hair scrunchies: set of five, 79 cents
Can you truly recall the feeling of being nauseous? How about a severe headache, like a migraine? Can you put yourself in the emotional position of being hopelessly depressed? To do so, or at least to understand these Exceptionally Bad experiences, has been a fascination of my latter-day rehabilitation.
Nausea is nature's dealbreaker: when you constantly feel like barfing, there is little else you can do. Migraines, depression, deep-set hunger and cold can actually drive you temporarily crazy; you can say things you don't actually mean, you can watch your body doing things you didn't ask of it. You have effectively drowned in your situation and have no means of thinking outside it.
I mention this because I went to one of the most depressing stores in America today - the Walmart in Hudson, NY - and was overcome with snobbery and derision. These shoppers, these unthinkably obese, racist goons buying power-steering fluid by the case, are going to be lifelong obstacles towards electing people who will change this country for the better. They will vote for Hillary when somebody kills them, lops off their hand, and makes the dead hand pull the lever in the voting booth.
This judgment races through my brain within 5 milliseconds of being around these other Americans, and yet it shows an incredible lack of empathy, supposedly the benchmark of being progressive or liberal. These people could be living lives I once had but now cannot fathom: being one radiator leak away from no car and no job, chancing five years without health care, working all week without seeing their family. They could be caring for an elderly aunt who no longer recognizes them, worried about a son who won't stop coughing, driving through the rich neighborhoods of Greenport and Claverack and wondering why life is so patently unfair.
They make decisions because they can't see out of their particular situation, but what gives me any stranglehold on perspective? I went to prep school, graduated from a Public Ivy, hobnobbed in Manhattan in the literary elite, then moved to California to invent stories. I'm held together by a strong family, but owe vast swaths of functionality to an antidepressant and speed.
I'm trying to keep my side of the street clean. The drugs and therapy were implemented to erase misery, and now I'm trying a Buddhist perspective to actually attain well-being - but I also know my financial position allows for such introspection.
It's amazing: you try to see things from other people's point of view, but more often than not, you forget that YOU'RE the one with the flawed glass. It is you that has the migraine, driven slightly crazy by vague nausea, and while your feelings run strong and you're utterly convinced that you've attained the moral high ground, your perspective ends mere millimeters from the tips of your fingers.
Posted by Ian Williams at October 1, 2007 10:26 PM
Applause for both Ian and Kent. One of the hardest challenges of my humanity and my faith is the instruction to accept "the least of these" as my equal and as my brother or sister... I'm talking about people I find repellent physically, morally, intellectually, or any other way. It's something I work on daily and pray for often.
We recently moved from an Ivy "college town" to a blue-collar, honky-tonk beach community in a nearby suburb. I love it there. I went to mass in the little local church for the first time this Sunday and was floored by people's simple appreciation of one another. Socioeconomically, the population is all over the place, from one-parent families in Chapter 8 low-income housing, to truck drivers (one keeps her huge rig at the end of our street), to professional white-collar types who, like us, love the waterfront and the low-key atmosphere. Talk about your slice of American life. My loquacious neighbor down the street, a single mom who lives with her custodian boyfriend, is in between jobs (as an electrician) at the moment, says "she don't got no..." etc. (to me! the anal-retentive editor!), and smokes like a chimney and wants to drive race cars. I thoroughly enjoy our front=porch gab sessions.
When you step outside the rarefied air of the wealthy and the highly educated .01 percent of this country's population, you get a lesson in difference. If you're lucky, you begin not only to tolerate but to appreciate people as individuals with value systems you might not personally embrace, but at least can comprehend and maybe even respect on some level.
Interesting post . .
I think it is folly to believe that folks from the middle class are somehow pissed about the unfairness of life. That's a pretty self-centered view. Do you watch TV and bemoan the unfairness that other people have more money and resources than you? Then what makes anyone believe that Cooter down at Wal-Mart look at you and harps on such idiocy?
Grumphreys: In all seriousness, please tell me what the government does well? I grant you that there are many programs that have fabulous ambitions and goals, but those programs are often filled with such fraud and abuse that I fear it often defeats the ideals. For example, all the programs to help uninsured kids are so full of abuse that the whole program ought to be shelved and re-engineered. I suppose the USPS works OK until you compare its budget + prices to private carriers. I suppose most states' Transit Authority works ok if you remove the mafia and kickbacks. I suppose the military works OK if you remove the $500 hammers and the torture of innocents. I suppose Public Works is OK until you give more than 2 seconds of thought to the Big Dig in Boston.
Do you start to see why most hard-working, over-taxed people harbor a general distruct of government and politicians who espouse more and more entitlements -- both Repubs and Dems!? Hell, Bush has increased spending by zillions of buttloads and now Hillary wants to give $5000 to each baby born in USA!
