Indolence! Undercutting the Cult of Mammon

A recent report on Inequality in America from Stanford details the extent of the wealth disparities.  Salon has a brief post on it (United States of Inequality) offering this example of the self-perpetuation of winners in the game of socioeconomic inequality:

…in 1972, families in the top income quintile spent an average of $3,536 annually on “enrichment expenditures” to “supplement their children’s opportunities to learn and develop.” The bottom quintile spent $835. Twenty-five years later, spending by the top quintile had more than doubled, to $8,872, while spending by the bottom quintile had only risen by about 50 percent, to $1,315, and had hardly budged at all since the early 1980s.

…As the wealthiest Americans have grabbed a bigger and bigger share of overall income, they are also spending more and more on giving their own children the biggest leg up. So the split between the haves and have-nots is expanding, not just in terms of wealth, but also in educational attainment. The cycle is self-perpetuating, and the disparities are growing.

I’m pretty certain many of us think that “if only the right politicians were elected…” as if these results are a kind of ebb and flow of politics that will even out or right itself to some other more acceptable level of inequality.  This is obviously not true as politics is beholden to the same self-perpetuation and as money pools into fewer hands, fewer folks get what they need.  It’s very simple.

It’s why it’s a very huge mistake at this point to believe in the “kindness” of the welfare state.  The welfare bureaucracy hates the “free-loader” and shows its contempt by the constant bureaucratic  indignities it insists on your performing.  We make welfare recipients WORK to get welfare–by which I mean we make the process onerous and degrading and time-consuming.

Similarly, charity will not serve you–it costs your soul.  But the kindness of billionaires only really extends where they are self-interested.  If a billionaire or his/her children are struck down by a disease you also have.  Lucky you!  There’s very likely a large foundation and lots of medical research headed there.  You can be a guinea pig upon whom they test their cures.  Awesome.

Another piece on Salon (Americans Love Class War) says most of us really don’t like the rich.

Americans still hate the rich, according to yet another poll

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. And not just godless secular liberals! Pew’s major Trends in American Values poll shows class resentments bridging the partisan divide: “Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

Even the moderate pundit crowd’s beloved independents agree: Our ruling classes are worthless parasites. A mere 22 percent of “swing voters” “admire the rich.” (How many Romney supporters “admire the rich,” you ask? Thirty-eight percent. No one likes rich people.)

As Elspeth Reeve puts it, succinctly and correctly, “swing voters are not libertarians.” They’re also not “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” like the vast majority of our well-off media elites tend to consider themselves.

Basically, vast swaths of Americans hate the rich, and also hate immigrants. Right now there are two pro-rich people political parties and one anti-immigrant political party. You can probably imagine which one is winning over these voters. It’s almost as if the conservative party gradually scared the ostensibly liberal party away from economic populism then reaped the electoral benefits of being the only populist party!

It’s probably time we tried to instill a value-system that does not reward a tiny cohort of inherited wealth and that does not value the “get to the top by hook AND crook,” ie, abject immorality in the service of monetary success.

Nobody should win in a social system of citizens who really must count on each other for their success.  That means the wealthy count on taking from you–but they still need you to allow it, to believe in the “system” that makes them wealthy.  You are a party in that equation and you continue to engender the very idea in your children.

So, why do we trust any of our institutional systems that protect power and if you’re lucky leave enough of the crumbs for you to eat and even perhaps feel like you’re “one of them” (but only really if your white and male and well-credentialed–ie, “educated”)?  These systems perpetuate in the same way as anything else.  More power and wealth in fewer hands puts the few wealthy folks in congress, on the judiciary, in state government, in education systems (Supers are CEOs) and so on.  Whose interests do they favor?

I’ll repeat, whose interests do they favor?  We ALLOW that they should favor themselves WHILE forgetting that they are often in roles of PUBLIC SERVICE.  In other words, they are not in the least supposed to favor their own interests (monetary, material, ideological): they’re supposed to keep the commonwealth, happy and healthy.  See anyone doing that?

Also, our erroneous idea that wealth is often “earned” and “deserved” has again caused us to falsely believe that even though we don’t like the wealthy (look at that Bain Capital picture again!) we believe they “work” and succeed by “work”–the way we hope to be able to work and succeed.  But in reality, they already “succeeded” by birth and then money works for them and well, you work for them too.  How does one expect to inch toward “equality” when all you do serves someone else.  Not the greater good, SOMEONE else…a person or small class of people.

Our “successes” are vast nepotistic cauldrons of conflicts of interest.  It is a poisoned chalice and it cannot be made better by dilution.

Melville said it quite well in his poem “Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the Twelfth Century” (from the volume Timoleon)

Found a family, build a state,
The pledged event is still the same:
Matter in end will never abate
His ancient brutal claim.

Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
And energy the child of hell:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear
But brims the poisoned well.

Your good work (your pitcher clear) simply aids in the expansion of the “ancient brutal claim” of power and might (concentrated power and wealth in very “matter” that will corrupt and be corrupted).

How do we avoid this poisoning?  We are the true Lotus Eaters who cannot escape our accepting apathy of a consumption ethos enforced on every screen and in every office and every “start-up”–buy, sell, succeed through hard work at buying and selling (and the taking from each other).

I’ve said before, it’s the doing and making or “remaking” of materials within a system of mindless and useless production to excess for no real “recyclable” purpose (living is giving by dying–dust to dust is more life out of bodily decay).

Indolence!  Melville’s poem itself is an example of the purest “making” that will not destroy living.

Indolence! the cry of all who would care about is brother sister mother father neighbor stranger.  Indolence!

Note: it’s interesting that when looking for images of this post, “indolence” predominately returns images reclining women.


photo credit:  Mitt Romney, center, celebrates Bain Capital profits with colleagues in 1984. Taxpayers helped fund the party (Credit: Bain Capital)

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