Everyone Suffers From Something At Some Point

As Americanized as we get, I think maintaining some level of cultural connection is enormously important to a person’s self-identity.  Having genuine ethnic customs makes a person less susceptible to the trendy nonsense of the modern consumeristic age. And knowing the historical values and cultural traditions of your ancestors influences that types of philosophies you practice as an adult.
I’ve just read a New York Times bestseller book by Thanhhà Lại, called: Listen, Slowly. It’s a multicultural young-adult book about a Vietnamese-American tweenaged girl begrudgingly spending a summer in Vietnam. The book chronicles the inner thoughts of a 12 year old girl, as she experiences a rural village in a foreign country.

It incorporates several culturally conflicting  thoughts that I have personally experienced being an American child born of immigrants.  I’ve always been grateful for my multiethnic heritage because of the unique standpoints it gives me, and because the Americanized kids I grew up neighboring couldn’t decide what was truly important in life.  They were trendy, and wasteful, and they took a lot of things for granted.
Whereas the book observes that people in Vietnam behave differently, people are always together, everyone talks to everyone else, there are no secrets, there’s no privacy, No one complains, and there’s an inclination never to waste anything.   Something I enjoyed in the book was how gracefully people accepted the concept of ‘suffering’. “[Grandma] Bà says everyone suffers from something at some point”.
The comforts of the first-world have made us picky and inefficient. Spoiled incompetent children grow up and become spoiled incompetent parents.    I’ve always expected immigrant families to have stricter parenting techniques because of fewer contingency options available to them. The pressure to succeed is highest when the whole family is working together. “Co Den tay, Phai, Phat” Flag in hand, must wave it”. This enthusiasm to ‘do whatever you can’ is lost on Americanized youths, because their families merely expect them to ‘be children’, instead of ‘adults in training’.

Never Good Enough For Her

My mom has a vision of what perfection is, and she chooses to ignore things that don’t fit into her vision. Yet nothing is ever good enough for her. She refuses to believe that the people close to her have actual problems, perhaps because she’s too selfish to think of them, but most likely because those problems don’t fit into her ideas of perfection. She has shamelessly tried to redecorate other people’s homes, or influence their choices, or instruct them on how to be ‘better’, because she feels the current state of things aren’t good enough. She acts as if she’s helping, and expects everyone to be appreciative of her ‘help’.

Another example: I have a somewhat serious allergy, yet she still brings ‘triggers’ into my house, and then innocently tries to blame various other things when I break out in hives. She pretends this allergy doesn’t really exist, because my ‘problems’ are inconvenient for her. The most pressing thing is that  my brother is getting married this month. It’s is exactly  the type of typical conservative-conventional thing that mother wants, and yet, she is still enormously displeased with the situation. It’s just not perfect enough for her to be happy about.    It’s not enough that my brother has a home, and a bride, and the promise of grandchildren, because she wants ‘something better’. Even though she wants us to be old-fashioned [home, marriage, family], she is still incessantly  trying to sway him Not to marry this particular woman.  There is no pleasing her. Nothing is ever good enough.

With all the ‘baby fever’ that’s been going around, she recently demanded that I break off my relationship, because marriage and family wasn’t on the itinerary. “Find someone you want to have kids with”, she said, as if that was my primary function in life. She seemed truly distressed when I told her that I didn’t think I would ever get married. Not that I haven’t thought about it, but I think the world today is too messed up to bring children into.
Times have changed,  and Millennials just can’t afford the same luxuries that our parents’ enjoyed 30-years ago. In this scenario, a ‘home and family’ are a luxury. The house I am currently renting was built in the 1960s [for less than $40k], both my parents were able to buy houses like them in the early 1980s [for less than $180k]. But now the same 50-year old house costs $550k, as is. A decent house in this city costs 1 million dollars. But my mom doesn’t see barriers, and promptly decided that I need to move out of state, for the purpose of having an affordable house, so that I can afford to have a family, and so she could get exactly what she wants.
A younger me would’ve tried to do everything she asked, but now all I see is a self-centered  brat who’s  always having a tantrum.

