One of my television heroes, perhaps a role model, I’m not certain how to categorize him except to say he’s earned my respect, is Mike Rowe. Many people have heard his voice as he’s narrated literally hundreds of documentaries, but they got to see him in person as the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. Mike also has a TED talk in which, at the end, touches on the War on Work. He strikes an excellent point with me as he explains that we have engaged in a Cold War against honest labor.
In a discussion with my kids a few years ago, just after Multiple Myeloma forced me to retire from work, they told me that I must be really proud of my accomplishments. After all, they said, I was a commercial pilot, an Internet Pioneer, I built my own Wireless Network company, and was almost a lawyer and a psychologist. (I completed the classes but never worked as either; I WAS a volunteer guardian ad litem, representing children involved in abuse and neglect, advocating for their rights and interests though.) And I also helped a few other people start and grow their companies. They called me Mr. Discovery Channel and refused to play Trivial Pursuit with me, saying the deck was stacked with my broad interest in science, arts and business. I was forever engaged in what was mostly white collar endeavors even though the wireless aspect of my networking company required me to climb towers and hump heavy equipment all over the place.
Before I began the diverse path of (mostly) white collar endeavors though, I was a car mechanic; that iconic low life form that always tried to exploit people’s ignorance of things mechanical to charge for unnecessary repairs. I played the game straight though, fixing only that which needed fixing so that I could feel good about myself and not always worry that some victim would mug me in a dark alley unexpectedly. The thing is, out of all of the different methods I used to earna living to support my family, I was actually happiest as a mechanic. So my answer to my seedling’s assertions of personal pride, I said this> You know, looking back, I always wished that I’d taken up heavy equipment operation.
Perhaps it’s all of the fun and the creative outlet of building roads and cities with various Tonka products, dump trucks, bulldozers, cranes and backhoes that beckon to me from my youth. But I never felt quite the pride and satisfaction in all of the things I did that was equal to the way I felt digging up the dirt and molding the surface of the earth to match my visions. It was similar with my train set; a collection I built over ten years of birthdays and Christmas as I begged those planning to give me a gift to please fork over something that helped build my Lionel collection. It was pretty massive and I had it running all over the two stories of our home in Connecticut. My family was tolerant and even amused by the very prolific railway my railroad grew, even moving outside to ride over roadbeds I built with the aforementioned Tonka products. It broke my heart that my parents assumed that when I went off to the army and the war that I would have outgrown my railroad fetish, because the years hadn’t done that at all. In fact, I looked forward to owning my own home and actually permanently building in a very complex railway into it. It was even more heartbreaking when, after reading a manifest of my collection, it was declared at worth $70,000 in 1980′s economy. You see, the railroad was a metaphor for the plan I had for my life. I expected to do, on human scale, more and better of what I’d done as a kid with all those toys. (Now called collector items.)
Anyone who has seen the movie Office Space can get an idea of my attitude and related to the happiness of the character Ron Livingston, who, in the end, forgoes his white collar future in favor of a happier one doing physical labor. I said to my kids, I think I’d rather have operated a road grader, a dump truck, a bulldozer or a fork lift. I wasn’t too thrilled about truck driving, because I have come to the conclusion that truck driving is a form of masochism; having to deal with the way I see people drive (or point their vehicles and pray) was not for me. They were, my children that is, not truck drivers, surprised that I felt this way given the reasonable success I met with the various avocations I took on. Okay, MAYBE being a bush pilot would have been cool, but forget tat one. So the television and movies are always trying to show us how much better time off is and how work is drudgery. It’s undesirable. Of course, that only causes fewer people to do actual labort work and that means fewer people can afford time off. It’s simple if you look at it.
Back to Mike Rowe, he pointed out that the war we have against work is fought on many fronts. We are all compelled by pressures to go to college, get an MBA or something in computer science. But as to jobs like welding, steam and ship fitting, farming and good old heavy equipment operators face an uphill recruit battle as hollywood and advertising show us how much more satisfying it would be to do very little while getting very rich. As a result, the number of schools offering the curriculum in in support of these fields are falling away due to lack of enrollments. Meanwhile, the labor jobs needed to maintain our infrastructure, build our structures and just invent new ways to do ancient tasks is on a serious decline. It’s no wonder that illegal immigrants are such a conundrum; we have all these jobs that need doing but few Americans who will stoop to do them. Sp we NEED these immigrants to seasonally visit and perform the tasks that nobody wants. Without them, the last vestiges of our export products, fruits and nuts, would go the way of the Dodo bird. Extinct.
We need to stop fighting and embrace the skills that people require. We already know the American Dream has pretty much gone extinct. The American dream can’t exist in societies where 80 percent of the wealth resides with 10% of the people. I simply doesn’t happen. Quoting from Caddy Shack, “the world needs ditch diggers too.” A concept we should become a lot wiser about than we’ve historically been.