Joking about Wealth

I made jokes, maybe taunts

At the trappings of wealth

The clothes, the cars

In my poverty

My indifference to wealth

But we were all friends, then

It was all in good fun

 

It’s not fun, now

And we’re not friends, now

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Wealth and Love

Wealth isn’t evil.  In and of itself.  It’s what it does to people.  I know well-to-do people who are loving, kind, and generous–monetarily and personally.  But then . . .

Circumstances have fated me to an ultra-wealthy community.  The atmosphere of this community–the vibe–is alien to me, and unfriendly.  Unfriendly.  The people I am able to talk to, talk a lot about their wealth, their financial doings, the important people they deal with, their several houses . .  . And what is striking about all this–I can handle talk about a person’s possessions, though it is boring–what is striking is how un-humane these people have become in their preoccupations with money matters.  But it is more than unfriendly.  The people I am meeting are often downright hard-hearted, mean-spirited, hard boiled.

Then it comes to their views, largely politically, because they seem to be preoccupied with politics.  I need not say that I am meeting with right-wing predilections.  Uncritical right wing ideas.  Ideas that are right-wing because they are right wing–not because of their truth value.  Ideas that are held by liberals, are hated.  I choose my words carefully, and hatred is the right word for the attitude to liberal people, and by extension, liberal ideas, from the people I am meeting here.  I am unable to ask them, “Take away the label “liberal” and is there any truth value to the ideas that they hold?”  I asked a man his thoughts on global warming.  “I’m not going to believe in global warming just because Al Gore says so.”

Personally, many, most of my views are called liberal.  I hold these ideas because they seem humane.  I do not hold liberal ideas because they are liberal, and I am liberal.  If I encountered right-wing views that struck me as humane, I would hold them.  Are the people I encounter hard-hearted because they are right-wing; or are they right-wing because they are hard-hearted?  There does seem to be some kind of correlation.

My religion teaches love.  Love for everyone–strangers and friends.  This I find missing in the community I currently inhabit.  I search for a heart, and find adamant.  Now there is one notable exception.  I was trying to find a club that a musician friend of mine was playing at.  An elderly, very wealthy man searched his phone diligently and located the club and showed me on the map on his phone how to get there.  I felt a heart.  But I’m not going to give him too much credit.  I believe that he had made me “one of his own.”   Wealthy people do have a heart.  But it strikes me that the heart is for those in their inner circle–fellow rich people and their children and relatives.  I haven’t found that all-embracing love for everyone, rich and poor, homeless and ensconced in a mansion.  Love for enemies?  For liberals?

I don’t want to generalize about all the wealthy.  I know wealthy people who are generous monetarily and personally.  It’s what people let wealth do to them.  Is that why Jesus said, “It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven.”

Money and the US Medical System

I was hospitalized for a psychosis while I was in the process of writing my doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia.  After a month in a locked hospital wing, I was dropped off on a street corner by the hospital bus and I walked to my apartment.  Accompanying me was a $50,000 hospital bill.  The hospital did have an indigent policy, so I made an appointment with an administrator to see if I qualified as an indigent.  It needs to be said that this was immediately after my hospitalization for psychosis.  I was still confused, and just short of delusional.  My moods were wild and my mind was still broken.  It was in this condition that I went to advocate for myself about the $50,000 hospital bill.  The administrator told me to come back with documentation of the amount in my bank account.  I had $8,000 in my bank account.  The way graduate school works, is that you get a student loan check in one lump sum that you have to live off for the whole year.  The hospital administrator told me that I had too much money in my bank account for me to be considered an indigent.  I still had to pay them $50,000.  I explained that the $8,000 in my bank account was my income.  I had to live off $8,000 for the whole year.  How would you like to live on $8,000?  He said he understood, but that is the way the criteria are written.  I still owed $50,000.  I proceeded to withdraw much of my money to pay rent, came back to the administrator with documentation of a much lower bank account balance.  The administrator told me that now I qualified as an indigent.  I didn’t owe the $50,000.  I said, “Just like that?”  “Yes.”

It’s hard to go through a psychotic episode.  Then it’s even harder to readjust to society and try to pick up a life that has been broken, a mind that has been broken.  It does not seem humane to make a person advocate for himself with a broken consciousness.  It does not seem humane to bill a mentally ill individual $50,000 for hospitalization.  It does not seem humane to have rules written so concretely that a matter of a mere bank balance is the only determinate for indigent status, especially in a university town.  But then, the American health system has never been considered humane.

Gratitude, Entitlement, and Self Image

What am I worth? Some measure their worth in monetary terms–net worth.  Some measure their worth in personal terms–I am worthy of love, I am unworthy.  Some look at their spiritual qualities.  Are we basically good?  Are we sinners?  Are we OK, you’re OK?  I’m not sure any of these are relevant questions.  And the reason is the very word “we.”

Everything we have is a gift.  What do we do by our own effort?  It looks like everything.  But life itself isn’t something we gave ourselves.  Life is a gift.  Who of us can stop our hearts from beating by our own effort?  Who among us by our own effort can take our food apart molecule by molecule and reassemble them into the carbon chain our bodies need at the moment (Krebs Cycle)?  Who has the power to be good by their own efforts?  Whose knowledge came from their own brain?  Even Jesus said, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.”

