Monday, April 16, 2018

Why Young Americans Don't Think Older Americans Deserve a Medal for Being Rich, or "Mirrors are for Everyone!"

Two days ago, I found out I had to pay more taxes than I wanted to (I knowcrazy, right?). 

I was annoyed and also a bit scared by this (because money's tight right now), so I posted a rant on social media. Upon reflection and after being told as much by my brother and some others, I decided my post was an incomplete, poorly-considered representation of what I really do believe. And I deleted it.

Before I could do that, though, someone I know had copied and pasted my rant to his Facebook wall. While I wasn't pleased about that and asked him to take it down, I've decided to take his subsequent request that I explain my position at face value.

But first...

A few of my friends and family members have been bothered by this person's unwillingness to comply with my request and with his insistence that I do what he essentially referred to as "the manly thing" and defend myself (he seems to be of the belief that deleting a post constitutes "running away"). 

I appreciate my friends' and family's expressions of concern, but in this person's defense I will say that A. I was aware when I posted it that the internet is forever, B. He did not attach my name to it when he re-postedI did that by commenting on his post and claiming it, and C. While I do think the kind thing for him to have done would have been to honor my request, I do not believe that anyone has the right to demand kindness of anyone else.

I made my request, was denied, and moved on.

I don't want any of our mutual friends to be concerned any further for my well-being, so first and foremost, friends (if you're reading this), I promise you that I am no longer a ninety pound highschooler who can be pushed around and sent crying to the high branches of a mango tree. I do like to have a good cry whenever possible (which I think is very manly), but it's mostly just to vent my emotions. There's quite enough toxicity in the world without storing up any more of it in my bodily tissues, thank you very much.


Here is a puppy, to help us all calm the heck down.



Nor do I feel a need to "defend myself," or to prove that I am always right about everything. Although (like everyone) I always believe that the things I believe are super-duper right, I try to leave room for the possibility that I'm wrong. Because I'm human, I often find this difficult. But I am trying, and that's what this overlong post is about.

Before I get to it, though, I think I'll go ahead and re-post my oh-so-cathartic little rant (mildly edited), so you'll know what this whole thing is all about:

“Dear older Americans who came up in a time when all you had to do to accrue wealth was to show up sober to work:

You're welcome.


I say "you're welcome" because today is tax day for me, and as a starting-out, self-employed writer, tax day is the day that I pay a humongous portion of my self-employment income (fifteen percent) so that you can continue to draw the social security checks that supplement the wealth you built up by showing up sober to work (and turning a blind eye while America trashed the planet and boot-stomped all the poor people).


I say "you're welcome" because I know that my contribution will allow you to continue to have the cash to spend on re-doing your kitchen countertops and sending mountains of plastic garbage stuff to your grandkids as a sort of unintentional apology for the aforementioned legacy of blindness and boot-stomping.


I say "you're welcome" because I know you believe you got as rich as you did (and you ARE rich, make no mistake about that) by virtue of your amazing capacity to show up sober to work, and NOT because of the mind-boggling confluence of economic, sociopolitical, and racial factors that you'll likely never admit almost entirely account for every last bit of it.


Since "you're welcome" is all you're likely to be willing and able to hear from me on this beautiful Friday the Thirteenth tax day, again I say unto you, my dear, dear, older American friends:


You're welcome.


Enjoy the sunshine.”



Where did I go wrong?

Well first, I think I painted with too broad a brush. In case it wasn't clear, I was trying to be funny, and humor often requires ridiculous generalizations. But generalizations have a tendency to leave the people who don't fit them feeling a bit miffed. Like, for example, the nine percent of elderly Americans who live below the poverty line, struggling far harder for their survival than I do, and with less options for crawling their way out of the hole. Second, by saying that people got rich only by virtue of their sobriety, I made some people feel that I was trash-talking the hard work that they and their family members have done, often at great personal cost. And third, I was obnoxiously sarcastic. 

I did not intend to diminish either the real-life struggles of our woefully mistreated elderly poor, nor to imply that all the non-poor older Americans (and I'm thirty-eight, so to me that means basically anyone my parents' age or older) are completely without virtue.

Inasmuch as my rant implied those things and inasmuch as my tone was unkind, I apologize.  

Shame on me and I hope an extremely large seagull craps on my head.


So, what do I believe about all this?

Well, here are the main points:

