I read this article by Nicholas Kristof this morning and thought it was, as he often is, spot on. So I shared it on Twitter and, later, on Facebook. In short, the article’s about an American Dream now on life-support at best, and touches upon the issue of ever-increasing Inequality and its impact on a struggling, and sinking, middle-class.
Concern with where we’re going, both as a nation and as a civilization, is at the forefront of my thinking most days; the increasing influence of money, and our subtle transition from a Capitalist Economy to a Capitalist Society in seemingly so few years is both frightening and sad. It does not bode well for our future and, on a personal level, I cannot bear the thought of my children becoming a part of a present and future where the worth of absolutely everything – art, music, relationships etc. – is solely assessed in terms of monetary value. This idea of defining all things primarily in terms of equivalent material or monetary valuation to determine their worth is the hallmark of what I define as a Capitalist Society.
While I remain a fan of true Capitalism from a solely economic perspective – that is defined, simply, as a fair and level playing field where hard work is rewarded, often in the form of monetary or material gain – I am mortified by the application of that principle to every facet of life. You like playing guitar? Can you make money with that? What’s the most successful career? The one that makes the most money of course! You like to express yourself through drawing? Worthless, unless you become a famous artist. It is a society that rewards Fame for fame’s sake, rather than appreciating fame as being a natural by-product of having worked hard, created something worthwhile or contributed to the world simply because you were driven and passionate about something real for the sake of doing it in and of itself, and not just for the bucks and leverageable exposure.
Sadly, that thinking has become pervasive and, by many, accepted. And, in my opinion, it is becoming taught and encouraged as the acceptable norm by corporate lobbyists and corrupt politicians who no longer consider themselves to be public servants (as they are intended to be), but instead as an elite ruling class that defines their constituents as “The American People” as if they are a herd to be manipulated, a species apart from the shepherds of Washington. You even see in in the Common Core controversy, where private, for-profit companies create agendas and materials not to truly educate, but instead to make people ‘job ready’.
The purpose of education is NOT to get you a job: the point of education IS to provide one with a broad and well rounded foundation – a toolset – that enables and empowers us to think for ourselves, to explore, to be curious, and to live a rich and varied life. It is not to train us with a punchlist of company-mandated skills to make us just viable enough to gain access to our cubicle. To be so narrowly hyper-trained in such a way as to be only useful in context of a company’s need only enables us to be used until it becomes financially advantageous to discard us, but until then to keep us going so that we can make just enough to survive and maintain our existence as ‘consumers’, with the job of greasing the wheels of an economy predicated on consumption rather than creation while contributing to the tax base and gifting politicians and pundits a talking point because the unemployment rate has dropped by an (artificially manipulated) tenth of a percent in an election year.
(And – a shameless plug for me – these are all issues that drive my upcoming book Cogh and The Machine; A Children’s Book for Adults – which will be available via Amazon etc in a couple of weeks.)
But here’s the thing: when I shared the Kristof article, and when I talk about these things, some people seem to think that I am frustrated or interested because I’m having trouble. And I think that that response too is a symptom of a Capitalist Society.
You see, I heard from a friend earlier when I shared the NYT piece and he asked, quite sincerely and in confidence, “Are you doing okay? Having trouble meeting the bills?”
The answer to that is I’m actually doing fine – my business is good, the bills are met, the power’s on and the kids are fed. I don’t have a Lear jet, nor do I want one.
But the thing that strikes me most about that question, while well-intentioned, is that it throws light on a not too often admitted reality behind this issue of inequality: the assumption that you’re angry because you’re not getting your share.
And the implication of this is, of course, that if you were doing fine, you wouldn’t care.
In my case I care because it’s wrong. Morally, ethically – even spiritually. I care because it’s not fair or right. I care because businesses need to do the right thing by their people first, rather than seeing them as a necessary expense on the balance sheet. My friend Dan says I have nobility issues and, yes, some days I’d like to get my hopefully hypoallergenic horse, grab my sword and slay the Dragon.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing when I write – there’s no promise of reward for all of the hours of work, but as I’m a lousy rider and the Dragons keep hiding, it’s my way of doing right by this world using the tools I’ve been given.
