Pride & Vanity
I was recently speaking with an old timer about how things are not made like they used to be.
Cheap plastic and low labor costs allow us to enjoy manufactured goods that have a fraction of the durability of the same items made in yesteryear. We seem to have a pretty detrimental feedback loop developing. Instead of things being build to last, they are made so that you have to buy a new one in a year (obviously this fuels the market). Where skilled laborers would spend weeks creating a bespoke masterpiece that would serve a purpose for generations, such as an intricately designed coffee table, factory assembly lines make cheap tables everyday; perhaps hundreds per day.
It occurs to me that this has everything to do with whom or what is ultimately accountable for faulty parts. It is not the person operating the machine that is responsible for retaining customers. That job is up to the company. The employee may feel very detached from the product. The customer would likely lose trust if it were left to the assembly-line employee to resolve product quality issues. “Lady, I just run a machine…”. If the company wants to impress the client, they have to have this skill of always making the customer feel right. Often times, this is achieved by pretending to be ultra positive to the point where “at least they are trying to help” becomes good enough. Unless it isn’t, then all trust is lost forever, but lucky for the company: they will have plenty of other customers to buy their crappy product.
To relate this to other forms of human interaction, I was thinking about the way we vet information these days. This distrust in corporations is evolving into a complete distrust for anything that seems “too positive”. Now that we almost always assume the worst when it comes to manufactured goods or customer service, people try to earn trust by betting on the worst and being the first to expose its possibility. Its a way of defecting from the forced positive attitude; a way to see through the veneer, the hypocrisy. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” how many times have you heard that or felt this sentiment at the very least? All of this lie-detecting infuses us with a sense of moral authority. “You can trust me because I solved the last mystery!” Trust is no longer established through good service and quality products, it is earned by whomever can spot the lie first. A sense of pride is developed from being a dissenter rather than from honest work.
What are the implications of this? Not only does it become a race to prove each other wrong, everybody loses in the end. Is that okay? Maybe. Perhaps this is an automatic response from Life that programs us to revert back to things being natural and not forced. We are starting to recognize nuance, and even if some of us may feel cynical or melancholic at best, maybe this desire to find ‘the Truth’ is the side effect of swimming in a sea of lies everyday. Those that make a habit of uncovering the truth, if they can put their ego aside, often will begin to discover how they can live life in a more honorable way. They begin to see their way out of the matrix.
To go back to my discussion about how things are no longer made like they used to be, I asked a simple question to this old timer, “Why do you think that is the case?” He replied “They were prideful people”. We no longer take pride in our work. Is this system of recognizing the bullshit a way to take back our dignity as humans? Is this process allowing us to see that we are not our job title? Our careers only serve as a single-pixel image of our lives, despite the fact that so much of our identity relies on them.
Originally written in Collective Journaling at The Stoa