Healthcare Costs in America

I am a healthy single adult Millennial with an average full time job, and  I spend about 8% of my income on healthcare [medical/dental/vision], which I get through my work. If I were to have a spouse, it would be 12%; and if I were to have a spouse and children, it would be 25% of my income. The cost of renting an apartment in this region is between $1500-$2500 per month. Which can be reduced by splitting costs with a spouse or roommate.
It’s fair to say that I can afford myself, but I cannot afford a to have a family.
But more importantly, the costs of additional healthcare services would be devastating if ANYTHING were to change for me.     If I were to get sick for a length of time,  I would not be able to afford both the extra healthcare costs and housing. I would go into debt trying to pay for both, and become homeless within 6 months.
If I were to marry and try to support a spouse and child, I would only be able to afford the basics for the family [home and health]. My spouse would have to work in order to pay for everything else; the groceries, child expenses, child care, home utilities, phones, internet, cars, gas, ect. And if there was ever a time when this hypothetical family didn’t have 2 incomes, then we would go into debt, and possibly become homeless.

In this scenario, I am fully employed and still not be able to support a family. If I were to become a single parent, the same problem would occur; I would be ineligible for government aid, because I am fully employed.
I am fortunate enough to have friends/family nearby who could help me in a time of crisis, but I imagine there are those who aren’t as fortunate.  Our social structure simultaneously urges everyone to marry and reproduce, while providing no resources to make it possible.
I don’t like the idea of living in a system that makes people choose between health and home. It’s too intolerant to be effective. The whole point of universal healthcare is that everyone has access to predictably priced care; but in reality it’s not, and this service is so unpredictably expensive that it comes at the cost of stable housing. We are living in a fear-based culture, where ill people are declining to seek care because of the uncertainty of the associated costs.
The bulk of my expenses go to rent and living costs/regular bills of predictable amounts: water, gas, electricity, home security, car, ect. It’s difficult to say which ones I would prioritize if something came up. If a bill arrived in my mail for some emergency health service [in the amount equivalent to 2-3 months’ rent], how would I pay for everything, and not fall short somewhere else?

Medieval Township

I can’t see a happy future in a consumeristic world, where we’ve sacrificed every form of quality for cost efficiency reasons. I think that I’d have a better life if I wasn’t living in a modern tech society.  A friend told me about her friend who’s a master sword fighter, and how he plans on opening a Medieval township park. This idea interested me.
After years of watching The Walking Dead, I had been mentally preparing for an apocalypse, not time travel. But let’s take a moment to think about the Medieval ages.
-Also known as the Middle ages, it’s the 1,000-year time period  between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Renaissance [5th century – 15th century]. It had the Byzantine Empire, feudalism, kings, crusades, Christians, Vikings, Marco Polo, Gothic architecture, and the plague. It was a transitionary period, not prominently known for artwork [like the Romans or Renaissance], but it was important for the formation of the small government-lordship hierarchy. Somewhat Game of Thrones-y. With the lack of a unified Empire, people turned to newfangled beliefs to find law and order, so naturally, there were a lot of small group/religious conflicts.

The Middle Ages and The Walking Dead have a lot of the same themes involving conflict and struggle; both resemble the wild west, lawless and harsh, with no reliable infrastructure. I can see why a master sword fighter would be attracted to this macho time period, it was filled with combat and glory [and little else]. No science innovations can be made while war and crisis are always imminent.  Not exactly what I had in mind.

I was thinking a simpler life would be better for me. Something with more gardening and less packaging. I’ve seen buildings in Europe that are 1,000 years old and still beautiful, and houses here in America only 50 years old that are falling apart. Cost efficient, low quality housing, just another a consumer good, becoming more disposable every day. Maybe I should buy a plot of land and lease space to tiny house dwellers. Become a land lord, like the serf lords of the medieval ages.

Automation and Education

Automation is going to replace factory jobs. Low skill manufacturing work will soon go extinct. Just like the coal miner jobs went away after new technology was invented. Improving our educational system is more important than ever, now that there is no place in society for low-skill workers. Schools need to reintroduce trade-profession classes so that teens who are not college-bound have real career options.

Schools have been around forever, but it was only about 100 years ago that high school was No longer just a precursor to college. After 1910, vocation education was added to the high school curriculum as a mechanism to train the technicians/skilled workers for the industrial sector [following WW1]. By 1940, half of teens earned high school diplomas, learning essential skills for careers in white collar and high-paying blue collar jobs.
But the education ‘boom’ is followed by ‘the bust’, and after 50 years, this institutional method of education is no longer effective. Schools have fallen victim to bureaucratic budgetary disasters, and the educational quality has suffered. The last 20 years of public education has been ineffective as school resources lag behind the high-tech age of computers.
Educational cuts have left schools with bare minimum core academic courses. High school no longer teaches relevant technical skills for trade professions. Even blue collar factory jobs these days require moderate-advanced computer literacy.     Our modern culture expects everyone to go to college to learn those same essential skills that our grandparents learned in high school.
People like to say that younger generations NEED to get a higher education, but what they mean to say is that educational institutions are so weak that you need to have more of it to be just as competent as previous generations were with just a GED.

