The following is a follow up post to: How do we sleep while our beds are burning?
Being Poor in America
$7.25 an Hour, that’s minimum wage in the United States in case you’re not familiar. For a bit of conversation that translates loosely to 5.31 euros or 4.62 pounds. In the United States it is the wage that is federally mandated for anyone working. If you are getting paid below this amount, it must be under the condition that you are making tips. I’m writing this in a sort of response to a post I wrote nearly a year ago about the American System, it’s collapse, and where I thought it might be headed. I suppose one might think of it like a yearly check up on the American world view, infrastructure, and economic situation. I suppose it also serves as a way for me to feel satisfied with my assessment of the situation nearly a year ago and the continued degradation that has occurred. It’s final purpose is as a reminder to myself. To understand that at the end of the day I’m not the only human being that feels the financial burden out there. It’s isn’t going to be a flash, there will be no puff of smoke. Slowly but surely just as the Roman empire descended into nothing more than a chapter in history so too will the American hegemony.
Consider the following journal of what it’s like living with nothing more than $7.25 an hour, and what it’s like feeling helpless to change that.
Screaming, that’s what wakes you up on a Tuesday morning. Your sister has woken up ready to go to another day of public high school. Your parents tried their best, making sure that it was at the very least a magnet school. The school has descended in quality as of late however; The staff was reassigned to bolster other failing schools in the district and the school board had been pressuring the school to let in more students. The school knows that it can barely handle the load it has now, but ultimately as a public school they can do nothing but comply. The school’s resource officer was removed and it’s disciplinary assistant principal was reassigned all in the name of making sure there was enough money to go around. The number of fights has increased, and the grades are dropping. Today; however, it isn’t the condition of the school that has sparked the anger. No, instead, this fight was over there not being any food in the house. We’re not talking about issues such as not having any food that taste good, we’re not talking about not having a bag of potato chips. We’re talking about the fact that there is NO food in the cabinets, the refrigerator, or really anywhere in the house. It’s the last day before the next set of two week checks have to role in, and you’ve been living off of food from the fast food restaurant you work at. You can’t file for food stamps because someone in the family makes enough to disqualify you. They call it the Lower Middle Class, you just call it living in a swamp with a crumbling house.
You have three cars, which is incredibly impressive. A few months before, when you had only the one car you managed to pay off, you had been thinking of trading it in. Thankfully someone in the family is resourceful enough to scour the area for a deal to get two relatively new cars for only 20,000 for both. It’s a lot of money, but the two cars combined would likely make for the one car payment you had been making before. You feel rich again, like you’re actually part of society. Let’s ignore the fact that taking them out is a burden of gas, and the tank is almost always running on empty. Life isn’t impossible, and it would be foolish to imply that it was, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful.
You go to bed every night hoping that someone in the HR department of the 10’s of companies you sent a resume to today actually read yours; instead you know in truth the chances of that are quite slim. You’d bee thinking of adding a few hidden buzzwords to the mix to hopefully get the automated systems to begin to actually suggest your resume. You don’t have to work until 10 today, as your shifts are a little odd. Not quite second shift, but not really first shift either. It’s nice for those days when you want to sleep in a little longer, but painful when you realize that for a day’s work you’ve really only managed to acquire 5 hours. Despite working 5 days a week, you only manage to walk away with 30 hours. You’d pick up a second job, but you already don’t make enough time to send out your resume as it is.
I suppose if one isn’t too dull, they can easily put together that this is how I’ve been living for the past 4 months. I graduated from college with my bachelors in Computer and Information Technology, even making a 3.05 GPA. I participated in extra curricular activities and volunteered where I could. In the end though, I’m living in my room at my parents home, only surviving because they aren’t forcing me to pay rent. I am alive and well to most standards; There is enough food to get by most of the time, but that isn’t the horror that keeps me up at night. In 3 months, starting in December of 2011 I have to start paying back those college loans. They aren’t pretty either.
