Thursday, October 15, 2015

Once your entire life is outsourced, you're dead.

The trend over the last century or two has certainly been one towards outsourcing. I'm not talking outsourcing in terms of corporations moving jobs offshore, but rather in terms of personal tasks -- the things we used to do before anyone knew what a job was. The vast majority of us have outsourced the production of our food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, childcare, education, and a myriad of other activities which our ancestors handled on a regular basis.

If there's one takeaway message that I picked up in my university economics courses, it's that this is a good thing. If Joe is an exceptionally good farmer, and Bill is an exceptionally good fisherman, then it's in everyone's interest for Joe to be the farmer and Bill to be the fisherman, each paying the other for their skills rather than doing everything themselves. This is the model of efficiency we've all been sold, and it makes sense from a narrow perspective. The expansion of this trend, combined with the widespread utilization of fossil fuels, is exactly what has made our industrial society the wealthiest in history. It's the reason we all own and use far more than we could ever expect to make if we made it all ourselves. The book, "The Toaster Project" is a perfect demonstration of this.

But, as always, there's more to the story. An increase in efficiency is always paid for with a decrease in resilience. In a village where Joe and Bill both farm and fish, the death of one doesn't appreciably impact the other. However, when tasks are divided, the death of either has a much greater impact, as one of their essential skills is lost.  Should we ever find ourselves in any of the major upheavals of the sort which fill history books, we'll find that a diversified skill set may be the very key to survival.

There's another, perhaps greater cost to our outsourced lives as well. When we specialize only in a particular skill or task (i.e. our "careers"), we experience less and less, to the point that once diverse and multi-faceted lives have become monotonous and repetitious. We're bored. Bored people tend to get fat, develop addictions, bad habits, and physical or mental illness. Anti-depressant use skyrockets, as do the side-effects we regularly hear about on the news.

Though purely economic reasoning would suggest otherwise, we can and should reclaim the experiences and skills we've given up. Monetary return is important in a world that still runs on money, but I'd suggest that it's far from the only issue of importance. The less we outsource, the more we live.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Early Morning

The shorter days have me out well before daylight now, even too early for the cows it seems. They're about as far from the barn as they can get, grazing down the last lush growth on our back hay field, surrounded by woods.  The quarter mile walk to collect them gives me some time to think, and enjoy my surroundings before heading off to my day in a cubicle.

With the scooping done in the barn, I head outside and turn off the headlamp. The world beyond its 20 foot beam opens up.  I'm always amazed at how easy it is to see at night, outside, without a light. The dim light of the moon offers up no colors. Everything appears in black & white, like an old movie. The crescent moon illuminates the broken clouds as they scoot eastward. I get brief glimpses of the stars, and of blinking jets heading east from Chicago. Though we're in the same part of Michigan, the experiences of the passengers are nothing like my own. I'm glad not to be one of them.

The rumble of trucks out on the highway is annoying, but grows weaker the further I walk. It's a little cool for them, but a few crickets still chirp half-heartedly from the osage fencerow we planted a few years back. A ways out, I can hear the neighbor's rooster.

An owl hoots in the woods on the other side of our pond. I stumble on an old dry pile of horse poo that feels like a lost pillow. A larvae glows at me like a star lost in the grass.  Reaching the hay field, I stop and listen, just in case the cows have wandered into the woods.  All I hear is an occasional acorn rattling down through the branches on its trip to the forest floor.

Eventually I find the cows, bedded down at the far edge of the hay field, chewing their cud. They enjoy a little scratching on the top of their heads and then get up to do what cows always do first when they get up. Tails lift and I step back to the safety zone. That stuff splatters much further than you'd think.

The cows don't share my interest in a speedy trip to the barn. They've got bellies to fill, and the tasty alfalfa-grass mix is too much to resist. They encourage me to be patient like themselves, but I resist. I work back and forth between them, prodding the laggards back into motion. Coyotes yip on the other side of the woods, where I've heard they have a den in the stone foundation of what was once a barn.

The cows pick up their pace once we're back on the regular pasture. Our barn comes back into view, with the lights shining out into the darkness through the open door and dirty windows. After a long drink at the stock tank, Maggie and Millie lead Fritz in through the main door. Penny insists on going through the side door (Penny's *special* door), as the others are likely to give her an unfriendly head-butt if she passes too close. She stops to lick one of the barn cats before putting her head through the stanchion, where she shovels aside the picked-over hay with her head.  My day's chores begin.