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Views from the Prairie

April 2023

Limits on Individuality.

The rugged western rancher ruling over his own land is a deep part of our national mythology. We want to believe that we can be self-sufficient. We want to believe in the myth of "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps." The reality is that what we do on our own land does affect others. Other people are impacted by what we use, what we produce, and what we discard. Groups need rules and the larger the group, the more rules.

The libertarian ideals of self-sufficiency sound really nice. It would be nice if everyone could be "free to follow their own dreams in their own ways without interference from government or any authoritarian power." Companies as varied as coal miners and raw milk producers have lobbied to be set free from government regulations they felt were hampering their profits.

And people have died.

Because products can harm, we have food and drug regulations. Look at street drugs like fentanyl to see how life could be without those regulations. Read the accounts of the Chicago meat packing plants before we had meat inspections to see just how bad our food supply could be.

We are all interconnected in some way. Yes, we have limited self-determination and we have legal rights to many freedoms on our own property. But even the rain water flowing off our property impacts other people. We can be called to account for what leaves our property.

There are those who do not care what impact they have on others. They want the freedom to drive polluting cars. They want the freedom to pollute the air, sell sick cattle, force others to work at slave labor rates, and not have to pay for helping anybody else.

Intuitively, many people know that what other people do impacts them. Right now, there are many efforts to restrict what other people can do. HOA's limit those who live in them. People protest zoning changes on someone else's property. We don't get to live free from other people's concerns.

We are tribal beings and need to belong to a group. Groups have costume and behavior rules. We get bothered when we see someone not following our group rules. Group size affects how many rules the group has. Smaller groups can run with fewer rules. The larger the group, the more rules that are needed. Civilization often means making our group tolerate groups that live by different rules.

In the same way, the larger the city, the more rules that are needed. A country town might not even need a stop sign. Major city highways need many rules to keep rush hour safe for the thousands that drive there every day.

We live individually as well as in our groups. We have freedom by ourselves. We also live in groups: families, communities, states, and our country. What we do affects them all. We follow the group rules in order to preserve our families and communities.

Make Work Adult Again

Perhaps, it is time to change what is work. With AI and the new robots coming, we may need a new paradigm of work. We have "dumbed down" work enough. We no longer need people doing dumb tasks. Perhaps we need to make work "adult" again.

We have industrialized work by standardizing processes, cutting unnecessary actions, and automating as much as possible. In the constant struggle to make work more productive, we tried to make people into robots. We made managers into "activity monitors" instead of leaders and getting less and less benefit. We may have done as much of that as we can. We may need to go a very different direction.

There have been a number of high-profile layoffs recently. But there is a genuine lack of people to do the needed work. The needed work isn't "busy activity" but intelligent decision making. Perhaps it is time to treat workers as adults: give meaningful goals and expectations, provide the necessary tools, and design real measurable standards for performance.

Many managers have not been trained in how to manage. Such untrained managers often do not know how to lead the team. They may know numbers or how to sell, but not how to lead people. They may not even know how to measure what their people are doing. Many a manager so busy doing reports and meetings that they are not able to do the real managing that is needed.

We are in the middle of an AI revolution. This revolution offers hope that we can change how work is done. As we go forward, a lot of AI needs to be focused on reducing manager busy work so that they can do the important work of managing the team.

Risky World.

The way that AI tools can generate fake news, fake pictures, and fake videos destroys any trust in anything found on the web (except on government or other official web sites). Treat them all like supermarket tabloids that cannot be trusted. This will be especially true during the election season.


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