But either way, I think, as a people – from a humanistic standpoint – beyond the new ‘values’ of our Capitalist Society, I think we have a moral obligation to fight this sort of injustice, and live our lives so that we make those around us better somehow. That’s what counts. That’s the salve. That’s what fills the hole that something bought won’t. It’s true.
I’m not suggesting that we redistribute wealth, or tax the rich. But I am suggesting that corporations, by and large, have become behemoths with undue influence and not a stitch of moral thread. Look around: of course productivity’s up! In an economy that will never truly recover, despite what the pundits on CNBC spout when they point to strangely massaged financial indicators, people know that if they lose their job there’s not another one around the corner. That’s why the real rate of unemployment is far higher than whatever they’re putting out there in the media – because people have given up and left the game, and those folks no longer get counted in the figures. And if you don’t get counted there, in the Capitalist Society, you don’t count at all, do you? So yes, there are job cuts, but the same amount of work still needs to be done – it’s just that last man employed gets to do it all – great for productivity, bad for humanity. He or she is scared, so they suck it up and keep working harder for fear that they too will join the great sea of those who are no longer employable. And so, yes, productivity goes up. The folks up top get richer while the folks at the bottom get a little more stressed.
So no, I’m not speaking up for personal reasons. I’m speaking up for moral ones. For the Should. For what we Should be doing. For what businesses Should be doing.
For what we all – every single one of us – Should be doing. But we’re afraid to stand out. To rock the boat. Not now, not in these tenuous, quietly fearful times, right?
You see, it’s not ok to ignore the bigger picture, just because you yourself are doing ok for the time being. People need to speak out, but as I’ve often said, if you’re treading water to survive, if your raise your hand – or fist – in protest, you go under. The people who make policy and profit know this. In a lonely connected world where we willingly, maybe desperately, reach out and make public our opinion or try to find friendship via the perceived sociality of blogs and social media knowing full well we’re being dumped and sorted into a hundred databases, it is becoming increasingly easy for giant corporations and collusive governments to manipulate the masses and keep them at bay.
But at the same time, even knowing that that is the reality we still must speak out. And we can’t just gripe on the internet – we must Do. We can’t go silent, and accept and bleat and eat until we are sheared. I get frustrated because not only in myself, but in every single person I meet I can see such great and unrealized potential. And as a writer I can easily imagine what a true and gentle Utopia we could achieve if we listened within and did as we Should.
So yes, we all should be concerned with inequality, even if we ourselves have yet to be stung by it. It is a moral and human obligation that is not, as it’s so often wrongly portrayed, some liberal mission to hand out a ‘free lunch’ to some mythical wards of the state – you know, that bunch of deadbeats living large on food stamps (rubbish), or socialism (get a dictionary). Instead simply the right thing to do. Something that transcends politics and profit. And, yes, corporations also share this responsibility – even above their responsibility to their shareholders. Within our Capitalist Society we have forgotten what is really important, and become, perhaps, too frightened or complacent to take a stand.
But I think that we must, and I’m not alone in my thinking. And I know that I, at least, Should.
I’m concerned with where we’re going, and trying to figure out a way to fix it before we get there.
If you have children, or a soul, you understand.
P.S. For those of you wondering, the irony of the Ayn Rand quote is not lost on me – but I’d suggest considering this perspective from the Washington Post ;)
This sooo makes up for a dreadfully long, soul-sucking day of media planning, proposal drafting and other apparently necessary crap – enjoy!
Here’s a confession: the Should has been muffled lately. I’ve been crazy busy – new clients, old clients, trying to get Cogh and The Machine (my current book) prepped for Amazon, along with new cover art, keeping up with kids, Jen – even the dog. Life becomes a fast blur, and I can’t believe it’s already Saturday. Again.
