I’ve gotten all kinds of great feedback on my “medium chill” post, both in person and online. I discussed one aspect of that discussion Monday. Today I just want to round up some more links and stray thoughts.
First, here’s a good soundtrack, Todd Snider doing “Enjoy Yourself”:
Photo: AshleyR.GoodFirst, thanks to Andrew Sullivan for hitting the theme one, two, three times. Turns out that guy has lots of readers!
Via Reihan Salam, I’ve become familiar with the handy term “threshold earner,” from a Tyler Cowen piece called “The Inequality That Matters.”
A threshold earner is someone who seeks to earn a certain amount of money and no more. If wages go up, that person will respond by seeking less work or by working less hard or less often. That person simply wants to “get by” in terms of absolute earning power in order to experience other gains in the form of leisure—whether spending time with friends and family, walking in the woods and so on. Luck aside, that person’s income will never rise much above the threshold.
Interesting. I suppose that sort of captures medium chillers, at least enough for the purpose of economic analysis, though I doubt anyone, in practice, has such fixed financial goals. Indeed, part of the medium chill is finding how far that threshold can be lowered without loss of quality of life.
One of the best medium-chill posts I’ve read yet never actually mentions the medium chill. It’s by history professor and long-time blogger Timothy Burke, “Towards an Opt-Out Button in Left-Liberal Debates,” about chilling out intellectually. Toward the bottom, he says:
Here’s what I want and I think maybe a lot of people, both Americans and otherwise, want. I want what my colleagues Barry Schwartz and Ken Sharpe call “good enough.” I don’t want to grab for the brass ring, be the alpha male, see my name in lights, have the penthouse apartment on the East Side. I don’t want to write out a lengthy policy manifesto on what American foreign policy towards 21st Century African states should be and then spend the next ten years taking meetings and writing op-eds to push my plan. I just want to do a good job as a teacher and a colleague and a father and a husband and a person. I want to earn a good living and enjoy what pleasures come my way without scheming every day for a better living and pleasures I can never have on what I earn now.
There you have it.
Over to the right, another good soundtrack: The Avett Brothers doing Roger Miller’s “Where Have All the Average People Gone?”
One thing I (re)discovered while following the online discussion: forums! I don’t think my stuff usually gets picked up on forums, or maybe I’ve just never noticed before, but searching around for “medium chill” got me to a few. They are interesting to read because they come from outside my blogger/wonk orbit. Here’s one on an SEC football forum. Another on a wedding forum.
As you’d expect, on a leftie blog the discussion strays toward the iniquities of the greedy rich, while on a more right-leaning forum you get this: “God forbid … you have to participate in capitalism. What happened … the market for incense and bracelets fall apart?” For a smarter but still conservative take, see the comments at The Economist.
My favorite, though, is on simple living forum. ApatheticNoMore made a point that’s been keenly on my mind since I wrote the post:
So yea the difficult balancing act may be the best choice. But if the middle WILL NOT HOLD then what, you become a rich workaholic as detailed in the article, yea there’s that. Or you become poor. But people have both been taught to fear poverty and rationally fear it. Because poverty in a country as brutally polarized and ruthless in America isn’t pretty. Having no health insurance is not pretty! Sending your kids to public schools *may* not be pretty (this really depends on where you live, many places have decent public schools, but around here not so much so). The author seems to think it’s purely about snobbery, but many public schools in America are genuinely terrible. Living in a dangerous neighborhood is not pretty (oh around here they have sidewalks, just the roads are full of potholes, no government money is ever spent to fix poor people’s roads). Living on a diet of processed foods is not pretty (not in terms of what it does to mental and physical health!). But the truly poor in America DO live on a diet of processed foods. Low wage jobs often treat their workers poorly (yea so do some high paid jobs sure), but it’s the whole dynamic of this society, if a person is working at Wal-Mart they are the lowest of the low and can be treated poorly. The poor are even poisoned in this society, sounds extreme, but where do you think dirty manufacturing will be located, where do you think a toxic waste dump will be put, in some posh rich neighborhood or even in some tree lined suburb, um I think not. So yea, I look at my attachment to having a good income etc. etc.. (don’t even know if I’ll get it you know), but I don’t know, I still can’t get around the fact that urban poverty seems to kind of suck to me. Guess, I’m just so bourgeoisie. I’ll look at it, I now very well how I’ve been scripted, to be middle class professional. Sometimes the article seems to me just a way for those who have achieved some happy medium (complete with health insurance?! and after how many advanced degrees?) to pat themselves on the back.
Yes, this is true. It’s extraordinarily difficult to achieve any kind of chill at all when you’re having difficulty meeting life’s basic needs — food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. That’s in part what motivated Monday’s post.
Commenter herbgeek reminds us that achieving medium chill means finding a sympathetic employer (or working for oneself):
Employers, particularly in this market, have come to expect knowledge workers to be available at their whim. A
ny idea or whim must be acted upon at whatever hour the whim occurs, and it doesn’t matter what the employee happened to be doing. I know if I draw the line, I won’t get the job, or I won’t have the job for long. There will be dozens of other candidates/employees waiting to take my place.
I like puglogic’s response:
There are a hundred microeconomies in every place you could possibly live in North America, a thousand ways to make money, a million ways to live your life, but the price of admission is you’ve got to choose to live in the micro, not the macro. That often requires turning off the gd TV & radio, ceasing to listen to the news tell you “how bad it is out there,” plan what you want your life to be like, and get creative to build it.
That’s difficult! But making it easier means talking more about it and building habits and institutions that offer help.