Are you rarefied?

Hugh Macleod posted a thought-provoking article showing that many workers are just commodities, living out their lives in quiet desperation. A more politically correct term would be “human resources”. It seems that the good ol’ days are over, even for many self-described knowledge workers:

Last week I was on the phone to an old friend of mine, a guy in his late forties, who was born and bred in Michigan, and is living there now. He was telling me about his uncle, who, about four decades ago, got his highschool sweetheart pregnant. So instead of going off to college, he found himself with a new wife, a child on the way, and an assembly-line job at General Motors. But even though this situation clipped his wings considerably, he still ended up having a nice life in the end, with a home, a big yard, two cars, a steady paycheck, weekends fishing or hunting deer, and vacations in Hawaii every year or so. “The days where a blue collar guy like my uncle could have a nice life without doing much,” my friend said, “those days are gone. Gone forever.”

And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking the same is starting to happen to white collar guys more and more, as well. But it’s not quite out in the open yet. Society’s not quite ready to have that conversation.

Hugh has called the need to become unique “de-commodification”, but asks for a new term which has been provided by John Dodds:

You don’t need to decommodify – you need to rarefy.

– to make more complex, intricate, or richer.
– to refine a design or pattern.

One other comment, straight to the heart of the matter, was by David St-Lawrence, “Being a commodity is inevitably dehumanizing, no matter how much they pay you.

That’s the option for many people, isn’t it? Take the cash and the temporary shelter of a job and keep your head down. But you don’t develop your unique brand by doing this and when the day comes that you’re out the door, you’re not ready with a rarefied offering. You’re just one more brick in the wall, to be checked-off by HR, competing against other commodities.

6 Responses to “Are you rarefied?”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    I resent the term human resources for the very reason that it lumps people together with inanimate objects and seems to imply a kind of ownership. I far prefer personnel, but that’s a term that has fallen into disuse.

    There are times when I find/have found myself being allocated like a resource, with no thought for the wider impact on my life outside of work. Every fibre of my being kicks against it.

    I gather it’s even worse in the US than here – that the cards are stacked even more heavily in favour of the employer, there, which takes some imagining!

    The question is: what are we to do about it?

  2. Harold

    The cards are more heavily stacked in favour of the employer because laws have been passed to support “The Corporation” over the years. We can opt out of the corporate system and once +50% of us are self-employed we will be able to influence policy. Moving away from salaried work (indentured servitude) will be a painful transition for many people. As much as I support the idea of rarefication, it sure isn’t easy to implement.

  3. Valdis Krebs

    I used to be a “salaryman” working in HR Systems for some of the biggest/best corporations (Ford, TRW, Toyota, Disney). Had some interesting jobs, and some “thick as a brick” jobs, but I am glad that I left the wall of bricks to now do bricolage! 😉

    You are right Harold, it very tough at times to be free… but, if you pay attention…


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