Demography Is Destiny. Destiny Is Opportunity.

Demography Is Destiny. Destiny Is Opportunity.


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An old man suffers a heart attack and falls into the street in front of a bus.

From a risk management perspective, the first thing you do is pull him out of the traffic.

The second thing you do is treat the heart attack. On the sidewalk, not in the street.

This pretty much describes the re-election of Barack Obama.

Yes, it is a good thing that a bloodthirsty, misogynistic, homophobic, war-mongering, intellectually primitive oligarchy of the world’s most dangerous religious extremists has been kept out of the white house. Yay. Go team. I guess the drone strikes, bank bailouts and illegal monitoring of innocent civilians can continue unhindered. Break out the parade balloons.

From Simon Jenkins in The Guardian:

America has just undergone a monumental exercise in democracy. But no one can now tell whether the result means that the country will decline into “singularity” or soar to a new supremacy. Nor can anyone say whether America has “turned left”, merely by sticking with Barack Obama and rejecting Mitt Romney. All that happened was that the Democrats persuaded more minorities to come out and vote, while an awesome debt remains.

Don’t be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of that last sentence, however. These “minorities” (everyone except angry, white hetero men) are now collectively the majority. This has huge policy implications. Of course, the price is eternal vigilance but hegemony can no longer re-appropriate women’s bodies or the rights of same sex couples with impunity. Because they will eventually get their asses handed to them.

The demographic group that built Bush Snr’s New World Order for its own purposes can no longer stack the deck: (They still run the world, but they can’t stack the deck. Social policy is now in your hands. Whatever you do, don’t drop it!)

A voracious model of capitalism forced down the throats of the world as the only way to run a modern economy, at a cost of ballooning inequality and environmental degradation, had been discredited – and only rescued from collapse by the greatest state intervention in history. The baleful twins of neoconservatism and neoliberalism had been tried and tested to destruction.

And while neoliberalism had been discredited, western governments used the crisis to try to entrench it. Not only were jobs, pay and benefits cut as never before, but privatisation was extended still further. Being right was, of course, never going to be enough. What was needed was political and social pressure strong enough to turn the tables of power.

Revulsion against a discredited elite and its failed social and economic project steadily deepened after 2008. As the burden of the crisis was loaded on to the majority, the spread of protests, strikes and electoral upheavals demonstrated that pressure for real change had only just begun. Rejection of corporate power and greed had become the common sense of the age.

We are all still stranded in a great ocean of fuck, but the events of the last few days have me thinking of priorities and attitudes. Say what you will about the efficacy of voting in a federal republic for reliably selecting a leader, an election is still a potent gauge of sentiment.

And… whisper it… but is it possible our apocalypse is turning us into better people? Has all this trauma made us “grow” like the protagonist in your first novel? It has me thinking about Penelope’s most recent (excellent) book:

It used to be we had a midlife crisis. Then we had a quarterlife crisis. Now we have a constant crisis. Adults feel overwhelmed by the idea of of trying to construct a life that works. And the core of this problem is that the goal of happiness is feeling vacuous. It’s just hard to say that. It’s hard to say you are not trying to get what you were raised to get. It’s hard to say you are not playing the game you were taught in school – for twenty years – to play.

I struggle with this. From a personality perspective, I’m actually extremely competitive. Living in London means you accidentally party with royalty. It means your social group inevitably includes globally successful lawyers and entrepreneurs. My challenge is I just don’t want to work twenty hours a day in the desperate hope that I’ll get a mysterious phone call from the head of the vampire squid. I don’t want the medal at the end of the race. It’s stupid. The arbitrary accrual and dispensation of unequal wealth is stupid. Even a capuchin monkey can work that out:

We are all scared, we are all insecure, but sometimes we are also winners. The recent grand demographic protest showed that. Back to Penelope:

The key to getting the life you want is to be able to see that the old paths don’t work. Instead of feeling like it’s high-risk to buck the system, recognize that the paths that baby boomers took are simply not available. You are walking off a cliff when you choose one of those paths. You are walking off a ladder with no rungs. In the New American Dream, the safest thing to do for your career is to choose a path that is engaging to you. No more paying dues. No more choosing graduate school because you think it’s safe. No more doing work that’s not well suited to you. These are no longer paths to the American Dream.

