Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Haiku and More on Spoiled Brat Syndrome

Three new haiku from contributors, and reader commentary on Spoiled Brat Syndrome.

I feel blessed to have receive new haiku from frequent contributors Jed H. and Steven R.:

Jed H.:

Clowns, chimps, crooks, cheats, thieves;
Smoke, mirrors, wizards, MAGIC;
The U.S., goin' BROKE!!

Steven R.:

Manipulate truth
One green shoot portends rebirth
dead on arrival

you are so cynical
but you are correct

You may reckon it is tempting to only reprint reader comments which parallel my own views, but for me the opposite is actually true: I try to reprint those which make an opposing case because I think everyone needs to make up their own mind. After all, there are plenty of propaganda sites where you can go and predictably find what you already know you'll agree with. That does not create an informed public or informed voters. As for the Mainstream Media--it too is propaganda of the most blatant sort, always talking up "green shoots," "the worst is over," "the recovery is underway," etc.

The value of reader commentary to me is that it always opens a new understanding of the full range of the problem/challenge at hand. With that in mind, please read these diverse and thought-provoking commentaries in response to Incentives, Disincentives and Spoiled Brat Syndrome (June 17, 2009).

No one wrote to make the opposing case, i.e. that Americans were not spoiled. That in itself speaks volumes. Certainly not all Americans are spoiled brats, but the mindset of entitlement and self-aggrandizement has conquered the culture.

Laura I.

I enjoy all of your essays, but I really enjoyed the one about the Spoiled Brat Syndrome. I completely agree with everything you said and would like to add one more thing I don’t think you touched on very deeply, something that I see as the worst consequence of the positive reinforcement, everyone is a star culture. That is, few people know how to think; to figure out a way for themselves. Few people know how to recognize the causal relationships that help them understand a situation or recognize an opportunity and few people have the ability to observe/realize the intricate details/ process flow of a situation.

As you said in your essay, your construction foreman got jobs by first observing and targeting another worker on the job site. His ability to produce output kept him the job, but his ability to observe the workings (process flows, who was responsible for what, etc.) and locate an opportunity within those workings is what got him the job.

How many people do you meet nowadays who still have this ability? I meet very few. If you never experience cause and effect in your own life (including the negative effects), how would you ever learn to recognize it in the world at large? I have observed this consistently in young adults making the choices of what college to go to, what to major in, what jobs to apply for. They spend 4+ years obtaining a psychology degree or history degree never wondering what their potential for work/job/career will be when they graduate. Or never contemplating a scenario other than best case. Nor do they ever undertake a return on investment analysis when making the decision on which college to attend. They have no ability to calculate potential consequences of any action including those that obligate them for 20, 50 or 100 thousand dollars. When they search for a job their only criteria is what they “want” to do; not what will the job require, how much do they need to make to pay their bills, support themselves or (gasp!) save for future goals, not to mention position themselves for future career goals.

The ability to strategize, to sacrifice one’s “wants” for a better outcome later has been eliminated. There is a colleague at my work place who openly admitted to a group of his peers including his boss and boss’s boss that he chose his present job over the same job at a different company because he knew here he wouldn’t have to work as hard. (Say what?!?!)

It’s the rare employee now who when finished with an assigned task, tells their boss they are available for a new task. Most sit at their desks or bum around, waiting for their boss to psychically realize their availability. Considering most people don’t like to be micromanaged, you’d think they’d figure out if they volunteered such information, their boss would bug them much less, but that would mean understanding the mechanics of a process and many don’t have that ability.

Worse, they have lost the meaning of what a job is; I employ you to complete tasks for me. If there are no more tasks, then essentially the necessity of that employee has ended as well. Actually accomplishing something at work has become the side-story, not the main idea of being employed.

The other consequence of the spoiled-brat syndrome is a complete inability to assign self-blame, to honestly self-reflect on what could have been done differently, how actions/words were perceived, how could they have been better conveyed. When something doesn’t go right (jobs, relationships, etc), it’s always someone else’s fault. In an effort to nurture self-esteem we have developed a society of people who are all right all of the time. “It’s okay that I am 300 lbs and 5’2” because that’s who I am. It’s okay that I don’t have any idea how take care of my house and car because that’s who I am. It’s okay that my bank account is constantly over-drawn because that’s who I am. I am never wrong.”

All logic and cause and effect has been eliminated in favor of self-esteem. But self-respect, happiness, emotional connectedness and lives with meaning seems to have been lost too. We have become a nation of zombies, having never felt the wretchedness of regret (when did that word become so taboo?) we never experience the true inner satisfaction, the true self respect, the true confidence of a self-earned victory. We have no passions worth sacrifice, no character worth enduring and no sorrow at separation.

Marc B.

I enjoyed your piece today on "spoiled brat syndrome". It's entrenched, but perhaps a contributing factor is that so much of the work today is unnecessary and without meaning.

I've pondered the future of work too. Sadly, under the current system, I see misery ahead for the majority of Americans due to globalization and automation (not to mention crushing debts).