At the time, I thought for sure that taking out 120,000 in loans for 3 years of Education at the premier Engineering college in the United States, and the top Technology school in the United States. At the time it seemed like a genuinely good idea. To go out to an out of state school, pick up a degree in a field that you feel some amount of passion for, and go out into the real world to get a job. Besides everyone has told you not to worry about the money,the key is the continuing of your education. They were wrong, and now, due to my own lack of foresight, I sit on top of a One hundred and twenty thousand dollar student loan that is actively accumulating interest. They might very well have been the best years of my life, but I will be paying for them.
I think the thing that bothers me most though is that I’m not alone in this.
Where we’re at
Even the local news stations have begun to pick up on the notion that student loan defaults are on the rise.
If the statistics are to be trusted, than the amounts are at a high that hasn’t been seen in 10 years. I suppose in retrospect to the early 90’s and late 80’s it’s a blessing. I fear; however, that as the job market continues to saturate that number will climb yet further. The operations of groups like for profit colleges, exploiting those who genuinely want a higher education, while offering little of quality in return is almost sickening. The sad truth is that there has been nothing put in place to stop them. The saddest thing is this notion that if a student qualifies for a public institution, that they should indeed be forced to pay for it. There has been this almost visceral reaction by groups like the tea party that seem to insist that using taxes to pay for anything but senatorial blow jobs be strictly off limits. It is fascinating to watch this moment towards anti taxation, not understanding the basics of societal function. There seems to be this naive belief that a form of rampant social Darwinian society be allowed to take place. Highlighted all the more by things like this popping up in the right wing rhetoric. It’s not something that changes the direction of the wind, but it is a signal of how things are breaking down.
On one side, you have folks like myself. I think that it is the social responsibility of every human being to work towards the betterment of society in addition to ones self. I suppose it sounds like pointless tripe, and perhaps a better way to explain it might be this: We can no longer worry about the individual. Humanity does not continue on heroes, it continues on society’s back. An individual can die, but society must carry on. The inherent selfish nature of not wanting to be taxed because of “hard work” is mind blowing to me. I realize that somewhere deep down there is this lizard brain belief that if I pee on that tree, than everything around that tree is mine. This isn’t a world where we can maintain that sort of philosophy. There are 7 billion people inhabiting this planet and it’s high time that we started to act like it. The only two real solutions that I see include either elimination of a substantial amount of the population to hold the old ways of “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” or adapting to the fact that we’re going to need to share resources. We’ve finally hit a point where the social monkey section of our brain has collided with the basic nature of greed and it is, in my belief, causing problems like the taxation situation.
For a society that is intends on becoming a part of the modern world, we don’t seem to want to tax our citizens all that much. In fact, the current taxation rate hasn’t been this low, save a small dip in the mid 80’s, since the Great Depression. This is made all the worse by the fact that we are currently engaged in two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a military spending budget that outperforms our closest competitor by nearly 2.5 fold. I am not saying that military spending is unneeded, but I will say that spending in such ridiculous amounts is having very little positive effects on the people who must hold up this burden. It is simply frustrating to realize that we are supporting a war the people did no ask for (Iraq) and being forced to live with the consequences. It is one of the very few times that I feel like I must credit George Lucas for his ability to write.
So this is how liberty dies? With thunderous applause.
–Padme (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones)
Poor, sick, and angry
It all comes back to that student loan thing. In the end, I’m going to be paying for several years in a public institution because we feel that while High School and Elementary should be available to the public, the poor need suffer to get into any higher level of education. That’s the issue at the heart of this isn’t it? That the rich do not want the poor to rise up to their level. I mean sure I could incite that it is some kind of generational gap, but the fact that the rich happen to be sitting in the Baby Boomer generation is only happenstance. There’s a fantastic talk by Tim Wise about the use of white privilege to divide the poor against each other. It’s a talk about how me managed to convince the poor whites that the problem in their universe was not the rich keeping them as slaves in everything but name, but instead it was a different race that was causing issues. We’ve managed the same trick here today, except instead of poor blacks we’ve convinced the poor that their enemy is Chinese workers or Mexicans crossing the border. The wealthy have allowed the middle class to sink to just the point above the grotesque conditions in which China and Illegal immigrants work, giving them just enough of a superiority complex to hate them for it.