Destiny is opportunity

The traditional routes to wealth -whatever that word means- have been permanently disrupted. But I don’t think they were ever there in the first place. Take property ownership. We were sold this idea as wealth creation because it suited banking interests. Here’s a quote from an excellent article you should read in its entirety:

The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner hit the front bookcase displays at Barnes and Noble in March 2006, at the very top of the real estate market and just a few months before the whole thing crashed and burned. Its main message was simple: If you take out a mortgage to buy a home, you will always make money. There is no way you can lose—no matter when you buy, how much you pay or what type of loan you get. And the kicker is: both the book and finance expert who wrote it were bankrolled by Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Today, one in four American homes are underwater. But what is also happening today is that we are seeing the beginning of a Maker’s Revolution. This is how Chris Anderson characterises it:

The past 10 years have been about discovering new ways to work together and offer services on the web. The next 10 years will, I believe, be about applying those lessons to the real world. It means that the future doesn’t just belong to internet businesses founded on virtual principles. but to ones that are firmly rooted in the physical world.

The nascent Maker movement offers a path to reboot manufacturing – not by returning to the giant factories of old, with their armies of employees, but by creating a new kind of manufacturing economy, one shaped more like the web itself: bottom-up, broadly distributed, and highly entrepreneurial. The image of a few smart people changing the world with little more than an internet connection and an idea increasingly describes manufacturing of the future, too.

And here is the ever-amazing Seth talking about it in a video I found via Lonnie.

For me, this comes down to three key areas:

1. Priorities

The trouble with appearing in a musical that doesn’t have a script is you have to make up your own lines. Working out what is important to you in a disrupted world is really fucking hard. Steve Palina suggests you should write until you cry:

“What is my true purpose in life?” Write down your first answer. Then, write another answer. Keep writing until you cry. “This is your purpose.”

An extra tip -directed largely at myself: you will start crying before you write the words “my purpose is to be a famous millionaire lawyer working until 11pm in the office every night.” That is to say… when you are working out your priorities don’t measure the wrong things.

2. Create space and scope

It took me years to get my head around two of what are probably the most important career steps you can take.

When it comes to networking… help four people a month. Seriously… calendarise it. I do. Networking exists so that you can help others, not so that someone important will be so impressed by you at an industry event that they give you a corner office and become your mentor. This isn’t a Disney film.

So that’s scope.

By space I mean the thing you give yourself. If you have a job that requires you to use your brain then it counts as work if you’re thinking. I go for ‘work walks’ now. That’s seriously what I call them when my boss asks why I wasn’t at my desk.

3. Authenticity

Authenticity is a macrotrend. It extends beyond the world of work into everything you choose to do with your life. It’s what culture is doing to eradicate the hipster AIDS it caught in Brooklyn that weekend a few years ago.

To me it looks like the Makers’ Revolution. It looks like the music of Sam Lee. (Pagans among you will adore him.) It looks like anything you are doing where you are not comparing yourself to others.

Authenticity is scary. Going after what you want is risky. Penelope again:

Gear up for big risks. Screaming at my investors. And crying. And getting thrown out of the attorney’s office where we were. Those were big risks. I could have lost my company, but I didn’t. I didn’t lose my salary, either. But I took big risks. You never know what risks you’ll have to take to get what you want, but it’s safe to say that if you are aiming for flexibility in corporate America, you will need to risk your job, or your salary, to get what you want. Just remember it’s worth it.

It is indeed worth it. The last couple of weeks have seen huge changes in my work life that I can’t talk about or even link to because there is an army of PR drones scouring the internet for commentary. But it is basically huge, exciting, scary, risky news. The news of my career. It is opportunity as destiny. So there has been a lot of soul-searching and prioritising and assessing authenticity around here.

There has also been no small amount of terror. And so we pray:

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain
but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield
but to my own strength.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved
but hope for the patience to win my freedom.

Grant that I may not be a coward,
feeling Your mercy in my success alone;

But let me find the the grasp of Your hand in my failure.