But I’m trying to stay true to my promise during all of this – and I’ve been taking little daily notes on what’s going on. To be honest, the Should is working, but it’s hard. Still, too often, I know what I Should do but am not doing it. Little things are easy, but I sense some awfully big decisions lurking in the depths – radical changes. I Should listen to them, but the reality is I have a family to take care of and these changes might affect us economically for awhile in a tough economy. So, to be honest, I am muting some of those Shoulds right now. But that’s a rationalization, right? I know I shouldn’t…
Anyway, below are some small thoughts from the week – daily mental Tapas, but recipes all using Should as a main ingredient. Enjoy!
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One of the things that’s begun to open up for me as I start to adopt my Should lifestyle, is not putting things off – especially what I’d like to say – my opinions and such that, normally, I keep to myself, or in close-quarters conversation. Quite frankly, I think that I keep some of them to myself out of what I used to think was a rational, practicality – a ‘don’t say that or it’ll come back to bite you’ mentality.
I guess that’s maybe a rationalized mentality. Perhaps living the Should life requires courage…
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I ran into a client and friend today, and he mentioned that “I must’ve been bored on Friday’, because he saw that I was active on Facebook. Actually, I wasn’t – I’d just hit the ‘post to FB’ setting on my twitter account – but it also shook me a little. I have friends, clients on FB – and I’m not actually all too hard to find on the ‘net anyway. So It also now occurs to me, for the first time, that there might be a danger in putting it all out there. True authenticity is dangerous, but also so much more powerful than a carefully curated veneer. And, maybe, it’s also self-filtering; maybe by being as straightforward as possible it’ll bring me closer to where I sense I need to be, and how I need to live. Yes, I know I Should do this – there it is again. You see, I know that if I don’t – if I don’t leave it all on the field for this little experiment – then it will, inevitably, be a failure.
And trust me when I say that I’m good enough to fool you all. And even myself – for a time.
But that’s not why we’re all here, is it?
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Today, again, the concept of this being a ‘practice’ – like meditation: mindfulness is key. It’s easy to forget to ‘listen’ for the voice, much less to actively ask yourself ‘what Should I do?‘ in the hectic swirl of the day But I’m happy to say that when I did manage to remember, even the simplest decisions became clearer, and the results better. For example, it’s 6 pm, and I thought I might have a cup of coffee. Normally, a no brainer, but now – with some effort – ‘Should I?’. And my immediate answer was, of course, no. As it is, I don’t get to bed early enough, and I knew – now that I’d self-prompted – that I simply shouldn’t because maybe in not having the coffee, maybe I’d get to bed that much earlier (a nagging issue with me). And, Maybe, doing so would impact to other things. Plus, even in simply stopping to ask myself, I also asked, well, why? Sure I liked coffee, but why was I going to have a cup this late in the day? Not because I was tired, but because – I decided – I was bored. I wanted the quick buzz. Like I said, I do have an addict’s predisposition to things – never been a gray-area guy.
So I didn’t have it, and it was good. And maybe the real lesson there was to address why I’m bored – and do something about it….
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I had Olivia home this morning, as we’re opting out of the ill-conceived, poorly executed and for-private-corporate-profit agenda known as the Common Core. Jen was at work and I figured that, after my morning routine of book edits and a workout, Olivia could come in to the office with me for awhile before I took her into school. She’s becoming a good artist, and my office is a pretty creative environment. Plus, she was excited about coming in to work with Daddy. Me too. But somehow, my edits ran long and I still wanted to get in a workout, so I ran upstairs to change. She was on the couch using her iPad.
“Hey”, I said. She looked up, eyes bright.
“Hi Daddy. Are we going to go to work now?”
“Um, yeah” I said. “I’m just going to work out quick, shower and then we’ll go.”
She deflated a little. “Oh, ok Daddy.”
“You ok?” I said.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
I changed into my gym shorts and started the dvd downstairs.
Then I heard it.
‘I Should skip today and take Olivia to work.’
My rational mind said exercise was good. I’d still take her to work, right?
I listened to the Should. Off went the dvd.
