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Thursday, June 10, 2010

You're Not the Boss of Me

“You’re not the Boss of Me!” Now there’s an aphorism at least as powerful as “Live Free or Die.” This is a bit of folk wisdom I picked up while babysitting one of my nieces or nephews although its essence is something deeply embedded in any independent individual. The concept of personal freedom is at the very core of the American outlook on life—at least this is what we all tell ourselves. This is what the Tea Partiers and gun nuts (I’m sure that many people have dual membership in these two clubs) harp on and on about. “Get the government off our backs” is their main rally cry. No one wants the government on their back, or a monkey and no one likes having someone else be the boss of them, especially young children, the Tea Party folks, and morons like Sarah Palin—sometimes I get them mixed up.

Most sensible adults realize that having a boss is often necessary and having a government is definitely always required unless you plan on living in some sort of Road Warrior dystopia of complete and utter freedom (along with the freedom to be maimed, killed, raped, and worse by those evil biker dudes). No, not many people want governments, monkeys, or anything else on their backs unless they happen to like monkeys or things like affordable health care, mass transit, bike paths, reasonably-priced child care, public schools, and a somewhat equitable distribution of income.

Ah yes, an equitable distribution of income. Just the mention of this drives American conservatives into fits of apoplexy. They aren’t the least bit concerned with the ever widening gap between rich and poor in America. They feel that the richest people in the country are our most valuable asset, our most precious resource, the job creators as they often call them even if most of the richest few got that way through speculation and finance schemes without creating more than a handful of jobs. Many of them were, in fact, responsible for reducing American manufacturing jobs in our decades-long outsourcing program combined with the other program of creating the wonderful service economy, if by “service” you mean low-end work with little in the way of benefits or security.

Years ago my younger brother theorized that a healthy portion of the modern conservative movement in America was spawned by dead-beat fathers who resented the government compelling them to look after their offspring. I have seen evidence of this over and over again in various internet forums, mostly lower-middle class white males who bitch and moan because the government garnishes their wages so that their children aren’t completely wards of the state. This is the “tax” they really hate. This is the “government” they hate.

All total, America’s richest people couldn’t fill a single monster truck rally or mega-church, and certainly not a NASCAR race, yet they seem to have quite a few people fighting for them in their corner. In a series of clever and very cynical ploys the American Right has pretended to stand behind hot button issues like re-criminalizing abortion,* gun rights, and lower taxes. This last issue is one the rich really, truly believe in as no one hates taxes more than the filthy rich. Many of the Right’s staunchest supporters make so little that the taxes they pay are hardly worth mentioning and any further reduction would be meaningless in their overall prosperity. What most of the poorer right-wingers really need is access to public transportation so they don’t have to make a $350 car payment every month. Or they need affordable health care that conservatives don’t seem willing or able to provide. Or they need good public schools so that their children are on the same footing with the rich brats when it comes time for them to look for jobs. Instead conservatives give promises of getting the government off our backs.

Recently Conservatives have begun to use Greece as an example of why we don’t want to go down the path of European-style socialism but what they don’t tell you is that most of Greece’s problems stem from their own Tea Party movement in the guise of a lot of citizens not paying their taxes and thus not contributing to the system. This has caused not a little resentment in other European countries where most people do pay their taxes and who will now be forced to bail out the Greek teabaggers. Spain is also in fairly precarious shape right now and for a lot of the same reasons as Greece. Too much of the Spanish economy operates on this black level with people not paying federal taxes. What you don’t hear in Spain is anyone suggesting that they eliminate their excellent national health care system.

“Someone making billions of dollars doesn’t take away from my ability to earn a decent living” seems to be the mission statement of conservatives. The fact that corporate officers of publicly held companies now make something like 400 times as much as the workers doesn’t concern right-wingers, nor does the fact that the middle class has been steadily shrinking since Ronald Reagan (the Right’s poster boy) lowered taxes for America’s richest citizens. The Right seems to have invented a time machine that is taking America back to the early years of the 20th century when the country was ruled by robber barons and workers took whatever pathetic pay and benefits companies offered in a “take-it-or-leave-it” world in which the rich had all of the cards.

