Today, I’m keeping it short. I’m also not going to throw facts at you. I just want to speak very frankly on the topic of poverty and the division between the poor in the United States and the men and women who make up the upper-classes.
I’ve spent the last several weeks coming across various stories that imbue one of America’s most-nagging and destructive problems: poverty and the division of social classes. News reports, public interest pieces, essays, etc.; All of them reek of the knowledge that there really is a 1%, American businesses get away with excessive tax breaks and sketchy business practices, those in America who have money want to keep it all for themselves, those without are begging for a small push, and at the end of the day, you are left with a vortex of words and images, all swirling in and out of each other like a very vivid hallucination. I’m fairly sure that this kind of over-exposure is part of what makes American news such a pathetic enterprise, but that’s beside the point. It’s really hard to tell where it begins and where it ends.
I’ve noticed that the wealthy want to keep their money out of the hands of the poor, because they “earned it” and “should be able to do with it as they please.” To an extent, sure. I agree. If you put in the time and the effort for your money, then you should absolutely be able to determine where to sink every penny. Of course, that’s not always the case, though. I’m pretty sure everyone who is wealthy still shakes their head disapprovingly at the thought of paying mortgages, car payments, insurance payments, alimony, in some cases. But, after the head-shaking commences, they pull out a pen (or use the Internet) and write a check (or fill out a form), then mail it off to the appropriate enterprise (or press “submit”), wiping their hands of this month’s bill summaries (or closing the Internet browser). Most of these wealthy people do this with the realization they’re still sitting on a nice lump of capital.
Of course, they don’t necessarily realize that someone living on the other side of town from them does not have that luxury. The family across town have bills just like theirs, but to them, paying them is more of a life-and-death situation. These men and women face losing their lives each time they write a check (or use the Internet, assuming they have it). These men and women don’t have the same security, or the same resources, or shit, these men and women probably didn’t even have the same opportunities as the men and women who lived across town while they were growing up. The men and women who live across town suffer mightily, while the rich men and women across town host cocktail parties and neighborhood-gathering barbecues with state of the art materials and a gazebo.
There really is a line.
Many on the side of the rich believe that if you, yourself, aren’t rich, then you’re either too poor or too stupid to be rich. I’ve asked myself, “why do I even care about being rich?” The answer is: I don’t. I don’t care about being rich. In fact, I’m somewhat repulsed by it. Who am I to deserve better than the man next to me? What have I done to separate myself from my peers, and live a life of grandeur and elitism? Who am I to have a million-dollar home, an imported luxury car in the driveway, and a timeshare in the mountains?
I’ve never owned these things. I’ve never really been a position to own these things. You know what? I’ve turned out just fine without them. Money, and the fake humanity that comes with it, creates the illusion of success because we have a lot of “stuff.” America is about having “stuff.” If you didn’t have “stuff”, but had a LOT of money, no one in America would know the difference. American values have been replaced by consumerism, elitism, class, and privilege, which, you know, really isn’t that different than the British system of nobility that as a fledgling nation we bled and died to move away from.
Even though I have never really been wealthy or financially sound, I have lived a life worth remembering, even at this point. I’ve overcome a lot of adversities thrown at me, and continue to overcome others, on a journey not dictated by money and class and social standing. These things mean nothing to me. When I see people my own age doing everything in their power to fit themselves into the plague of aristocracy that poisons the people in this country, all I can do is sigh and shake my head. To me, it’s fake. “Stuff” is fake.
Even though I’ve never had much to myself, I’ve given back what I can, when I can. For example, while my wife and I were on our first date, we were walking through the streets of Downtown Fort Worth, just outside of Sundance Square. While there, we were approached by a homeless man (probably in his late-20’s, early-30’s) who asked us if we would pay him if he spoke poetically about us. I agreed, and the man delivered a beautiful poetic monologue. Without hesitation, I handed the man money, to which he was appreciative. I smiled and wished him a good night, then we went our separate ways.
This isn’t something that I do rarely. I give money to people all the time. What I find vexing about the whole thing is people who don’t. I’ve heard a myriad of excuses, one of which to note is the “I don’t want them spending it on booze/drugs” excuse. The way I look at it, so what? If I hand a homeless person $20 and they decide to spend it on booze or drugs, then at least I contributed to easing their uncertainty for at least one night. I don’t care if they use it for a meal or for cocaine, either way they’re getting something positive out of it. Who am I to deny anyone’s happiness, regardless of where it may come from?
