Maladies of Wealth

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal. They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists.

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

Indeed, luxuries may numb you to other people — that Louis Vuitton bag may be a minor league Ring of Sauron. Some studies go so far as to suggest that simply being around great material wealth makes people less willing to share. That’s right: Vast sums of money poison not only those who possess them but even those who are merely around them. This helps explain why the nasty ethos of Wall Street has percolated down, including to our politics (though we really didn’t need much help there).

 

So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure. They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.

Being Rich Wrecks Your Soul. We Used to Know That.

Burn, Youth

When I began driving for Uber last year, I was more or less still a capitalist and willing to defend the free market. I felt like I could more or less identify as a conservative, especially because they are the more religious party, or so I’ve thought. Now, I don’t know about either of these points. The more driving I did, the more I was witnessing how tragic the current world is.

We do have overt tragedies like people dying in car accidents, homelessness, stars overdosing or committing suicide, and things that you are likely to hear or read about over the course of every day for the rest of your life. But there are tragedies slightly more subtle. Many of them are missed by those who haven’t watched out for them, the young.

One of the saddest things I’ve come to realize is that young people flock to the big city because they believe it’s a hub of opportunity, like-minded progressive-thinking liberals (tolerant and open-minded the whole lot of them), constant excitement and thrills, and even fun people to date. They enter the city seeking escape from the mundane and monotonous life outside the city, in the country. They go to cities for college, and are inundated in a culture rather unlike anything they’ve known prior.

They go to big cities expecting a sort of Eden, a utopia. But it isn’t one. There’s more tragedies than one has the time to list in the cities. Many don’t realize that until they’ve lived in one and fought it for a while. Then they move back or just stay and do their best to survive. Witnessing this has made me all genres of disillusioned yet again, and contemptuous of capitalism more than anything.

It’s strange that such an economic system should be touted as essentially republican, although one term to aptly describe capitalism is economic liberalism. Strange too that it’s managed to hoodwink so many young liberals who run from their wayward, backwards-thinking relatives and towns, and seek asylum from the drab in the sparkly, shiny, business-laden cityscape where, in LA for instance, banks own buildings that tower over the homeless, significant portions of multiple regions are simultaneously being gentrified by people with “I’m with Her” bumper stickers, thereby forcing poor people to coalesce somewhere else and probably get further removed from the very opportunities other, less poor people sought. And so on. The cities are not what the young, bright-eyed liberals think, but they’ve never been. The only thing is that advertisements and a culture of consumerism have become ubiquitous. The idea that cities provide something for everyone, and more than enough to satisfy, is an idea being sold. It’s an idea that’s marketed, meaning it’s supposed to grab any and everyone. So far, it looks like it’s mostly worked.

The most vulnerable, the people most likely to be captured by such an idea, are the very ones who should be protected from this kind of sanguine openness. They are the ones that should be spending their youth figuring out how to grow old, a lesson I myself, born and raised in LA, learned late. They should not be looking for the newest thrills and spending most of their time working whatever job they can find. I haven’t looked up turnover rates for jobs, but I know they have to be higher than ever or nearly as high. So many of the people I talk to mention transitioning between jobs or careers.

Is that the way we should be spending our most energetic years? Absolutely not, but at the same time, these very people are encouraging a culture which leaves that as the only option for most people — indeed for people who aren’t even young and have to become a glib shell of a human being desperate for any opportunity, working equally hard to make money and fill their free time with fun.

And the consequence isn’t a prolonged youth. The reality will be something much more along these lines, and it won’t just be the whites.

My favorite Anne Sexton Poem

I saw Wind River last Friday, written and directed by the writer of Sicario and director and writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan. I want to write about it, but I think I’ll wait until I have rewatched it. Go see it if you haven’t.

Til then, or I am compelled by some angry and untouchable sentiment, have a look at my favorite Anne Sexton poem.