By the way, I often shop at Wal-Mart because it is so convenient and it is cheaper. I am not middle class or even low class (financially), but I prefer Wal-Mart or Target to most other stores. Hell, for all of you that have read the book Millionaire Next Door (?), you know that most wealthy people get wealthy and maintain their wealth by being frugal and penny-wise, not super-talented or super-lucky. Sure, if my wife and I have a hankering for a special meal, we'll grab some items from Fresh Market. But, believe it or not, the Chiquita bananas at Wal-Mart taste just as good as the bananas at Fresh Market (for 80% of the price).
This food for thought was provided to you w/o the abuse of illegal immigrants or Asian children.
DFB n' T, Re: government - What Ian said. roads, schools, water, public parks and spaces, the medicaid safety net, responsible international diplomacy, and yes, environmental stewardship. Not arguing that gov't is doing a great job at all of those, but who else can fill that role? Its our responsiblity to put the best people we can in charge of these things and hold them accountable.
if you're arguing that big business is just this efficient well-oiled machine that is much less prone to fraud and abuse than government, i disagree. i think that all large institutions are vulnerable to weaknesses of human nature (read: self-interest). i'd point to CEO salaries, rampant consolidation, controlled markets, and the current use/abuse of illegal immigrants and asian children as our international corporate workforce as good examples of this weakness in the private sector.
hell, before child labor laws were enacted, you had american 10 year olds working 16 hour days in coal mines. now inequities like this have moved beyond our radar, but they still exist.
Re: USPS - are you talkin' sh*t about ben franklin? just kiddin'
Great blog today Ian. Funny- I shopped at WalMart yesterday so I could maximize the value proposition- because that's what Walmart is about. Until Americans care more about each other than value- WalMart will continue to kick ass and take names...but I digress.
"These shoppers, these unthinkably obese, racist goons buying power-steering fluid by the case, are going to be lifelong obstacles towards electing people who will change this country for the better."
I think the other side could just as easily have said the same. The truth is that no one is representing real America anymore. While the right is stirring up the "folks" in WalMart, the left is doing the same in the inner cities and union meetings. No one is less guilty or innocent than the other. I'm glad to see that we can step back and "Keep It Real" from time to time.
As to government- are we talking national or local? Not to get on my high horse but roads, schools, trash and water are implemented and administered locally (with some federal funding at times). Regarding federal government I give you:
The Good- The US Treasury
The Bad- The IRS
The Ugly- FEMA, GSA
Tell me your three..
And I have read both The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind. Both are kind of hokie- but the basic premise is not that millionaires are penny pinchers. It is that they don't live in the lap of luxury and are fairly ordinary people. No second homes, no fancy cars, etc. It is more a commentary on consumption than anything.
I think it's hilarious that you liberals (no, I'm not a conservative; I despise Bush far more than I despised Clinton) are crowing about our public roads. You do realize that governmental subsidies (that is, our tax dollars) built those roads in the face of overwhelming market barriers, resulting in several "bad" things: air pollution, large carbon footprints in most everything we buy, outsourcing of jobs to countries that employ child labor and the huge growth of multi-national corporations (including the terrible Wal-Mart).
Why? Since interstates were built by subsidy and condemnation come Hell or high water, it's now cheaper and easier than it would otherwise be to ship stuff from China across the U.S. to the East Coast. For all we know, if the government hadn't spent our money on six lanes of blacktop all over America, we might have flying cars and flourishing local grocery stores.
There's lots of private garbage carriers.
There's no reason, other than government granting itself a monopoly, that private companies couldn't deliver clean water more efficiently at a lower price.
Public schools are a joke. Bush throws more and more money at them while acknowledging that our kids are falling further and further behind the rest of world despite the federalization of education and all the federal taxpayer money thrown at the problem. Give people (and companies, who would love the good PR of helping out poor families) a 100% tax credit for school expenses and complete school choice and you'd have schools actually paying attention to the consumers (the parents and the students) instead of the politicians that give them their budgets. This would include some schools allowing prayer, others not, and freedom of textbook choice and curriculum (a known bugaboo for our man Ian).
Public health is a joke, too. Before Medicaid and Medicare, people could actually see a doctor in their own homes for a reasonable price. Give individuals freedom to choose their own medical providers (on an equal footing with employers by giving them a 100% tax credit for health insurance and medical costs). Then insurance companies would pay attention to the consumer rather than the employers and the various governmental agencies they convince to twist the market to their advantage.
Social Security is a ponzi scheme doomed to failure. I can manage that 15% of my paycheck much better than some bureaucrats sitting in Washington. And if I waste it, I won't have done any worse than the feds and their SS IOUs.
The largest polluter in the U.S.? The federal government, and EPA can't touch it. And if someone pollutes your property, you can't sue. You have to wait for some agency to decide if they'll pursue it. If the polluter has political capital, you'll be out of luck.
