Self-Preservation and Job Security

A recent post, 96% of Ordinary People Know That Modern Art is Crap and Artists Are Pompous Narcissists, reminded me of the simple fact that every field is self-preservative. That is to say, of course art professors are going to say that people need to be educated, and need to be “woken up,” or something to that effect. They’re art professors and gallery owners! If people don’t need their art, who will buy it? And then there goes the nice condo in downtown Manhattan, and hello burger-flipping job.

Now, this is not to say that art gallery owners are peddling a bunch of crap. The same is true of everybody. You can see it in “practical” fields like engineering. In my experience, engineers are quite full of themselves. They jealously guard information and exalt their own positions as much as humanly possible. I remember once asking a CS major what a piece of code was. The conversation went as follows:

  • Him: “It’s a return value.”
  • Me: “Okay. What does that do?”
  • Him: “It returns the value.”
  • Me: “What value?”
  • Him: “The return value.”
  • Me: “Okay… but why do I want the return value?”
  • Him: “Because otherwise the value doesn’t get returned.”
  • Me: “Um…”
  • Him: “Look, if you’re too stupid to take a CS101 class, which really ought to be taught in effing kindergarten anyway, then I’m not going to waste my time on you.”

Doctors stand around and lament how we’re all too stupid and lazy to figure out how our own bodies work. English profs wonder why we can’t see the beauty of Chaucer. Philosophers can’t fathom a person who doesn’t know if he’s a brain in a vat. Lawyers purposefully obscure contracts to get themselves hired. Architects demand we know what gargoyle goes with what kind of bricks or we’re all pikers. Priests tell us we’re all going to Hell if we don’t go to church.

Everybody’s got an angle. Once you do something, you protect it. Obviously you’re not going to say to people, “Yeah. You know, I’m an astrophysicist. My profession is not necessary in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word.” No, you’re going to say, “If it weren’t for me, we won’t have fusion power. And then we’ll all die when the oil runs out. Do you want to effing live or effing die?”

And the software engineer will say, “If it weren’t for me you couldn’t run your computer, and then your company will fail, and then you will starve to death. Do you want to effing live or effing die?”

Mailmen will say, “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t get your mail. Then you’d miss your bills. And then you’ll freeze your ass to death when they shut off the heat. Do you want to effing live or effing die?”

And artists will say, “If it weren’t for me, your life would be shallow and empty. Then you’ll sink into a deep depression and kill yourself. Do you want to effing live or effing die?”

And of course, everybody down the line will say this, because we all think we’re important. Life insurance agents, street painters, retail clerks, automotive assembly workers, potters. To hear each one say it, their existence is a matter of life or death. And isn’t that the truth? Who cares about the piker down the street? Let’s see how far they get without me!

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