“Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.” ~ The Great Gatsby
It feels like this debate over wealth distribution has to be reaching a tipping a point. Between the Occupy Walls Street Protests, the Republican candidate debates and the release of the report detailing “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007,” it seems that something’s gotta give.
Even as the Mirror Universe Tea Party protests seem to be gaining respectability and influence, with prominent publications finally taking the time to understand their message, the negative response to the movement remains steadfast in their conviction that the whole movement is nothing more than bums demanding that the rich give them their money.
After reading that Eugene Robinson WaPo opinion piece on the matter, what I found most interesting (besides for his very cogent and well-written points) were the dissenting comments (I’ve got a bit of experience with angry Conservative commentators).
Some choice examples:
“The thing is, the poor in America have more than enough opportunity to make it !
So please stop blaming everyone else for thier [sic] inability to achieve. “
“The “poor” willingly give their money to the rich when they buy crap that they do not need.”
Got to love these comments. I mean, the first one simultaneously criticizes the poor for an “inability to achieve” while displaying an inability to perform a spell check. Priceless. The second suggests that the poor are really all well-paid people who have just wasted all their rent money on Chalupas and PSP games.
Classic blaming the victim. I mean, let’s face it, if she didn’t want to get raped, why did she wear such a short skirt? Hello!
Steal From the Poor to Give to the Rich
You’d think that the poor were the ones with all the power, forcing the unassuming (and unwilling) rich to take more and more money.
Anyone who takes even five minutes to listen to the Occupy Wall Street protestors (preferably not an edited, flash clip on Fox News) will see that their message has nothing to do with demanding more money go into their pockets. It’s about changing the legislation that has been bought by the rich to benefit themselves. Unless you believe that wealth is an unfettered pass to do anything (possibly, you might), these protests should seem reasonable.
Even if you aren’t 100% in line with Occupy Wall Street, I bet you agree that a system that rewards wealth by punishing poverty is unfair. Unjust even.
The fact that certain powerful interests attack and undermine the message of the protestors is no surprise. The rich are going to protect their honeypot. Far more confounding is the backlash against the protestors that is coming from within the so-called 99%.
Part of that is simple political allegiance. Hippies and liberals are protesting something? Gotta oppose them.
But, I think there is an even deeper psychological reason for the opposition.
Oh, To Be Ruled
There is a portion of society that, despite their lip service to democracy and equality, still yearns for the reign of kings. They steadfastly maintain that some men are just better suited to lead, to guide, to have power; simply better. They believe in the rich’s superiority: intellectual, physical, moral.
Among a portion of the rich, this conviction might as well be common sense.
When the poor hold this notion, however, it is because they believe that poverty is just a temporary situation for them, a holding pattern until their talent or genius is recognized and rewarded. They don’t count themselves as among the poor. For other people, ‘poor’ is a trait; for them, ‘poor’ is a condition.
This is why the poor can so often be convinced to vote against their best interests. Granted, often it’s because of an appeal to their religious values, but mostly it’s that they don’t believe the Poor’s interests are their interests. What’s good for the Rich is good for them because, like a character in a Disney fairy tale, they are secretly royalty, their noble lineage merely waiting to be unearthed in the third act.
The Beverly Hillbillies
I’ve had a discussion with a family member who expects to be rich. This expectation, they openly admitted at the time, is the motivation for their alignment with conservative fiscal values. They want to know that if (when) they become rich, their hard-earned wealth will be protected from the greedy, grubby hands of moochers. I suppose the logic of this is somewhat sound.
Except, getting rich in America through hard work, moxie and determination has about the same odds as striking black gold. Sure it happens, but it shouldn’t be counted on, especially with a deck loaded so impressively against the working class. Through various mediums, we are fed a constant diet of wealth and success stories that lead many to believe that any one of us is just a fat ass or YouTube video away from becoming the next Kim Kardashian (famous and wealthy for no reason at all).
I’m not suggesting that we should all collectively stop aspiring to success. My project is rooted in an ambition for success (literary, if not financial). Historically, America has been the nation that encouraged innovation and pursuing your dream, and that’s an admirable legacy. The Occupiers are fighting to return this country to a place where such ambition has a legitimate chance of paying off.
Freedom and Ambition
Personally, I don’t define success as wealth, but rather as freedom to pursue one’s ambitions. I think it’s a mistake to put too much focus on building up wealth. The only sure fire way to be rich is to redefine the word to mean contentment with what you have. Not complacency that immobilizes or strips you of ambition, but satisfaction that what you own is sufficient and anything more would be a pleasant but unnecessary bonus.
If I ever achieve great wealth – and I don’t think anyone could argue that I lack the ambition or will power to succeed – it will represent an advantage, not a validation of my worth.
That said, I recognize that money can provide personal freedom. In fact, the very root of Conservative Capitalist philosophy is that a thriving, productive society provides greater freedom for its members. ‘Freedom’ is the favorite word of any respectable capitalist.
But, the past 30 years have shown how that freedom can be stripped away from the poor (even the middle class). Those with influence feed the lower classes a steady diet of “Unregulated Free Markets equal Freedom” and then dazzle the proletariat with visions of sudden success stories on “American Idol” and “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” always drawing attention away from the fact that for every overnight millionaire there are a thousand people trapped in poverty.
The wealthy are attempting to recontextualize and distort the Occupy Wall Street message into a capital ‘R’ Romantic horror story of hordes of poor banging at their gates, threatening to storm in and loot. And the take away message is, “If they can do it to us, they can do it to you. No one’s safe.” It is an exquisitely told tale, but it’s more Grimm than grim.
There is a chasm of difference between asking for handouts and demanding that the playing field be leveled. It requires tremendous audacity to claim that American citizens demanding legislative reform are the equivalent to panhandlers on the street corner.
But this disinformation is spreading, largely because a hefty portion of the lower and middle classes have sworn to die for their king.
Unfortunately, if they get their way, they very well might.
All’s Fair In…
I’m not arguing that Capitalism should be abandoned (though, I have my problems with it), or that the rich should be punished for being rich. I am, like literally everyone else, only saying that if we are going to have a capitalist society, it should be fair, not rigged in favor of the rich (or any particular group). Some will argue that the system isn’t rigged at all, that what we’re seeing is just the natural free progress of Capitalism. But it’s hard to look at the distribution of income data and not see a manipulating hand.
A fight for financial equality is not about forcing the rich to give up their legally earned money. It’s about eliminating the loopholes and legislative padding that continues to widen the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. It is indefensible that the income of the top 1% went up 275% over the past 30 years while the 20% of households at the bottom only went up 18%.
If those numbers seem reasonable to you, may I suggest a life of serfdom?