November 26, 2014

Immigration policy — for cheap labor or cultural replacement?

In the search to track down the traitors who are selling out our country to hordes of foreigners, conservatives can mislead themselves into targeting primarily "cultural Marxists" — those who loathe Western, white, male, hetero culture, and want to replace it with something superior based on its opposites.

Not that that crowd isn't on board with amnesty and immigration, of course they are. But a bunch of limp-dick intellectuals in San Francisco don't have the wealth, power, and influence to control political and economic activity at the highest level. They only serve the powerful by providing an intellectual basis for the policies that were going to take place anyway, to make them sound like a logical necessity rather than a naked power play.

Culture-war conservatives should sober up by looking at the twin policy of immigration — off-shoring, especially of labor but also of tax status. It isn't only hordes of foreigners flooding in, but boatloads of jobs setting sail for far-flung dirt-floor countries. If immigration policy were primarily about replacing the native population with a foreign population more to the liking of the powerful, then why not bring all those beneficiaries of off-shoring right here to the USA?

The answer is that sometimes it's cheaper for their employers to bring the foreigners here, and sometimes cheaper to keep them where they are over there. A contractor who hires dry-wall workers cannot off-shore those jobs to Mexico, India, or China, because the dry-wall work must be done right here. Same with strawberry pickers, meat packers, fast food workers, lawn cutters, and leaf blowers.

But if the work can be done at a distance, the employers are happy to send the work overseas without the whole troublesome business of importing foreign workers to America (like having to pay them based more on the American vs. Indian cost of living). Answering phone calls to customer service and writing computer code naturally lend themselves to distance work. So does manufacturing, as long as shipping the goods here isn't too expensive (shipped in bulk, protected and organized efficiently through modern containerization). This includes industrial products, consumer electronics, and pharmaceutical drugs.

While the cultural replacement view cannot account for such a dramatic split between the twin policies of immigration and off-shoring, it follows straightforwardly from the cheap labor view that we normally associate with leftist or liberal criticism of immigration (such as it is).

There are other clear signs that the powerful don't care that much about replacing the native culture with a foreign one. Why aren't schoolchildren compelled to be bilingual in one of the languages of our new neighbors or trading partners from Central America, China, and India? Foreign language classes are a total joke, are only required for a couple years, and students are not tested for proficiency at all. School boards would eliminate French and German in favor of Cantonese and Hindi. The powerful may want us to be more sensitive and aware of foreign cultures, but not to actually become a foreign culture, which would require a lingua franca.

Deserting the battle over cheap labor, immigration, and off-shoring in this second Gilded Age of ours will earn conservatives a one-way ticket to irrelevance and impotence in the broader culture. So how can they present their criticism in a distinctly conservative rather than leftist way?

I think the main difference is that leftists only blame the shareholders and managers of Big Business for cheap labor policies. As the agents of bullying the government into opening the gates, they certainly deserve a good deal of the blame.

But what about ordinary consumers who clamor for ever cheaper products and services — and the hell if it means that the companies they buy from will employ workers from dirt-floor countries, whether bringing them here or sending the work over there? It's not as though the bulk of the American middle and lower classes would even consider, let alone carry out a boycott of companies that provide cheap junk made by careless foreigners.

"Hey, it's cheap, isn't it? It does the basic thing it's supposed to do, doesn't it? Then who cares if Chinese or Indians or Mexicans had to make it. Now I can buy ten times as much junk. If Americans made it, I could only afford one-tenth of the junk pile that I currently enjoy."

Middle-class callousness toward the consequences of their everyday purchases of goods and services on the demand side is almost as responsible for the cheap labor policies as Big Business greed is on the supply side. Not to mention the phenomenon of middle-class individuals employing cheap foreign labor as lawn cutters, dry-wallers, and babysitters in their own homes. That's not the outcome of a corporate board meeting on Wall Street.

The conservative response in the battle over cheap labor will not target only the wealthy in a class war, but try to humble the middle and lower classes as well, and hold them accountable for their callous preferences that have provided the fuel for the greed of Big Business.

