Monday, January 15, 2007

Active and passive occupations

Just tossing out a passing thought. In looking at the views about the war in Iraq that are becoming prevalent,Glen refers to it as a "sudden ooze of defeatism", I noticed how many analysis of the situation are essentially passive. Things "happen" or things were "screwed up", but there is little talk of actual events, changing situations and adaptation, or proper strategy. In other word, what there is, is passive observation that seems almost remote from ongoing events. So I started to wonder about passive, essentially observational occupations, and active, make things, occupations, and try the experiment of classification. Of course, most jobs are a mix, with observation feeding back into actions. What I mean by active, by the way, is influencing events. Anyway here is a very preliminary first cut.

Passive occupations

Journalism -- Journalists don't make things, they report.

Sociology, english, history -- All examine what others produce.

Theoretical physics -- without experiment it is philosophy.

White collar jobs -- record keeping, responding to regulations.

Active occupations

Farming -- deal with weather, animals, and markets, or else.

Construction -- mostly follow plans, but it has consequence.

Soldiering -- in war, the consequences can be extreme.

Medicine -- misdiagnosis or wrong treatment matter.

I see that what I call active are actually occupations where one's decisions have material consequence for oneself and others. All of us face this in daily life, but for many of us it is not part of the job. I wonder how much difference it makes to the tenor of this country that the number of jobs that "don't really matter" is on the increase?

And yeah, it is easy to poke holes in all this. It is just for fun.


Rick Ballard said...

Doesn't risk/reward address your thesis better than active/passive? Aside from medicine the active occupations mentioned require rather intense levels of uninsurable risk. I might add straight commission sales to the active list.

Willingness to try and manage uninsurable risk would move an individual from the passive to the active column.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Or maybe it's just that we view the Iraq War as a bad TV show we would like the network to cancel? That we don't see it as real or as affecting our lives in any way?

chuck said...

Rick, I think risk/reward is probably closer to what I was thinking. Also having to deal with things that simply have to be dealt with, like milking the cows. I also had in mind working with material things rather than abstractions, but that might be a slightly different thing.

Dealing with uninsurable risk can be a bitch, but I expect it concentrates the mind and makes folks grow up in a hurry. I also expect most of us would prefer to avoid it if possible.

loner said...

I've devoted my life to making it easier for 1.) a university to ask people to whom it has even a trivial connection for money, 2.) financial institutions to insure vehicles to which they hold title while the borrower holds the vehicle and not the insurance coverage required under his or her loan agreement, and 3.) advertisers big and small to get their thirty-second spots played on cable television networks. Looking back, I feel I was very active even when (almost always) I didn't care much for what I was enabling other people to do though I can't help but note that I'd almost always catch myself writing in the passive voice when forced to put pen to paper or execute document generation software.

The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or, as a teacher who knew me too well once misquoted Emerson to and about me: The reward of a thing well done is to have it done. I didn't correct him even though he prefaced it by suggesting I was being a smart aleck. Another instance, ever recurring, of my active past mucking up my passive present.


terrye said...

I think chuck has a point. Even during Katrina I was struck by the silly stuff I was hearing from people who seem to have no idea what it takes to actually DO something. Such as transport lots of people, clear roads, get food and water to people or just clean up the mess.

Anyone who has ever had to put hey ahead of a storm knows that they can only move so fast.

terrye said...

I also think MHA is right, people are just tired of Iraq.

John M Reynolds said...

What about journalists spurring action like protests over the Dutch cartoons?

Rick Ballard said...


When journalists shift from observation to agency they become propagandists and move from passive to active (although rarely productive).

In my opinion, Loner's Emerson quote refers to the distinction that I believe Chuck is making. There is something elusive in the descriptions offered to this point that has to do with the impact of decisions taken. Milking is a necessary mundane chore - deciding when (and what) to sow and when to reap are decisions that move farming from passive to active in my view. Calculating your winter feed bill after watching your silage get flattened by hail adds an element of excitement to farming.

Syl said...

I think Rick's notion of risk/reward is excellent. Now whether what people actually do for a living has an influence on their take on the war, I rather doubt--that is more peer/societal pressure than anything else.

But one of the problems is the blindness to consequence of the outcome of Iraq. And those who directly (not indirectly) take risks based on an analysis of possible outcomes are possibly more likely to understand Iraq in the same manner.

However, I think many who are calling Iraq a disaster or fiasco (not the BDS sufferers or 'out now' folks) are doing so because, even unconsciously, they sense the consequences.

What the MSM says the American people believe about the war, is not, as we know, what the American people believe about the war.

Anonymous said...


However, I think many who are calling Iraq a disaster or fiasco (not the BDS sufferers or 'out now' folks) are doing so because, even unconsciously, they sense the consequences.

This is a wonderful insight. I had a discussion with a liberal friend (who does not suffer BDS) who feared that in the end "we will have to kill them all" and it was this that leaves her terrified.

Habu said...

I've been in both catagories. I'm most comfortable now so I don't have a catagory but I shoot guns,ride horses, and identify different types of scat.
Life is good

John J. Coupal said...

Journalists today have moved beyond reporting who, what, when, where, how.

Today's "advocacy journalism" means thoughtful interpretation of events and reporting of those opinions to the masses, in order to change the world.

Journalists would honestly accept being called passive. But, our advocacy types feel angry at not being called active. Because their career goal is definitely "to make a difference".

Knucklehead said...


Scatologist, are you? Nice to have a cowboy drop by and say howdy here at Flares. Now get out there and mend some fence, willya!

(BTW, this may sound insulting but I do not mean it that way. My mutt is a scatologist of the first order. There are odd times when weather conditions allow me to see the track her nose is leading her along. I can't describe how much I marvel at what senses can tell some critters. You scatologists are a breed apart - thank goodness ;>)