Category Archives: Human nature

Legislating Corporate Morality

I’ve always been a big believer that you can’t legislate morality, and I’m more than willing to expand that to say you can’t legislate business ethics, either.  I ran across an article that in part fully supports my newly expanded belief.  The rest of this post is very US-centric but I’m pretty sure it applies to just about anywhere in the world.

To make a long story short, the Affordable Care Act in the US says that companies must provide health care for full time employees and defines “full time” as 30 hours or more per week.  This seems a bit low to me, but it was clearly put there by the liberal side of the nation in the hope of enrolling as many people in health care as possible.  They also put the barrier so low because they were concerned that companies might be tempted to cut employee hours from 40 to, say, 35 or 37 to put them below the definition of full-time so they wouldn’t have to pay for their health care.

The new Republican-led Congress has introduced legislation to redefine full-time as 40 hours.  Liberal critics are saying that this will tempt employers to reduce 40 hour employees to 39 or less just as they had feared when the original plan was designed.  The Republican response to this claim?  They say they’re doing it to HELP the employees.  They say that by raising the bar to 40 hours, employers will be less likely to cut their full-time workers to the 29 hours or less per week that they would need in order to avoid paying for their health care under the existing plan and will only cut them to, say, 35 or so.

Essentially, both parties are assuming that companies are going to do everything they can to avoid providing health care for their workers.  The only difference is that the liberals are optimistic that businesses wouldn’t cut a worker’s hours by 25% or more and the conservatives are pretty sure that they would.  I continue to be amazed at our desire to screw over our fellow man.

Original story is here, relevant portion is “The 40-hour work week”, about halfway through the article.

A Good Start to the Day

Riding the bus this morning, chatting with my companion, a woman whom I had never met said, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I rarely hear conversation this intelligent on the bus and I hope you don’t mind if I join in.”  Wow.  Now, I realize that “intelligent conversation on the bus” could have an overtone of “best dressed at a hobo convention” but I really think she was sincere.  Regardless, it was a really fantastic way to start my day.  Let me start at the beginning and you’ll see why.

Choosing to ignore the alarm clock was the first good idea of the day, and allowed me to shower after Offspring #1 was done (hoping against hope that there would still be hot water) and share the bus ride with him.  While we were waiting for the bus I mentioned a nerd-centric web comic that we both happen to like, specifically this edition of the strip.  (Go look at it now.  Go.  Do it.)  There are a LOT of discussion points in that strip, the most horrifying of which to me is that majority approval for interracial marriage didn’t happen in the US until 1995, 30 years after it became legal in all 50 states.

My offspring commented that it made perfectly good sense to him that same-sex marriage would be accepted more quickly because of the availability of information and opinion on the Internet, and he’s right in the sense that the amount of information, opinion, and commentary instantly available to us is orders of magnitude larger to us than it was 30 years ago.  But I don’t necessarily agree that this leads to faster social change.  I countered with the opinion that it takes more than information to change social opinion, it also takes an open mind and a willingness to change.  (Anyone who’s read pretty much anything political on here will have no doubts how I feel about contemporary open-mindedness, or lack thereof.)

The young man acknowledged that there was a certain validity to my opinion, but said that he felt that the vast increase of information, testimonials, etc. made it easier to understand the people involved and sympathize with them.  I agreed that this would increase the odds of that “wow, they really are human” sort of epiphany but said that I thought he was overlooking the function of age, in the sense that older people tend to spend less time re-evaluating their positions on social issues, which is one reason why large scale social changes tend to move slowly.  Drifting to another talking point from the comic strip, I also mentioned that it was interesting that interracial marriage became legal in all 50 states 30 years before a majority of the public considered it acceptable.  I questioned how that could happen in a democracy, since it implies that the law got passed without a majority of voters approving it.

At this point the unnamed woman chimed in and said that she thought it was simply a case of interracial marriage being recognized as a basic human right by lawmakers.  From there, she felt, it wasn’t hard to imagine laws being passed and challenged based solely on it being the right thing to do.  Personally, I’m far too cynical to easily buy in to that world view, but it certainly is possible that it happened that way.

We soon arrived at her stop and she thanked us profusely for the conversation and the great start to her day.  HER day?  Hell’s bells, what a great start to MY day.  A good conversation with my kid, agreeing to disagree on various points, became a compliment from a stranger, a reason to take pride in my kid, and a reason to think there might be hope for humanity after all.  That is a great start to the day, no doubt about it.  Okay, sure, I missed a 9am meeting because I didn’t check my calendar, but there was enough hot water for my shower so those two cancel each other out.

Only in Canada

Every so often I’m reminded that I’m living in a different country than the one I was raised in.  I had two of those moments recently that I thought I’d share.

The first came while talking to a car salesman.  His first question was the standard, “What are you looking for?”  I told him that our basic requirements were a specific price range, a manual transmission, and room for two adults and two hockey bags at the same time.  Without missing a beat, he asked, “Are they goalies?”  I don’t think more than 2% of the population of America would know that hockey bags are twice as big if you’re goalie but for this salesman it was business as usual.

