The Bush administration was all set to use the crisis to push through an environmentally destructive program of corporate welfare, which had nothing to do with the actual problem; the sudden surplus of power put that plan on hold. Really big good news: To my immense relief, the absurdity of Social Security privatization became manifest before the system had been dismantled.
I had been really worried about that; the Bush administration's claim that private accounts would improve rather than worsen the system's finances made no sense at all, yet it got a free pass from most commentators. View all New York Times newsletters. Fortunately, the commission that was supposed to propose a detailed plan came to a farcical end. Its final report declared that private accounts would indeed strengthen Social Security, if they were accompanied by sharp benefit cuts and huge financial injections from unspecified sources. Yes, and eating a jelly doughnut every morning will help you lose weight, if you also cut back sharply on other foods and do a lot of exercise; otherwise the doughnuts will make you fatter.
And one more thing to be grateful for: We didn't get a stimulus bill. That doesn't sound like good news, unless you look at the content of the bills that were actually on the table: huge further tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, doing little for the economy but further worsening our already dreary fiscal outlook. But what about the year ahead? For me the gloomiest moment was probably around mid-October. That's when the straight economics looked worst -- when the impact of Sept. It was also the moment when some politicians decided to abandon all restraint, and throw their weight behind huge special-interest giveaways.
But guess what? Confidence didn't collapse, and the special interests didn't get what they wanted. It turns out that there are still decent politicians, in both parties, and so far they have had enough power -- just -- to prevent the worst.
Could've Been Worse
In a few days an attorney called on me and explained that something would have to be done as she couldn't face returning to me as I was. Again I promised to do something about it. Broken promises, humiliation, hopelessness, worry, anxiety—but still not enough. There comes a time when you don't want to live and are afraid to die. Some crisis brings you to a point of making a decision to do something about your drinking problem.
Try anything. The final decision came when my daughter, following a drunk which ruined my wife's birthday, said, "It's Alcoholics Anonymous—or else!
I was trying to find an easier, softer way. By now it had become difficult to visualize a life without alcohol. However, my low had been reached. I realized I had been going down and down. I was unhappy myself and I had brought unhappiness to all who cared for me. Physically I couldn't take it any more. Cold sweats, jumpy nerves and lack of sleep were becoming intolerable. Mentally, the fears and tensions, the complete change in attitude and outlook, bewildered me.
This was no way to live. The time for decision had arrived, and it was a relief to say "Yes" when my family said they would call Alcoholics Anonymous for me. A relief, even though I dreaded it, feeling that this was the end of everything. Early the next morning a man whose name I knew well, a lawyer, called on me. Within thirty minutes I knew A. We visited most of that day and attended a meeting that night.
I don't know what I expected, but I most certainly didn't visualize a group of people talking about their drinking problems, making light of their personal tragedies and at the same time enjoying themselves. After all, I hadn't started to drink early in life, so I had some stability and maturity to guide me for a while. My responsibilities had been a restraining influence.
I had had no brushes with the law, though I should have had many. I had not yet lost my job or family, even thought both were on the verge of going. My financial standing had not been impaired. Could I be an alcoholic without some of the hair-raising experiences I had heard of in the meetings?
The answer came to me very simply on the first step of the Twelve Steps of A.
It didn't say I had to lose one, five or ten jobs. It didn't say I had to lose my family. It didn't say I had to finally live on skid row and drink bay rum, canned heat or lemon extract. It did say, "admitted I was powerless over alcohol; that my life had become unmanageable. It wasn't how far I had gone, but where I was headed. It was important to me to see what alcohol had done to me and would continue to do if I didn't have help. At first it was a shock to realize I was an alcoholic, but the realization that there was hope made it easier.
The baffling problem of getting drunk when I had every intention of staying sober was simplified. It was a great relief to know I didn't have to drink any more. I was told that I must want sobriety for my own sake and I am convinced this is true. There may be many reasons which bring one to A.
From the start I liked everything about the A. I liked the description of the alcoholic as a person who has found that alcohol is interfering with his social or business life. The allergy I could understand because I am allergic to certain pollens. Some of my family are allergic to certain foods. What could be more reasonable than that some people, including myself, were allergic to alcohol? The explanation that alcoholism was a disease of a two fold nature, an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind, cleared up a number of puzzling questions for me.
The allergy we could do nothing about. Somehow our bodies had reached the point where we could no longer absorb alcohol in our systems. The why is not important; the fact is that one drink will set up a reaction in our system which requires more; that one drink was too much and one hundred drinks were not enough. The obsession of the mind was a little harder to understand and yet everyone has obsessions of various kinds.
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The alcoholic has them to an exaggerated degree. Over a period of time he has built up self pity, resentments toward anyone or anything that interferes with his drinking. Dishonest thinking, prejudice, ego, antagonism toward anyone and everyone who dares to cross him, vanity and a critical attitude are character defects that gradually creep in and become a part of his life. Living with fear and tension inevitably results in wanting to ease that tension, which alcohol seems to do temporarily. They were, in a word, scared. Every graduating senior is scared, to some degree, of the future, but this was on a different level.
