Check Your Perspective

Recently, I've read a lot of posts from people who are very angry about the unregulated fat-cats who have been profiting obscenely from our financial system, and whose obscene profits have led to the current financial crisis in the USA.

They are pissed that rich people are whining because they might have to take their kids out of private school, or give up their private jet, or sell one of their eight or ten or twelve houses. They are rightly pissed, I think, when many of them are struggling to keep their only house, or their job, or the pension they worked 40+ years for.

I know that I feel mad when I think about massive corporate bail-outs. Someone suggested that all the CEOs of these "rescued" companies should have to go through the same legally-mandated credit-counseling that any individual considering Chapter 7 Bankruptcy must undergo -- I'd take this a step further, and require that any counseling sessions they attend be televised on C-Span (since it's taxpayer dollars which will cover their debt).

But . . . . . and . . . . .

It's kind of surprising to me sometimes that, when people who have been in the "have-more" class suddenly get to experience what it's like to be in the "have-less" class, they don't take a moment to consider . . . . .

There are people in the world -- many, many, many people in the world -- for whom the thought of even having a house, owned or not -- with actual walls and a roof that keeps the wind or rain out -- is a dream that seems so far away and distant that they may have never even considered it as a possibility -- people for whom the question is not "Will I need to adjust the way that I eat? Will I be able to afford healthful food for my family?", but rather "Will there be anything to eat at all?"

I have a friend who works as a personal assistant to someone whose net worth is over 10 million. My friend works for this person (by choice) on a contract basis -- my friend has no employer-paid health insurance, no other benefits at all -- just her hourly rate -- and she's carrying significant debt. She chooses to work for this person as she does for her own reasons, and recognizes this clearly as her own choice. However, she admits that it was sometimes difficult for her to deal with her employers complaints when said employer lost a million dollars last year (when my friend's net worth is hovering somewhere between minus-significant-something and her cash worth is a couple hundred bucks).

It's amazing to me, though, that even when this is difficult for her, she can say to me: "You know, it's all a matter of perspective. If I lost 10% of what I had, I'd probably be freaked out too -- but I try to always remember that I'm well-fed and well-housed and well-clothed. I'm rich."

As pissed as you might be at people who have more than you do when they may be whining about having to part with something you can barely imagine having, think for a moment how someone in the third-world might consider the fear that a lot of Americans are having about the possible loss of their home or their job (or even just necessary adjustments to their "lifestyle", like no more dinners out or a couple less lattes a week or maybe cutting cable-service from premium to standard) -- think about that for a minute.

Think about it and realize that, in some sense, for someone in this world -- you are the fat-cat.

Now, don't get all guilty about it -- just consider it for a minute, and look around at what you have.

If you're reading this, you have internet access -- and even if you went to the library to get internet access because you can't afford a computer at home -- you have a library to go to. Consider that the very fact that you can have the fear that you will lose something means that you have something to lose.

It's my personal belief that our entire "financial crisis" is a product of fear.

For the greedy, who may have clawed their way up the ladder of "success", perhaps it is the fear that they can never have enough which has driven them to lose all perspective about how their own welfare is tied up with the welfare of millions of other people -- people who make up the rungs of that ladder, and without whom, their wealth cannot exist.

For the working stiff, perhaps it is the fear that the rug can be pulled out from under them at any moment, or their rank fatigue at being stepped on by others as they ascend ever upward, which has led them to a place where they have hocked everything -- their ethics, values, and concern for their own real fulfillment -- in an attempt to climb up that ladder toward the greedy ones -- the greedy ones who they simultaneously despise, and aspire to emulate.

For the desperately poor, perhaps it is the simple, unadorned, and reasonable fear that, when the ladder collapses under the weight of all that fear, it will land squarely and most damagingly on them -- and there will be no food, no water, and no shelter for them.

Bank-runs and stock-market crashes are made of 100% pure, unadulterated, FEAR. Economic advisors may speak delicately about a lack of "confidence", but you and I both know that they're lying.

What they are talking about is a surfeit of fear.

Nearly everyone in this country has something to lose. Which means that we have something. Which means that somewhere, someone out there in the world could quite justifiably look at us (regardless of our relative station of power or status in this country) and think: "What the hell are they complaining about?"

Take that perspective with you, if you like, and if you want to do something -- if you want to stop being afraid -- look around you right now, and find something that you currently have that you aren't afraid of losing (even better -- something that you're completely and totally ready to have move along -- something that has stopped being a treasure to you and has simply become something that you have to "keep track of"), and give. it. the. fuck. away.

Preferrably to someone who would think of you as a fat-cat.

Because, after all, isn't that what you wish the fat-cats would do?