Now, blaming everyone instead of a small easy target may seem like a losing strategy, but as long as it's based on humility and redemption, it can catch on at the grassroots level. An ordinary individual or family cannot meet with a politician the way that a corporate lobbyist can, but they can passively change their consumer practices and actively boycott companies that go against those wishes. "Boycott Chinese junk" would go a long way toward returning that work to American soil.

The leftist response to cheap labor, aimed only at the very top of society, is ultimately more hopeless. It relies on corporate containment policies at the very highest levels of government, or else violent disruption of the shareholders and managers' lives. During the last peak in inequality circa 1920, we saw armed strikers shooting it out against paramilitary armies, as well as anarchists lobbing bombs on Wall Street and assassinating politicians.

During the Great Compression, when inequality reversed and economic and political life became more stable, there were definitely large-scale regulatory programs by the government to rein in the greed and manipulation of Big Business, not to mention much higher income tax rates than we have seen since the '80s. That is the slice of Midcentury life that leftists and liberals can warm up to.

What they don't see is the grassroots change in preferences toward solidifying the culture through excluding foreigners and not buying stuff made in the third world, even if it meant more expensive products and services.

By the Midcentury, the days of hiring cheap servants recently arrived from Ireland, or cheap steel mill workers fresh off the boat from Poland, were long gone. As detailed in this profile from Fortune magazine in 1955, even elite executives chose to live in more modest houses and to employ fewer or no servants, compared to the decadent ways of the early 20th century — then still in living memory.

Middle-class preferences began to take account of the socially corrosive consequences of acquiring as much stuff for as cheaply as possible. And they came to view such pursuits as debasing to the individual. Those who still tried to cling to the old ways, a la Pottersville from It's a Wonderful Life and Norma Desmond's palazzo from Sunset Boulevard, were subjected to shaming in popular culture.

Liberals only see others as selfish, while conservatives see it as part of the human tendency toward sin. Emphasizing this difference will keep the battle over cheap labor from descending into class war against the rich.

November 22, 2014

Wannabes and absentees: Do it yourself and Pay someone else

During the shift toward status-striving of the past 30-odd years, there have been two huge changes in the way that services are performed. One is to Do It Yourself, the other is to Pay Someone Else. At the level of outsourcing vs. doing something in-house, these two are opposites, so there must be a unifying common theme at a higher level. That's where the link to status-striving lies.

Where have people increasingly opted for the DIY "solution"?

Home improvement — beyond simple maintenance and repairs, homeowners now remodel and build additions. They are also inclined to build their own furniture and fashion their own small decorations.

Specialty mechanics and electronics — modding your car, modding your computer or video game console or phone (perhaps tinkering with the hardware, but usually futzing around with software settings). "Developing" your own digital image captures (hours of dicking around in Photoshop), repairing your own intricate camera and lenses ("a little WD-40 ought to silence that squeaking..."), and photographing something complicated and important. Putting together a full mechanics' workshop in the garage.

Health — except for major trauma, diagnosing and treating malaise or illness is now done through researching a bit online, then drawing up a list of the right mix of foods, vitamins, supplements, and pills. Faddish psychobabble therapies can be added if the pain is mostly emotional.

These services require years of acquired knowledge, experience, and skills, not to mention tools and materials that are relatively expensive, hard to find, and difficult to understand and use. They are done — or used to be done — by artisans and professionals, and confer status on the DIY-ers.

What about the trend toward Pay Someone Else?

Child-rearing — daycare workers, nannies, school teachers (substitute mothers), and coaches and tutors of varying specialties (substitute fathers) now perform most of the day-to-day and face-to-face activities of raising children. That's in addition to parking your kids in front of a glowing media screen, an even more flagrant form of outsourcing your parenting duties.

Meal cooking — hardly anyone makes home-cooked meals anymore, which come instead from fast food chains, microwave meals, and already prepared meals / hot bar items at the supermarket.

Housekeeping and yard work — women who sweep, vacuum, clean counters, and scrub toilets and showers, as well as men who ride lawnmowers and aim leafblowers.