Many rail against the "service" economy, but I don't see how any other outcome could have been expected. Sure we've outsourced much of our manufactuing, but we've automated much of it too. Despite the massive outsourcing, we manufacture far more today than ever and we do so with fewer employees. Just wait until we really start automating away our service jobs. Stores such as Home Depot already have automated/self checkout! Banking is now largely automated too - I haven't dealt with a teller in years.

Another blogger asked me what George Jetson did for a living. His point was that he knew George had a job, but since everything was automated, exactly what did he do? After a little "work" researching the issue, I sent him this link:

The Jetsons

Again, (imo) so much of today's "work" is not only unnecessary, it is also completely without meaning. If you remove vanity from the equation, I'm quite certain we could get by (and possibly be much happier) with less than half our current work force.

The viability of a debt based money system is suspect when supply exceeds demand. I'm not sure it can handle the trend towards a Jetson's type future.

One more thought. I'm short vanity and long free time. Bernanke better hope my mindset doesn't become a trend.

Gene M.

I loved your rant, for one, because I once was a carpenter too. Not a custom worker, I learned my trade building tract houses and 4-plex condos. The burden of the physical work was really hard at first, coming from a university professor's life. The foreman did not have to watch you; he could tell at the end of the day how much you had done. It was produce or you were gone, simple as that. My partner and I finally got so good we could do the work of 3 guys. Then we went into business for ourselves--at the worst possible time, when interest rates were sky high.

Recently when we had some work done at our house, I asked the caucasian contractor about his Mexican workers, who were working pretty hard. He said you can't find Anglos who would work like that. I was pretty shocked, since that was pretty much the norm in my day (the 70's and early 80's).

I know my old friends still in academia recount similar stories about the spoiled brat syndrome. One told me about the female student who wanted to turn her paper in well after the deadline. He said it was probably the first time in her life someone ever said "No" to her. In fact this oldest and dear friend serves up the most F's and C's in his department. Nobody else even gives grades this low.

I've always told my own grown children and anyone else who would listen that you earn your badge as a parent by saying "No." Saying yes is easy. The spoiled brat syndrome and your comments are well expressed by the most current parenting practices, which seem to spread like a virus. I see it in my own daughter and her children, as well as her friends.


When you mentioned “gaming the system” it reminded me of the CHP/Cop/Firefighter scam where “most” are now retiring as “disabled” since they get more money and a big chunk of the retirement payments tax free forever.

KGO News: More Questions In CHP Disability Fraud Probe

80 percent of assistant chiefs retired on disability. Almost as many deputy chiefs did the same.

Pat Macht, Calpers Spokesperson: "If they have a disability retirement and they reach over age 50, we really don't have any enforcement tools to go against them for that kind of fraud." Specifically, state law forbids Calpers from requiring disabled retirees who are 50 or older to submit to another medical evaluation, even if there is evidence of possible fraud.

"Outgoing State Senator Jackie Speier says powerful lobbying interests killed pension reform bills, including her legislation that would have given Calpers that kind of leverage."

As I have mentioned I’m in my mid 40’s and I have firefighter and cop friends who (except one) never finished college and ALL (according to the SF Gate search feature) are now pushing $200K (the one that finished college made almost $300K last year and really does work hard, he is planning to “retire” at 50 then take another job heading another department and then “retire” again at 60 with two pensions of over $500K a year.

The cops don’t have an easy job, but most of my firefighter friends’ work just 10 days a month and are paid big money to sleep (when was the last time you heard of a major fire in a wealthy suburb?). You have to hand it to the guys who keep getting big raises when there are THOUSANDS of people that try out for every open position.

Dave E.

You wrote:

There are many reasons for the ascendency of Spoiled Brat Syndrome, but one is the notion that a job or entitlement is deserved by reason of one's existence.

Heck, this is the attitude I see in government workers. In California now they're talking about slashing all kinds of services to the public, but nary a word about cutting government jobs, many of which are superfluous and wouldn't be missed. The people running the government seem to have the attitude that the purpose of government is to provide them with a job and retirement benefits, I guess just because they are such darn great people. Unless government actually provides a benefit to society, there is no point in having one.

Ken R.

I've been in management a long time and your statement -- In other words, disincentives can be more effective than incentives. That is so wildly un-PC that it truly is "that which cannot be spoken, but only whispered. -- could not be truer. We have another saying that is about "rewards" -- "No good deed goes unpunished."

Thank you, readers. I am working on updating Readers Journal with more excellent reader commentary.

ENDNOTE: What strikes me as the purest form of misleading propaganda is the MSM's shrill insistence that "everything will come back": housing valuations, jobs, tax revenues, etc.

Sadly, this is completely unfounded: None of these things are coming back, not housing, not jobs, and certainly not tax revenues. The structures which supported abundant credit and government-backed mortgages (and thus the housing bubble) are gone. The structures which supported abundant consumer credit and spending (and thus millions of service-sector jobs) are gone. The structures which supported high tax revenues (huge capital gains from stocks and housing, the FIRE economy's transactional fees, rampant irresponsible credit and consumer spending) are also gone.

Pundits/think-tankers making the case that "everything's going to come back" never address the structural decay/destruction which prohibits everything from returning to 2005. Thus they are nothing but propagandists, paid cons and shills of a crumbling status quo.

Thank you, Peter K. ($20), for your extremely generous contribution to this site. I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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