  • It is always a good thing to take care of your family.
  • When you live in a culture, you're forced to some degree to play by the rules of that culture. To engage in the economy (which you kinda have to do to stay alive), you're going to have to sacrifice a little moral purity. Refuse to pay your taxes because you hate what they do with that money, and you'll go to jail and lose your ability to provide for your family and have a positive impact on society. Pay your taxes because of the aforementioned, and you're going to be financially supporting something you disagree with. We're all tainted. There is no one righteous (nope, not one).
  • But even though we're stuck playing by Caesar's rules, it's still good to question how the system works, and as much as possible seek to make the world a more just place.
  • This in part means acknowledging PAST injustices, and seeking to correct them. For example, if you're going to be honest with yourself about early American history, you'll have to admit that most of us are here because Europeans came and genocided the locals, then took all their natural resources. After that, a lot of the early wealth of America was based on slave labor, a vile practice that was once trumpeted as "The Christian Thing to Do." That early wealth led directly to the wealth of the industrial and agricultural revolutions... which clearly poured poisons into the waterways of this country (and the oceans we share with everybody else). So...
  • The fact that there's money to be made in this countrybe that in real estate sales, or in auto mechanics, or in writing for TV and moviesowes itself in no insignificant part to the often EVIL wealth-making activities of our forebears. Activities that have largely poisoned our systems of rivers, lakes, groundwater, and oceans. 
  • Waterways be danged, all of this culminated in an economic environment (bolstered by WWII and all subsequent wars) where a reasonably-stable person (statistically a white male―although that's an issue for another time) could, by generally agreeing to the rules of the world he'd found himself in, accrue for himself and his family more excess wealth than had ever before been possible in the history of the world for anyone who wasn't born a King or a Queen. 
  • While there's still a lot of wealth in this country, the economic conditions of my parents' generation no longer exist, and I (and a lot of other people) see the writing on the wall. Or walls, rather, because fear at constricting wealth and diminished global stature is causing those who find their identity in wealth and power to pile up bricks pretty much everywhere―all while casting about desperately for someone (other than themselves or their ancestors) to blame for the situation. But there is no one else to blame. We just pyramid-schemed ourselves into a water-poisoned corner, and we cannot get out of it by doubling down on past practices.
  • While not one of us can individually, with our current economic choices, completely un-poison a water system... we can all at least admit that the water WAS poisoned and that our culture turned a blind eye as it was happening, because we were getting rich off of it. 
  • If we can't admit that our wealth had an ugly price (or rather, many ugly prices, which I should not have to list here because, hey, we're all compassionate people who've been paying attention... Right?), then we can't begin to make better choices to build a better world.
That's about all that I think people like me are really trying to say. And I get that some people just hear, "You're saying I don't work hard, and I do. You're saying it's a bad thing to care for my family, and it's not."

To them I say, I am most definitely not saying that you and your grandpa didn't work hard. Nor am I saying it's bad to take care of your family. That's exactly what got me all upset in the first place, actually―my frustration that my hard work to care for my family just doesn't seem to be working as well as I'd like it to. 

And see, the system is rigged against me in a way it wasn't for my elders. Yes, this is still a land of great wealth and opportunity. But things have changed since my elders came up and (I still believe) a guy could build wealth just by showing up sober and doing his job, working for The Man. The system is of course way less rigged against me than it is against people who aren't white, college educated males from white, college educated families... but it still is rigged. 


And social security taxes ARE IN FACT AN EXAMPLE of the riggedness of the system.


Look, I get it. We all need to tell ourselves a story about our lives. And when you work your whole life telling yourself the story that "Life is about working hard and providing stuff and things for your family," then it can be awful hard to see that there are bigger stories going on here that your story is just a small part of. 


It can be hard to admit that parts of your story are not your story at all, but rather are fictions created by other, powerful people who just want to use you to enrich themselves and consolidate their power.

For example, the food you (probably) eat is the product of the systematic dismantling of a millenias-old tradition of diversified family farming by powerful non-farmers who wanted to rid themselves of a historically fairly politically-cantankerous group―a group that tended to provide a much-needed check on the power-elites in Washington. They changed the policies so that family farming was no longer economically viable and, PRESTO-BANGO, family farms got consolidated into agro-industrial plant-and-animal-factories. The farming population of the country shrunk immensely. The Washington elites had a party, and now we depend for our survival as a species on gluttonous, soulless megacorporations like Mansanto.


We've exported our slave labor and our predacious economic policies, and the world is in a dire predicament, indeed.

The only way to stop this from continuing and getting worse is for ordinary people to decide that they no longer wish to be unthinking pawns in someone else's story.

And the only way that is gonna happen before we all starve to death or get poisoned by the water is for everyone to start looking in the mirror. This includes me, yes, but it also includes the old, rich, mostly-white people who benefited immensely from coming up in the time and place in history that they did―a time characterized by a lot of cruelty and injustice.

My largest frustration in all of this is that I have these beliefs because of my loyalty to the Upside-Down Kingdom, which does not play by the rules of the powers and principalities of this world―which believes power should be used with great temerity to PROTECT the poor and the powerless―not to crush them. But despite the fact that this is where my beliefs come from, I'm often treated as though it's me who's betraying the Upside-Down Kingdom. I am told that I'm hurting the Members of the Club with my foolish, ranting words.

Sure, yeah. Sometimes I get scared and my ranting words are foolish, or at least not particularly wisely articulated. But I love the Upside-Down Kingdom and, gosh-darnit, I even love this messed up country of ours enough to not wanna sit on my thumbs while it flushes itself down the toilet.

Any day anyone wants to come to me privately (or publicly, I suppose, as long as they're willing to be kind about it) and suggest that I'm in error on a specific rant, I'm willing to pick up a mirror and take a long, hard look. 

Are you?

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