We’ve been fighting our brothers for centuries, and I fear that this post will no more stem the tide of those actions than the thousands that have come before it. It is simply frustrating to sit here, seeing all of the pieces moving on the chess board and to know that you are nothing more than a pawn in an elaborate game. When your company fails it is because several incredibly complex computers and a set of determined investors has decided they would like to move on, to fight somewhere else. They don’t care about the individuals they hurt, only the end result of acquiring more wealth. Sure, they’ve let the poor and middle class into the game, letting them think that their 401k or investment plan is worth anything, and more so that to maintain that retirement plan they must allow the game to continue. 7.25 dollars / 5.31 Euros / 4.62 pounds, that’s the game. To capitalize on the fluctuating value of currency. They don’t play with the worth of individual companies, they are only stepping stones to the much bigger goal of international finance. To see if you can sell millions of dollars and manipulate the system so that you can translate it back into more money than you originally had. Genius really, to make use of inherent flaws in multiple currency values and manipulate them to better their own individual worth. Arbitrage is generally what’s it’s called and it is at the core of the game.
See that’s the thing about being that wealthy, human lives are nothing more than statistics. Sure you have a few noble gentlemen like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who are actively working to try and make the world a better place, but ultimately you can’t play at the game of Arbitrage without your actions impacting hundreds upon thousands of individuals. More importantly, they aren’t going to win this battle alone, as there are far to many folks out there (like say the Walton family?) who are working day in and day out to extract everything they can from the average worker.
I used to be like most normal poor Americans. When I heard people trying to tear down Wal-Mart, I was quick to jump to the companies defense, citing the fact that it brought in jobs, that it allowed the poor a place to shop. Looking back, I might have even agreed with the entire episode of Bullshit that Pen and Teller did on the matter. Today though, as I look at the far more damning issues associated with Wal-Mart, I am curious if I could hold the same position. There are countless reports that Wal-Mart might not quite be on the up and up, keeping unions out on policy, and constantly generating reports of fucking over their own suppliers. You see, the true crime of Wal-Mart has nothing to do with their front end activities. In most regards, they and target operate on an equal level of irritation. No, the true issue with Wal-Mart is how they will strong arm suppliers into terrible deals. They use their leverage to wipe out any other competitors a supplier might sell too and than slowly strangle them, demanding cheaper and cheaper products. You don’t even have to take my word on that one.
The backlash has been a country that slowly convinces itself that it must become a service economy rather than a manufacturing economy. In the process destroying small manufacturing towns (Or large ones in the case of Detroit). We’ve convinced ourselves that if we can’t compete with other countries in terms of producing things, than we’ll simply have to change what we produce to something more intellectual. The problem with this of course is that Chinese and Indian people aren’t exactly barbarians. It probably doesn’t help that we’ve all but decimated our own scientific endeavors in favor of turning those over to the private market. A private market which mind you has only reached space on a technicality. Meanwhile programs like the ISS are going to just kind of fall out of the sky because their entire budget is equal to less than one third of one year of military spending.
Sign after sign that the US hegemony has begun to decay, and we can only sit back and watch as we are slowly swallowed up by the world. But worry not, as those who are in power (namely corporate entities) need not worry about the fate of a nation like the Untied States. Putting aside issues that one might have with globalism, a corporate entity can operate happily out of the United States, and even create a massive disaster only to be slapped on the wrist for it. These are events that would easily get an individual labeled as not only a terrorist, but as a monster on par with the likes of the 9/11 hijackers. Yet for a corporation, they not only live on, but go to make some pretty impressive profits.
Yet here we sit…
We stand by happy to look at anything but the truth. Not willing to let the thousands of small puzzle pieces make the enemy as clear as day. One part of me would go on to say that perhaps the true enemy is not the rich themselves, but simply what they embody. That the human affiliation with greed has allowed the monstrosity of a society that we live in today to thrive. I’m sure that there are days and weeks that I certainly have it better than someone in a third world nation, and I am not foolish enough to believe that my situation is life threatening. Perhaps even willing to admit that the lack of threat is the exact problem. Is our tendency to live so comfortably numb what has sentenced us to this long and shallow death (the easy answer by the way is yes). We are not angry enough to change things, and that is the most dangerous facet of all.