 – Rabindranath Tagore

8 Comments

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  1. 2
    Lance Foster

    I just help people because it feels right. I can’t help people in the way of money because I am poor. But I can help people. I teach and give them room to be themselves for an hour and a half. I get a lot of veterans in my classes. They like it. We help each other.

    I am glad your career is taking off, Gordon. It makes me feel good that one of the good guys is winning. I had a couple of careers where I was part of an effort that saved some places from development, helped “our neighbors” live their ancient lives, and I took hits for it. So I am permanently sidelined, discredited as a troublemaker. I help out the kids in my class. I tell them the truth not the lie, and they help me by being themselves. It’s hard to explain but it feels holy.

    If things ever blow up and you are royally screwed and in poverty and dismissed by the Minions for the rest of your life, let me tell you, it’s not so bad. You can still do some good work. You can still help people. You can still add some light to the world :-) It’s been snowing for two days now, about 16 inches on the ground. And the world is beautiful and silent.

  2. 3
    Lance Foster

    Two bits from “The Grapes of Wrath”:

    Tom Joad: Well, maybe it’s like Casey says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…
    Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?
    Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.
    Ma Joad: I don’t understand it, Tom.
    Tom Joad: Me, neither, Ma, but – just somethin’ I been thinkin’ about.

    …..

    Ma Joad: Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.

  3. 5
    Andrew B. Watt

    I’m tasked with helping to bring the Maker Revolution to a school which sometimes doesn’t really want it. “How is it different than building dioramas??” some colleagues ask. So I know about problems of authenticity. It’s not doing anything other than building dioramas, sometimes — but it’s those very problems of playfulness and creativity, and energy invested in making something real out of imagination, that lead to happiness in work that matters intrinsically to the adult the child has become. Getting adults — trained all their lives to focus on maths and science, reading and writing as the core of the learning experience — to decide that a few classes building a trebuchet is ok, is often very, very hard. Because we’re not supposed to be babysitters or helping kids develop their imaginations. We’re here to train them to be bankers and lawyers. Just what we don’t need more of, right?

    But I think you’re on track here in identifying that there’s a certain confidence and fearless learning that is part and parcel with the Maker’s Revolution. Indeed, Makery itself is a kind of wizardry, which is why I established the Maker’s Grimoire as part of my website — lots of small projects that can help trigger the mindset necessary to be a graphic designer or a builder or an architect, just as a medieval grimoire contains the exercises and rituals necessary to reframe the experimenter’s experience as a wizard or sorcerer. The two aren’t cognate with each other — but the experimental nature of being fearless in the face of failure is critical.
    Andrew B. Watt´s last blog post ..Taiji Day 252: Horse Stance Revisited Again

  4. 6
    Gordon

    @Andrew as the son of a teacher I genuinely appreciate the challenge that must be. But keep the faith! It’s the kids in school today who will fall through the cracks of the imminent structural changes that come from moving away from a wrote-learning/factory-prepping toward something better suited to the realities of the twenty-first century workforce.

    And in the post-apocalyptic age it will be the trebuchet-building and chess/Forbidden Island playing that will ultimately build better adults.

  5. 7
    Darbla

    “The last couple of weeks have seen huge changes in my work life that I can’t talk about or even link to because there is an army of PR drones scouring the internet for commentary. But it is basically huge, exciting, scary, risky news. The news of my career. It is opportunity as destiny. So there has been a lot of soul-searching and prioritising and assessing authenticity around here.”

    It’s been a few months since you posted that, so can you talk about it now? Is it common knowledge at this point?

    I have been a computer programmer for 20 years now, and I am so disenchanted (lol) at the corporate world (well, probably people in general) I could puke my guts out and then curl up in a corner. I can’t wait ’til my house is paid off so I can stick my middle finger up at the BS I’ve tolerated so far. And right now I’m working so much overtime that might not be too far in the future. :)

  6. 8
    Gordon

    Not yet. But it’s getting closer…. I think.

    And yeah, I completely know what you mean. I find it helpful to picture the corporate world as ‘beyond thunderdone’. Makes it easier to get your head around just being there to extract value.

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