These services are unskilled and require the use of tools and materials that are cheap, plentiful, and simple to use. Their main input is labor (time and effort), so they would subtract status if the Pay-Someone-Elsers were to do it themselves.

The psychology is easy to understand. Status-strivers want to do the professional work themselves, to reap the benefits of branding themselves as artisans. They shed the status deadweight of unskilled work through outsourcing, even if it means neglecting their familial duties.

There are far broader implications for the economy, though, not just changes in how annoyingly grandiose and shamefully neglectful your fellow neighbors, co-workers, and citizens have become.

The DIY movement has wiped out the number of man-hours that could have been done by true artisans and skilled workers, and lowered the asking price of the labor they can still sell to customers, who now expect dirt-cheap services since "I could always just do it myself, y'know." If the service proves too complicated to DIY, the customer will just opt for replacement rather than repair (fueling planned obsolescence). That eliminates the once common fix-it shops as a way of making a living.

The Pay Someone Else movement has swollen the number of man-hours going into unskilled labor, which is already low-paying, offering little to no benefits, temporary / high-turnover, and uncertain job security.

The outcome is widening inequality, as skilled jobs are replaced by unskilled. We usually associate that with heartless managers of large companies decomposing a skilled task into separate rote tasks through mechanization. But here we see just how deep the rot goes — even ordinary individual consumers are such self-regarding skinflints that skilled tradesmen must debase themselves into unskilled laborers in order to satisfy the status-enhancing lifestyles of today's middle class.

Sure, skilled artisans can still find work with the top-top-top level elite, whose budgets are unlimited and who are more inclined toward conspicuous leisure. But that's not a large market. It was the middle class market for skilled services that used to support an electronics repair shop, photography studio, and carpenter's workshop.

Unlike the decadent and parasitic elite, the middle class actually produces for a living, and can't indulge so much in conspicuous leisure. So, conspicuous consumption it is. Middle-class folks have never been more profligate with their disposable income, loans, and credit — yet they would take it as a personal defeat to have to hire a carpenter to remodel their cabinets. All that status item spending has drained the portion of their income that could have gone toward skilled services and production.

After all, why by one good pair of shoes made by skilled Americans when you can buy five pairs made by unskilled Salvadoreans? Owning a single pair of shoes prevents you from participating in the fashion treadmill. So does owning a single professionally made dishwasher for 30 years — if the workers are barely skilled and their product breaks down every five years, that's just an opportunity to UPGRADE DAT SHIT and impress your friends. For status-strivers, crummy products are the gift that keeps on giving.

November 19, 2014

Zen and the art of trail maintenance

For the past couple weeks I've been spending three to five hours most days on a project to restore an abandoned trail that my peers and I took for granted in middle and high school, but has since fallen into ruins.

Clearing thorn bushes and the ubiquitous invasive vines along the edge of the woods, so that the portal into the trail can be seen and easily walked into. Logging the fallen and leaning trees (and some dead standing ones), plus all the branches strewn along the tread. Re-positioning logs so they don't dam up a bunch of leaves and water whenever rain flows downhill. Dislodging large hanging branches so that every step doesn't feel like you've got the sword of Damocles dangling over your head. Raking away all the debris that not only obscures the tread but makes it slippery to walk over — leaves, rocks, sticks, etc. Clearing leaves out of drains...

I've noticed how abandoned the woods have become for awhile, but now that I've started to try doing something about it, in a place that I knew well as a teenager, my mind struggles to comprehend how many areas need attention, and how effortless it used to be in the good old days when everybody pitched in here and there.

Part of the cause is the status-striving and inequality trend. Government funding for trail maintenance and similar programs has dried up since that benefits ordinary middle-class white people, when those funds could be better used to give mortgages to Mexicans, or to bail out the Jews on Wall Street who bet on the Mexican mortgages.

Status-striving also leads to a withdrawal from civic participation (less time, money, and effort to spend on self-advancement), a la Bowling Alone, so don't expect to see legions of volunteers regularly pitching in. Even the Boy Scouts these days seem to be more about fundraising for the Boy Scouts (how many bags of popcorn should we put you down for?), so they can attend the national Boy Scout jamboree, than practicing stewardship in the communities they live in.