We are taught that those who would bring violence against the government won’t only be put down, but that they were crazy to do so in the first place. That the tenacity to demand that the system be reviewed is tantamount to heresy. We’ve convinced the liberal poor to laugh at the Tea Party poor and vice versa. Not realizing that both sides are mad at the exact same problem. We’re not fighting different enemies, we’ve just been convinced that the problem lies in each other rather then than the puppet masters who control the strings. I realize that as I write this, I must come off sounding like another one of those crazy loons, but ask any man on the street. They will happily let you know that they know of these circumstances, that they are a mystery to no one. I swear some days, I think maybe it’s something they are putting in the water.
It would seem at least that our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and even the United Kingdom have caught on that not all may be right. There will of course be those who jump out of the woodwork to let you know that these actions were driven by failures of those rioting. I have to say this, a child misbehaving at the dinner table is poor parenting. An individual using chalk to ruin a brick wall is poor character quality. Systematic riots filled with looting and destruction is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong with your nations poor. People don’t light things on fire and steal just because they didn’t have somewhere better to be, or perhaps I should say the reason that they didn’t have somewhere better to be is because society as a whole has fouled something up.
I guess my point in all of this is that we are so willing to put the blame on the individual. That overwhelmingly it is the individuals responsibility to be “the better man” or the man that society wants them to be. This in my humble opinion completely discounts the societal responsibility that we all have.
The conversation reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague of mine some time ago, over the nature of who’s fault it is if someone is put to death. That if a man is killed (falsely) for a crime than who must shoulder the weight of responsibility? My colleague supported the position that ultimately the death of the man falls on the back of the society, that inaction by all of us is just as great a crime as the man who threw the switch. That it’s not simply the crew who did the investigation, or the judge who had the ruling, but ultimately it falls upon a society which would put a man to death for the wrong reasons. That in the grand scale of things it was the Society who murdered an innocent man.
I disagreed with him, stating that such things were the fault of only those directly involved. That the society could not have changed the outcome of the situation. Again, as I look back, I have come to realize that perhaps he was right. A society which allows a man to be put to death for any reason, but especially something like a false positive with a crime, is equally responsible for his death. We can not shirk our wrongs to cells and groups in the hope that we escape the prying eyes of history. It is no less wrong than having a society which allowed slavery to continue for centuries in the United States. We need to be willing to stand up and admit that there are things which fall upon the bounds of true societal responsibility. One man can’t be responsible for the circumstances and situations generated by a population of seven billion. To assign individual blame in a mechanism so much more complex than a single individual is intellectually lazy.
Did that man rob that loaf of bread? Yes he did. We can’t; however, stop there. There are thousands upon millions of factors that ultimately contributed to that situation, each of which were generated by society. I am not saying that the individual is free of any blame, simply that the burden is just as much shared by the society and culture in which he operates. It is no less lazy then saying that Hitler is solely responsible for the death of well over 12 million individuals during the Holocaust. There is an entire society in the works there that allowed that unspeakable atrocity to be committed. Hitler didn’t kill 12 million Jews, Gypsies, Disabled, and Gay human beings; German culture, Eastern European Culture, and even to a degree global culture allowed those deaths to happen. No, the man in Brooklyn in 1942 did not individually press the button that let gas pour into that chamber, but he existed in a culture that for whatever reason (didn’t know, German Fortifications, etc.) allowed it to happen.
That’s why events like the occurrences in Israel are all that much more concerning. Or the fact that we’re holding prisoners of war for 10 years without a trial. You know, I recall us getting pretty irritated with Vietnam for pulling the exact same thing. History is written by the victors, and I hope for the sake of the way the past looks upon this society that we win whatever war will crop its head up next, else we shall not be remembered fondly.
