The American Nightmare

This fascinating, well-written first-hand account of working in a US shipping warehouse is one of the most depressing things I’ve read in a while. I often see articles discussing the (admittedly worse than this) conditions of factories overseas. But as we see in this experiment, the downward spiral of wanting cheaper goods touches a number of Americans in a similar way. And fittingly so, as these jobs are the distribution-side counterpart to the manufacturing hell that we’ve already heard so much about.

The arguments along the lines of “you should be happy that you have a job” are sickening. I’ve always felt acutely disappointed by that class of arguments, certainly more so when it’s used to abuse and profit from other human beings. Perhaps my whiny, idealistic opinion makes me a liberal soft-ass, but I think that individual happiness should be top-of-the-list goal, and considered a sign of a healthy, successful nation. If the only point of living is to subsist with a meager quality of life with the hopes of further propagating your genes–and thus the human race–then suddenly nihilism doesn’t seem like so much like the philosophy of madmen as it once did to me.

It doesn’t seem to me that it needs to be this way (indeed, the author says the same thing). I’ve heard a number of variants of pithy quotes along the lines of “The last 5% of the work takes 95% of the effort.” – and I think that it applies here, as well: the last 5% of the efficiency takes 95% of the quality of life from the employees.

It’s not clear to me what the proper direction for improvement is. I have no doubt that pieces like this one raising awareness of such conditions is a very large step in the right direction.

The quote that sums it up for me:

I feel genuinely sorry for any child I might have who ever asks me for anything for Christmas, only to be informed that every time a “Place Order” button rings, a poor person takes four Advil and gets told they suck at their job.