Conservatives constantly criticize America’s “elite,” which by this they mean just about any educated person. Conservatives excoriate powerless intellectuals, artists, and other fairly harmless citizens who dare to point out the lies and inconsistencies in rightist philosophy (if you can call it philosophy). By “elite” they never mention the true elite represented by a handful of fabulously wealthy individuals who are intent upon re-establishing a monarchical state and a return to the happy days of serfdom in America. It won’t be long now; we’re almost there. You have to admire their dedication to a singular cause.

The politics of the conservatives and libertarians—whatever the fuck “libertarian” means—would be silly if it weren’t such a destructive force in America. Most Americans have absolutely no idea of how well people live in most countries in Europe. I would argue that Spain has a much stronger middle class than we do in the USA. They have universal health care and an excellent mass transit system, and Spain was basically a third world country a generation ago. If you look at countries like Germany, France, and Holland (among others) it’s like they are living like The Jetsons compared to most communities in the US. In these countries they actually sit around and think up ways to make their societies better. Conservatives just expect things to get better as business improves. Although there is definitely an advantage to higher incomes it certainly isn’t everything in determining human happiness, especially once you get past meeting basic needs. We are way past that and Americans don’t rate very high on the happiness scale. Why not?

I think that a big part of the reason why people in such a wealthy country aren’t deliriously happy is that we base way too much of how we measure people on material status. I know this makes me some sort of hippy for even saying this but it’s the damned truth. It is very difficult to avoid sizing up others and having yourself measured by others on the basis of the stuff we own. I realize that this is probably the foundation of consumerism and therefore the backbone of capitalism and thus the whole purpose of human existence—at least according to conservatives—but as a species I think we should aim a little higher than just hoarding shit and trying to make our neighbors covetous.

Just the other day I was in a store at the mall and I was looking at a pair of flip-flops. I thought to myself, “These are kind of nice.” I looked at the price tag and they were 140€ (about $170) and I just thought, “Who the fuck needs a pair of flip-flops that cost more than what a lot of people spend on groceries in a month.” Not me, that’s for sure. Just on principle I couldn’t spend that on flip-flops. The whole point of flip-flops is that they are ultra-casual and as informal as footwear gets and now we have some genius turning them into a luxury item. It’s not as if they looked really comfortable or that they were going to last the rest of your natural life. There was no apparent difference in quality. They were just expensive for the sake of being expensive and thus exclusive. The next day I bought a pair of flip-flops that cost 4€. If one of the 10 Commandments is “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Goods” then another should read “Thou Shouldn’t Spend So Much Time and Energy Acquiring Crap Just so The Neighbors Become Covetous.”

I think that Western society wouldn’t come screeching to a halt if people decided we didn’t need to produce flip-flops that cost 140€ and I’m fucking positively certain that we could do without the top 1% controlling 43% of financial wealth in the country. It also seems obvious to anyone with an emotional age over anyone who no long needs a babysitter that someone has to be the boss in any society. We can either lend power to democratically elected politicians or we can relinquish all power to private enterprise as conservatives will have us do.

Good luck trying to wrestle that power back again once we hand everything over. Corporations would slit our collective throats in a New York minute if we gave them half a second and a fraction of an opportunity. I seriously doubt that BP would give two shits about this horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico if they didn’t think that at some point some government somewhere was going to kick their ass over it. Imagine a group of concerned citizens along the coast trying to petition BP to do something about the spill. The board members would laugh themselves hoarse. No, I’ll take government over the private sector when it comes to making a lot of decisions about my well being. Voting may not be the strongest weapon against forces out to do me harm but it’s about we have unless you are a member to that elite 1% of earners.

*How making abortion illegal again will strengthen our nation is really a head-scratcher for me. I don’t get it. Once again we see how so much of conservative dogma seeks to get us back to a place where we were years ago and hated so much that we literally fought in the streets to change things.

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