Hurry Up Please It’s Time

What is death, I ask.
What is life, you ask.
I give them both my buttocks,
my two wheels rolling off toward Nirvana.
They are neat as a wallet,
opening and closing on their coins,
the quarters, the nickels,
straight into the crapper.
Why shouldn’t I pull down my pants
and moon the executioner
as well as paste raisins on my breasts?
Why shouldn’t I pull down my pants
and show my little cunny to Tom
and Albert? They wee-wee funny.
I wee-wee like a squaw.
I have ink but no pen, still
I dream that I can piss in God’s eye.
I dream I’m a boy with a zipper.
It’s so practical, la de dah.
The trouble with being a woman, Skeezix,
is being a little girl in the first place.
Not all the books of the world will change that.
I have swallowed an orange, being woman.
You have swallowed a ruler, being man.
Yet waiting to die we are the same thing.
Jehovah pleasures himself with his axe
before we are both overthrown.
Skeezix, you are me. La de dah.
You grow a beard but our drool is identical.

Forgive us, Father, for we know not.

Today is November 14th, 1972.
I live in Weston, Mass., Middlesex County,
U.S.A., and it rains steadily
in the pond like white puppy eyes.
The pond is waiting for its skin.
the pond is waiting for its leather.
The pond is waiting for December and its Novocain.

It begins:

Interrogator:
What can you say of your last seven days?

Anne:
They were tired.

Interrogator:
One day is enough to perfect a man.

Anne:
I watered and fed the plant.

*

My undertaker waits for me.
he is probably twenty-three now,
learning his trade.
He’ll stitch up the gren,
he’ll fasten the bones down
lest they fly away.
I am flying today.
I am not tired today.
I am a motor.
I am cramming in the sugar.
I am running up the hallways.
I am squeezing out the milk.
I am dissecting the dictionary.
I am God, la de dah.
Peanut butter is the American food.
We all eat it, being patriotic.

Ms. Dog is out fighting the dollars,
rolling in a field of bucks.
You’ve got it made if you take the wafer,
take some wine,
take some bucks,
the green papery song of the office.
What a jello she could make with it,
the fives, the tens, the twenties,
all in a goo to feed the baby.
Andrew Jackson as an hors d’oeuvre,
la de dah.
I wish I were the U.S. Mint,
turning it all out,
turtle green
and monk black.
Who’s that at the podium
in black and white,
blurting into the mike?
Ms. Dog.
Is she spilling her guts?
You bet.
Otherwise they cough…
The day is slipping away, why am I
out here, what do they want?
I am sorrowful in November…
(no they don’t want that,
they want bee stings).
Toot, toot, tootsy don’t cry.
Toot, toot, tootsy good-bye.
If you don’t get a letter then
you’ll know I’m in jail…
Remember that, Skeezix,
our first song?

Who’s thinking those things?
Ms. Dog! She’s out fighting the dollars.
Milk is the American drink.
Oh queens of sorrows,
oh water lady,
place me in your cup
and pull over the clouds
so no one can see.
She don’t want no dollars.
She done want a mama.
The white of the white.

Anne says:
This is the rainy season.
I am sorrowful in November.
The kettle is whistling.
I must butter the toast.
And give it jam too.
My kitchen is a heart.
I must feed it oxygen once in a while
and mother the mother.

*

Say the woman is forty-four.
Say she is five seven-and-a-half.
Say her hair is stick color.
Say her eyes are chameleon.
Would you put her in a sack and bury her,
suck her down into the dumb dirt?
Some would.
If not, time will.
Ms. Dog, how much time you got left?
Ms. Dog, when you gonna feel that cold nose?
You better get straight with the Maker
cuz it’s coming, it’s a coming!
The cup of coffee is growing and growing
and they’re gonna stick your little doll’s head
into it and your lungs a gonna get paid
and your clothes a gonna melt.
Hear that, Ms. Dog!
You of the songs,
you of the classroom,
you of the pocketa-pocketa,
you hungry mother,
you spleen baby!
Them angels gonna be cut down like wheat.
Them songs gonna be sliced with a razor.
Them kitchens gonna get a boulder in the belly.
Them phones gonna be torn out at the root.
There’s power in the Lord, baby,
and he’s gonna turn off the moon.
He’s gonna nail you up in a closet
and there’ll be no more Atlantic,
no more dreams, no more seeds.
One noon as you walk out to the mailbox
He’ll snatch you up –
a wopman beside the road like a red mitten.

There’s a sack over my head.
I can’t see. I’m blind.
The sea collapses.
The sun is a bone.
Hi-ho the derry-o,
we all fall down.
If I were a fisherman I could comprehend.
They fish right through the door
and pull eyes from the fire.
They rock upon the daybreak
and amputate the waters.
They are beating the sea,
they are hurting it,
delving down into the inscrutable salt.

