Monday, January 26, 2009

A Comment on a Comment Responding to Remarks I Left on Another Blog

Like you, I distrust the bailout and have criticized it—am criticizing it even now. Still, I think Bush's wars and the evisceration of privacy and human rights have done more harm to our nation than the bailout ever will—but, still, that's not an endorsement of the bailout. (I don't think Bush is solely to blame for everything that's wrong with America—but for now he'll certainly do as a poster child for everything that's wrong with America.) I think the bailout will make matters worse because I don't believe trickle-down economics works—as I said, I think economic protection of the rich and powerful will not, as the reigning mythology goes, help out the rest of us. It never has, because rich and powerful people tend to care only about their own wealth and power. I don't trust free markets either, for the same reason. Quite frankly, and perhaps rather bizarrely, I don't trust economics—or demographics, or statistics—you can blame a bad math teacher in my past, no doubt. I simply don't think anything I value in humanity is quantifiable—or even manageable—or explainable on pie charts.

I voted for Obama, but that doesn't mean I can't and don't criticize the man. I'd vote for him again, given the opportunity. He's more conservative than I'd like him to be—and he's a politician—a breed of human I have no empathy for whatsoever, from US Presidents down to high-school Sr Class VPs. But politicians seem to come with politics. Obama is no worse than the last 8 or 9 Presidents we've had, and promises to be considerably better than 7 of them. He will do nothing, I suspect, to diminish the expanding powers of the Presidency, which have been stretching past its Constitutional limits since Lincoln, at least. I will be surprised if he makes any headway in solving the current economic mess ... and in the unlikely event that things improve in the next four years, it's more likely to be the result of chance than any given policy.

I don't think he's out to cripple the nation ... not intentionally ... but of course I could be wrong about that. I don't see community service as exclusively "Obama's cause," but I do understand having a certain measure of distrust for that appeal—the call to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and to pitch in for the good of the team, is very frequently an open audition for dupes—while the rich and powerful collect prizes and honors for coming up with the brilliant idea of asking poor people to work harder for less pay—if not for free.

In everything I write, it's fairly easy to detect my distrust, my detestation, of wealth and power (pure jealousy, perhaps ... I don't know ... but the bias is my cross to bear). I also have a strong distaste for appeals to family and God and patriotism—all my experience of such appeals suggests that they are effectively, if not inherently, fascistic in their demands for groupthink and utter dependence on feeling over evidence. Obama represents all these things—as almost every US politician must. We are a child- and flag-worshipping culture, on the verge of worshipping fetuses and flag pins, as well.

More than anything, we are a culture that worships money, which is why we cater to the whims of the wealthy. We choose our leaders from among the wealthy ... and specifically favor those adept at fund-raising and amassing endorsements from other wealthy, powerful people. If we're good to the wealthy, we believe, they'll be good to us. Putting any kind of legal restraints on wealth is anathema to those who have no qualms about legal restraints on natural bodily urges. On some level, most of us, like Joe the Plumber, imagine ourselves on the verge of having great wealth and spend a good amount of time daydreaming about how to spend our first million and what to buy our pal George Clooney for his birthday. The thought that our income over $250,000 could be subject to special (higher) tax rates or that our children will be forced to pay extra taxes on the $3,000,000 we plan to leave them appalls us. On the other hand, we suspect that poor people are sneaky, lazy, irresponsible, mendacious, and bilious—in short, every quality history shows us as typically belonging to the very rich.

The current economic crisis strikes us as very dire ... direr than a senseless war in Iraq, costing thousands of lives, ever struck us ... direr than AIDS ... direr than having a higher percentage of our citizens in prison than any other non-totalitarian nation ... direr than the threat of or our complicity in global warming. Something about money strikes to the core of the American people. More people are sweating over the coming depression than ever sweated over the melting polar ice caps. So the crumbling economy catches our attention in a way that crumbling communities do not. What can I say to that?

Not much. I can't even say I am truly appalled, because I am part of that culture, and everything I just described strikes me as normal and understandable. Perhaps even to some degree acceptable. And despite having no confidence in the effectiveness or morality of bailing out American banks and the auto industry—two dinosaurs we should be considering phasing out anyway—a part of me understands (though hardly accepts) the pleading hope that Providence will look down on this offering to the nation's upper 1 percent and let us keep our jobs (even the ones we hate), our homes, and our current standard of living.

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