Monthly Archives: March 2019

How much does enough cost?

I’m not a huge John Lennon fan, these days. A lot of his music feels like children’s music, to me, which isn’t without value, and there is something to be said for maintaining a childlike innocence and creative expression in the face of the horror of the modern world. But… “All You Need is Love”, to me, is the worst offender, followed closely by “Imagine” because both paint an impossibly simplistic picture with unrealistic expectations and use catchy pop music elision to rush over the many implications and complexities of some very challenging and complex ideation. It feels like philosophy for children, not for grown ups with responsibilities and difficult choices in a changing world.


About “Imagine” one thing I’ve been thing about a lot is how democracy was supposed to eliminate kings, and those with real money – the kind of money where ostrich leather is a casual occurrence, and elephants look like big carriers of raw material for their furniture and collecting ancient art and artifacts is a sort of career choice – these folks with the real money, man, they don’t want to pay to help out anybody unless they’re doing it “for charity” and they get a big pat on the back and a tax break. They want to feel that noblesse oblige when they do it. They still want to control how the money helps, and what it’s for, because those welfare queens, etc., etc., those people that just buy junk they can’t afford, etc., etc., those people who don’t know as good as us what’s important etc., etc….

Well, I think about how they seem to be more interested in building huge compounds away from the hoi polloi, guarded gatehouses, and well-funded suburban police forces, separate schools paid for with separate property taxes, so the only world the kids will ever know is the one that is constructed for them separated from the world. I think about how expensive it all is. I think about how the really rich can’t even walk the streets unafraid. They need private security guards, bullet-proof cars, and concealed carry licenses. They need to be protected from everyone else, at all times. Because someone might steal them away for money.

And, I think about the cost of something like universal health care, and a universal basic income, and a universal food stamp program. If a floor was set below which no one could fall that was high enough to make sure people weren’t desperate, how much safer we’d all be. The anxiety that people feel about their place in the world, what happens to them and what they can imagine happening, and the long hours we have to put in at all the jobs we do, well, what if we didn’t have to live in a terrified society? What if people worked because they wanted more than just enough, not because they’re so afraid. It is easier to control people who are afraid. It is easier to mold frightened and controlled people into the shape of a company man or woman. It is easier to convince them to vote and buy and do when they are afraid of something. Imagine a world, then, where no one made decisions because of fear.

The cost of securing the factories against the frightened and desperate, of ensuring that everyone is working their hardest for the company, no one is taking bathroom breaks that are too long, and no one is shirking and going along to get along, because companies only want people working for them who are the best and want other people to hire the people that suck… Except that everyone passes in and out of it. When my son was born, I was working exhausted, slowing down, doing my best just to get by. When I was sick with cancer, it clouded my mind and judgment, made me dream differently, and think about my day differently. No one is going to be the leader of the machine all the time, every year, every week, every day, every hour. We strive for it, anyway, because we are afraid of falling behind the machine. And if we do fall behind, I know I would steal if it meant that or watching my son suffer, powerless. I know I would cheat and steal and kill if it was that or watching my son starve. I would deal drugs if I had to, go into dangerous places, and do terrible things. (Fortunately, I do not live in that world of desperation, but people do all around us all the time, and we blame them for their failure.) And the cost of holding all of us down right at the edge of fear, where the company pays us what they can get away with, to ensure their shareholders’ engorgement, where the regulations grow and grow each line written in blood and the radium girls’ ghosts are screaming for more regulations… The cost of power is very high. Lots of walls. Lots of cameras. Tracking devices. Powerful police forces, strong enough to put down revolutions in nowhere towns like Ferguson, MO, where military-grade equipment came out to stop ministers leading peaceful protests against police violence. A town whose name no one should know, with no meaningful population size, no major landmarks, just this moment where the people rose up and were put down by force in the night and nothing has changed. The cost of that is so high. It is an expensive solution to hire all the guards, build all the tools of control, wrap a culture of just enough fear to convince people to hold themselves down, and to make them love the rich for the few controlled bursts of mercy and charitable giving. (The “real” rich, I mean – the rich people whom other rich people think of as really, really rich.)

Compare that cost to universal basic income, universal basic food stamps, universal basic health care. It seems, I think, a lot cheaper just to make sure that people have all gotten enough so they don’t have to be afraid. Once people can live without that constant fear of ending up somewhere awful, under a bridge, ruined, dead of a preventable disease and a bankrupt family behind because of it,  well… It just seems like it would be a lot cheaper, and make life a lot easier, too, because in the world where people have enough, a rich man could send his kids to school, walk down the city streets unarmed, and mostly live at peace among the people, without thinking that others will resent him, will harm him just because he or she is rich, will kidnap their children for ransom. If everyone has enough, the crime rate will settle into just those people (honestly, it happens at every economic level) who choose to commit crimes, not those people that need to for survival’s sake.  It seems like it would be cheaper, honestly, just to make sure everyone has enough. It seems like it would create an economic boom, because more people would be able to buy more things. It seems like it would make a world of mercy, not of fear, where everyone truly believes they are committed to everyone’s well-being, and pays into that, together.

I don’t know anything, though, right? I just write weird books about the future, and try to imagine a better one. (And, I never can. I try, and I see the same old problems coming back over and over… So it goes.)

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