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 employer's 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.
[cross-posted at Teh Portly Dyke]