“Hey, I’m gonna skip today,” I said as I came back upstairs.
“Yay!” came the cheer. Big smile. Both of us. And it was great.
Listen to the Should.
I think my favorite scene in Harry Potter, Deathly Hallows pt 2 is when the battle’s over. Harry’s met Hagrid, and walked through the battle-weary survivors. Everyone’s bloodied and exhausted but, despite the massive events which have just taken place, and though stunned and still in mourning, they’re already starting to move on.
And the point that drives this home the most – amidst all of the rubble and death and size of the whole battle that’s barely just passed, is when Argus Filch, the ornery, crusty caretaker, tosses a piece of rubble out of the way and just get’s back to the business of living – in his case, sweeping against a mountain of dust and broken stone.
It kind of gives me an odd hope, this scene, that no matter what happens, or how tough things are and seemingly hopeless, and even when our world falls apart – and it does, from time to time – the important thing, that constant, is to just get on with the business of living, or normalcy, once again.
Because, honestly, what’s the alternative? Even if the most tragic thing happens, even when we don’t get by by the skin of out teeth, and Neville Longbottom doesn’t get that sword and show up at just the right, and most unlikely, of times, the answer’s the same either way: we pick up and start sweeping aside the rubble. Right away. Otherwise, we lose, or get stuck, or just stop living.
Because if we just take that step, and get back to the smallest modicum of normal, we move forward.
And put the bad behind us, where it belongs.
And this, like the best of fiction, or the arts, gives me hope. Especially in a time when the signs are overwhelmingly against a good outcome for the world given it’s current trajectory. A step is a start that we sorely need. Take one, add another and momentum can build.
Perhaps, like so many things, these little snippets from my mind are actually messages to me as much as they are to the nice, usually quiet folks who thank me for putting this out there – most often directly and privately.
And to those people – you know who you are – you’re not alone. None of us are. Keep taking steps. They say that no one can change the world. But maybe, just maybe, if we keep taking the small steps back to normalcy, and in line with what we really think inside – listening to our Should – and not what’s dictated to us by constant exposure to an agenda-driven media, the larger picture can change, and things can be good and right again.
We just need to decide to not simply stand, sheeplike and stunned, and watch and complain and ignore, but instead to Act. To have courage. And keep moving forward toward what we know to be right.
Day One was an interesting day. I went out with the best of intentions, and the excitement that one always feels when embarking on something new. But what had consumed me in the morning quickly became diluted by the the tasks of the day. I had a photoshoot, a client meeting. Had to work on projects, deal with Life.
It was hard to be completely mindful – I think that’s the right word. Easy to fall back into old habits. I think the mindfulness is the key – and this will have to become a practice if I’m to be successful with this experiment.
What was interesting is that when I was mindful – when I remembered to ask myself in any given situation ‘What Should I do?” – I got a sense that I had something to ‘return to’ in a way – and it was very comforting – even if the decision wasn’t the easy one, or the obvious one, the sense that I had an irrefutable compass was something new and powerful.
And there were immediate returns. Over the course of the day, when I remembered to ask myself the Question – the ‘What Should I Do?” – when I listened and acted, the results were good.
Here’s a simple example: leaving the shoot, I came to a stop sign. Normally, I would have automatically made a left and headed to the office without giving it a second thought. Then, normally, I would have probably drifted into some endless, and unprofitable tasks like checking email and stuff that can always wait. Plus, I rationalized (there’s that word again), that it was nearly 3pm, and I hadn’t yet had lunch and, well, you know….
But instead, I asked myself the Question. And the answer was that I Should make a right, drive over to the next town and do a quick shoot for another client for a website update.
So I did. I worked out great. I didn’t die of hunger. The next day it rained, so I wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway. Plus, I now had a happy client, the day was a little more profitable, and I didn’t have another to-do hanging over my head.
Like I said, little things and mindfulness. So far, so good.
I’ll catch you up on how the rest of the week went over the next day or two, but for now I think this post might run long, so maybe I Should stop….