Regulating citizens to the mean (with an SD of 0)

«Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.» He added, «Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.»
«Glory Road» by Robert A. Heinlein

Recently, a few developments occurred that might threaten future creativity. By themselves, they are not a problem. There might even be beneficial consequences. But taken together, and brought to their logical conclusion, well, they might turn out to be bad, extremely bad.

The overall theme of these issues is paternalism, in particular, the increasing attempts to enforce a work-life balance, by not only regulating, but closely surveilling and interfering in the work (the kind of work, the work hours).

Related issues of that theme are:

  • New regulation to require time keeping on the job. And yeah, if I were working at a conveyor belt, I would want to have clearly regulated work. Especially the work hours, and even more so if it were hard manual labor — after all, the body needs rest. But working in an office? The worst work injury I can get is carpal tunnel syndrome, perhaps difficulties with my back from sitting all day, or prostate issues.
  • Attempts to automatically track employee time and place, e.g., when physical keys are replaced by an electronic keycard system that logs when you enter your office (or other rooms). With physical keys, you could go to the office, e.g., on the weekend, do some work, and go home. No muss, no fuss. Now, there are digital tracks. They raise questions, or at least, they can raise questions, including the question why no questions were raised.
  • Attempts to prevent work outside of the official infrastructure. E.g., when you cannot work from any other devices than the ones provided to you, and these are tightly controlled. I get it when it comes to sensitive company information, but I wonder whether the overall effect is actually positive by preventing leaks (considering you can still simply take your smartphone and take a photo of the screen), or whether its negative, because people get so hampered in their work that they become ineffective (esp. in cross-company project work).
  • Attempts to prevent work outside designated times. It’s not only the devices themselves that are controlled. After all, you just use your own devices if you still can. But there are companies that shut down access to, e.g., the eMail server during the weekend. There is lots of negative potential here, esp. considering increasing attempts to centralize information with cloud services. And yeah, you can work with the local synced copy, if you can still use the device, but have fun syncing with the cloud on Monday when others worked on the same files as well.

While these (and other) issues might be well-meant, or even have positive consequences for some people, I think the overall, almost concerted effort to «equalize» work, is scary as hell.

Especially if you are working not only a job, but attempting a career. In these cases, it is very beneficial if you work more. You are essentially investing in your future self. Sure, your private life suffers, but that’s your choice. A matter of priorities.

Additionally, in any creative work like science, or research and development, people usually do better work if they work at irregular hours. Sometimes you need to work for hours on end to really get into the zone, or to meet that deadline (not all of which are known months in advance). Or work in the middle of the night, because you just had an idea you want to follow.

In short, outside of the bureaucracy that comes up with these regulations, there is work that does not fit into this 9-to-5 closely regulated setting. And like the fictional quote in the beginning said much more eloquently, that straitjacket can only destroy. Rules are important, but they must not be enforced 100%. There must be room to maneuver — and that room gets smaller and smaller. Not due to the regulation alone, but because technology now allows their strict enforcement. And as said in «Andromeda»: «Logic Doesn’t Care.»

Also, I question the intention behind it. Is it really to protect people? To ensure people’s rights? To make the world … better?

Personally, I have the sneaking suspicion that these attempts are at least implicitly guided by the desire to enforce equality of outcome. A collectivist: «Everyone should work the same, so no one is better and all are equal.» After all, otherwise some people will invest more in their work, get to higher paying positions, and then there might be differences between sexes or between other groups, and we can’t have that, can we? Where would be if that were tolerated?

Well, we would have freedom, and actual fairness, because we have freedom of opportunity. After all, it’s every person’s own decision in what to invest their time. That might mean investing decades of work into something that does not pay off. It might mean being fooled by assertions that career is the only worthwhile activity and ending up childless and alone, with only your cats to keep you company (as long as you feed them, i.e., up until a few days after you die).

But at least, it is your decision. And you should be able to make it. To decide for or against it. And live with the rewards you have earned and suffer the consequences if you fail. After all, it’s the risk of failure that provide successes with their value. If you can’t fail because of your own actions, you can’t succeed through your actions either.

And yeah,  if this trend continues, we end up with enforced averages, and no variation. For some ideologists that would be paradise (usually, because they see themselves as separate from the masses by continuing to «guide» them, after all, someone must be in charge). In reality, it would turn humans into drones. Workers who do not procreate, but work the same until they die. Or if they have children, who work half of their waking hours, see their children only in the morning and evening, and leaving them the rest of the time to the state for «equalizing education».

It would be a grey world, a boring world, a world without excellence. Without genius. Without leaps and bounds.

Well, unless human ingenuity finds a way out.

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