*h/t to WomanistMusings, whose heads-up about Haitian people eating mudcakes laced with shortening and salt gave me a much-needed perspective check today.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 4:00 PM  


Charlotte said... September 21, 2008 at 4:45 PM  

I agree with what you've argued here.

When I catch myself thinking of myself as unprivileged or vulnerable, I'm put in mind of the way my students (I teach history) always identify with the revolutionaries rather than the aristocrats during the French Revolution - when I suggest that their experience is much more like that of the upper classes than the poor, there's always a "whoah" moment. We all have trouble thinking of ourselves as the fat cats.

The Cunning Runt said... September 21, 2008 at 5:45 PM  

Correct As Usual, Queen Friday!

What we call "poverty" in this country would be nothing short of opulence in some others.

But the concept of those of us on Rung Two helping those on Rung One does nothing to address the unethical inequities of the Filthy Fucking Rich wringing the rest of us dry, oblivious of the practical roots of noblesse oblige, entirely at their own peril.

'Cause someday soon, Hamilton's Beast is gonna rise up and bite their greedy asses, but good.

NameChanged said... September 21, 2008 at 7:33 PM  

I think, after mulling this post over a bit, I get it. I need to see where I have unnecessary excess, and give it away. I have been trying to purge lately, and I think this post helps. It's not about "I don't want it," it's more about "Someone else needs it, I have it, so I will give it."

Bradley said... September 21, 2008 at 7:59 PM  

Well stated as usual. Most of us would do well to remember that if we have the money, technology, and free time to be reading blog posts, we're in a position of extreme privilege in this world. It can be hard to remember how lucky we actually are when we read someone sobbing over having to sell one of the mansions, but most of us are very fortunate, when we consider the big picture.

Thanks for this reality check.

PortlyDyke said... September 21, 2008 at 10:42 PM  

namechanged -- I think I would encourage you to take the stance, not of "Someone else needs this, I have it", but of "I have this, and in truth, I don't need it, nor would I keep it, if I wasn't feeling afraid that I might need it in the future ....."

That's made it much easier for me to let go of stuff in my own life.

Anonymous said... September 21, 2008 at 11:14 PM  

this was brilliant. i'm confused and taken aback by all the knee-jerking going on over at Shakesville. seriously - if you're feeling defensive, ask yourself why, don't spout crap all over and make yourself look like a jerk.

put the damn shoe down, you know?

KJ said... September 22, 2008 at 8:07 AM  

This was the best thing I've read in a long, long while. So when are you going to have a published column?!

Bradley said... September 22, 2008 at 10:26 AM  

PD-- I just wanted to reiterate that I thought your post was fantastic, and I'm really disappointed to see so many people misrepresenting your original post and attacking you for things you didn't actually say. You have a wise and engaging voice, and I always appreciate the sense of nuance and reflection you bring to any given subject.

I wrote a brief response on my own blog-- not as compelling as your initial post, but I wanted to make sure that my readers (who are mostly former students of mine) took a look at some contemporary persuasive essay writing.

Be well.

-- WB

tambourine man said... September 23, 2008 at 6:50 AM  

You have an amazing capacity for striking right to the human heart of political issues. Your perspective on this and many other items has helped me grow in ways I didn't even know needed growing. Thanks always for your posts and comments. You are a national treasure.

ouyangdan said... September 24, 2008 at 1:21 AM  

PD, this post was brilliant, and I can't understand the backlash it received. I don't know why everyone has to make every issue about them even when it isn't directed at them specifically.

I struggle to acknowledge my unchecked privilege everyday, even w/ the sacrifices and struggles I make to do things that are privileged (I send my kid to a private school, on a scholarship that I volunteer my ass off to keep for her), and I sometimes complain b/c it pinches and hard. While I struggle w/ my disability and not getting any help from the Navy or VA, I have to remember that I have a spouse who can afford for me to not work full time so I can maintain use of my body. We don't always think about the ways our privilege is relative. I complain about the things that are tough, and I have a dear friend who is homeless w/ her teenage boy. That checks it for me right there.

Thank-you b/c I have never read anything you have written that was not thought provoking.

And I hope that wasn't contradicting my whole "it's not always about me" thought...

Jenny said... September 24, 2008 at 1:26 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said... September 24, 2008 at 1:47 AM  

While I do agree that we need to remember our privilege, I do not agree that what I want is for the "fat cats" to give of their surplus. What I want is for them - and me, and the thinner cats - to work to make this world a better place - starting with such basics as making it possible for everyone to have clean water and the food and the housing they need.

On second thoughts, maybe this is exactly what I - and they - should be giving away. Our work, our thoughts, our energy.

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