Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For the record, I don't hate the rich...

It's funny how external events can randomly coincide perfectly with a conversation you're having with someone or an idea you're trying to get across and give you that extra bit of insight or help you perfectly articulate a point you're trying to make.  It's as if the cosmic order of things happened to overhear you and said "Here you go guy, maybe this will help."  You know, how like you'll be having a conversation with someone - say you're talking about the '85 Bears - and you're trying to remember who that amazing running back was who led the team to victory in the Super Bowl and suddenly a commercial comes on ESPN for an upcoming tribute to the career of Walter Payton and you're like "OMG YES!"  Well, tonight I was watching a pretty interesting documentary on Netflix about Hugh Hefner and his history of activism for civil rights, freedom of speech and personal liberty in general, and I was having a conversation with my wife in which she was referencing the anti-capitalist nature of my political postings of late and my railings against the wealthy elite and she made a statement along the lines of "Not all people who are rich are bad, what about guys like Hugh Hefner who use their wealth and influence to help the cause of civil rights, free speech and personal liberty issues such as the legalization of pot?  Or what about Mark Zuckerberg, who gave $100 million to the Newark, NJ public schools and created a tool that has helped spread democracy throughout the world?  Or Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and all the billionaires who have pledged to give at least half their personal wealth to humaitarian charities?"  And I completely agreed with the point she was making, so my response was something like "I don't think that being rich automatically makes you an evil person, it's what you do with that wealth and how you use the power and influence that wealth affords you that makes that determination."  Well, about 10 seconds later, a clip of Jesse Jackson played where he said something akin to "Being rich isn't the problem, being greedy is." and I said "OMG YES!"  And that's when it hit me - I know I probably come across as anti-rich, because I'm constantly drawing the imaginary line in the sand between the middle class and the wealthy elite without making the distinction between "good rich" and "bad rich."  So, thanks to my wonderful wife and - I can't believe I'm saying this - Jesse Jackson, I have found the articulation of my point in regards to the wealthy in this country and where I draw the distinction between "good rich" and "bad rich."

See, I understand that when you attack the insane level of greed that exists at the top of the economic food chain in this country, you automatically set off the secret socialism alarm that's implanted in the brains of every conservative.  It's hard when you're talking to conservatives about the wealth disparity in America to make a distinction between fair taxation and this concept of socialist wealth distribution, just as it's hard to make a distinction between evil, greedy motherfuckers and guys who worked hard, had huge success and are using that success to help out their fellow Americans.  It's hard to make that distinction when talking to conservatives because conservatives by and large are incapable of accepting that there is a distinction at all.  Conservatives are stubbornly myopic when it comes to the issues of taxation, market regulation and reigning in rampant corporate greed, just as they are myopic about the myriad of social issues on which they hold the most frustratingly hypocritical ideologies.  Simply put, it's either black or it's white with conservatives when you're talking about the wealthy in this country - either you love them or you hate them, either you want people to pay less and less the more they make, or you're a commie socialist.  There's just no grey area with conservatives, there's no middle ground where you say there's a difference between being rich and being greedy, there's a difference between working hard and earning the rewards for that work and being an evil, corrupt, theiving cocksucker who wants to hold the working class up by the ankles and shake them until every last penny falls out of their pockets.  To the conservative, that type of delineation simply doesn't exist, at least not in the political dialogue.

When Joe Biden says that it's the "Patriotic thing to do" for the richest people in the country to pay a little more in taxes to help the entire country out during a time of recession and hardship, he's attacked for advocating socialism, because there's no difference to the conservative between a 3% tax increase for the wealthiest Americans in the country and splitting every last dollar of income made in America 350 million ways and giving everyone a check for the same amount.  And that's the problem.  That's why you can't have a debate about "Fair taxation" with a conservative, because to them NO tax is fair.  In the conservative mind, the government should be run like a business, either generate revenue to cover your expenses, or start making some cuts.  And that would be fine if not for the fact that the role of government is to provide services to the people that a for-profit business cannot, will not and ethically should not provide.  Government exists as an extension of the will of the people.  They exist to serve the citizenry, to enact the will of the people through legislation and lawmaking, to uphold those laws, "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."  Or so the constitution says.