The collapse of deliberate and concerted maintenance wasn't so noticeable in the context of woodland trails during the '80s and early '90s (well into the era of civic disengagement), because the society was in its outgoing phase of the cocooning-and-crime cycle. Every trail-goer who kicked a branch out of their way or bashed up a thorn bush in their way kept the trail in decent shape. Since the return of cocooning and helicopter parenting over the past 20-25 years, though, hardly anybody wanders back through there, so there aren't even the unwitting volunteers to keep it people-friendly.

I haven't been posting or reading comments here during this time because hours and hours of barely skilled labor in the woods is one of the most fulfilling activities I've ever done. It reminds me of my childhood when my Pap used to take me back into the Appalachian woods and we'd cut back thorns, push over dead trees, and take care of other public-space groundskeeping.

Although ideas for posts strike me while I'm out working, and I even elaborate them into fuller thoughts out there, I just don't feel like plugging my brain into the internet when I get home, nor would I feel like plugging in before I left for the day, putting me in the wrong state of mind.

I'll try to write some of this up soon, but in case it takes awhile, here is the gist of several, to get people thinking and talking again.

- Trail creation and maintenance is rooted in transhumance pastoralism (not nomadic). Why don't Slavs, chinks, spics, and blacks seem to care about the very presence of trails through nature, let alone practice stewardship over them?

- The long stretches of unskilled manual labor is rewarding because there's a point, and the effects can be clearly seen and appreciated. Working out at the gym has no point, other than toning your buns to please your gay lovers. Even the paleo exercises that are more in touch with the tasks we're adapted to do, are in the end still pointless leisure. If you want to be really paleo, get some damn work done while you're exerting yourself. It'll give you a sense of accomplishment and pride that you must otherwise force / con yourself into believing when it's just doing X many reps for Y many sets, or the equivalent end-points for a paleo routine.

- The hiker / rockclimber / outdoors culture is also purely leisure-based. Conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption (their "gear" is more encrusted with logos than a middle schooler's). And focused entirely on advancing the self in a status contest, rather than stewardship of shared common spaces. Look at how few tools those stores sell.

- Conservatives who do nothing to preserve, in whatever little way they can, the shared common spaces that made this country great, need to answer for their negligence, or be brushed aside as worthless whiners. "There's no point — the country is being over-run with Mexicans, so what's the point in preserving something that the Americans of 2050 won't appreciate and will allow to fall back into disrepair?" Well why don't we just burn the whole place to the ground, then, including your own house with you still in it? White Americans are still going to be around in 50 years, and they're going to be counting on us to keep things as well preserved as possible. Otherwise they'll just go to what is being preserved, i.e. Walmarts full of lardass spics. Innumerable people before your time shaped the places you connect with, so you've got to do your part too.

- Getting less political, what accounts for the split between woodsmen, woodworkers, and carpenters on the one side, and mechanics on the other? In the hardware section of Sears (burn down Home Depot), I was struck by how much mechanics tools there were, and how little any of it resonated with me (my mother's father was a carpenter). People-oriented vs. thing-oriented? Wood in the shop or in the woods as a natural substance, hence more people-like than exhaust pipes and drive trains? At least there's a preference for natural vs. artificial objects to work on.

- Warning coloration to ward off wildlife that may want to tangle with you. There was a decent-sized buck staring me down from about five yards away, who had a high-ground advantage over me, where I also had no maze of trees or anything to run back into or up into. Usually they'll walk a few steps at a time to see if you back away. This time, I'd taken off my coat since it had gotten warm, and I had on t-shirt with a very busy black-and-white Southwest Indian tribal print. That was the only time so far that I won in a staring contest up that close, at such a disadvantage. He blinked first, turned his head first, and walked away uphill. I wonder if having such a high-contrast pattern, like a skunk or badger on cocaine, played a role in driving him off.

