Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Schroedinger's Job

In a pretty bad mood suddenly; a tree fell on my apartment, and the electric company swung by and turned off the power (I can't blame them; as-is was very dangerous). Landlord: out of the country, so it may be awhile until a work crew is summonable to remove the tree so power can be restored. No internet at home = grumbly! All I could do is sweep the bits of tree that missed the roof off the sidewalk. Added minus: I wanted to do laundry tonight, which is now out of the question. I hope I can find some clean things to wear to work tomorrow. Also, everything in my fridge might go bad. Gah.

More grumbling about job things:I am very qualified for very senior systems/network admin jobs, and I've spotted one at Haverford College, but I suspect I'd find it boring. Alternatively, I could take much less senior admin jobs that have some web or database programming attached. Or… I could go into the private sector and be paid a lot more to work in an environment I'd probably like less. This kind of paralysing indecision is one of my biggest weaknesses.

I think I like programming more than I like systems/network admin things; while I may have the knowledge/skills to do the latter at a high level, the only reason I learned it was curiosity. At heart, I'm a systems programmer who can be a (very senior, true) systems/network admin/designer as-needed, not the other way around. If I don't keep my hands wet with code every so often, they'll dry out. And on some level I don't even want that to be my main job. What the heck am I doing with my career? Mantra: when I am in grad school, everything will be all right (or at least I'll get away from all of this for a bit to get some perspective).

Maybe I really should just live off of savings for a bit and not work. All this work for universities has really spoiled me. Maybe it'd be nice if instead of my needing to look for jobs, the job process worked the other way around; I list my skills and interests, and companies (ideally universities) contact me. I do feel spoiled; I am qualified for a lot of stuff, I am very picky, and the things I want in employment are not logically consistent.

This is really stressing me out (and I am not at all used to stress).

Looking over some more PDFs I've stashed over the years, I've been reading about the ethics of healthcare. The author starts with the (obvious) idea that rationing of care given limited resources is part of the field, no matter who's making the financial decisions (insurance companies, public systems, private citizens paying out of pocket, whatever). One of the more interesting contrasts he drew was between a massive (and expensive) rescue effort mounted to rescue someone who tried to sail around the world (whose efforts failed due to hurricane-level winds), and funding for relatively unexciting medicines that reduce the likelihood of death from certain common conditions. He did the math, and showed there to be a greater cost/life efficiency for a specific case of the latter, and noted that we routinely don't fund these kinds of medicines but are willing to spend a lot of money on the occasional rescue. Does this make sense?

He presents this as a mystery of human nature; I understand it as being about narratives. Being creatures of stories, we easily understand the idea of rescues from definite dangers, while medicine is considerably less sexy (some even demean the role of doctors by pretending that prayer is responsible for people making it through difficult surgery). The question he poses: is it worth it to spend money on inefficient things like rescues when we won't spend it on mundane-but-safer-bets? I'd pose it: is the added-benefit of a good story worth the inefficiency?

We are willing to spend money on stories; we put humans on the moon only partly for scientific reasons, a task that might not have been done were we just looking for a best return for our dollars. Countries often go to war over uninhabitable, non-useful glaciers or rocky islands that never have and probably never will know inhabitants. Symbols are part of how we find meaning in life.

Is this appropriate when it comes to how we spend money on the health of our fellow man? I'm not sure. We might try to pry people away from story-driven funding by drawing these contrasts, but I wonder if the benefits of that are worth the cost of making life less meaningful.

And yet, I'm not entirely comfortable with a yes or no on the role of meaning in life. It's a disturbing question.


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