What does that mean?  Well, first of all it's the role of our government to "establish justice."  That means making the laws according to the will of the people, through the democratic process, and then upholding those laws fairly and judiciously.  Second, "insure domestic tranquility," that means make sure that there is no unrest among the people, that civil discourse is addressed fairly and adequately to maintain a general state of peace throughout the population.  "Provide for the common defence" is an easy one, that means having a strong and capable military to defend ourselves against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  "Promote the general welfare..."  Oooh, that's a tricky one, isn't it?  That's one of the promises of the constitution who's interpretation varies wildly depending on whether you're talking to a liberal or a conservative.  However, taken purely at face value, it says that one of the responsibilities of government is to make sure that every American is able to acquire the basic necessities of life.  It's not an implicit guarantee of a shopping list of amenities and luxuries, but it is a guarantee that the government will work to insure that every American has access to things like basic healthcare, food and shelter, the things that are essential for a persons "general welfare."  Lastly, "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."  This means that our government will work to make sure that every American has the essential freedoms granted under the constitution and the declaration of independence.  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It means that our government will defend the rights of every American to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, religion and expression.  It means that our government will defend our right to live our lives in whatever manner brings us happiness and contentment, so long as we do not infringe upon the rights of our fellow countrymen to do the same.  Now, insuring all those guarantees to every American costs money.  Additionally, our government has grown and expanded it's role to include regulatory commissions and departments that for the most part exist as a means of providing those constitutional guarantees to every aspect of American life, in keeping with the changing times and new technology and industries that our founding fathers never could have imagined would exist.  All of these services come at a cost, and those costs are paid through taxes.

When our founding fathers were establishing our great republic, they accounted for taxation as the means to fund the government and enable it to provide the services our constitution guarantees.  They also were aware that, in order to pick someone up from the ground, someone else would have to reach down.  It was, in fact, the "Patriotic duty" of the most successful and wealthy Americans to lead by example and be the first ones to offer help to the poorest and most downtrodden.  This was the model upon which our government ran, it was the framework upon which the progressive tax system was constructed - the belief that those who had the most could help the most, and by doing so would show their true patriotism by making the success of our republic and the formation of "A more perfect union" their personal responsibility.  In other words, those who loved our country the most would be willing to give the most to make her great.  Those with a vested interest in the success of our nation would gladly make the necessary sacrifices to insure that success.  The same way that a soldier would gladly give his life to defend her, the same way a farmer would gladly give his harvest to feed her, that was the same way the rich man would gladly give what he could to keep the wheels of liberty turning, to make sure that no American would go hungry, sleep in the street or be deprived of a basic education or the opportunity to get back on their feet when they were down and retake their place as a capable and productive member of society.  The moral obligation of the man who stands highest on the hill is to reach a hand out to those who have fallen by the wayside.  It's not just our constitution and the vision of our founding fathers that advocates that belief system either, the Bible says quite a bit about the virtue of such behavior as well.

Fast forward to today and you still see that core founding principle at work in groups like The Giving Pledge, in the actions of wealthy philanthropists who give large sums of money to charities, humanitarian efforts and social reform programs.  You see it in the work of celebrities who donate time and money to help victims of natural disasters, famine, violent oppression and epidemics.  There is no question that a lot of people in this country who have been blessed with personal success and fortune accept the moral and ethical responsibility to show their true patriotism and work towards promoting the general welfare.  It is because of these people that I cannot paint with broad strokes and say "all rich people are bad," because they aren't.  Like I said up at the top there, wealth isn't the problem, greed is.  Unfortunately, there are far too many Gordon Gekkos in this country, and the more our nation's wealth is funneled to the top, the more we take on the trappings of a banana republic, the more our corporate-controlled media exhalts the tenets of profit-motive capitalism, the more our country deteriorates from the inside.

This is the "bad rich" I rail against.  The rich that says "Wanting more and more is good for everyone."  The guy with the 11 cookies who leaves 1 for everyone else to fight over and convinces them that they're lucky to even get that one cookie.  Greed says "I could use my money to help out my fellow Americans and make our country stronger as a whole, but I think I'd rather buy a 4th house and a 6th car and a 2nd yacht and maybe a private jet instead."  Greed says "I don't have to give a fuck about anyone but myself, and I don't want to.  You can all eat shit and die for all I care, as long as I'm happy."  Greed says "I don't care if public schools in America rank at the bottom of all industrialized nations, because I can afford to send my kids to the best private schools, so tough luck for the rest of you shitheads."  Greed puts the wants of the individual above the needs of society and greed convinces you that to believe otherwise is to be weak, to be a sucker, to be a doormat to a bunch of lazy, worthless scumbags who just want to mooch off of you and who take your kindness for weakness, because greed believes kindness is weakness.  Greed also says that if you see a pile of money sitting there and no one is looking, you'd be an idiot not to take it.  Greed says it ain't a crime if you don't get caught.  Greed says it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Greed says fuck those stupid middle class morons, take whatever you can from them, what are they gonna do with all that money anyway?  Buy big-screen TVs?  Put rims on their trucks?  Stick it in the bank where you can't get to it?  Greed says I should be entitled not only to keep all my money, but to take some of yours too, because I deserve it more than you do.  Greed says that the more money you have, the more money you deserve.  Greed says "First you get the money, then you get the power..."

