May 10, 2010

More on Career Recommendations

Some readers may have thought that my recent post on career recommendations for socionic types (2010) was written in jest. Actually, it was quite serious. I would like to develop the topic here further.

The current economic system is only possible thanks to the recent availability of cheap energy sources in the form of easily accessible fossil fuels. Take nonrenewable resources away, and we are almost instantly back to a pre-industrial economy where automatization meant using a waterwheel to set in motion cleverly devised contraptions made almost entirely out of wood. Try to find an "Operations Research Analyst", "Network Administrator," or "Human Resources Manager" in such an economy.

Even if alternative energy sources are developed soon on a large scale, it is becoming more and more clear that many elements of our oil-based economy will change drastically over the coming decades. These changes are not a distant prospect; they are already beginning to happen. For instance, automobile transportation will gradually fall out of usage, agricultural production will take place on a smaller scale, closer to population centers, and involving a greater number of people.

An almost certain result of a Peak Oil scenario is ballooning national and personal indebtedness, which has prolonged economic depression as its inevitable consequence. The thing about national debt is that a country has to pay it off while still in a growth phase, otherwise it careens toward default. The giving of loans assumes a growth scenario which allows the debtor to increase his capital at a rate greater than the interest of the loan. In a shrinking economy $1000 invested today yields $900 tomorrow. If the interest on a $1000 loan is $100, then the debtor is now $200 in the hole and is worse off than when he started. Then he takes out another loan based on the assumption that growth will resume later, leading to a deeper hole if growth doesn't materialize. Eventually he goes bankrupt or defaults on his loans. Economic growth is possible only if energy inputs are increased or if energy is used more efficiently.

Are these prospects significant when thinking about your career plans? I tend to think so, particularly if you are under 30 years of age and not yet established in a particular career.

Just about the worst thing to do, in my opinion, would be to put yourself many tens of thousands of dollars in debt for schooling on the wager that economic growth will continue for at least another decade, allowing you to pay off your loans. For years the establishment has been telling people that student debt is "good debt," because it pays for itself in the long run. However, note that the cost of higher education has been rising a lot faster than people's real earnings. Slowly, the absurdity of the U.S.'s overbuilt and inefficient (but highly effective as a money-making scheme) education system will reach the mass consciousness.

Now, back to the question of "ideal jobs." In the current economy, most people will not get their ideal jobs. The needs of modern economic production and human organization correlate rather poorly with the needs of the human participants in these systems. Hordes of potential politicians, generals, philosophers, writers, artists, musicians, actors, and explorers spend their days selling mass-produced merchandise, administering machines, developing marketing plans, fixing network problems, and writing reports.

There always seem to be more applicants for ideal jobs than there are positions available! How many of us have been Presidents, famous actors, and world travelers in our dreams?

My view is that traditional lifestyles may actually provide greater opportunities for self-realization than a modern economy. Growing one's own food provides a sense of personal power and stability and probably reduces anxiety. Engaging in crafts and participating in a local physical (as opposed to virtual) community allows more people to find recognition for their work and talents than in an enormous and highly interconnected community where a few individuals inevitably end up getting most of the attention. Of course, if you are truly a "big fish," you may feel somewhat limited in a "small pond," but overall a greater number of people will be able to enjoy recognition for skills that they might otherwise have to abandon in the modern economy due to its much higher level of competition. In the modern economy the entire world listens to Madonna and Michael Jackson; in a traditional economy people listen to the guys next door.

The fact is that every type is suited to traditional lifestyles. Some types gravitate more to social aspects of such a life; others may tend to focus on crafts. Some will hoard useful information, others will end up teaching and playing with youngsters, etc. And pretty much any person enjoys food that they grew themselves. A few fellows will just become drunks, but even these will still retain their usefulness as a source of brute strength and for performing simple tasks.

Traditional living is not "old fashioned"; it is how most people lived for thousands of years until, well, several decades back. It is the modern oil-based economy that is the fragile anomaly, not traditional economies.

It is very likely that with the end of cheap energy we will move from a highly specialized economy to one with much more general (i.e. wider) niches. The good news is that wider niches can mean more self-realization, more variety, and much less of a sense of simply being a cog in a soulless machine.

Traditional societies are/were able to satisfy basic human needs quite well, including emotional and intellectual needs as well as physical. As we can see from the pre-industrial history of advanced societies (Europe, China, India, the Arab world, etc.), there is plenty of room in such societies for more single-minded artists, actors, scholars, generals, etc. -- all those typical "ideal jobs" that so many would like to have but so few actually obtain.

The irony is that if you visit traditional societies I think you generally find that people engage in no less philosophizing, play, hobbies, and arts as in our society. Even hunter-gatherers typically spend under 20 hours a week procuring food. What do you think they spend the rest of their time doing?

My basic point here is that we are likely to see a return to a more traditional lifestyle and that the "careers" available in such an economy are no less fulfilling than those of today.


jjasonham said...

