Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Philosophical Moment

A few years ago, I decided to find out what career coaches do, so I signed up for a few hours of coaching. One of the things the coach did was administer some aptitude tests. I was relieved to find that both law and accounting were on my list of good career choices, since I earn a substantial part of my living from the joint practice of law and accounting (I am a tax lawyer). I was also very surprised to find library science as a top career choice. It's true that many of the people I know have lots of books, and my husband and I together probably own 7,000 volumes, maybe more. We've never actually counted, but they take up a huge amount of shelf space. But library science had never, ever occurred to me as a possible career choice.

Wiki says, "Library science (or Library and Information science) is an interdisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools ofmanagementinformation technologyeducation, and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the political economy of information." 

Various careers in library science include librarian, metadata librarian, legal research, general research ...

I find legal and general research very appealing. I have a compelling need to learn new things, every day, and delight in integrating new pieces of information into my whole concept of The Way Things Work. By compelling, I mean utterly necessary for my mental and emotional well-being. I become very unhappy if I am not able to spend at least an hour or two a day learning new things. 
Which explains why I am spending time reading *Dark Age Ahead* by Jane Jacobs on the morning of a tax return deadline. This is not mere frivolous dawdling. I am getting my fix of new knowledge, so I can go forth and review tax returns for the rest of the day.

Writing in the early 2000's Jacobs focused on the breakdown of 5 pillars of cuture in the U.S. and Canada:

  • community and family
  • higher education
  • effective practice of science and science based technology
  • taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • self-policing by the learned professions
Just before I began writing this blog entry, I was reading Jacobs' analysis of the availability of housing to people, and how the cost of housing relative to earnings has risen during the latter half of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st. I had to stop at that point, to check Jacobs' statements against my own observations and other things I've read or heard about. She's definitely right about the cost of housing, but why has this happened? I'm sure Jacobs goes on to discuss the reasons, but I want to think about it myself first, before I read what she says (an aside: Jacobs died in 2004, yet I am writing of her as though she is speaking right now, today -- what a marvelous thing writing is, to allow the dead to speak to the living)

Because of recent experiences I have had with tenants who told me, in all earnestness, that they had no money to pay their rent, while at their sides was the fresh, new box that had contained the 42 inch TV they had just purchased, my thoughts naturally turned toward blaming tenants and homeowners. 

Far as I can tell, the particular tenants who are living in my house, rent-free, even as I write this, used to have more money for their household. The husband had a well-paying job in Michigan, while the wife shopped and minded the home. The husband lost the job in Michigan, took a lower-paying job in Texas; but the wife still spends as though the household had its old, higher income. 

That leads to a further question, because I don't think "my" tenants are unique. Considering the huge amount of credit card debt that USians have collectively run up, millions of USians have kept on spending based on income levels they no longer have. Likewise, our Congress continues to spend money it does not have. What is the cultural root of this tendency to be out of touch with reality? The answer is definitely not "capitalism." I think it's something more deeply rooted in human biology. Perhaps the same root that causes people to keep eating, even after they have already eaten enough to satisfy their energy needs. I say this, not as an aloof observer, but as a human who constantly struggles with my weight and budget.


  1. Reminds me of the old joke line ..."I can't be out of money; I still have checks."

    I would like answers to many questions, including how it is that our government would spend more than $800,000 meant for "economic stimulus" in the US on a program to teach men in another country how to wash themselves after having sex. I hope this story is a myth.

  2. I'm pretty sure it's true. I understand the grant was made to Thomas J. Coates, who "was cited in Science in 2002 as the fourth highest-funded scientist in the clinical, social, and behavioral sciences."

    This would be the sort of thing Jane Jacobs was talking about when she listed the absence of "taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities" as one of the factors contributing the decline of a culture.

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