*

When mother left the room
and left me in the big black
and sent away my kitty
to be fried in the camps
and took away my blanket
to wash the me out of it
I lay in the soiled cold and prayed.
It was a little jail in which
I was never slapped with kisses.
I was the engine that couldn’t.
Cold wigs blew on the trees outside
and car lights flew like roosters
on the ceiling.
Cradle, you are a grave place.

Interrogator:
What color is the devil?

Anne:
Black and blue.

Interrogator:
What goes up the chimney?

Anne:
Fat Lazarus in his red suit.

Forgive us, Father, for we know not.

Ms. Dog prefers to sunbathe nude.
Let the indifferent sky look on.
So what!
Let Mrs. Sewal pull the curtain back,
from her second story.
So what!
Let United Parcel Service see my parcel.
La de dah.
Sun, you hammer of yellow,
you hat on fire,
you honeysuckle mama,
pour your blonde on me!
Let me laugh for an entire hour
at your supreme being, your Cadillac stuff,
because I’ve come a long way
from Brussels sprouts.
I’ve come a long way to peel off my clothes
and lay me down in the grass.
Once only my palms showed.
Once I hung around in my woolly tank suit,
drying my hair in those little meatball curls.
Now I am clothed in gold air with
one dozen halos glistening on my skin.
I am a fortunate lady.
I’ve gotten out of my pouch
and my teeth are glad
and my heart, that witness,
beats well at the thought.

Oh body, be glad.
You are good goods.

*

Middle-class lady,
you make me smile.
You dig a hole
and come out with a sunburn.
If someone hands you a glass of water
you start constructing a sailboat.
If someone hands you a candy wrapper,
you take it to the book binder.
Pocketa-pocketa.

Once upon a time Ms. Dog was sixty-six.
She had white hair and wrinkles deep as splinters.
her portrait was nailed up like Christ
and she said of it:
That’s when I was forty-two,
down in Rockport with a hat on for the sun,
and Barbara drew a line drawing.
We were, at that moment, drinking vodka
and ginger beer and there was a chill in the air,
although it was July, and she gave me her sweater
to bundle up in. The next summer Skeezix tied
strings in that hat when we were fishing in Maine.
(It had gone into the lake twice.)
Of such moments is happiness made.

Forgive us, Father, for we know not.

Once upon a time we were all born,
popped out like jelly rolls
forgetting our fishdom,
the pleasuring seas,
the country of comfort,
spanked into the oxygens of death,
Good morning life, we say when we wake,
hail mary coffee toast
and we Americans take juice,
a liquid sun going down.
Good morning life.
To wake up is to be born.
To brush your teeth is to be alive.
To make a bowel movement is also desireable.
La de dah,
it’s all routine.
Often there are wars
yet the shops keep open
and sausages are still fried.
People rub someone.
People copulate
entering each other’s blood,
tying each other’s tendons in knots,
transplanting their lives into the bed.
It doesn’t matter if there are wars,
the business of life continues
unless you’re the one that gets it.
Mama, they say, as their intestines
leak out. Even without wars
life is dangerous.
Boats spring leaks.
Cigarettes explode.
The snow could be radioactive.
Cancer could ooze out of the radio.
Who knows?
Ms. Dog stands on the shore
and the sea keeps rocking in
and she wants to talk to God.

Interrogator:
Why talk to God?

Anne:
It’s better than playing bridge.

*

Learning to talk is a complex business.
My daughter’s first word was utta,
meaning button.
Before there are words
do you dream?
In utero
do you dream?
Who taught you to suck?
And how come?
You don’t need to be taught to cry.
The soul presses a button.
Is the cry saying something?
Does it mean help?
Or hello?
The cry of a gull is beautiful
and the cry of a crow is ugly
but what I want to know
is whether they mean the same thing.
Somewhere a man sits with indigestion
and he doesn’t care.
A woman is buying bracelets
and earrings and she doesn’t care.
La de dah.

Forgive us, Father, for we know not.

