Posts Tagged ‘Integrity vs. Despair’

Work and Philosophy: Psychological Interlude Chapter Two: Development (pt. ii)

December 3, 2012

Work and Philosophy:  Psychological Interlude

Chapter Two:  Development (pt. ii)

 

 

As people approach retirement, they enter the stage of Integrity vs. Despair.  We would expect that people would be concerned with the practicalities of retirement, such as pension and long-term health care.  However, Erikson says that the deeper need is to feel that one’s life was worthwhile.  The person who successfully resolves this stage has successfully resolved them all (even if retroactively) and will be content; the person who has not will be haunted by regrets, disgust, or possibly the desire to turn back the clock and somehow redo what was not done right before.   It would not be surprising then if many older workers, or managers, would want to return to the youth they let slip away too fast, or never really had.  No wonder that there should be a booming market for testosterone boosters and plastic surgery!  In the U.S.A. where the employer is often also the health care provider, this is a workplace issue.  Will employers provide health insurance that covers various varieties of medical rejuvenation?  Will older workers seeking to replay their Intimacy vs. Isolation battle side with younger workers dealing with Generativity vs. Stagnation, or will they seek to deny contraception coverage to them in order to fund their own Viagra?

Developmental theory suggests that what people want from work will change with time, and that people at different stages of life will have very different views of what is just or necessary.  This may lead different generations to clash over moral obligations of society and of employers, particularly if one or both sides of the conflict have failed to positively resolve some developmental crisis.  Erikson confirms that the younger, Stage 6 workers may well be sexually needy and promiscuous, or isolated and alienated, depending on how they failed to achieve real intimacy; and older workers or employers may see all young adults as examples of the maladaptation of some.  Likewise, some older workers can be greedy and cynical, self-important and dogmatic, or just bitter; and younger workers (or perhaps younger employers or managers) may come to see all older workers through that same lens.

Even leaving aside these potential generational conflicts, and dealing only with relatively well-adjusted people, the worker’s needs change with time, and his or her attitudes towards work will change.  The job that once seemed wonderful because of all the exciting, happy coworkers may come to seem dead-end or just trivial.  The job that was once prized for its opportunities may fail at delivering long-term security.  The stereotypical “good job” once implied you worked your whole life for one employer, retired with a pension and health benefits, and in between you were satisfied to get a good paycheck and fair raises for continued good work and loyalty to the company.  That has largely broken down.  Once one might be “married to the job;” but now most Americans change jobs and spouses pretty freely, and have even less faith in their employers than they do in their marriage partners.  Throughout the 1980’s until today, we have seen repeated, spectacular examples of companies driven into bankruptcy by the poor decisions, greed and sometimes utter criminality of their executives; and always, it is the workers who lose their pensions and health care while the executives bail out with golden parachutes.  For every one who goes to jail for a few years, hundreds go from prosperity to prosperity at new companies while their former employees are left in the rubble of the old ones.  Losing faith in the free market and employers to provide adequately for them regardless of their own efforts, many fight to preserve their Medicare and Social Security, while simultaneously attacking those who still have jobs and are demanding wage and health security for themselves.  Anyone who listened to the health care debates in 2009 will remember that while the pundits and demagogues framed their objections in terms of “individual liberty,” the loudest, most passionate and most repeated cries were, “Leave my Medicare alone!”

What has happened is that whereas health care was part of the worker-employer contract for many years, now more and more employers are finding ways to break that contract, or are just failing to honor it by failing to survive through the greed and folly of those at the top.  Consequently, over the years workers have sought to use government as part of the labor institution.  It would be the guarantor of last resort for pensions and health benefits, the arbiter in disputes of worker safety and fairness, and so on.  Younger workers, who often valued autonomy more than security, did not care for this and were happy enough with jobs that offered immediate paychecks and little else; older workers often cared only about preserving the benefits they relied on.  And the majority, in that Generativity vs. Stagnation, have conflicting priorities.  Some may want a more creative job; others a more flexible one that allows them to pursue non-work creativity and particularly family; others may want chances for advancement in exchange for their labor; and others, having fallen into the trap of self-absorption, cared only for immediate profits no matter the expense to others.

My point is, the notion of a “free market” hermetically sealed off from “government” is artificial.  Not only does the government intervene in the market for its own ends; those in the market need government to intervene, both to protect individuals from exploitation by others and to take up the slack when workers’ needs are not matched by their work opportunities.  Social Security and Medicare are interventions in the market, as Ayn Rand said; but before government intervened to provide them it was negotiated between employers and employees.  And by “negotiated,” of course, I mean workers in unsafe conditions receiving starvation wages; workers striking to try to force employers to pay a living wage; employers hiring thugs to beat up strikers; strikers fighting back, attacking scabs, rioting; and the government finally intervening in the form of police joining the strikebreakers.  And when unions are outlawed, as they often were, then only outlaws have unions; no wonder the Mafia took them over!

In the intersection between law, developmental psychology and work, the law and employers do intervene to regulate the Intimacy vs. Isolation activities of workers—-generally in favor of Isolation.  The company picnics and office parties that used to encourage non-business interaction between coworkers have largely vanished, partly due to legal liabilities.   The employer who can keep the worker as busy and tied to the job as possible will see profits; whether that satisfies the worker’s psychological needs is the worker’s problem.  The Generativity vs. Isolation crisis was traditionally resolved by having the father work and seek career advancement, while the mother took care of the family side of generativity.  Employers, for their parts, knew they had to pay the man enough to support his family on one paycheck.  Now, employers know they can effectively get the same worker for half the price, since workers accept that both spouses will work; what was once a choice or luxury for many is now the social default.  In addition, most marriages end in divorce, and most parents will end up as either both employees and primary caregivers of children, or paying child support.  For younger workers (Stage 6) this may be seen as a future problem only; and for older ones (Stage 8) it is the past.  Will either be willing to give up some potential wages or benefits for someone else’s problem?  Will they be willing to pay taxes to help Stage 7 workers meet their workplace needs?  When workers have needs the marketplace won’t meet, they will seek other means to meet those needs, which very often means appealing to government.  And in addition to class and gender differences, generational and developmental differences may place working citizens in conflict with one another, turning the marketplace and the political sphere into a single continuous battlefield.