This is all very interesting. I just found this blog and your site a few days ago. I've taken your test and read all the descriptions in order to determine my type. I keep coming up with EIE and IEE. I've read the descriptions over and even looked at the physical characteristics. What's the best way to determine between the two?

jjasonham said...

Sorry, I also meant to list my Myer's Briggs type: ENFJ.

Rick said...

I keep coming up with EIE and IEE. I've read the descriptions over and even looked at the physical characteristics. What's the best way to determine between the two?

IEEs post questions about their type in relevant posts, and EIEs post questions about their type wherever they happen to be.

:)) Just kidding. But please find a better blogpost to ask your question.

Anonymous said...

I share some of your concerns, but onorthodox solutions seem to exist:

You might find this interesting (most of it is in English)

Of course, such transitions won't happen automatically and are prevented from happening by the powers that be.


Anonymous said...

What do you see in the idea of the application of one's valued functions in any job? I feel as though actually typing jobs is similiar to typing nations or cultures; it may represent the main idea of the group but does not imply anyone in it are of that type nor that the certain type would be succesful in that group (i.e. Germany may be typed LSI but that doesn't mean there's a lot of LSIs in it nor does it mean LSIs would be succesful there b/c they're LSI, the same goes for 'police officers' and LSIs).

Say an SLI goes into a job that requires a lot of interaction with others (A profession that would have been 'typed' for an Fe or Fi type). Do you think it's unreasonable to say that he could apply his Te to obtain what he needs with regards to what he's doing just as well as an ethical type, but with different methods (Te as opposed to Fe/Fi)?
For example, in philosophy Marx applies a ton of Te. He goes on and on about exchange, value, profit etc. Is it possible that if you threw an ESE into Marx's place, he could arrive at similiar conclusions but via Fe/Si?

On a different note, I liked the other points you made, but I've recently found out that many statistics misrepresent psych/philosophy majors specifically, because many people represented in them get a couple years in those subjects (and are then represented as 'people going into psych/philosophy' and compared to 'jobs availiable' in statistics) but plan to move on to different professions; they don't intend to actually apply to related jobs. If you actually go through with getting a doctorate you can find enough jobs that aren't over-applied for in those areas. I'm sure statistics misrepresent other things to in different ways...

Liutauras said...

if that happens...

the best profession - I fear - would be a warrior. the more cruel and fierce, the better.

Anonymous said...

I am SEI and I have been thinking about the vanishing of craftmanship. In the old days a lot of people were engaged in making shoes, sewing clothes by hand, making all kinds of tools, carving, fixing things by hand, knitting etc. No machines. People also learned these things naturally in the community as they grew up, and the ones that liked it could continue with it and get better.

These activities were very Si-friendly. Nowadays, even if you go into some of these fields, they have often been rationalized and automatized to the point that Si gets useless.

Anonymous said...

I'll continue on what I wrote above:

Of course, some people can still support themselves by doing crafts and hand made things, but today it often requires a lot of marketing skills, networking etc. Things that SEIs are not particularly good with.

And because these things are not emphasized in school many people don't notice that they are suited for this.

Rick said...

I think it's just a matter of time before these things become very important again. The craze for the past several decades has been to automate everything and make life easier and easier, then to turn more and more towards computers and electronics to satisfy our various needs.

The problem is that these "fads" have robbed many people of their health, vitality, and functioning communities. At some point (probably when it gets really, really bad, if Peak Oil and financial collapse doesn't strike first) people may realize this en masse and "revolt against the machines."

Actually, I think this has already begun to happen, but it won't become a society-wide phenomenon until the economic incentives fundamentally change. They will change, though -- for sure.

So, people who can grow their own food and make their own shelters and clothing and other important goods will be in greater demand in the next 30 years than they have been in the past 30 years.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, especially coming from someone whom I perceive has followed his dream more than most (and here I am, having done the Dilbert/cubicle thing for decades). My advice to young people would be to go ahead and try to get a job in what you're super talented in, because you can always get a less preferred job if it doesn't work out.

I do think it's historically incorrect to attribute worker specialization and higher education to the oil-based economy. Both of these existed in the 19th century, when people still got around on horses.

It's true that most people (even those who eventually "make it") have to do "every day" jobs rather than their glamorous dream job, which again is not a modern phenomenon but just a fact of life.

It can be very discouraging when you see how many talent people also are competing for your "dream" career. On the positive side, there are also many people who don't even want that! So if you're a highly talented novelist, mathematician, musician, or philosopher, just think of all the people who never even wanted to do that and are quite happy being administrators and optometrists, of which there are many.

And as for politics, which you've mentioned, I've heard it isn't really so hard to break into IF you're really cut out for it, because there are a lot of reasons why people don't want to be in it, especially local politics, which isn't very glamorous. Few people are cut out for it though. How fun is it to go door to door handing out flyers and calling people all day to support you, and paying your dues being chummy with and doing stuff for the bigwigs in the party for years, just so you can be in charge of the policies for garbage pickup and fixing potholes?