There are stars and faces.
There is ketchup and guitars.
There is the hand of a small child
when you’re crossing the street.
There is the old man’s last words:
More light! More light!
Ms. Dog wouldn’t give them her buttocks.
She wouldn’t moon at them.
Just at the killers of the dream.
The bus boys of the soul.
Or at death
who wants to make her a mummy.
And you too!
Wants to stuf her in a cold shoe
and then amputate the foot.
And you too!
La de dah.
What’s the point of fighting the dollars
when all you need is a warm bed?
When the dog barks you let him in.
All we need is someone to let us in.
And one other thing:
to consider the lilies in the field.
Of course earth is a stranger, we pull at its
arms and still it won’t speak.
The sea is worse.
It comes in, falling to its knees
but we can’t translate the language.
It is only known that they are here to worship,
to worship the terror of the rain,
the mud and all its people,
the body itself,
working like a city,
the night and its slow blood
the autumn sky, mary blue.
but more than that,
to worship the question itself,
though the buildings burn
and the big people topple over in a faint.
Bring a flashlight, Ms. Dog,
and look in every corner of the brain
and ask and ask and ask
until the kingdom,
however queer,
will come.

The point of arguing is not to argue or encourage a verbal conflict, but to help someone reason well within a certain context. Even if this sounds arrogant, it’s what any discussion which endures disagreement automatically does. It is only in failing to see this that a person may forcefully try to get another to agree with them — that is, they do not help another reason properly but instead force an overlap where there should be guidance. 

Gentrification

In gentrification, a wide view of the contradiction of liberals can be viewed. While decrying the damage we do to the environment, they amass in larger urban areas where a significant amount of waste is produced; while decrying republicans for not caring about the poor, they coalesce in neighborhoods where the poor have been pushed out; while complaining that we ought to house the homeless and take care of immigrants, they live in places that were once affordable enough for them; while bemoaning a history of colonialism, they have invested in the pecuniary enrichment of modern colonizers; while saying minorities are unjustly punished for crimes they only commit because of systemic oppression, they help ensure that oppression will continue as minorities are forced to find other places where there is an influx of poverty and crime. And so on.

I read an article from LA Weekly today. It gave me some hope, along with an article LA Times published on (here I fawn a little over the p-word being a pejorative) how “‘Progress’ is wrecking LA Neighborhoods”. This is what needs to come out more: news outlets which Liberals are likely to read need to put this fact plainly into the face of Liberals. The latter is one I find especially bonafied because it may be some rosy-eyed Liberal’s first taste of skepticism about “progress”. Maybe it will just pass from their mind. Maybe not. I can hope.

Either way, take a look at them. One cannot, I believe, seriously contend that they care for the poor and vulnerable people when they have moved to a big city to live in the remnants of what was once the very homes of the poor. Here’s the most important part of the first article:

“Gentrification is a process — it’s not a single person,” said one of the marchers, Melissa Castro, a recent graduate of Mills College who lives at her parents’ home in the neighborhood. “How do we get our public officials to come out in person publicly and say they do not support what is happening?

“We all want to see Boyle Heights become a more beautiful place,” she continues. “The problem is they haven’t done that for us in the last 50 years. So now we have to wonder who they’re making it pretty for, and will we be here in five or 10 years to enjoy it.”

Earnestly, Castro briefly offers a glimpse of the real harm and deceit of gentrification. It of course harms the people who are being forced out by raised rent, but it also raises a question that can only be answered once Liberals realize they are being deceived. Who is the community being improved for? If we are to celebrate lower crime rates in certain areas, how can we truly believe this is a gain when the people who experienced it for so much of their lives won’t even be there to enjoy the absence?

This points to a larger point I’d like to draw out some day: not only are Liberals doing much of the harm to the very people they want to help, but they’re benefiting rather grandly from that exploitation.

 

For Your Consideration

I have just read a rather entertaining article over at Current Affairs proponing sortition — random selection — as an alternative to elections. Highly suggested read. The main problem I have with sortition is that, like jury duty, it would be difficult for many people to accommodate the requirements of being in congress. I’m sure plenty would love to do it, if they had the time. But many more would probably feel they needed to just stick with their job. This of course might be irrelevant, for I’d still expect randomly selected congresspersons to get paid. Still, leaving their job for months or years couldn’t really go over well. This is an idea worth considering though.

Certainly, there are arguments to be made in favor of elections. There’s something that feels right about having a legislature elected by public vote. This is, after all, the gold standard for democracy around the world: a previously corruption-ridden state “becomes” democratic as soon as it holds free, fair elections. We have a general sense that a legislature, because elected, must therefore “represent” the people who voted for it. But in what sense does it represent them? Demographically? We all know that isn’t true. Take our current Congress, which is 80% male, 95% college-educated, and 50.8% millionaires. The population it “represents” is 50% male, 30% college-educated, and 5% millionaires. That’s not even close.

