Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Careless People

The Human Condition

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, 1925

I started off this blog more than seven years ago, in August 2010, writing about this issue of poverty, of the poor, and of how being poor pushes you to the margins of mainstream society. I wish I could say it has gotten better. But I can’t; it has gotten worse, and I believe much worse, not only for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, but also for those in the middle. The middle-class is not as robust as it once was decades ago; it is shrinking to the point where it might no longer be the dominant class in America. (see also here, here and here, where you can read the 2016 study by Pew Research Center.)

The wealthy (which includes the heads of large corporations, hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers), for the most part, created this situation through political lobbying and campaign contributions, with the aim of reducing government spending and decreasing their taxes. Members of Congress, of course, are ultimately responsible for voting for such bad laws that favor only the wealthy, tossing aside and disregarding their mandate to represent the will of the people. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but this has gone too far, with undesirable and quite intentional consequences. Their “success” has led to large increases in the numbers of poor, including in the number of children who face food insecurity. 

This process of noticeable deterioration that began a decade ago (around 2006), based on decades before it of neglect (starting around 1980) has reaped what has been sown, including a lot of ill will, fear and loathing as well as hopelessness. The wealthy, who are admired primarily for their ability to acquire money, are good at influencing the lower classes to turn on each other. Moreover, what we have now in front of us is a social contract in tatters and a large portion of the population, including the common man and young people, who hold no hope of ever catching up to their wealthier classmates—even with a university education. College might not be the great equalizer, after all. Such unlucky ones, which is most of us, have the misfortune of not being born into wealth and privilege. 

America always believed in winners and losers, but some, perhaps only a tiny few, also believed in helping the less fortunate with abilities to achieve upward mobility. If the wealthy want to be remembered for more than just being wealthy, for more than making a magazine list of the privileged, they could use their influence and resources to help make America the nation it ought to be, for one, by joining people of conscience to reverse bad laws that unfairly and disproportionately affect the poor. But this is only a pipe dream, given the prevailing sentiment of the rich and influential. 

One wonders if they as a group are simply amoral, ignorant and insensitive. Are they simply like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, careless people, who could care less about others and who expect others to clean up the messes they make. Fitzgerald’s novel of Careless Capitalism is still a gem of a story. One wonders if the wealthy, deep in their being in their heart of hearts, realize that their overweening desire to save a few bucks, to further enrich themselves, has detrimental effects to society at large. Of course, only they know for sure.

A final thought to chew on. It is not about destiny or fate, but about knowledge and empathy. We are all marked by our particular childhood environments and our particular childhood experiences (think of Citizen Kane and a dying man’s last mysterious word, “Rosebud”). When we get older, we appreciate such memories of innocence more and more. It is what we do as adults that tell us who we have become, who we value, and who we are.