April 13, 2020

Nobody Knows Best - EP 8: The Wage Cage

This week, let's get into human value and why reevaluating that idea is important.


Hey, what's up everyone, another episode of Nobody Knows Best coming at you hot live in quarantine.

And this week, I want to go into the topic of human value, which I think is important, especially given what's going on.

April 1st just passed, and there's probably a lot of people who couldn't make rent this month. And on top of that, they got families and bills that are piling up and some of them may not even know where their food is coming from in a bit, which is unfortunate. But in a way, this topic and the situation that's going on right now really emphasizes why evaluating human value is important.

So with that said, let's just get into it.

So, bare with me for a moment, I promise that this will make sense.

We first have to go into the idea of memes.

So what is a meme?

A meme is basically an encapsulated idea that resonates with a small group of people. I'm sure that there's a more academic term for it that explains in more detail, but that's essentially what it is. Memes have always existed, and memes were more of a concept that evaluates how certain ideas can resonate and get transferred between human beings in a very viral way...and it's interesting how the terms that we use for memes in terms of the internet, apply to it in the academic sense but...

Anyway, in nerd culture and in certain corners of the internet, people have been making memes and joking with each other pretty much since the dawn of it. And a lot of that has to do with sort of the perception of nerd culture really early on, where there was a stereotype that still in a weird way, holds today, even though it's not as relevant in my opinion, which is the idea of...the nerd. The weird, awkward dude who lives in their mom's basement and likes to tinker with things and is really bad with relationships and usually since the person is typecast as a guy, really bad at pursuing and getting into relationships with women, that sort of thing. And there was this idea that while they were useful in the sense of emerging technology and hardware and things like that, relative to the booming economy and career potential, especially compared to maybe their neighbors or their classmates or things like that, they weren't doing so well.

And I would say probably around that time, there were still this stereotype of how American life was suppossed to work, where you'd go through school, and then maybe you go to college or you'd pick up a trade, and then you'd get a career and you get some money in, you'd get a significant other and then you would have a house and you'd start pumping out kids...maybe 25, 27 at the latest, which by today's standards would seem so crazy, right? But that was still the idealized way of progressing and showing that you were worth it; that you weren't just a hinderance to broader society and that you mattered.

So, what do I mean by that?

So if we want to go with the most stereotypical example of this, that we still see ripples of today, mostly ironically, is you have this really like smart nerd with like acne and he's super awkward and either really overweight or super skinny, and he looks down to the ground. And then you have the football quarterback or the basketball star, or something, who's super handsome and may not be the brightest, but is okay enough, and he's hanging out with like the most popular girl in school and living the dream and everyone's telling him how great he is, and his girlfriend is validating how cool he is, and he looks at that nerd and is like:

"Well look at you in comparison to me. Because I can see how low value you are relative to me, this means that I'm inherently better and that gives me certain privileges or things I can do and get away with that you can't because of your status."

And while the stereotyped version of this is obviously absurd, there's plenty of jocks that are nice people and there are plenty of nerds that are just awful human beings, like it's not one side or the other, but anyway, what this dynamic more speaks to is how as humans we get our value based on comparing ourselves and ranking ourselves relative to others.

So let's go back to memes for a second.

So as we started getting into late 90s, early 2000s, internet is growing, more communities are happening on the internet and message boards and in certain channels of communication, we started getting nerds are poking fun at themselves in kind of ironic way, but mostly in a self deprecating way.

And you start getting early memes of, I guess the nicest concept of it is the wage slave. People started joking in a self-deprecating way that if they are the ones who are living in their mom's basement, that they weren't contributing to broader society or providing any value, and weren't getting in relationships and things like that, that they are actually the winners. Because if they were staying in their mom's basement or in their parents house or whatever, they were living rent free. And if they did certain things, they could get government benefits that would give them some sort of stipend. So they could buy video games or get figures or whatever items that they wanted in the comfort of their own home while all these people who supposedly had value in comparison to them, had to go to a nine to five job that they hated, make someone else richer, and then return home and barely have time to themselves to then repeat the cycle again because they were so afraid of looking like the nerds that were supposedly the ones who were the losers.

And of course, if you think about this rationally, it makes no sense. It's very self-deprecating, it's obviously a joke, but yet, like with most memes, there is a bit of truth to it. And the part that made the early version of that meme really funny is that the smugness that was projected on to the nerds in terms of the people talking down to them, and comparing themselves to them to boost themselves up, when that same smugness was directed the other way, it almost...it was almost like an equalizer; like who are you to say that to me, I'm better than I have stronger value than you do.

And you can just imagine...and there's so many like early images, and memes that are so hilarious where you see like these smug people, in their comfy room with all of their items and things like that, while these people who supposedly are higher on the ladder were slaving away; there's a certain humor to that.

And if you take the good lesson out of it, it would be:

"Hey, there are pluses and minuses to everything. And maybe instead of evaluating human value based on a system that's primarily driving capitalism, and has little or nothing to do with how good you are as a person, that maybe if you put that aside and get to know people and treat them with a certain level of base respect before treating them like garbage, that maybe there would be more that you would find similar to them, than being a jerk to them."