Well, you might say, the legislature doesn’t need to be an exact demographic mirror of the population, so long as it matches them ideologically. If your Congressman (or Congresswoman, but probably Congressman) puts forward the kinds of policies that you yourself would wish to see advanced, why does it matter whether you and he happen to have wildly different backgrounds? That would be an excellent argument, if Congress usually put forward policies that Americans agree with. Alas, it does not. One Princeton study estimates that, statistically speaking, the preferences of 90% of the American electorate have a “near-zero” impact on policymaking. And a number of highly-publicized legal reforms with a broad popular mandate, such as closing the gun show loophole, have never made it anywhere near the President’s desk. How is that possible in a “representative” Congress?

The obvious answer is that Congress is not representative of the population in any meaningful sense. (Of course, many of the reasons why this is so are obvious: high educational and financial barriers to entry, out-of-control campaign spending, grossly disproportionate donor and lobbyist influence, party-controlled nominations, obsessive focus on reelection prospects, etc., etc.) But ah, you might say, that’s not what’s meant by “representative.” A legislator isn’t someone you expect to think like you: he’s someone you empower to think for you, because he is specially qualified for his job.

But consider the fact that this is nonsense. First, nobody actually believes that our legislators are especially qualified people. (We might note in passing that over 40% of Congress are lawyers, reportedly viewed by the public as the least useful profession in America, in terms of positive contributions to societal well-being.) And the idea of outsourcing our thought processes to them is horrifying in the utmost.

The spirit of democracy would be much more prevalent. Sortition could do wonders for self-government, that old idea that people really know what the hell they’re doing with their own lives and actually do it.

I recently revisited a quotation from Spe Salvi, Benedict’s encyclical which played a major part in my conversion to Catholicism, where he mentions faith not as a suspension of disbelief or the neglect of fact, but an understanding of something less than apparent. Indeed he references the scripture, which puts it best, that faith is the “evidence of things unseen.” Now, sight doesn’t just mean invisible. It also means unknowable.The belief in such a thing then creates something real at the moment. Hope works the same way.

I bring this up because we do not know where our society is headed, despite the transhumanists and scientism’s faithful believing it’s on the up and up and we’ll all be satisfied by increasingly easily attained pleasures. We do not even know for certain that we’ll be working at the same place next year.

But we certainly do have hope that certain things will happen. That is because hope is not a characteristic of faith but an article of the human heart. When we have hope, we have something to work towards, as evidenced by a builder who makes plans ahead of time.

The article is quite risible in places, and downright disillusioning in others. But I primarily wish to note that it’s a humble hope. It gives a name and support to something we could consider working for. That’s important for us to do.

Making America Half-hearted

Following Trump’s example, we have seen Kathy Griffin and now Johnny Depp both make an outrageous comment or act in public then apologize. The apologies strike me as heart-felt as Trump’s apologies for comments he made during the election. It’s an entirely sad state of our society that is characterized by public figures who behave as impulsively as a teenager. They seem to have no idea of the consequences, or they simply don’t care about the consequences. Opprobrium be damned, it got a good chuckle and some attention, so why fret public backlash that’ll last maybe a week and a half tops?

I warned of this sort of thing before Trump’s election. I told people, especially one friend who was very supportive of him during his election and I believe still is, that he would delegitimize his office, making it something less than a position of reposed leadership. To be sure, I mainly thought his formal actions as a president couldn’t be trusted, that he’d let pride cause something regarding policy to go wrong. So far, there hasn’t been much of that, because he’s not running his own presidency. Anyone who thinks the same man to joke about his daughter’s appearence and gloss over sexually derogatory comments he then claims are common to locker rooms is also figuring out how to tackle child trafficking and negotiate foreign policy must believe one of the two is his real self, for he cannot be both. His temperament and pettiness during the campaign wasn’t washed away with his inauguration. If anything, his public speaking has drastically changed in tone because of those around him getting him to dial it down a notch. Yet the same ignorance can be heard when he speaks.

Trump’s deficiency in moral fiber will be something we have to live with for a while. I hope the rest of his presidency contains less focus on his or other easy points to attack with debased humor. I hope he also grows up once and for all.