Now, what about those who aren’t without shelter? What about those who work harder than the elite and have significantly less? What about the single mother with three kids and an incarcerated baby-daddy who works two full-time jobs just to keep essentials in a home? What about the people who have been snowballed by extenuating circumstances and are one missed payment from losing their homes or electricity? What about the men and women who, for whatever reason, were not given the best opportunities for success, whether it be they were made to attend an academically unacceptable school, had to leave school to take care of their families, grew up in a gentrified neighborhood, were abused by loved ones, etc. etc. etc.? What of these people? Are these men and women not doing their best with what they have?
Those men and women are trying to survive, that’s all. So, yes, they’re going to do whatever they have to do to ensure that survival, even if it means swallowing their pride and signing up for housing benefits, SNAP programs, or WIC. So, something like the Affordable Care Act comes around, offering them an opportunity to better their lives, and the rich get their panties in bunch and stop at nothing to try and shut it down? What other reason could there be for it than an attack on the poor? The ACA had nothing to do with freedoms or American values or whatever other bullshit reasons were given — the document passed through Congress, was signed off by the President, then upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. So, what other reasons are there? Well, the rich had to pay more for their medical insurance, whereas the poor paid less. Apparently, to the rich, that’s not fair, keeping in mind that these are the same people who tell the homeless “life’s not fair” when they’re rejecting their pleas for help. So, the American aristocracy is showing itself as greedy, selfish, and without compassion, all of which are frequently-cited characteristics of someone who becomes a CEO, CFO, or President of a Fortune 500 company.
The rich want to have their cake, and eat it too.
So, where does this leave someone like myself? I’m unsure. I know that I’m not as bad off as many, or as well off as others. Despite not having many opportunities in life to succeed (whether it be through the fault of others or the fault of my own), I think I’ve ended up doing fairly well, all things considered. But, here’s the difference between me and many others who use that term to summarize their current lives. I’ve been lucky, in a lot of ways. I had just enough going for me to not get completely buried in the horseshit that makes up the day-to-day life of the common American. I’ve had education many others were not so lucky to have. I’ve had a sense of responsibility to others that many were not so lucky to have. I was taught by wise men and women about the value of intelligence and the importance of personal affairs, as well as interpersonal affairs, something that many others were not so lucky to have. Of course, I’ve lived in similar conditions to many of the poor in America and have battled complex problems, as they have. I’ve lived in poverty in my adult life. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact my father was absent, and that my mother and step-father, despite best intentions, may not have done right by me as far as an upbringing is concerned. I’ve dealt with loss. I’ve felt the ramifications of the faltering economy. I’ve conquered personal demons and sins, while continuing to conquer others, despite the continuing backlash from them. But, there is still a lot of life to live, and a myriad of things could happen between now and then to, once again, put life into a tailspin.
So, who am I to look at myself with false nobility, when there are plenty of my countrymen going to bed hungry every night, clocking in to work with the fear it may be their last shift, wondering if their paychecks will clear before the rent check does, and working hard to make sure their families aren’t reduced to squalor while their own hearts give out and the cancer that’s metastasized in their bodies gradually brings them to death? Who am I to turn my cheek when someone without money, food, or a home asks me for a little help to get them through the night? Who am I to not offer charity — without stipulation — when it comes to starving and dying American children, starving and dying veterans, and shit, starving and dying Americans?
So, while the rich live in their gated, upscale communities, look out across their manicured lawns, sit in on HOA meetings, have parties, drive their Beamers to their downtown high-rise office, and live the life of an American aristocrat, I hope at least some of them understand that wealth and privilege exists for them at the expense of someone else. There is no having your cake and eating it too. To slightly rephrase one of Sir Issac Newton’s most important contributions to the scientific community, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The success of one man comes at the expense of another. Unfortunately, this has become how we determine winners and losers in the American economy, a game where there really aren’t winners and losers in the traditional sense, but more in the General Zaroff sense, where winners get to live, and losers get to die.