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Who are the Heroes?

Entry 2043, on 2020-05-19 at 13:30:33 (Rating 3, Politics)

I recently read the following piece of useful advice: "When the COVID-19 horror is over and we go back to our normal lives, never forget that during the crisis we were not desperate for lawyers, actors, athletes, or reality TV stars. We needed teachers, doctors, nurses, shop workers, delivery drivers, and countless others who we usually take for granted."

There are several interesting points in this particular piece, some of which I think have merit, and some not so much. So let's get started by working through the points to see if they make sense...

First, is the overall theme true? Well, I guess that depends on your perspectives and priorities. For example, if you are a big sports fan and the highlight of your life is watching sport then you might be more desperate to have athletes than teachers working again. But if you are a parent, there's a good chance that teachers are near the top of your list!

So, like a lot of this sort of material, the writer assumes that everyone is like them. And because the people who write this stuff are often very politically correct and concerned for the underdog, that is the aspect of these roles which they emphasise. But they aren't necessarily right; nor are they wrong. They are simply making a statment of personal values which might apply to some other people but not others.

What about the lists of roles? Are these complete, fair, or unbiased? Well, I see the point which is being made and broadly agree with the lists, but could I add managers to the list of undesirables, and computer consultants (who keep all that remote collaboration, learning, etc working) to the list of essentials? Hey, if we are going to admit this is basically a matter of opinion, why can't I add mine?

What about the COVID-19 horror? Is it really that horrific? Well, that's a tough one, but for many people it hasn't been so bad. I mean, it was weird to start with, then annoying, but horror is going a bit far. In fact the most horrific part might be the over-reaction to the actual disease, which could easily cause more harm than the disease itself. Note that I'm not one of those people to claim that no restrictions were required, just that some countries (especially New Zealand) panicked and went too far.

As I have intimated in previous posts, there are certain professions which I find somewhat distasteful. At the top of the list would be managers, closely followed by lawyers and accountants, then various administrators, etc. I have nothing against the people who fullfil these roles, and I don't even necessarily reject their necessity within the current society we live in. The problem is we have a society where a significant fraction of jobs (maybe the majority) are essentially useless, and only serve to perform activities imposed by other bureaucrats within the system.

For example, if we didn't have so many complex and incomprehensible laws there would be less need for lawyers. And the same applies to accountants who perform all of those tedious roles which are necessary because of the intensely bureaucratic environment we live in. And don't even get me started on managers!

Actors - and the people involved in the arts in general - are an important part of our culture, so we should value them to some extent. But I think the people involved in what I call the "sausage factories" of Hollywood and Netflix really don't deserve too much respect. There are the occasional exceptions where there is some real talent involved, but in general I find these people mediocre at best.

A similar argument applies to athletes (and sportspeople in general) although it is presumably impossible to join a top sports team without having some genuine skill. On the other hand, people watched computer generated supercar races when the real races weren't being run, and some couldn't tell the difference. Maybe the future lies with virtual sports which would be far more accessible to anyone, not just professional sportspeople.

Probably the less said about reality TV "stars" the better. I'm sure by now you can guess my opinion on those!

So let's move to the positive side of the ledger now (yeah, an accounting metaphor there). What about those professions we are encouraged to value more? What do I think of them?

OK, teachers. This is a difficult one. In some ways I respect them, and in others I have very little respect. Teaching is one job I would never do. I would literally rather be unemployed and homeless on the street. That is really unfortunate, because I did informal teaching for many years and really enjoyed it. I have to admit it was primarily of adults where I taught astronomy and computer use, but it was still teaching. The problem is not the teaching though, it is the discipline (which I have zero aptitude for) and the excessive paperwork and constant evaluations. Oh, and the other teachers, because this is maybe the most mindless politically correct profession on the planet!

Teachers deny that their primary purpose in society is to act as babysitters for the kids of families where both parents work, but there have been several indications that this is, in fact, an important if not their main purpose. That was what they were used for in level 3, and with schools restarting today I haven't heard a single comment like "I'm glad my kid will now get a good education". Instead it was "Thank God, I'll have some time to myself again!"

So on to health professionals, like nurses and doctors. Well, there's nothing like a health crisis to focus our attention on them. I do believe the profession is over-rated, but it is still very valuable. And in these times, when there is a significant risk of being infected with the virus, I think this group does deserve some extra credit.

On the other hand, I think the vast majority of the work doctors do could be replaced with expert systems and self-diagnosis, except our system will only dispense most useful drugs from a prescription, so that is blocked. I have good health myself, but on the odd occasions I see a doctor (about once every 5 or 10 years) they are fairly useless. They either get the diagnosis wrong, or prescribe exactly what I would have after visiting "Doctor Google" (in other words, self-diagnosis after researching symptoms on the internet).

So finally, shop workers, delivery drivers, and "countless others". These might be thought of as "mundane" jobs that almost anyone could do, so they might not be valued so much. But we have learned the value of them recently, and maybe they might have increased in status as a result. But somehow I doubt it, not because I don't value them, but because I think people are already going back to old attitudes, before the "COVID horror" is even over.

Finally, the word "heroes" has been bandied about to describe some of the people who do these jobs. In fact, according to some people, there are so many heroes out there, that there can't be a lot of non-heroes left, which sort of degrades the exceptionalism of the real thing somewhat.

I think that some of the work done by health professionals working in crowded wards treating COVID patients might be fairly described as heroic, but that's about as far as I would go. Most of the others have just been doing their jobs in a slightly more difficult form, so calling them heroes sort of denigrates the word and renders it useless. Of course, the word has been used for political purposes in most cases, so we shouldn't be taking it seriously anyway.

There has been a lot of commentary about society "resetting" and becoming better in some way, as we recover from this unprecedented event, but I suspect everything will return to just about the same as it was before it all started. Those working in "lower" forms of employment will return to being our servants who are mainly unnoticed in the background, rather than heroes, and the lawyers and accountants will be back on top. It's sad really, but that's human nature.

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