STEADILY-DEPRESSIN' LOW-DOWN MIND-MESSIN'
WORKIN' AT THE PORN SHOP BLUES*
TEST YOUR ABILITY IN SYLLOGISTIC REASONING:
Major premise: Hard work is honorable.
Minor premise: Stealing refrigerators is hard work.
from Barbara Paul's book, Liars and Tyrants and People Who Turn Blue
Nothing makes me appreciate my job more than learning about the things some other people do to make a living. One of my internet magazines had a depressing story about how the internet filter systems know what sites to screen out. You see, these companies hire people to sit at their workstations all day, inputting words for body parts and sex acts into search engines, looking for porn sites. When they seem to have exhausted the obvious keywords, they start inputting misspellings of them, recovering even more treasure troves of images. Then they start putting in even innocuous words devoid of any sexual content, like candlestick, or, um, cigar. Amazing what they come up with.
Think about that--an entire office suite, cubicle after cubicle, filled with people making a living staring at sex acts eight hours a day, five days a week. Is that depressing or what?
I suppose that in the abstract, this might seem like an ideal job to some young guys, at least for a while. But when the porn is not a forbidden pleasure but a duty, when it's not healthily erotic but simply hardcore, when the sex is perfunctory or violent or performed on children, it might not be as much fun anymore. What would such a job do to your feelings about sex? Or to your respect for your fellow human beings? And wouldn't it be even worse if your job was producing this stuff?
Not that there aren't plenty of other soul-deadening jobs out there. Think about making a living swindling old ladies out of their life savings. There are people who spend their lives on the telephone, convincing trusting old men and women that they've won something special, and all they have to do is send in a few hundred dollars upfront. Others offer loans against old people's paid-off houses, at prohibitive interest rates, knowing perfectly well these unfortunate souls will lose their homes. Some scam artists offer to repair their roofs or porches or siding, take their deposits, and never return.
Then there are those talented, bright, educated people who spend their time researching the public records of opposing candidates for office. Did she vote for a bill that gave relief to flood victims on the condition that those living in frequently flooded areas sell their homes to the government and relocate out of the flood plain? "Oppo" researchers can now prove she believes government has the right to force people out of their ancestral homesteads.
However sure they are that their cause is just, however convinced they may be that their own candidates will save the world, these people are lying for a living--these technical truths, taken out of context, are still damaging and false. Worse, their lies help convince voters that all politicians are worthless. After all, if every ad about lemonade stressed that the competitors' lemonade was poisoned, how long would it be before consumers decided to stop buying any lemonade at all, just to be on the safe side?
Other people go into public relations, which can also be lying for a living, as is demonstrated in a wonderful book about the profession called Toxic Sludge Is Good for You. Public relations people helped convince Congress to go to war with Iraq, offering phony witnesses to testify that Iraqi soldiers abused babies in Kuwaiti hospitals. Public relations people and lobbyists have become a fourth arm of government, mounting intensive advertising campaigns to convince voters that universal health coverage is bad for us, and that increased cigarette taxes designed to discourage kids from smoking were just another tax on working people by greedy bureaucrats.
Some people make a living as "expert witnesses," paid not for truth, but to demonstrate the defendant's innocence or guilt, and if their testimony convinces jurors to send innocent people to jail and let the guilty go free, it's all one to them. Some people are corporate scientists who know that if their results are damaging to their companies, they will never be acted on, never be published. Not surprisingly, some of them tailor the science to suit company needs.
Of course far more people work in jobs that are not so much soul-destroying as mind-deadening, jobs that are simply repetitive and boring, that turn the doer into just another machine.
It's enough to make you realize that maybe the greatest luxury in life is being able to earn your living doing an honest job that matters, a job where you can point to something--a bridge you helped build, a mind you've touched, a repair you've made in a body or mind or machine--and say "this is different because I was here and did my work."
It's even better when you're doing something you love and that you're very good at, and better still when you have a fair amount of control over what you do, how you do it, and when you do it. And it's best of all when you like and respect the people you work with.
This is something I wish for everyone who hates their jobs, but I wish it especially for the political hatchet men and the con artists and the workers in the porn shops. There is honorable work waiting to be done if you just say no to what you're doing. It's a dirty job, but NOBODY's got to do it.
*apologies to Jim Croce
NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at netexpress.net. Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.
I'll write columns here whenever I really want to share an idea with you and can find time to write them . If you want to be notified when a new one is up, send me an e-mail and include "My Word's Worth" in the subject line.