Subject: Re: Kent Beck's talk
From: "Carl Alexander" <xela@MIT.EDU>
Date: Wed, 04 Aug 2004 21:09:00 -0400

> > Kent said on more than one occasion that he was looking for a "whole
> > job" that would let him be a "whole person".
> 
> Yes, well, aren't we all.  I've heard that thought countless times
> over the years.  Just think of how many people you know for whom a job
> is just something they do to earn money for their real life.  When I
> was younger I used to tell people "work is not a productive use of my
> time," and I was initially startled by how many people quite seriously
> agreed with me.  I think it is a basic problem with capitalism and/or
> modern society that so many people are unable to find a "whole job."
> (Or, I dunno, maybe the problem is that most people are just naturally
> dissatisfied.)

Of course people are just naturally dissatisfied.  If we weren't,
we'd all still be living in caves, feasting ourselves sick whenever
we managed to chase a mastodon off a cliff, starving most of the
rest of the time, helplessly watching most of our children die
before they could walk, and dying, toothless, of old age at 40.

I'm no fan of unbridled capitalism (but then, from what I can
tell without having found time to actually sit down and read him,
neither was Adam Smith).  But the _bridled_ capitalism we had in
the US for most of the twentieth century seems to have done a
better job of giving people opportunities to have fulfilling work
than any historical antecedent I know of.  

Romantic ideas that people's lives were more whole in "simpler"
times are the product of people who never had to live such lives.
I grew up on a farm. I was my parents' last child, an accident
ten years younger then my nearest sibling, and by the time I was
born my dad was working construction a lot more than he worked
the farm, so I never saw the really hard times. But my sisters
have stories of Christmases where the only presents were rag
dolls my mother sewed from scraps.  (And yes, even they
romanticize those stories --- now. But I remember their
bitterness when they first told me those stories, as teenagers.)
And they have stories of weeks on end where bread, beans, and
milk were pretty much the whole diet. (Butchering the cow would
have meant eating meat --- but it would also have meant no milk
for the kids.)  Nobody lives that on purpose.

I happen to have a job that I love, a job that goes a long way 
to making me feel whole (though, being a naturally dissatisfied
human, I recently decided it was time to move on and am actively
looking for a better one).  I'm in that enviable position partly
because I have the skills and talents to do that job, but luck
plays a bigger role:  the luck of having been in the right place
at the right time to get that job in the first place, of course,
but most of all the luck of having been descended from thousands
of generations of people who were naturally dissatisfied.

---Carl Alexander