"Responsible international diplomacy"? We have troops in almost every country around the world, building worldwide resentment against our government, and therefore us. We funded regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq then later attacked those same regimes. We got involved in Vietnam, Korea, etc. We supported fascist regime after fascist regime for decades since they opposed leftist groups. We've refused to trade with Cuba, causing the Castro regime to turn completely to the USSR/Russia have no incentive to change.
Don't you realize that when you give the government this much control because you trust your Democrats to do the right thing, they're going to misuse it just as much as the Republicans will when they get the reins of power? Government sucks.
TJ - i can hardly see why your list of US foreign policy blunders is an argument against the need for "responsible international diplomacy" - if anything it just shows how badly we need it. especially now.
as for the rest of your points: no-one is crowing that gov't does a bang-up job at everything. yes, dealing with bureaucracies turns people against gov't. my main point was that govt still has an important role to play, and its our responsibility to hold our elected officals accountable at every level.
you seem to think that private enterprise as a less corruptable, more efficient alternative to gov't in all of these areas. the fact is that private enterprise has an equally spotty record or worse when it comes to corruption, waste, and short term thinking.
TJ says: "Don't you realize that when you give the government this much control because you trust your Democrats to do the right thing, they're going to misuse it just as much as the Republicans will when they get the reins of power? Government sucks."
I see the prevalence of your attitude as a big reason we have had the last 8 years of Bush and Co. Thanks for that. Can you honestly say to yourself that a Gore presidency would not have been vastly different? government sucks only to the extent that we allow it to suck!
The best international diplomacy for our government is avoiding the excessive entanglements Washington warned about. Try getting a Republican or Democrat to do that these days.
Private enterprise would be significantly less corruptible than our government, or at least the effects of its corruption would be less significant, if we didn't have a government that felt the need to regulate every aspect of our lives and give so many advantages to certain select companies. If we had a very limited government that simply protected our rights, private enterprise couldn't do anything to us that we didn't allow it to. And if it tried we would have a remedy: law enforcement or the courts. Government can lock you up, take your property or execute you if it feels like it. It is simply blind, unthinking power.
Clinton bombed Afghanistan for no good reason. Do you think that might have angered right-wing Muslims? Clinton supported the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Gore would have done any number of things that are unconstitutional and would have infuriated me. And I already said I despise Bush more than Clinton. If your best argument is that "My man is the lesser of two evils," you're still supporting evil.
Bush, Clinton, Gore; they're all symptoms of the disease of an overly powerful government and us citizens who constantly allow it to spend our money, take our rights and kill us.
Don't blame me for Bush. I opposed the wars from the start. If more people had my attitude about government, maybe we would be able to stop Bush and his ilk. Your Dems haven't put up much of a fight, even when they've had the majority in BOTH HOUSES of Congress. They talked big about the war, then caved when they came into office. As I knew they would. And don't talk to me about filibusters and vetoes. If they had the willpower they'd keep proposing bills to get us out instead of rolling over every time.
Wal Mart bothers me because it generates consumption of things that are wasteful or excessive particularly on a class of people who feel like they are buying prosperity.
Everyone should pursue the best deal they can on a case of motor oil.
People who should be buying bananas for 80 cents on the dollar are actually buying Little Debbie Nutty Bars (which are exceedingly delicious, BTW).
Then you get into the excess: A giant shopping cart filled with the next cheap floor sweeper, a 'shown on TV' crappy knife that can cut through a cinder block, a spatula specially made for the Foreman Grill, a new type of green cleaner, etc. This is the kind of cheap crap that I hate to see the working class go bust on. No, I don't think they should be saving up for a Rolex, but the "cheap crap from China" mentality of many purchases makes me sad, or nauseous also.
As far as government, I work for the government, in highway design. The Feds, the state, local.
There is a bureuacratic and Kafkaesque quality to the job. When things are planned, then you have to go through an amazing process to build or widen a highway or transportation facility.
When things are unplanned, such as a Minneapolis bridge collapse or an earthquake, or in my specialty, a landslide, you are allowed to suspend normal rules and hoops. You typically do not do due process on the project. This does not mean that it is better or lesser quality. It usually means the job is cheaper or faster.
Well, no shit, you got to suspend all the rules.
I am free to suspend competitive bidding during an emergency. I am also free to say "I am giving you this project, if you overcharge, fuck up or in any way embarass the DOT, I will be sure that you do not work here again." This is assuming that I don't take kickbacks or something.
The Big Dig in Boston was a politically rammed project that was too complex for the time given. A big simple mistake from start to finish, but so was the freeway that it replaced. In my opinion, there should be more time and waste on planning for government projects. Hopefully it would kill the political rush in most cases and we could really evaluate the impact.
Oh just to push the topic a bit and get labelled with irony or as a hypocrite: Stop driving. Stop driving to Wal Mart every day or to get a video, or some smokes, or three afterschool programs or whatever the hell it is you do for five trips a day.