We are taught to have a healthy self-image.  We are taught to love ourselves.  We are taught to have self-confidence.  But what is the self?  The Buddhists say there is no self.  Which self am I to love?  David at 5 years of age?  David at 25?  Who I am now?  Who I’ll be tomorrow, in a year, in a decade?  Did I cause myself to grow, to age?  Certainly I made choices–I will retain that much of the self. But was my decision-making process my own?  How much of it was intuitive?  How much of my deliberations were my brain’s own wisdom, and not that to which I was exposed in my family, by my education, by conventional wisdom, impressed upon me by culture?

There’s not all that much of me that I can have a self-image of, or to have confidence in, or to love.  I’m not sure any of these issues are of that much import.  I think what matters more is the gratitude I have for the breath I take every moment, for the heart that beats for me, for the transporter enzymes that keep my cell membranes charged properly.  My interest is in what is doing all this for me.  Rather than what is called self love, my understanding of the self means love for that which is making my self.  That Being is whom I love.  Self love for me is loving the Cause for myself.

 

The Trump Economy: Fake News

Trump is bragging about the economy and how good it is.  He points to job growth and unemployment statistics.  But what disturbs me is that no one seems to be talking about established macroeconomic facts.

It takes a year and a half for new economic policy to see results in the economy.  That means what we are seeing in the American economy is not the result of Trump–it is the result of Obama’s economic policies.  Furthermore, Trump has not instituted any macro-economic policies.  So he hasn’t done anything for the economy.

It is true that the stock market is reacting favourably to Trump.  But the stock market does not affect the economy.  It only favours investors, not workers.

Trump’s bragging about the economy is fake news.  The credit goes to Obama.

Sad Story of the Little Cars

In junior high I had a sad experience.  In wood shop we made small cars out of wood that were to be sent down a ramp in a race the whole class participate in.  There were two categories: cars with wooden wheels and cars with rubber wheels.  My car won the rubber car race.  Then, my car was pitted against the winner of the wooden car race.  As our two cars ran down the two ramps, the wooden car hit a screw and jumped out of its track.  I won.  But it wasn’t a fair race.  The wooden-wheel car jumped off the track.  Out of a sense of fair-play, I said we should run the cars again.  But my car had been damaged in the last run (how that happened is another story), and the axle kept jamming into the side of the track.  Everyone wanted to challenge me, since they knew my car was damaged.  The final result was that I came in last.  When we went to our next class, the girls asked who won.  The boys told them the winner, whose name escapes my recollection.  When the girls asked the boys how I did, they laughed and said I came in last.  No one told the whole story.

I have reflected on this story over the years.  What I have learned is to accept every win, boost, or help that comes to you–whether you have earned it or not.  Four of my poems are forthcoming soon in an advocacy journal.  Part of the reason for my poems being published is due to my disability.  Like the boy who wanted a fair car race, I want to be published due to the merits of my poems alone, not in part due to my disability.  But the world works largely by advocacy, croneyism, and the “good-old-boy (or girl) network.”

I watched a peer review process for articles to be published in an anthology.  I saw a female senior scholar gush over a very average article written by a junior female student.  What was going on was clear to me, and to everyone in the room: a woman of influence was promoting the cause of a junior woman for the sole reason of gender solidarity.  And in film, music, business, and academia croneyism is more the norm than is merit.  A friend of mine told me that I, myself, received a “A” in an English class because the teacher went to the same ivy league university that I had.

Coming in last, in that junior high wooden car race, taught me to accept whatever good comes my way.  I don’t imagine that many people who are possessed of wealth, power, influence and standing got there by merit.  They are there instead by whom they knew.  Have you heard the saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”  That, finally, is the sad moral to the story about the junior high car race in wood shop.  And it’s taken me many years to realize what many people know early in life.

Getting and Spending

I think that western society finds its amusement primarily in spending money.  I know that I do.  It’s a real kick buying something new.  Almost more fun than enjoying the new thing that I buy.  William Wordsworth wrote this in his poem, THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US.  “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers.”  I wanted to entitle this blog simply, “Spending.”  But we also enjoy getting–just not as much as spending, I think.

We hear about how much poverty there is in the world, largely in developing nations.  But what we don’t hear about is community.  I’ve been impoverished and completely contented and happy.  This was in a small, rural town.  I spent many an evening sitting on back porches with friends, talking as the sun went down.  Or visiting with an elder family I knew.  Or basking in the sunlight on a summer afternoon with friends.  I read more philosophy then, drank but little.  Friends mattered more to me than they do now.

Now I’m more comfortable financially and it seems there’s always something I want.  I walked away from the casino today, which is all about getting and spending and only about it, with modest gains.  And I wrangled mentally about what I should have bet to make even more.  The stock market is the same–all based on getting and spending.  I just bought a new wool coat, but it’s too formal to wear to the blues club.  I’m thinking about buying a new leather bomber jacket.  Getting and spending.

I met only one person who said, “I have enough money.”  And that’s the only time I heard it in my life.  This person bought pots and pans for a women’s shelter with the extra money he had.  When I hear about poverty in the world, I wonder if the society in question has a sense of community that might their emotional wants more than spending would.  As was the case with me in my days of poverty in the small town.  In a society that derives its enjoyment from spending, as is ours, poverty is most certainly a curse.  But maybe poor societies are richer than ours.  (I most certainly am not talking about world hunger, which is a decidedly different issue.)  I’m not sure we can measure happiness by a culture’s ability to spend.  The cures may well be that we do measure our happiness by our capacity to spend.

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