College looks impressive on paper, but it actually sinks generations of people into massive college-debts. [College prices have increased 400% since the 1970s]. This debt postpones other milestone events, like home purchases.
Two generations ago you didn’t even need a high school diploma to get a decent entry level job, but now most jobs require a college degree and several years’ experience. Which means that today’s high school diploma is worthless.  It would be more efficient to just send teens straight into junior college after their 10th grade exit exam. In the same 2 years, they could have an Associate’s degree and been better off than if they had just had a GED.

parent volunteers

I’ve been working in K-8th grade schools this year, which means that I’m  interacting with more parents than before. Something I’ve been thinking about is how differently women and men function when given the same task. There’s something about our cultures’ social grooming that makes women better in non-supervised group roles.
Both the moms and dads show up to do the same job, but the moms are way more cooperative. The dads keep to themselves and don’t do anything beyond their task, but the moms take initiative to help others out with additional tasks. They’ll happily poke into other areas to ask if they can be of service. It might be the cultural expectation for female pleasantries, or the lack of father-child socializing that creates this behavioral rift.
– I know this isn’t scientific, but it’s what I’ve observed during my time on campus.

Women are wired to be more empathetic than men, so they are better at seeing and predicting other people’s behaviors. Which is probably why women are better at multi-tasking than men; they can foresee things coming a mile away, intuitively.
Female collectivism actually makes them stronger in groups than the individualistically-minded male archetype.
Women are more selfless, less egocentric, and prepared to put the greater good ahead of their own [anthropologically wired to better care for babies]. While most males do the opposite, integrating cultural ideas about proper dominant-masculine behavior with their roles as caregivers.

Conventionalism

I’ve realized that there’s no future in conventionalism. We can’t expect to make any progress if we’re always restricted by the traditional ways of the past. Conventional people are always trying to be more ‘average’; more predictable, conservative, and conforming to social norms.  These people will never be extraordinary, because their objective is to be ordinary. They want to fit into a monotonous traditionalist culture. 1950s style.

I attended a party this past weekend, and met a half dozen new people. They seemed like perfectly functional people, but they were very uninteresting. No hobbies, no special interests, and they didn’t seem to have any conversational points. In the 5 hours that I spent with them, I learned practically nothing about them, except for how they know each other. I don’t know why they were all reluctant to hold a discussion;  they smile, nod, answer basic questions, but no conversations. It might be a regional trait, or symptomatic of an antisocial generation, but it seems we’ve dulled ourselves down in order to be more socially conventional [more docile].

As a population of docile people, we’re less likely to do anything against the status quo, so we’ve become easier to control. We don’t have outlandish hobbies, so we’re an eager audience for consumer goods, and we’re less challenging of regulations. We’re no longer trying to make social strides, or pave the way for a brighter future.  We’re accepting of the situation, and losing sight of the big picture.

Our current government leader puts more responsibility on the individual to provide for themselves in every capacity. This ‘every man for himself’ attitude heavily disadvantages poorer people, accentuating the disparity. This divided-class nation is dangerous. It makes us less compassionate about the plights others, and more focused on the self-interests of our personal demographic. The system has made us egocentric, and paranoid about our self-preservation.
The news this week has taught me how quickly things can fall apart. Everything has become drastically divided. This is the type of thing that destroys a generation and segments society; it’s a Civil War. The costs of living has been increasing, along with personal debts, and now America has an enormous poverty class that no one acknowledges as ‘deprived’ because we’re all trying to appear/behave conventionally.

Relationships with Work

I spend more time at my work than I do on anything else. More time, and effort, and brainpower, goes into my work than anything else I do. A reasonable person wouldn’t do unreasonable quantities of work unless it was worth the money. ‘Be fair to yourself’. An expendable employee shares no stake in the company. An employee could be easily replaced, and the company would continue. I am a employee, and I plan my life around work, I also think it’s absurd that ‘work’ takes us for granted.
-These are some general thoughts I have every year when I see my W-2s, after I do a quick rundown of my expenses. I think it’s important to recognize when you’re being taken advantage of, and when your relationship is unhealthy.

