So I’ve been re-reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been reading John Galt’s speech to the world for the past few days – it’s like forever long, just like I remember it. I think the book would be much better if it were maybe 20% as long as it is. Well over 50 pages, I think.
Anyway, I had a conversation with my coworker this afternoon that could have been part of the book:
For the last six weeks or so, Kerry and I have been working from some rented office space in Lyndhurst (next door to the firm at which we used to work, which is kind of ironic). The space we’re renting is in the offices of a small-time staffing agency: their main client is the call center at our old firm. The agency doesn’t deal with high-class staffing projects; they basically just supply warm bodies. The agency has two full-time employees and I think they both make a decent living. Yesterday and today they held a “job fair” (advertised on craigslist) and the calibre of applicants has been characteristically low.
Kerry turned to me and said something along the lines of “I feel really bad for the middle-aged people who come in to interview for such crappy jobs, don’t you?” And I replied, “yeah, I suppose, but not really.” Kerry then told me I’m a heartless robot, which I took as a compliment, given the nature of the message of the book I’m currently reading. The successful entrepreneurs and captains of industry in Atlas Shrugged are described almost word-for-word in the same manner by the looters.
I’m not calling Kerry a looter by any stretch – she’s a hard worker and doesn’t ask for any favors, which I appreciate (and is the main reason why I enjoy working with her).
My feeling on the unfortunate situation of the overqualified middle-agers applying for $13/hour call center jobs is certainly one of empathy, but it’s a short-lived empathy: there’s nothing I can do about it, so I don’t see any reason to feel it more than in passing. The feelings that matter to me are the actionable ones: feelings I can do something about. There’s nothing I can do to help those people. And, on the flip side of the Golden Rule coin, were I in their shoes, I wouldn’t expect anything in particular from me.
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My dreams last night were strange. In the first one (that I can remember), I was at my parents’ house and they were moving away – joining a cult or something. My brother was going with them and I think my sister was on the fence. I was all over their house and property, trying to convince them that they had things of value that they couldn’t just leave behind. They were like “take anything you want; we’re outta here.” There was a HUGE old sailboat of dramatically strange and appropriately surreal proportions that my sister and I discussed using to get away from whatever evil it was that had taken over my family (and the rest of the families on the block – probably even the whole town/county/area as well).
I remember going back and forth between trying to convince my family that they were making a mistake and digging through their stuff, looking for a stash of gold or something that I could take. So I was halfway hopeful and halfway resigned to them leaving on their fatal fool’s errand.
I don’t really remember what happened, only that I had this profound sense of evil – enough so that I eventually woke myself up to get away from the feeling (I more or less knew I was dreaming the whole time). I spent the next few minutes awake in my bed, partly waiting for the feeling to pass and partly trying to let enough time go by so that I wouldn’t re-enter that particular dream.
My ex-wife was in another dream later that night/morning. I saw her across the stage: she was walking towards me and greeting me as though we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. It was very strange. I think I reluctantly observed the forms, but I knew that her whole comportment was a facade. This is not to say that she was concealing any enmity towards me: the facade merely covered blankness.
This second part is relatively easy to interpret: the possibility of contact with my ex-wife came up in an email conversation (with someone else) last week, and I was looking at some pictures on facebook of a friend we have in common (also last week) – I declined to comment on the pics because of the possibility of accidental contact with my ex-wife.
Now, I don’t have any particular ex-wife fear-of-contact issues, but I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to set the stage for the possibility. I have no desire to see her or speak to her again – which is not to say that it will never happen. So that’s that for that part of the weirdo dreams.
The thing with my family is also not-so out of the blue: everyone works together at the family business and business isn’t all that great. My younger brother and sister are both adults, but they’re also the children in that extended multi-person relationship, so decisions are being made for them that they really should be making themselves, and that’s perfectly natural for the overall relationship. The thing is, I don’t think that this is right – I don’t think it should be perfectly natural for the overall relationship. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy. I won’t get into the specifics here, but that’s the evil that I felt bubbling up from within me during the dream.
So, to bring this full-circle: it’s pretty easy for me to let the unactionable empathy I feel for the overqualified middle-agers pass quickly by, but when my heart goes out to my family members, it’s a bit harder to let go. My empathy is only relatively unactionable: I can take my sister out to eat or to a concert or something, but I can’t give her a higher paying job. Nor can I buy her a house or pay off the note on her car. But still, I feel like I should be able to, and that’s the frustrating part – the feeling that I can’t (or won’t) let pass over and through me.
I suppose I’ll have to dwell on this some more – because thinking solves problems, right?