Thereâ€™s a tremendous amount of noise being made about the response to the disaster of the Gulf Coast, some of it even true. I even plan to rant a bit myself, but not just here. Check back for a later post when Iâ€™ll go ape shit on somebody maybe, but for now, this is more of a philosophical ramble.
The hard core conservative base that seems to have our President where they want him seems to strongly advocate rugged individualism and self reliance. Both virtues, no doubt about it. But like any virtue either one can be overdone to the point of becoming harmful. For those with both intelligence and compassion (the intelligence to know what the word â€œcompassionâ€ means, most importantly) the situation in my country in the past few decades has deteriorated steadily into that very state of rugged individualistic pathology. Remember the 1980s? The â€œMeâ€ decade, they called it. Michael Milliken, junk stocks, â€œHe who dies with the most toys winsâ€, even â€œShit Happens.â€ Those things didnâ€™t start out being bad, but the longer they were around the worse people made them. Some background.
â€œShit Happensâ€ is true enough. In this case, â€˜shitâ€™ is another way to say â€˜stuff.â€™ Some people donâ€™t like words like â€˜shitâ€™ but thereâ€™s a great deal of it loose in the world. In fact, itâ€™s fair to say we wouldnâ€™t be here without it. I think this phrase goes back to the origins of my generation, which was rising to power in those days. I think Paul Simon was writing about us when he penned the song Born at the Right Time. I know I was, and so were most of us. Even in the 1980s we had to remind ourselves that some things are bad, and they just happen and thereâ€™s nothing we can do about it. We keep forgetting that lesson though, witness hurricane Katrina, which is one big â€˜ol bunch of shit that happened to the Gulf Coast. Worse, by far, than any terrorist attack could possibly be. New Orleans these days is literally full of shit, as it happened to bubble up out of the sewers for a week. Thatâ€™s one thing.
Junk Bonds and Penny Stocks? Not a thing wrong with them, until somebody uses them as a means to rob his clients. Those clients were forgetting, in spite of the bumper stickers, that â€œshit happens.â€ These stocks will always go up. Iâ€™m only paying three cents a share, what could go wrong? A portfolio-churning, weaseling, conniving thief of a stockbroker, thatâ€™s what could go wrong. And thatâ€™s another thing.
The â€œMeâ€ decade? Well, thereâ€™s not a thing in the world wrong with taking care of yourself so far as you are able. But, can you get petroleum out of the ground, refine it into motor fuel, and put it into the automobile youâ€™ve built yourself from scratch? No? Then I guess you need other people. See, you might be involved in some way with building the automobile. You donâ€™t build them from scratch, but maybe the factory you work in does. You might keep the books, program the robots, or detail the paint job, but youâ€™re involved in making the car. Somebody else is involved in getting petroleum out of the rocks and into the refinery, then converting the petroleum to gasoline and other fuels. Actually, to make the car and fuel it, even one car, takes thousands and thousands of people all working together. I thought at the time that the â€œMeâ€ thing was an aberration. Oops. My generation was largely misled as they came of age. Dang â€˜em.
Finally, a glimmer of hope for those following us Boomers through life. Remember that the phrase is â€œHe who dies with the most toys wins.â€ That doesnâ€™t say a thing about money. Just â€œtoysâ€, which means any nice stuff that our parentâ€™s never had. Really, itâ€™s that simple, so if you make sure we have â€œtoysâ€ weâ€™ll let you keep more of your money. I am not making this up.
And it is my generation which is responsible for the past two Presidents. Kennedy had affairs, but he knew how to be discreet. Clinton has one intern go down on him and we all get to hear about it. Iâ€™ll bet JFK is laughing, wherever he is, at how inept Clinton was at philandering. And GW Bush? Heâ€™s referred to as the â€œCEOâ€ president, but any CEO who was as sloppy as he is would get fired by the board before he could do any more damage. Like so many, George fails to see the importance of actually doing good works, as opposed to always looking like youâ€™re doing good works. Add that to his well-known C average grades, and youâ€™ve got the picture of a man who will appear, and probably, like all Presidents, be disconnected somewhat from ordinary people.
So when disasters occur, be they natural or manufactured by Saudi Arabians, a president whoâ€™s not the brightest will be at a disadvantage when he responds. Itâ€™s reasonable to expect some poorly thought out choices. Where, for instance, are those WMDs we invaded Iraq to do away with. (Obviously our attack was extremely successful.) And why not keep reading a childrenâ€™s book when the country is under attack, and why not take the Secret Serviceâ€™s word on where to go when you finally leave the school? Leadership, to many a Boomer, is all image and words. Substance is for sissies! When the hurricane devastates one of your major cities, chop some more brush. Hey, itâ€™s your brush, and the city is only yours in name. Got to take care of yourself, right?
But now hereâ€™s the really hopeful part. Thanks to a disaster of immense proportions, much larger, as I said, than the disaster of 9/11, it has finally become obvious to all but the most obtuse of my co-generationists that itâ€™s important for people to watch out for each other, and even take care of each other from time to time. Thatâ€™s why the progressive income tax was introduced: the rich can better afford to pay than the rest of us, so they are taxed at a higher rate. The money goes to programs that benefit all of us, including the rich but also including the very poorest, so weâ€™re all better off because the income tax is progressive. Except the rich, who are no worse off than they would have been if they werenâ€™t taxed at all. The inheritance tax is a similar way to keep the wealth spread around. (Unless your estate will be worth $750,000.00, you arenâ€™t going to be paying any tax after you die.) What taking half of large estates does is ensure that the wealth keeps circulating and not piling up in a few families’ money vaults. Gasoline tax? It pays for the roads. Sales tax? It pays for your local services. Some things paid by taxes include the National Guard, bridges and tunnels, traffic signals, cops, roads and highways, street lights, programs to aid farmers, flood control projects, the entire military, and so on for a long, long way.
Iâ€™ve been dismissed on religious grounds (did I throw a single religious reason in that paragraph?), on the grounds that Iâ€™m hopelessly naÃ¯ve (nyah nyah) and simply thrown away as a damned liberal (which Iâ€™m not particularly.) But, if you will, hereâ€™s a religious reason to go ahead and pay your taxes: Jesus said you should. Jesus also said to sell your valuables and give the money to the poor, but Iâ€™m less inclined to follow that bit of advice. What the religious right thinks Jesus said is quite a bit different from those two ideas, but then Iâ€™ve never been a fundamentalist, so maybe my reading of the text is flawed. For the record, I seriously doubt it. But, religion aside, which is where I prefer to keep it anyway, events have shown quite clearly why we should concern ourselves with the welfare of our fellow humans. Hurricanes in Mississippi; earthquakes in California; tornadoes in Okalahoma; drought all over the place; landslides, avalanches, forest fires; the world is a dangerous place, and we survive and thrive by helping each other survive and thrive. Simple, but for a lot of my generation, pretty difficult to grasp. Our loss.