Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dropping the Button

"Now that highway's coming through,
So we all got to move.
This bottom rung ain't no fun at all." -- John Doe, X, "See How We Are"

In 2003, I made the same salary that I make now, until I was laid off. However, I did far better, because I was not in a "right to work" state that was eager to cooperate with any bill collector, no matter how shady, and garnish, pre-tax. That job lasted only three months, more or less, because the year before the head of the schools had written over one hundred million dollars in bad checks. The school system therefore laid off everyone who had been hired that year. However, I had money left over enough, after paying rent and power and the like, to keep paying rent and groceries and telephone for another six months. Today, a paycheck does not last a month.

We have insane inflation. If it's measured by indicators, then our inflation rate is flat or terrifically low, but it is about like the incessant hammering of a man's gaze on a woman's body. It looks for any slip, any weakness, to see the forbidden and then glories on "win." Ritz Crackers now come in half roll sizes for the same price. . . because you might buy them. Your "big" candy bar got smaller and flatter to get wider. The result of shopping anywhere but Mal*Wart is that irrationally selected items of grocery will be $1-$2 above that evil empire of land destruction.

Once, I went to a school that charged $7,000 a year for tuition, and that was the highest outside of the professionally expensive schools (Ivy League, Bard, Sister Cecilia's Special), and the retiring head of Coca-Cola gave the university $110,000,000.00. The school responded by raising tuition, and one VP was honest enough to say they were doing it because Vanderbilt and Duke were raising theirs, and, if we didn't raise ours, people would think we weren't as good.

Businesses seem to be run by the dicta that they have a duty to maximum profits. This is not true even in neo-classical economics. As Henry Ford said, their goal should be the highest quality possible for the lowest cost possible while paying the highest wages possible. Once you believe that your job is "maximize profits," then the job gets easier, and you believe perforce in every other organism as a resource to be mined.

The majestic pile

I was in church this morning, and the offeratory came around. I thought about how I had no cash to put in the plate, and how I was uncertain that I would have money even in two weeks to send off to help pay for the house I'm living in -- much less cover expenses.

I thought that I might put a pain pill in the plate.

(Prescription drugs do not go into the inflation index, I bet. Then again, they don't increase in cost. They all cost exactly the same thing, which is a metered price-per-dose, and that price depends on how far you can be pushed before you would rather die or suffer. These days, $2.00 and $3.00 seem to be popular dose prices.)

"Do you remember that fell evening,
When you heard the banshees howl?
Those lazy drunken bastards
Were singing 'Pity in the Vale.'
They took you up to midnight mass
And left you in the lurch,
So you dropped a button in the plate
And spewed up in the church." -- Shane McGowan of The Pogues, "The Sickbed of Cuchuliann"
Pogue mahoney and all that, but this is not a matter of shame or tradition. This is a matter of relief. Life is beautiful, when once want is gone, which is why want never seems to leave.

"What a jovial and merry world would this be, may it please your worships, but for that inextricable labyrinth of debts, cares, woes, want, grief, discontent, melancholy, large jointures, impositions, and lies!" -- Corporal Trim to Uncle Toby, Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

Critically, functioning in any given context depends upon having the prerequisites. Even the widow's groat is not a prerequisite of church, but it is of being a church member. One always feels insufficient if one is insufficiently integrated. Going to the town commission meeting is free-ish, but one knows that voices carry best when carried by money. Old cars are charming, and then they are not.

When we wonder why the poor do not voice their opinions more or participate more in local politics, we show our own obliviousness. The inverted world we occupy, where a pocket sized computer that plays only games, the DS III or whatever it may be now, is easy to get, but where shelter is dear and food is a war between corporations that own all brands and want to test each buyer's attention to the limit, makes it quite, quite clear that only the wealthy have three dimensions to their social and political selves. The rest of us are fractions and shadows -- sources of revenue or labor or data alone.

I do not want to be a resource, human or otherwise, for the continuation of the lopsided wave that is American capitalism.

No comments: