask questions. So sad, it’s not even funny.
Like trees in a forest, we too are rooted in the living mesh of another organism—in a web of story. We give life to the stories we tell, imagining entire worlds and preserving them on rock, paper, and silicon. Stories sustain us: they open paths of clarity in the chaos of existence, maintain a record of human thought, and grant us the power to shape our perceptions of reality. The coevolution of humans and stories may not be one of the oldest partnerships in the history of life on Earth, but it is certainly one of the most robust. As a psychic creature simultaneously parasitizing and nourishing the human mind, narrative was so thoroughly successful that it is now all but inextricable from language and thought. Stories live through us, and we live through stories.
By Ferris Jabr
From: The Story of Storytelling: What the hidden relationships of ancient folktales reveal about their evolution—and our own
Stories may not have any relationship with ‘the truth’ but they often, if they touch a common thread of love, connection, fear and loathing, are profoundly compelling and can affect our behaviour in many ways.
For instance, the story that we live in a democracy. We’ve been telling ourselves that story for so long and so compellingly that we’ve come to believe it unreservedly. Our love affair with the thought of democracy makes me think of the young man who falls in love with the idea of falling in love. When he finally meets someone he thinks he’s in love with he is so smitten by the idea of love itself that he can’t see his love object for what she truly is, a gold digger and thief.
It’s true that we can live our entire lives in a shallow pool of thought looking through rose-coloured glasses, never seeing the world for what it is. Some of our stories may turn out to be true, but some of the most important ones will turn out to be no more connected to reality than Little Red Riding Hood. Can you tell which of the stories you believe are true and which are fiction? Does it really matter?
I can’t seem to write anything very serious right now. I’ve been researching democracy and capitalism for some time, reading like crazy, and I’ve come to a number of conclusions that I need to write about, but, it’s just not coming together for me right now. It will soon enough, but right now I have to entertain myself with something a little lighter.
Usually I write my blog posts in one go. I’ll research a topic for a while or one will drop itself into my lap…top (he,he) and I’ll sit down and write. Carolyn knows when I’ve been bitten by the writing bug because I go silent and withdrawn and my full attention is on the keyboard. When she tries to talk to me, I have to keep asking “What, Pardon me?” Then, she sometimes gets impatient. I can understand that. Problem is, I’m busy and concentrating on writing sentences, whole sentences that make sense. It doesn’t always happen, but I do make an effort.
I just finished writing an essay about Kurt Vonnegut and riding a ferry to Vancouver. It’s a two thousand word non-fiction piece. I’ve probably spent 40 hours on it all told. That’s an outrageous amount of time for me to spend on any writing project these days, since I’ve been retired from the work-a-day grind. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this essay yet, but I’ll decide soon. if you don’t see it posted here it’s because I’ve done something else with it.
I’ve read many of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. I’m re-reading Hocus Pocus right now then I’ll pick up Breakfast of Champions and read that again for the third or fourth time. The guy is fucking hilarious even if his novels are always tinged with at least a modicum of sorrow. Galapagos is one of my favourite novels of his. The premise of that book is that the human race has been infected with a virus or something that prevents reproduction so that the fate of humanity is sealed within a few decades. The only survivors are on the Galapagos Islands where they were safe from infection and a million years hence they look a lot like seals and live in the sea. It’s a fun read and I wouldn’t be at all too upset if the premise of this book became a reality. We as a species are right out of control.
So, what’s the connection between Vonnegut and riding the ferry to Vancouver? Well, ferry passengers often embody in a microcosm aa lot that is absurd about human life. Vonnegut would have a field day riding the ferry although I expect he might stay in his vehicle or take a plane instead of ever getting on a ferry.
I find ferry passengers highly entertaining most of the time. Sometimes I just find them annoying. Sometimes, I draw them, like these guys:
Mostly I don’t, because it’s hard to be discreet when I’m drawing. I have to look closely at my subjects at times and if they figure out what I’m doing, it could get embarrassing. It may be, of course, that they would be delighted and offer to buy my little drawings of them but then again, probably not. They’d probably just want me to give it to them and I’m not into that so much anymore. Oh, I do give away a lot of my drawings and prints, but not in the wintertime. Don’t ask me why.
It’s certainly true that a lot of ferry passengers are hugely entertaining, and mostly not deliberately, I fear. Invariably, there are people who are outrageously dressed, at least from my perspective, and there are others who are just plain silly like young people full of themselves and too self-absorbed to care about how their behaviour is affecting others on the boat.
Given enough time, I could write little stories about every single passenger aboard any ship on any trip just based on their appearance and demeanour. I could then weave those stories into a collage of silly speculation about what ferry travellers are up to when they’re not on the boat.
For example, the guy in the second picture above was checking out his cel phone. He was on that thing for a long time. I have no idea what he was looking at, maybe it was porn, maybe he was checking his dating site, maybe he was just surfing Facebook. Who knows. I didn’t ask him. I drew him instead. He never looked up so I was in no danger of him finding out that I was drawing him. His double chin really stood out! Mine does too when I look down like that. I wish he would have had a call from somebody while he was looking at his phone. I can make up a lot of stuff about somebody by overhearing conversations. I love eavesdropping. It’s just part of what makes me a social scientist.
So, enough of this silliness for today. I’ll get downright serious soon enough and then you’ll learn a thing or two!