Those memes were essentially coping mechanisms for people who were usually in that situation. So when you boil it down, what those people were doing was they were taking their circumstance that was somewhat truthful, being awkward, probably not doing well in relationships, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and they were trying to frame it in a way that they could cope and find humor in it. And through that meme, that commonly shared idea and bond, they were able to find others like themselves, and it was really funny seeing those people who were so obsessed with career and getting all this stuff done before they were 25 to prove that they weren't failures like the people that they were comparing themselves to, crumble when someone was able to confidently throw back at them:

"Yeah, I suck. But there are still some benefits that I have that you don't, because I've embraced my position, and you're just running away from an inevitable one."

That boogeyman made those types of people so mad and in turn, made that meme resonate more and more and more with a lot of people.

When you're comparing your own value as a human being based on other people, you're always going to be you're running away from failure. And if you're always running away from failure, you're gonna constantly either be in a state of fear and/or you're not gonna learn from your mistakes. So you're gonna continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over. Because in order to learn, you have to internalize the fact that you failed. And once you've internalized that, then you can examine:

"Okay, what did I do wrong? Where could I have improved? What decisions led to this result?"

And then you can be empowered to make better decisions in the future and potentially get more success.

Placing your own value based on the people around you is like putting stock in the most volatile tile market you can imagine. It's like putting money into bitcoin when it was originally starting, where it was going up and down all the time and then you heard some stories of people being like, "Hey, I put in like $5. And now I have 50 billion."

And then people are like, well, "I don't know about that Bitcoin", then some other people are like, "Oh, well, if he could do it, well, surely I could put it in $5 and get 50 billion." And sure enough, as it became more popular...kind of saw the results there.

The dangerous in putting your value, or the danger in assessing your value that way, is twofold.

One, it assumes that there will always be people lesser than you around that you can compare to. And in a way, the Internet makes that easier to do than a pre-internet world because you could always go to, to a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, and see people that make you think, "Oh, I'm better than them."

And then seeing all the people laughing at them, and collectively being like:

"I'm not like them, therefore, I have value and I can laugh because I'm better than these people."

And the part I find the most fascinating about that dynamic is that a lot of the people who get their value that way, tend to be the ones who are mad when people who are "higher than them on the social ladder" treat them badly.

Now, let's briefly bring it back to what's going on right now. The people deemed essential workers in America are people in the medical industry and people who are doing things like delivering packages, or stocking and servicing grocery stores, or are repairing things, people like plumbers, contractors, things like that. And then also normal public utilities like garbagemen, things like that. A few months ago, there would be people who would go to those places or think about those roles and think:

"Those things are beneath me."

Like those are lower status things. And I think that part of it has to do with the fact that things that are more alongside working in a grocery store or doing postal delivery, things like that, are thought of as low skilled work. And I really don't like that term because if you take it literally, what it's saying is that the job doesn't require a lot of skill to do, which if we remove the emotion from it and look at it more objectively, that is technically correct. But what it does subconsciously, is make people think like:

"Well, if I can do that, and they can do that, and I have a different career or plan for my life, and they're doing the thing that I could do easily, it must mean that they don't have a lot of value. They can't contribute that much. Because why would they be staying in a role that I could so easily do?"

And then it feeds the ego of people who may be in other careers that are higher paid or may have a little bit more perceived social ranking or status. But one thing that is forgotten about whether you're a CEO, or you're bagging groceries, is that what you do in a day does not compare to having to do a job indefinitely.

So let's break that down; what do I mean by that?

So there are a lot of people, especially in some Fortune 500 companies, that love to do things like...they'll go clean up a beach, or they'll pick up garbage on the roadside and things like that, for a day or for a charity event or something, and they'll take lots of pictures and post them on their Twitters or their Facebooks, or if you're really feeling professional, their LinkedIn, sort of giving a vibe that:

"Hey, I'm doing this professional managerial type job, or I'm making a lot of money or I'm in a role that has a lot of status, but I'm willing to, in my free time, stoop low enough to do these things for my community."

And I'm sure to them for that one day or so that they're doing it, they feel great, they feel like they did a good thing; I don't think in most cases it's malicious but I'm gonna...we're gonna keep going along this path.
So they do all of that. And then they get the feedback of:

"Oh, like, that's great. You have this cool role, but you're also doing these things too."

And it's a nice little...validator.

But what a lot of people forget is that there are people that do those roles all the time. And you might be thinking, well, if there are people doing those roles all the time, then why is there a space for someone I mentioned, who may do a beach cleanup, or a road cleanup or something? Like why is there a way in for them to contribute? And the answer is because attrition is high and that type of work highly depends on your local government.