- Why are both the outdoors and hunting scenes so averse to wearing "gear" from animal sources? It seems like they're finally learning about this ancient invention called wool, but it is damn rare to find animal skins or furs at a hunting store, outdoors store, or army/navy surplus store. The answer is not price, since their over-engineered Franken-fabrics cost an arm and a leg. I put it down to the trait of following natural vs. engineered solutions. Animals that have been shaped by millions of years of natural selection to adapt to cold, wet, thorny, outdoors conditions are going to have superior protection compared to whatever the latest lab fad is with consumers who have too much disposable income. We ought to copy what adaptations those animals have evolved — and if we can't copy them, we can just steal them.

November 7, 2014

Ohio court to queer couples: Drop dead (from viral loads)

In a landmark decision that will hopefully drive most of Ohio's gay-enabling Millennial generation out of the state, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati has allowed four states (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan) to treat gay marriages as illegitimate, following the sentiment of the people.

This may force a decision with the Supreme Court, and they may rule in favor of gay marriage. But even if that happens, conservatives in the region should not grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. A ruling against condoning gay deviance all the way up at the appellate level is already sending shockwaves throughout the region (see all the whiny Twitter reactions in the Dispatch article).

Now it is official: no matter what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, Ohio and its Appalachian neighbors have chosen to stand on the wrong side of history. Anybody who wants to stand on the right side can defect and join the liberal transplant hive in a more fag-friendly state.

If you think that gays and their apologists are going to forget this decision when/if the Supreme Court reverses it, think again. Look at how well people still remember the resistance in the Deep South to desegregation in the 1950s. That example is instructive: although local resistance was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, blacks still figured it wasn't worth the hassle of living there anymore, and continued migrating toward more liberal Midwestern areas.

Letting a group know that they aren't welcome, or at least that they can't push their agenda over the majority, goes a long way toward not having to live with their problems anymore. On the flipside, letting a group know that they are welcomed unconditionally, and that the majority will take all the narrow-interests abuse that can be dished out by the guests, makes it certain that the hosts will have to put up with the newcomers' problems for a very long time.

Chicago only shed large numbers of blacks when they told them that even better welfare policies awaited them up in Minnesota and Wisconsin. There were also enough micks and wops in Chicago to give the blacks a little boost out of the state, whereas Minneapolis and Milwaukee have only Nordic pansies standing guard.

Ohio, though, is proving to be less and less Midwestern over time. We see that now from a regional high court more or less giving the finger to the number one trendoid human rights cause du jour. There is a fault-line running through the state from southwest to northeast, with the southern and eastern strip being hillbillies, the southwest being more akin to Louisville, Kentucky, the center area drawing a variety of folks, and the northern and western area being part of the freezing industrial Midwest, now the Rust Belt.

Over the past two to three generations, the hillbillies have been leaving the rural areas and settling down more in the center near Columbus, or further south toward Cincinnati and Louisville. Cleveland in the northeast and Toledo in the northwest keep losing population, mostly out of state to transplant havens in Arizona, North Carolina, etc. Slowly but surely the Appalachian influence is on the rise, and the Midwestern on the decline.

It can be hard for folks not acquainted with flyover country to picture where the rough boundaries of Appalachia are, so here is a map of its counties according to the Appalachian Regional Council. Most people know that the country is flat along the East Coast, flat in the Midwest, and is hilly or mountainous somewhere in between, but think only of West Virginia.

Notice how much of Ohio is hillbilly territory. You don't see that out in the Platonic ideal Midwestern states like Iowa or Minnesota. (Also notice how much of Pennsylvania is hilly once you get away from Philadelphia on the East Coast.)

As the me-first impulse carries individuals away from their home town and to wherever they identify and affiliate with, the initial disparities will widen within fault-line states like Ohio. People who want to be on the right side of migration history will high-tail it out of the state toward Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, etc. And they'll take their "right side of history" politics with them.

The remainder who pay no mind to how trendy their place of residence and origin is, will neither care about how trendy their policies are.

November 2, 2014

Grandiose gravestones in status-striving times

Crossing over to the afterlife is the final rite of passage that we make, and like other such rites, it is marked by a ceremony to publicly and collectively acknowledge the irrevocably altered status of the deceased.