Greed doesn't give half its personal fortune to help end disease and poverty, greed is a disease, greed creates poverty.  Greed doesn't accept personal responsibility for promoting the general welfare, greed only cares about itself.  Greed is not patriotic, because greed is only loyal to greed.  Greed says if 10,000 hard-working men and women have to lose their jobs so it can drive up it's companies stock and make a little more money, then fuck em.  Greed says if I can make a ton of money by rigging the stock market and treating it like a big casino, but it's going to fuck millions of middle class families out of their homes, their jobs and their life savings, then roll the fucking dice.  Greed says my belief is right, my values are good, my ideas are strong and anyone who says different is a pussy, a tool and an idiot.  Greed convinces the lower-middle class blue collar guy that teachers don't deserve benefits, because greed doesn't say "If they have it, I should have it too."  Greed says "If I don't have it, they shouldn't either!"  Greed is selfish and inherently evil.  It's not one of the seven deadly sins for nothing...  In fact, nearly every one of the seven deadly sins manifests itself in the actions and ideals of the "bad rich" in this country.  Greed - taking more than you need, taking more than you deserve, taking what isn't yours.  Gluttony - never being satisfied, never having "enough", wanting it all for yourself.  Pride - believing you are better than your fellow man, believing you are more entitled and deserving of wealth, power and priviledge than anyone else.  Envy - despising those who have what you want, believing you are more deserving of what they have than they are.  Of course, history has shown that typically the most greedy and selfish men are also the most lustful, wrathful and strive to ultimately live a life of fetted sloth, where they can just sit atop their piles of wealth while the world is served to them on a silver platter.

The problem with the conservative platform as it relates to greed and "bad rich" people is that it is built upon the concrete foundation of unrestricted capitalism and the virtues of greed and selfishness.  Of course, they don't call it selfishness, they call it "objectivism" or pursuit of ones "self-interest."  They reject collectivism, the idea that we as a society must work together for the common good, but they don't call it being selfish and uncaring, they call it promoting "personal accountability."  They view the collectivist ideals as "weak," "naive," "un-American" or that wildly and improperly over-used term "socialist."  The belief that it is the responsibility of all Americans to work together to keep our country strong, to always work towards forming a more perfect union and to insure the blessings of liberty for all citizens has become corrupted and distorted by the conservative right in this country.  It's not the responsibilty of all Americans to work together for the common good, it's the responsibility of each American to look our for themselves.  It's not the responsibility of all Americans to come together and form a more perfect union, it's the job of "real" Americans to get rid of everyone who doesn't agree with them, because our union would be perfect if it weren't for all the [insert "fake" American group here].  It's not the responsibility of our government to insure the blessings of liberty for all citizens, it's their responsibility to insure only those liberties which the majority deems appropriate.  Gay rights?  Not in this 75% Christian nation.  Pornography?  Not in my town.  Abortion?  I don't want it, so you can't have it.  Freedom of religion?  Go back to Iraq with all the other terrorists if you want to build a mosque.  Freedom of speech?  Just watch what you say...

This is the product of a greed-driven ideology.  We have the most powerful political party in the country built upon a foundation of what is essentially sociopathy.  Lack of empathy for others (it's "socialism" to care about the well-being of other people), persistent lying or stealing (market manipulation, raiding retirement plans, bankrupting companies and taking huge taxpayer-funded bailouts), Poor behavioral controls - expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats and aggression (anyone watched Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or attended a Tea Party rally lately?), tendency to violate the rights and boundaries of others (Defense of Marriage Act, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Guantanamo Bay, The Patriot Act and illegal wiretapping, defunding planned parenthood), aggressive, often violent behavior (war profiteering anyone?) and disregard for safety (working to bust up unions and departments like OSHA that they helped create, remove public safety regulations that cut into corporate profits, loosening health standards in the food production industries, weakening environmental regulations) just to name a few.  The Republican party has become the party of justified selfishness.  It's no wonder that Ayn Rand is the hero of the modern conservative.  She espoused egoism - the belief that people should only do what is in their own self-interest.  She railed for limited government, laissez-faire capitalism (capitalism without strict regulations) and was strongly against socialism and the "welfare state."  Which was her corporatist, distorted view of a collective society, where the needs of the many outweighed the wants of the few.  It's ironic that for all the public protesting of welfare, government assistance and social collectivism she did that she took government medical assistance and other "handouts" that she complained so vitriolicly about, but such is the nature of the conservative - self-interest above all else, freedom is a gift not a guarantee and rights are earned not given.  

So no, not every person who is rich is evil, but neither is every person who is evil rich.  "Bad rich" doesn't necessarily require a glut of wealth, it can just as easily come from a glut of ignorance, a hoard of selfishness, a trunk full of greed and a pile of intolerance.  When you measure your wealth by the numbers in your bank account, the possessions you own or the excesses you indulge, then you are "bad rich."  When greed and self-interest determines your actions, you are "bad rich."  When you spout moral platitudes about "personal accountability" as a justification for your own selfishness and lack of compassion for others, you are "bad rich."

I don't hate the guy who gets rich, I hate the guy who can't get rich enough.


  1. Holy crap Dave. You posted this at 5:17 am? You are one focused guy. Lots of good stuff here, I just don't have a couple of hours to pour over it. I'll be back.

  2. I get inspiration at weird times.