Because it's easy to do that once and feel good about yourself. But it's hard to make that your 9 to 5, 40 hours a week; and that's being generous, that's assuming that's a salaried role, and then, on top of that, you have to think about all the people who think that if you're picking up garbage, that that is the best that you could do. So not only do you have to deal with the fact that you probably have a very small selection of people doing that, who are probably not getting paid that much, on top of that, even though they are clearly contributing to society, their societal value is perceived as low or close to as low as the "NEET", that I was mentioning earlier in this episode, who's getting their check from the government staying cozy and projecting that they are in a better position than the people who are slaving away, 9 to 5, because they're still getting a benefit and they don't have to be on a treadmill where they're scared to fail and lose their status because they're already at their bottom.

And when you think about all of that, it puts things into perspective.

And the even weirder part is that I've talked to a lot of people from different countries, I've been fortunate to have traveled to a bunch of different countries, and to me this very much feels like an American thing. Because when I talk to [people from other countries] or have visited other places, they seem to put value in terms of how much of a good job you're doing. So if you work at McDonald's, and you are the best cashier that you can be, and you're making sure that the McDonald's is immaculate, and that you're doing your job well, and that customers are happy, as far as the rest of society is concerned, you're doing just fine and no one's gonna be looking down on you because the role that you so happened to be excelling at and doing a good job in is McDonald's. But if you take that concept and you move it over here, the same person killing it, doing a fantastic job, and then...they want to go out on a date, and they're on the first date and someone's like:

"Hey, what do you do?"

And the person responds.

"Well, I work as a McDonald's store employee."

All of a sudden, it does not matter how good of a job that person has done. Immediately, they have dug a hole for themselves that they're going to have to dig out of. And maybe they'll have enough cachet, charisma, other positive attributes that would make that potential partner look the other way, as much as I hate even saying that because I get a little mad when I think about it. And that, to me, is fundamentally the problem with this type of thinking. You cannot have a sustainable society that is based on comparing people like that.

And, you look at it now. All of a sudden, all those grocery people are so...vital. You got people in some cities doing like...cheers and clap offs when essential workers are going out whether they be doctors and nurses and other medical people, or people going into, like, stock the shelves. And I think to myself, like:

"Where were you prior to this?"

"Where were you when you were being a jerk to someone being nice to you in that one scenario?"

Or many times I can remember where I was in a restaurant, and someone just came in and was being a complete brat and treating the servers and all the people there like crap, for no reason because they want to get their power trip for the day, and then they left with no guilt, because they thought that they were higher on the social ranking ladder than they were so therefore it was okay to treat them in that sort of way.

And now you need to rely on those people!

But I do think that despite all the things that are going on and bringing it back to the human value idea, I think that some people are going to realize that because there were some layoffs in a lot of places. There were people who are on that treadmill, who weren't doing what they wanted to do, but were doing what was necessary for them to do, so that they wouldn't be perceived as losers, that now had the rug pulled under them and they're wondering about where rent is coming from or how their bills are getting paid. And I'm not cheering for that. Even if they were the biggest jerks prior to that, I'm not cheering for it. But it makes me sad that it takes moments like these, like pandemics, or tragedy and things like that, for people to get out of themselves, and realize how fragile we are, and how important each of us play into the broader framework of society. And maybe what will happen is, some of these people will do what they wanted, and they won't care what people think about them. Maybe they'll pursue that dream that they've held in their head for so long, but were too ashamed to admit because they didn't want to lose perceived status. Maybe post this [pandemic] we will see things like people not being so obsessive about having to be in the city and create the self-fulfilling prophecy where all of the jobs are in the city and all the life is in the city, therefore, if you matter, you have to be in the city. And maybe even though it will probably be brief, once all this stuff gets lifted, there will probably be a period where we'll...we'll be nice to each other. We'll appreciate the roles that everyone plays in our society. And we'll appreciate that value and not take it for granted. And maybe instead of comparing ourselves to others, and deriving value from that, maybe we can take on that personal best perspective. And make sure that every day that we wake up that we're a little bit better, that we're a little bit better than our past selves. And that we can be honest with ourselves and know for sure when we're trying to do our best and be better, and when we are truly being lazy. And maybe they'll be less people who will tell people in the working class that they could just pull themselves up by their bootstraps; that they're now working hard enough. Because if they were truly working hard enough, they would be able to ascend beyond their "menial" role and be able to find success.

I don't know what else to say.

So let me wrap up with this.

If you're scared or concerned right now or you have a lot of anxiety, a lot of people are in that boat too.

If you couldn't pay your rent this month, a lot of people are in that boat too.

If you lost your job this month, a lot of people are in that same situation as well.

And instead of internalizing this weird sense of shame, based on losing all those things that propped you up as a person of value, instead, I would encourage you to evaluate what you've done, and how you've contributed and how you've pushed yourself, instead. Because none of those things are your fault at all. But what is your fault are the things that you have control over. And going into I was saying last episode, I feel that a lot of people, especially in a time where they're isolating themselves and they're trying to stay away from people, they're starting to process those things in the back of their mind that they've been putting off because they're on the treadmill.

They were in the wage cage.

And maybe that wasn't you. In which case, you use this opportunity to take care of yourself and plan out goals. And then think about the people who are still trying to contribute to society as best as they can because they know people need them.