Ceremonies in general are ripe targets for elaboration during status-striving times — we get to show off before a captive audience. When the climate becomes more about accommodating others instead of me-first, ceremonies take on a more restrained and self-effacing tone.

During the Gilded Age and early 20th C., status-striving and inequality were soaring toward a peak that maxed out circa 1920. The wealthy could afford more of everything, and given their impulse toward excess, it's no surprise to see their grave monuments continuing to tower over the others in cemeteries across the country to this day. Visit a few local places that have graves going back through the 1800s, and you'll see it for yourself.

The main differences I've noticed are that they are much taller (easily exceeding human height), have more elaborate working (more than one typeface, semi-circular ruling for the text, images carved on a flat surface, and even relief sculpture), and tend to have bold messages about this life being over but the next one beginning — being re-born rather than truly passing away, triumphant over Death.

Here is a monument from 1879 and a mausoleum from 1911, both typical among the wealthy of their time:

These features begin to dwindle already during the '20s and '30s, and are more or less absent throughout the '70s. Headstones rise no higher than a few feet, are block-like in shape, and have simple working (at most a floral pattern carved around the sides and upper corners of the border), and contain no messages whatsoever — only the person's name (sometimes only the surname) and the dates of their birth and death. Not what their role or status in the community was, not what their status was in their extended family, not their job, or anything else. And no declaration that the show isn't really over / don't count me out just yet.

Those folks didn't lack confidence that the deceased would be thriving in the afterlife, nor did they believe that there was nothing to be said about their various roles and statuses in the domains of life. They just didn't feel like saying it — it would have struck them as vainglory.

Here is a typical tombstone from the end of the humble Great Compression, circa the '60s and '70s. If a cemetery began after 1920 and filled up before 1990, this is the only kind of marker you are likely to see:

Sometime during the '80s and '90s there was a shift back toward the Gilded Age pattern of taller, monumental styles, images and likenesses carved, relief sculpture, copious text, and this likely including a list of their various social achievements and proclamations about how they are too great to submit to Death, and are actually living it up in the Great Beyond.

I can't say from impression when the reversal occurred — I did see a couple like that from the '80s, but it seemed like the real growth was during the '90s. At any rate, by the 21st century, the shift is crystal clear, as seen in this recent example:

Somehow, our neo-Gilded Age climate has revived the grandiose style of grave markers. What are the links?

The taller height and more elaborate working speaks for itself.

Listing their social roles — father, officer, musician — is close to bragging about what they accomplished, even if it's not as obvious as the bumper stickers about "my kid is an honor student at Junior Genius pre-school," or the "fruit salad" decorations that military leaders now wear.

Inscribing a mini-eulogy is a bit odd — it was already said before those who knew the deceased, during the funeral service. Broadcasting it forever to random passersby is bordering on presumptuous. It also feeds an arms race of whose marker has more to grab our attention.

The bold messages about the non-finality of death do not strike me as meant to comfort and reassure those who have survived the deceased, but more of a statement of how great and powerful they were to have risen above death, more like a demi-god than a mere mortal.

This topic could easily be explored quantitatively, and even snuck into a mainstream outlet as long as it had a title like Inequality in the Graveyard. Plenty of folks have researched the temporal changes in funeral monuments, but none that I could find have looked at the link to the status-striving and inequality cycle.

And as hinted at the beginning, this approach could be broadened to look at all of the ceremonies that mark life's milestone transitions. Debutante balls long ago, which then vanished, but have been revived as Sweet Sixteen extravaganzas. Weddings (holy shit). Bearing children — how much stuff do you have to buy to welcome them into the world, and to let the public know that you now have a kid?

These changes have already been noticed and discussed, although not necessarily how they're reviving the ways of the Gilded Age and Downton Abbey period. Now we see that these changes include the ceremonies surrounding the final of life's major transitions.

Addendum: here is an article about similar changes in Germany from the early 20th C., Midcentury, and Millennial periods. It's not just an American thing, but wherever the status-striving and inequality cycle is more or less in sync.