Can a 19th Century British Art Movement Solve the Modern Global Jobs Problem?
“Workers of the world, unite!” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels bellowed in The Communist Manifesto in 1848, largely in response to the Industrial Revolution (and Second Industrial Revolution) threatening not just the livelihoods but the very lives of many workers as profit reigned mercilessly over people. Marx even put the slogan on his tombstone, long before the Soviet Union adopted it as their official mantra. Workers of the world today facing the double whammy of technological revolution and systemic economic collapse wonder what, if anything, they should unite around. Although she doesn’t take the idea as far as I’d like to, Yvonne Roberts in The Guardian offers a possible solution in 19th century British artist and designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Morris “esteemed craftsmen and women, unlike today when they are seen are second-besters,” Roberts writes, but I think you can extend that “second-best” label to nearly all the “99%” facing underemployment or non-employment around the world. Can a 19th century British art movement solve the modern global jobs problem?
Roberts neatly juxtaposes Morris’ view of work and workers with the prevailing view today. Morris (whose The Strawberry Thief textile appears above) was “a passionate advocate of what's much missed today, the pleasure (and pain) of the handmade and the value of the vocational,” but “[t]oday, snobbery dictates that those who earn a living with their hands are seen as academically inferior, dim second-besters.” Roberts asks all to “come out of the mass-produced closet and acknowledge that, perhaps we wouldn't be facing such a famine of engineers, inventors and makers” if we honored the job worker as much as the self-proclaimed “job creators.”
Morris specifically talked about craftspeople because that was the situation his generation faced. Today, the stigma of work extends beyond just craftspeople to almost all jobs. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times editorial, “Sympathy For The Luddites,” also harked back to the dark days of the Industrial Revolution. “[O]ften the workers hurt most were those who had, with effort, acquired valuable skills—only to find those skills suddenly devalued,” Krugman writes. “So are we living in another such era? And, if we are, what are we going to do about it?” Answering his own questions as well as long-standing arguments for the unalloyed benefits of technological advances, Krugman argues that “[t]oday, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.” Even the deeply rooted faith in education as a solution to obsolescence—de-ludding the luddites—no longer applies in the 21st century global economy.
Krugman suggests that “the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society -- a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules -- would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too.” To those who would call that scheme ''redistribution'' or, more heatedly, Marxist socialism, Krugman wonders “what, exactly, would they propose instead?”
Another solution might be to simply change the way that work itself is viewed. Just to take the American example, work itself has been devalued steadily for the past three decades, while the financial sector has become the domain of the “masters of the universe.” Unions and other worker advocacy organizations have become demonized in the press and political discourse. Meanwhile, the economic gap between the working middle class and the upper ownership class has rapidly expanded, in large part thanks to the revised tax structure. Scroll down and look at this chart recently released by the Economic Policy Institute. The dark blue line at top shows the actual gap. The light blue line at the bottom shows what the gap would look like if tax rates had remained at 1979 levels. The gap between the gaps demonstrates that just as the ownership class reaped record rewards, the tax structure allowed them to keep more and more, all at the expense of the middle class that had to shoulder more of the load.
How can the modern worker be respected (or respect herself) in such a situation? Roberts picks a good quote from Morris that might offer a solution. “"A good way to rid one's self of a sense of discomfort [or, for the modern worker, disillusionment] is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order," Morris said. The “force vibrating out of order” today seems to be the global economy itself, which now serves the good of the few over the good of the many. The Arts and Crafts Movement blunted some of the bedeviling power of what William Blake called the “dark Satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps it could inspire today’s working class to cast out the demons of inequality and erase the devils in the details of the tax code.
[ANNOUNCEMENT: I will be presenting a lecture titled “Art Made Personal: Chris Sanderson and the Wyeth Family” at the Christian C. Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, on Sunday, June 23rd, from 1 to 3 pm. Please come out to support a great museum with a great collection of art and historical artifacts.]
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?
There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.
An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.
- "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
- "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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