When my class left our liberal arts experience, we scattered to temporary gigs: I worked at a dude ranch; another friend nannied for the summer; one got a job on a farm in New Zealand; others became raft guides and transitioned to ski instructors. But these students were convinced that their first job out of college would not only determine their career trajectory, but also their intrinsic value for the rest of their lives. Whether that job is as a professional sports player, a Patagonia social media manager, a programmer at a startup, or a partner at a law firm seems to matter less than checking all of those boxes.
Like most old millennials, my own career path was marked by two financial catastrophes.
Book Reviews for It Could Have Been Worse By A. H. Benjamin and Tim Warnes | Toppsta
In the early s, when many of us were either first entering college or the workforce, the dot-com bubble burst. When I graduated with a liberal arts degree in and moved to Seattle, the city was still affordable, but skilled jobs were in short supply. I worked as a nanny, a housemate worked as an assistant, a friend resorted to selling what would later be known as subprime mortgages. Those two years as a nanny were hard — I was stultifyingly bored and commuted an hour in each direction — but it was the last time I remember not feeling burned out.
I had no student debt from undergrad, and my car was paid off. I was intellectually unstimulated, but I was good at my job — caring for two infants — and had clear demarcations between when I was on and off the clock. Then those two years ended and the bulk of my friend group began the exodus to grad school. It was because we were hungry for secure, middle-class jobs — and had been told, correctly or not, that those jobs were available only through grad school.
Once we were in grad school, and the microgeneration behind us was emerging from college into the workplace, the financial crisis hit. More experienced workers and the newly laid-off filled applicant pools for lower- and entry-level jobs once largely reserved for recent graduates.
As a result, we moved back home with our parents, we got roommates, we went back to school, we tried to make it work. We were problem solvers, after all — and taught that if we just worked harder, it would work out. On the surface, it did work out.
The economy recovered. We found jobs. Because education — grad school, undergrad, vocational school, online — was situated as the best and only way to survive, many of us emerged from those programs with loan payments that our postgraduation prospects failed to offset. In the past, pursuing a PhD was a generally debt-free endeavor: Academics worked their way toward their degree while working as teaching assistants, which paid them cost of living and remitted the cost of tuition.
That model began to shift in s, particularly at public universities forced to compensate for state budget cuts. Still, thousands of PhD students clung to the idea of a tenure-track professorship. And the tighter the academic market became, the harder we worked. We tried to win it. I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them. We liked to say we worked hard, played hard — and there were clear boundaries around each of those activities.
Grad school, then, is where I learned to work like a millennial, which is to say, all the time. Our health insurance was solid; class sizes were manageable. I taught classes as large as 60 students on my own. Either we kept working or we failed. So we took those loans, with the assurance from the federal government that if, after graduation, we went to a public service field such as teaching at a college or university and paid a percentage of our loans on time for 10 years, the rest would be forgiven.
It Could Have Been So Much Worse. Really?
One thing that makes that realization sting even more is watching others live their seemingly cool, passionate, worthwhile lives online. I find that millennials are far less jealous of objects or belongings on social media than the holistic experiences represented there, the sort of thing that prompts people to comment, I want your life. That enviable mix of leisure and travel, the accumulation of pets and children, the landscapes inhabited and the food consumed seems not just desirable, but balanced, satisfied, and unafflicted by burnout.
The social media feed — and Instagram in particular — is thus evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself. The photos and videos that induce the most jealousy are those that suggest a perfect equilibrium work hard, play hard! For many millennials, a social media presence — on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter — has also become an integral part of obtaining and maintaining a job.
And as in childhood, the work of optimizing that brand blurs whatever boundaries remained between work and play. The rise of smartphones makes these behaviors frictionless and thus more pervasive, more standardized. In the early days of Facebook, you had to take pictures with your digital camera, upload them to your computer, and post them in albums. Now, your phone is a sophisticated camera, always ready to document every component of your life — in easily manipulated photos, in short video bursts, in constant updates to Instagram Stories — and to facilitate the labor of performing the self for public consumption.
But as sociologist Arne L. Kalleberg points out , that efficiency was supposed to give us more job security, more pay, perhaps even more leisure. In short, better jobs. If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation. And we get a second gig. All of this optimization — as children, in college, online — culminates in the dominant millennial condition, regardless of class or race or location: burnout.
Finishing the massive work project! People patching together a retail job with unpredictable scheduling while driving Uber and arranging child care have burnout. Startup workers with fancy catered lunches, free laundry service, and minute commutes have burnout. Academics teaching four adjunct classes and surviving on food stamps while trying to publish research in one last attempt at snagging a tenure-track job have burnout.