About 2 years ago, my office underwent a substantial security upgrade. All the employees were given new handbooks with tighter restrictions. We all anticipated that these new constraints would be recognized as an inconvenience and we would be compensated accordingly. But it didn’t happen. – We are now in the 3rd year, and the mass majority of us still have not received any sort of dependable raise. So, I think it’s fair to say that we are in a bad relationship with a company that doesn’t appreciate us.
I asked for a raise last year. They simply told me that if they felt I had value, then it would be lumped into my Christmas bonus. Meaning that the company gets to accrue interest on my bonus all year, while I slowly go bankrupt. [On paper it was only ~1% increase from last year]. Like a bad relationship, this company is egotistic, and treats its workers like we’re insignificant.

I know I shouldn’t complain, but I’ve got to be fair to myself. The cost of living is only going up, and I can’t possibly survive on an income that never does. Every year that I work, I have 1 more year of experience, but am somehow valued the same.
A ‘career’ is an antiquated concept, because the new generation barely has ‘employment’. Millennials all slipped into poverty because they were tricked into paying for educations that they didn’t need, to work at jobs that won’t lead to careers.  I have concerns that the company where I work is starving us out; denying us value/rank, just to see how much indifference we are willing to endure. Chipping away at our self-worth until we don’t think we deserve any better. Like an abusive lover, or a fascist government.

Settle In and Lay Down Roots

When I think about my general attitude, I realize that even in the worse situations, I somehow find a way to mentally settle-in for the long haul. I remember telling myself things like ‘this is my life now’, and ‘I’m here forever, so let’s get used to it’.
I think I do it because I like having a sense of permanence. I know change is inevitable, but I aim for longevity. ‘Change’ requires more brainpower, more planning, more energy.  I think having a predictable routine frees-up my brain to think about other things. Even if the routine is plain.
My current routine reminds me of the show: The Office. I work in a similar plain building, with boring corporate regulations, and office cliques. The only thing I found un-relatable about the show is how sociable the group was. I can’t find the motivation to ‘hang out’ with anyone I work with, even the people I like.  I’ve settled [submissively] into a boring desk life, and realizing that I’m doing it is an omen that things are about to change.

Some people thrive doing stimulating work, and get motivated thinking about doing something new and challenging every day. But if you’re married to your work, you’ll never care about your home. I once knew a workaholic bachelor whose house was 90% filth, because he was ‘too busy’ to do regular chores. Then again, you’ll occasionally find people who don’t care about either work or home.  So, I’m not sure where they put their energy.
I like my current home.  I like it so much that I’ve stated gardening. There’s something about having a garden that literally demonstrates how a person has settled in, laid down actual roots, and grown into a life. Yesterday I bought a bag of soil, so I could plant some avocado pits that I’ve been trying to sprout in a cup on a windowsill. This has been a 6 month project, and the sprout now has a dozen leaves. Gardening requires patience [and permanence] because most fruit trees don’t produce for several years.  I desire consistency. But for every step that I take to feel more stability in my life, I get an opposing fear that I will have that much more to lose if things don’t work out. One more thing to uproot.

Dependence on Debt

According to recent studies by financial planning sites, ~70% of Americans have less than $1k in savings.  They might have investments, assets, or bonds. But not having a sufficient savings account means that Americans are treating credit cards as a safety net. Heavily depending on their banks to maintain their lifestyles. This trust is surprising since the banks have been known to fail every few decades.

The Bay Area is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. Many people every year move to this area for business, technology, and opportunities. A lot of people, a lot of money. Property prices here are now insanely high, and many locals have been priced out by foreign investors. Driving up the costs, and driving out locals.
For a moment, I thought that a ‘lack of savings’ meant that people were living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling under the rising costs of living. But then it occurred to me, that people have no need to ‘save’ money, since they are able to run up expenses on credit and worry about paying it off later. We’re all part of the larger economic system since everyone has a bank, even people with no money.

 Can you imagine if animals never prepared for harsh winters, if they could simply get a loan to cover their own poor planning, and purchase everything they need to survive in the eleventh-hour.          Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Majority of us are failing to plan for future expenses, which means that we aren’t balancing our budgets, and we are not living within our means.
Some of this isn’t our fault, the cost of living in the world today is significantly more expensive that it was 50 years ago. But we failed to adapt to those raising costs. Instead, we cling to traditional societal ideals about normality, and continue to purchase things we believe we need (but we don’t actually need).  Our consumer culture keeps us shackled to our debt.