As to peak oil, government debt, and what it means for a person's college and career choices: First off, people often confuse the macro problems with the problems of the business cycle. Recessions are almost always caused by bubbles, whereas the big macro problems are with us in good times as well as bad. The issue is timing: We know that there's a problem with our dependence on oil, but that doesn't mean that the current bad economy allows us to predict that it will all run out in a few years. Nobody really knows if there'll be some great big discovery of oil or not. Probably we'll be using more expensive forms of oil, such as oil sands, and when the politics change there will be a shift to solar. Barring nuclear terrorism, I don't see a return to the stone age any time soon, and if it happened, ones college debt won't mean anything anyway.

I've seen people burned by college debt when their major was not really career-focused, or they didn't follow through. I doubt that many competent practicing doctors and lawyers are really regretting their college debt. How government debt affects individuals' debt depends on government policy. In Europe, for political reasons they must take the deflationary approach of cutting "safety net" programs, which is bad for debtors. If a country takes the inflationary approach of buying its debt by creating money, then individual debtors have less of a problem, and you'll have to be doctor or a lawyer to be able to afford anything.

Anonymous said...

One other little thought...This whole post kind of highlights the fact that in all eras, the closer one gets to IEI, the more "problematic" career choices are, whereas career choices for LSEs, SLEs, and so forth have always been more straightforward. Surely all people can be farmers, but will the highly reflective, poetic person ever make as a good a farmer as the down-to-earth athlete? Probably not.

But there's an illusion that only our modern economy, in which IEIs and EIIs can find employment designing greeting cards for Hallmark, can possibly make use of such skills. Back in ancient times, there must have been some sort of demand for priests, "seers" and the like...

Rick said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

>> I do think it's historically incorrect to attribute worker specialization and higher education to the oil-based economy. Both of these existed in the 19th century, when people still got around on horses.

Yes, but the degree of worker specialization was much less. Most people had undifferentiated "careers." Readily available energy sources feed technological and societal complexity, which expresses itself in ever more complex systems of governance, production, education, mechanization and automation, and ever-increasing degrees of job specialization. Complexity and differentiation have always existed, but to vastly differing degrees (the Bushmen and modern Western civilization being polar opposites).

One of the points I would have liked to have made in this essay is that the idea of most people having a "career" is a modern convention. Historically, the vast majority of people have earned their livelihood through relatively undifferentiated farming activities, hunting, and gathering. The more complex societies become, the more people have trades compared to those involved in agriculture.

I think all types are equally suited to this type of life. Hunting and gathering is an easy and generally enjoyable lifestyle, growing one's own food and living off the land is generally satisfying, and crafts, singing, childrearing and educating, rituals, and group interaction provide many different and potentially enjoyable activities where people of every type can find their niche. "Highly reflective, poetic" people make excellent craftsmen, for instance. Even in traditional societies there is a niche for people who can accumulate and disseminate useful knowledge, and for people who can entertain, uplift, and distract from the mundane present.

Rick said...

>> Surely all people can be farmers, but will the highly reflective, poetic person ever make as a good a farmer as the down-to-earth athlete? Probably not.

The contemporary organic farming and permaculture movement is made up almost entirely of reflective, idealistic, intellectual types. The intelligent farmer can be much more successful than the strong, but dim-witted farmer. The latter tend to spend far too much time doing ineffective things over and over, whereas the former analyze and study the land and their livelihood and can be more productive with less effort.

Probably as "farmer" you are thinking of today's low-paid, poorly educated crop picker and hired hand. If we are talking instead of "land owner" or "land manager," then brains and sensitivity are great assets.

>> We know that there's a problem with our dependence on oil, but that doesn't mean that the current bad economy allows us to predict that it will all run out in a few years. Nobody really knows if there'll be some great big discovery of oil or not. Probably we'll be using more expensive forms of oil, such as oil sands, and when the politics change there will be a shift to solar.

As I understand the figures, we are already at peak world oil production and the probability of big new oil discoveries is vastly lower than it was 50 years ago. Much of the oil that is left -- such as shale oil and deep-sea oil -- is very costly to mine and was discovered long ago. My fairly well-informed prediction is that the next 5 years will see major economic changes triggered by diminishining "easy oil" reserves. What is impossible to predict (for me) is what precise form the changes will take and what policy decisions will be made. For instance, will remaining oil be "rationally" distributed by government or will the interests of big business entirely dictate the course society takes? Will oil prices spike or will they fluctuate near current levels, with oil consumption and economic growth "inexplicably" stagnating and going into slow (or fast) decline? Will there be a complete financial collapse as economic growth comes to a halt and it becomes impossible to pay off debts, or will some sort of "soft landing" be engineered?

One year before the Soviet Union collapsed very few people would have predicted its demise. No one expected their life savings to evaporate in a matter of weeks due to hyperinflation. No scientists and engineers expected that within a matter of months or years they would be eking out a living trading cheap consumer goods to and from Poland…

Cultural decline and loss of technology and science doesn't happen overnight. If each generation finds 80% of the knowledge accumulated before them to be applicable to their current situation, then 2/3 of all knowledge will be lost in just 100 years. If societal complexity is lost, knowledge and technology will inevitably be lost as well, in my view.