November 13th 2011
It’s the issue that I take with all of this. We’re not simply looking at fixing something like a road or a bridge. This isn’t going to be undoing the damage of 30 years of old people to the economy. We are looking at bumping into a moment when we need to seriously evaluate how we as humanity look at ourselves in the mirror. This is a lot larger than simply the United States and the sort of financial debacle that we seem to have found ourselves in. Hell, if statistics is to be believed than the US is in for it’s own set of food riots in under two years time anyway. I worry that when the time comes to look in the mirror, the reflection that stares back may not be something we’re comfortable with. The Corporations, the Misuse of Religion, Methods for keeping the population dumber, it’s all worrying to degrees that I can’t even speak to. The worst thing of it all is that this isn’t even some kind of conspiracy theory. I’m not even the raving loon who thinks that the CIA is scanning through a prefabricated tin foil hat. This is things that society knowingly accepts to be a problem and does nothing about.
We can’t just sit down and not look these issues in the eye. If we continue to ignore underlying problems in societal structure than when the time does come for us to actually speak to a species on the same intellectual level as ourselves (or perhaps greater) are we going to be able to think of ourselves as a “Moral” or “Just” people? Ignoring these issues, pushing them aside like I know everyone wants to do (And I say this as one of you, this isn’t fun stuff to think about) accomplishes nothing.
If the system is truly corrupt, and if anything I am saying has any sort of relevancy. If what is occurring can in any way be stopped or changed than we have every obligation to attempt to stop it. My pithy, grammatically poor writings on the internet are nothing compared to the goal of taking a very serious look at changes to the basic and underlying structure of human society. Even if we are just starting with the United States, we need to be willing to admit that things like Education Reform, Government Transparency and Operations, and Basic fundamental and Human rights have to be assessed. And that’s why I’ve asked in all of these postings to please spread the word. An uneducated fighting force is a worthless fighting force. We can’t fight a morally gray war on human civilized practices unless we know exactly what we’re dealing with. One man isn’t going to rise up and change the world. And while heroes like Martin Luther King or Gandhi are inspiring, ultimately they changed very little. It is the society they worked with which forced the re-imagination of human standards.
What I’m asking you to do is realize that IF you do actually want to make a difference. If you want to change to global Rich v Poor paradigm, you need to realize that this game has been going on for centuries. You are fighting the human impulse towards greed. It will take on new faces from Churches to Kings to Corporations, but ultimately it will always have the same resolve. You need to realize that they will turn those that should be your greatest allies into a most horrid enemy, and even when you think you’ve done it, you will discover that you’ve been getting used the entire time. Revolution rarely comes without blood, and I fear that a path towards change in humanity would be bloodier than anything before hand, but ignoring what is happening stains us all with crimes worse than murder.
We never abolished slavery, we just changed the shape of it. It’s still indentured servitude, it’s just that the master is different. Wage Slavery, controlling the poor and keeping them divided among themselves is no less a crime than importing villagers from Africa for 200 years. And while to some I imagine this sounds like the ramblings of a mad man, hell bent and angry with the world I can only hope to others that this is a message that rings true. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Ghandi said that during his time as a message for those with ideas to take action. Well I’m tired of not being the change I wish to see in the world, so I propose this. In two months time (Mid November if the clocks are to believed) we rally together.
I said in the previous post that I had no clue what needed to be done, a years time has given me a few ideas. A rally to restore sanity is nice, but we have some much bigger fish to fry. This isn’t just about the absurdity of politics or the media, this is about the state of human nature and if we are capable of changing fundamental flaws which corrupt and damage our social system. We are a species that has allowed greed to drive our exploration and our science, I am suggesting that factor be something far more noble. In two months time, I ask you and your friends or family to rally at whatever City capital you might have. I realize that trips to DC can be expensive and dangerous depending on how bad the muggings are that day (hah I made a funny). Set your Calendars for November 13th 2011. This will not be easy, and I expect the numbers to be discouraging, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to continue to sit back and watch knowing that humanity could be better than it is.
The purpose of the rally is simple, we need a head count. We need to figure out who would be willing to stand up and make changes to the world. We also need motivation and inspiration. If even 10 people came together and took pictures I would be more than happy to post them here; because, that’s 10 more people than we had before willing to stand up and change. You may choose to see this cause as whatever you wish, but I do know that even the greatest of snowballs starts with a single flake (ah see it’s funny because unique snowflake joke… I’ll stop). From there, we will coordinate (as I’ve spoken of before) attack methods against the current system. The flaws of the current system have left us comfortably numb, it’s time we wake up.
I need your help.