Culturalism

The Culture of Neglect

This past week I got to read through A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, the delightful tome of a Japanese spiritualist. What struck me most about his Buddhist philosophy was the emphasis on dignity and value for all things, including the inanimate objects cluttering life. This latter approach is one less visible in Abrahamic traditions, perhaps because they tend to focus on the afterlife as opposed to the material world. Regardless, it got me thinking about how we go about living, and the relationships between individuals and their possessions.

At some point as children, we all probably mistreated a toy. Perhaps broke the arms of an action figure, or melted something down just to see it ooze. Were we all little Sids in training, or did the behavior merely reflect a lack of instilled admiration for the value of those plastic objects?  Maybe too much is made of the concept, but Shoukei Matsumoto’s book makes that and more. He evangelizes the importance of honoring everything which has served us in life, from the moment it escapes the box to the time of being laid to rest.

Beyond plastic, the viewpoint expands to other questions. How many times do people throw away food that is uneaten, or allow clothes to become rags out of sheer neglect? How often do we see working appliances or furniture chucked out on a curb because they have some blemish, or are simply not as glistening as before? They may have served long and well in some capacity, but just when usefulness seems to fade, it is like they never existed.

I thought the same about the house I am currently living in. After weeks of effort and money, the place is coming together nicely, and yet it didn’t have to be that way. Even some minor cleaning and painting—relatively cheap and time sensitive—would have mitigated the issues now slowly being dispersed. Whenever I take a ride into town, I see countless siblings remanded to the same fate: forlorn, unkempt, overgrown by ivy, and my heart weeps for them. Unremarkable structures of wood, brick, and stone, yet as I pass they seem to cry out in solemn tones: will someone please love me?

 Yet the answer is silent. Every last one of them is a casualty of consumerist melancholy, much like the items we discard because a replacement is so easy to attain. So that new candidate can enjoy the spotlight for a few months, until the same fate caterwauls destiny where many junkyards have wandered.

Here I pause and try to imagine, what if we did more with less? Suppose those food scraps all went into gardens, those fabrics turned to quilts, and those plastic soldiers received a proper funeral.

Might we have souls of peace?

Personal Finance

Why I (Usually) Support Privatization

Sometimes being too realistic is a major problem. It’s easier to get lost in a swell of partisan tribalism than deal with the uncomfortable merits of a specific, emotionally-driven issue.

Consider privatization as an example. Somewhere in the 1970s and 80s, the Neoliberalism train launched, promising increased efficiencies to ward off the corrupt and stagnant government organizations of before. Assets got sold and regulations were rolled back, all in the name of a leaner administrative state with less bureaucracy.

Today, it is difficult to measure how effective these approaches have been. On the one hand, we pay less generous pensions to federal workers under FERS than its juicier parent, CSRS, while ensuring money is injected into the market with 401ks. We have passed these claimed benefits on through the explosion of government contracting, which allows federal authorities to pay for services without shelling out cash for the expansive benefits enjoyed by its own workers. In the case of the Postal Service, they are actually demanding further reforms to reduce the pension liability.

Has it eliminated waste? This is a harder one to gauge. Certainly the Iraq and Afghanistan wars showed us how well contractors manage taxpayer dollars, and the recent Accenture story about a  $297 million heartbreak is cause for skepticism. At bare minimum, there is no question that government spending has exploded since the neoliberal era, so the tremendous savings are questionable.

Finally, we might examine the bureaucracy issue. People like to point towards the DMV as a bad instance of government administration, but anyone who has worked in a large corporation or government contracting company knows they have massive bureaucratic tendencies. It is easier to fire a contractor than a federal employee however, so perhaps that side bolsters the efficiency argument.

So with spending up and job security down, why would anyone support the privatization practice?

To make money. I am well past having optimistic ideas of the government or private corporations, but the only immediate benefit of state-run bureaucracies is for those employed full-time by them. Otherwise, the return on taxpayer investment is minimal.

With a privatized  state entity, just like with a private company that bids for federal contracts, there is an opportunity to invest in shares and earn more.  Governments don’t do that outside of bonds, and those are the poor man’s arsenal.