The second occurred on the bus on the way to work.  Bus riders are a pretty … ummm… interesting group, and probably worthy of a blog post all their own.  I’ve learned over time that it’s generally a good idea to avoid eye contact with other riders, especially the ones having complete conversations while sitting alone.  The best way to do this is to just close my eyes, which eventually leads to a nice bus nap.  So far, I’ve been lucky and haven’t slept more than one stop past where I wanted to get off.  I was taking one such nap a week or so ago, and my schedule was such that my wife had taken an earlier bus and someone else was sitting next to me.  (My technical term for this is “sleeping with a stranger”.)  It was a particularly good bus nap that day, and I snapped awake one stop before mine just as….

what the heck?

the woman next to me… blatantly violating the First Rule of Bus Etiquette… she actually…

I can’t believe I’m typing this, let alone that it really happened…

she actually…. touched me.  Physically touched me.  She laid her hand… her whole hand!  on my shoulder…

Faced with such an unprecedented, unthinkable situation I had no choice but to fall back on my keen social instinct, my quick wit, and my catlike reflexes.  “Yes?” I said.  (Impressive, eh?)

The woman at least had the courtesy to be apologetic for her stunning breach of protocol.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  Haltingly, perhaps embarrassed by her own actions, she continued.  “I’m sure I’ve seen you and… I think it’s your wife… on this bus before… and… well, I think you usually get off at the next stop and …. I didn’t want you to miss your stop.”

Only in Canada.

How do YOU “self-identify”?

How do YOU “self-identify”?  An odd question, for sure, and I followed an odd path to get to it.  The stops included a government form, a conversation after hockey, and a documentary on former NBA player Vlade Divac.  At the end of this route, the question still seems very relevant, so I’m asking you to consider it.  Here, let me explain.

The government form asked for my race and offered the usual options; Caucasian, Black (socially acceptable in Canada), Aboriginal, Metis, and then provided a box for “Other – self-identify”.  My first thought was to invent a new race, instantly become an oppressed minority of one, and start a separatist movement.  I soon dismissed this as impractical (if not passe) but the question stuck around in my brain and started fermenting a bit.  The conversation after hockey helped me see different angles to the larger picture and define whether it really is important.  The documentary on Divac showed what can happen when large groups of people suddenly change their identity, making me even more curious how my friends would answer the question.

Divac and his best friend Drazan Petrovic enjoyed great success as members of the Yugoslavian national basketball team but the collapse of that nation into separate entities allowed generations-old nationalistic hatreds to re-emerge.  Divac is Serbian, Petrovic was Croatian, and suddenly there was a rift between them that was never resolved.   The divide was partially their own doing and partially imposed on them by others of their new identities; the Serbs flat out told Divac that it was dangerous to talk to Petrovic.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, check out the Serbo-Croatian war on Wikipedia.  It wasn’t pretty.

So let’s take the question to a higher level than just race, and ask it again.  How do you self-identify?  When you boil yourself down to your core element (an icky process, I expect) what do you find?  A Christian?  A Republican?  An American?  A Liberal, maybe?  Perhaps a single issue defines you, say, gun control, or abortion.  Perhaps you’re a scientist, and the search for knowledge is your core element.  You may find more than one, and it may change over time, but do a little introspection and see what you find.

While you’re mulling that over, let’s talk about why it’s important.  I’ve come up with three reasons that I think it’s important to be consciously aware of our self-identities.  There may be more reasons, and mine may suck, but I’ll let you hash that out in the comments.  First, there’s the little matter of the human concept of “us”.  Us are the folks we identify with, the ones we’ll help in a crisis, and the ones that we’ll vigorously defend against the onslaughts of all the non-us’es that we refer to as “them”.  We work together with others of us to get things done.  We’re more comfortable around us than we are when some of them are included.  It’s easier to ignore them, and dismiss them as idiots than it is to ignore one of us.  This is sad because sometimes one of them has a good point worth considering but our tendency is to dismiss them out of hand.  The pull of the dark side is much stronger when you get them involved, too.  Humans don’t commit genocide or wage war against us, they do it against them.  In fact, differentiating them from us is one of the essential preliminaries to both war and genocide.

The second reason your self-identity is important grows from the first.  Put bluntly, it limits you.  The more strongly you identify with your us, the harder it is to see things from the them point of view.  When us and them inevitably come into conflict the path to resolution is far easier if you can see the issue from both sides.  It’s not impossible to be strongly associated with a group and still see things from another perspective, but it does make it more difficult, and at the extreme end of the scale an extremely strong identity with a single cause leads to … well, extremism.

This leads to the third reason that your self-identity is important.  Once you’ve picked a core element, it’s hard to change it.  Divacs, for example, considered himself a Yugoslav until that rug was pulled out from under him and he was forced to revert to an identity that he was not comfortable with.  Because this change is difficult, it’s important to make sure that the identity you’ve chosen for yourself is an appropriate one, and it’s also important to check every so often to make sure it still fits.  As a trivial example of both of these concepts is my identity as a fan of the Seattle Mariners.  I’ve been a fan for years, but lately the team has proven itself to be a bunch of incompetent fools with no idea how to win.  No longer wanting to be associated with (well, more accurately, disappointed by) them, I’m trying to not be a fan anymore but old habits die hard.  I just paid $20 to listen to any baseball game I want, and no surprise, I’m listening to the Mariners.  As I said, this is a trivial example but it applies equally to important things like political, religious, and social affiliations.  If you’re a Lutheran for example, but have lost your faith in God, it’s a pretty good possibility that you’re not actually a Lutheran anymore.

So give it some thought.  What’s your self-identity?  Does it still fit?

A study in human emotion

There is a video that is making it’s way around Facebook lately that some of you may not have seen and it’s really worth watching if human emotions are of any interest to you.  I’ll give you the official backstory and the video so you can watch it with the same information I had, then I’ll share my comments afterward.

“Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s. When they felt the relationship was ending, they walked the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

“At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.”

Don’t read any more until you’ve watched the video.