We all know the old saying. I just ran across it on a new, to me, site: The King James Subversion.
What seems to be so hard for anyone to accept is that it is no longer true. Let’s say first of all, that it never was really true in the sense that “rich” as in “wealth aggregators” became “richer” as in had better lives by any independent judgement of what truly matters. The “poor” were made poor by that collection of wealth, and then, yes, they did continue to get poorer and poorer by any standard.
The thing is, what has kept this old saw afloat for so long has always been a misunderstanding. One of the founding myths of civilization has been that it “improved” life over what it displaced. Genesis does begin with “The Garden of Eden,” but we quickly leave behind any recognition that there might have been a better state of living before all the “Shalts” and “Begats” take over. Any residual memory of this is quickly transposed to Heaven. Remembrance becomes nostalgia and is redirected towards the never-never.
In the past it was roughly true that the rich got to enjoy better, at least easier, conditions. Those times are coming to an end.
In the ancient agrarian/country myths that poke fun at the greed and hubris of the powerful, like Tantalus, or Midas; there is a whole string of stories that show how the fantasy that wealth will bring ultimate lasting advantage is a trick, a chimera to fool the greedy and gullible. We are now entering a time when all the advantages of wealth and power will do little to guard their holders from the stresses and existential threats we all face.
Here’s an example of what a few decades of change can do. Not too long ago a backer of the puppet Ronald Reagan would have looked forward to retiring to some tax-haven fantasy island like Bermuda or the Turks & Caicos. There they could enjoy their wealth and power undisturbed and live out their prolonged golden years unperturbed by anything but the occasional visits to New York or London for shopping and heart by-pass surgery. Moral compunction might have knocked on their consciences once in a while, but it would have had no effect on their material existence.
No one alive today with anything but the shortest life-expectancy can realistically look forward to that. The efforts of all wealth concentration are all grinding away at ensuring that this will never be possible for anyone again for thousands of years at least. The wealthy and powerful today, no matter how connected or privileged, can reasonably expect to live about the way the oppressor class now lives in Port Aux Prince, or even Mogadishu, in another decade or two. There is no way this conclusion can be made to fit the truism of the old saw. There is no way anyone would mistake such an outcome for “getting richer.”
The lizard brain that will smile at any relative advantage over anyone with the audacity to claim that we might all have obligations to one another will of course still be happy with this pitiful fall into a poverty below what any of us in the developed world would ever consider possible for ourselves. Neither of these delusions; the one that finds any uneven distribution under which they can claim the “upper-hand” to be righteous, or the one that cannot imagine how far we can all sink into poverty and ruin if this collapse is allowed to continue unabated; will survive the coming decades.
For some reason I’ve entered this new year with the resolve to break the fourth wall. Instead of “discussing amongst ourselves,” I’ve decided to put some effort into addressing the ones in charge. It’s a common-place, at least to believe – if not have it a confirm-able fact – that “they” are listening to everything anyone says. This is pitiful no matter how we look at it. To think one is important enough to be monitored is self-delusion. To think that any amount of wealth or power will actually fulfill a wish that all information will cross our all-powerful, all-seeing view; is just one of the many terminal delusions of a dying and increasingly irrelevant elite.
There can be no “harm” then in addressing these mythical omniscients directly. They can’t hear me and wouldn’t understand me if they could! It’s just an interesting conceit, wink, wink.
So here we go!
“What are you thinking?”
“All, the intelligence that money can buy and this is the best you can do? Will you expire like numbskull behemoths stomping on mice as your palaces burn down around you?”
“I did frankly expect more from you….”
Let’s save on quotation marks and assume them from now on…
Of course the faces-of-the-spectacle go on doing and saying what they’re told. They aren’t YOU after all! They don’t have the advantages of “complete knowledge” you have. They are just following orders.
But you guys! Really.
Truxton Spangler, that wonderful creation, a glimpse through the glass darkly, a character forever silenced after the cancellation of his vehicle, Rubicon; was caught up in a circle-jerk carried on from a privileged adolescence to become a trap from which none of its members could escape alive. Is that the way it is? Are you each so afraid of what your fellow oligarchs would do to you if you broke ranks?
The whole “conservatives” versus neo-liberals” wheeze…. Hell! even the various flavors of “East” versus “West” World Wide Wrestling events you put on for our amusement…. You haven’t ended up eating your own bullshit have you? That’s all for our distraction isn’t it?
There have to be a growing number of instances when some intern or low-level clerk comes up to you and starts muttering something about desertification or the collapse of the Plankton Cycle? Are you so well insulated from anything other than what you want to hear that all of this gets intercepted before it reaches you?
That’s a shame, if it’s true. A real shame, for all of us.
Of course I’d have to buy into your elevated sense of your abilities to think you could make everything right if you started to try! Still, don’t you think that at some point taking the foot off the accelerator might be a good idea? Firing some of your current lackeys and replacing them with… With what?
You tried the Al Gore thing. Hell, there’s a bit of that still going on with “Green” industry and even Stuart Brand going all nuclear. That’s all just been a little reluctant bet-hedging. Admit it! None of that breaks with business-as-usual in any meaningful way.
Do you put all your hopes in the Halliburton/Blackwater approach? You do know they will only win you the chance to vie for the title of Meanest Most Bad-Ass Warlord in the Mogadishus of the future? You’ll still be poorer, much much poorer, and you know what? It won’t do anything to slow down the trends that make it likely that the next class of Skull & Bones goes on to fight over the final remaining oxygen canisters if the oceans really die as they are on track to.
It’s a shame. All the former Presidents of Harvard and MIT on your payrolls, and they don’t have a clue what to do. You funded their educations and backed their rise to high office and this is how they repay you?
DARPA. How’s that one working out for ya? A bunch of high-functioning sociopaths, Idiots with High IQs, coming up with fantasies and gadgets to fill out the SkyMall Catalog for your evacuation helicopters? Is that money well spent?
The whole ROI thing is going to hell!
How about the Economists? Surely they have some answers!
Don’t forget the Fortune Tellers and Necromancers, they all belong to the same union as the Economists, remember?
There just might be “more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
It might be time to widen your circle a little bit.
This whole “were all in this together” thing might have some legs after all.
Of course you’ll never know unless you give it a try. That is, a real try, at least as much effort as now goes into taking us over the edge.
How about it?
You know where to reach me. There are plenty of others ready to help too.
7 thoughts on “The Rich Get Richer…”
Thanks for this.
It is really rare that I read someone who has a firm enough grip on reality to not let go of it when they jump out that window to the future.
That is to say that I think you nailed it, more or less. I hope someone passes this on to an oligarch or two.
I have only known small business mini-tycoons and local millionaires, and sad to say, they have been an optimistic and clueless lot, no matter how intelligent or successful. Not likely to question the assumptions from being too busy striving. Maybe those at the top of the heap are a little different?
So I appreciate your efforts.
“Not likely to question the assumptions from being too busy striving.”
Yep. And if they show themselves to be a potential trouble-maker/free-thinker, then they may not get that all important next contract…. Lots of reasons not to think. And once you get out of the habit, hard to get back in.
” Maybe those at the top of the heap are a little different?”
In my very very limited experience, the ones I have met aren’t (but then, why would they have shown that side of themselves to me?!) The same selection pressures that are on the small business mini-tycoons and local millionaires also apply to those at the top of the tree…
And they are constrained by the logic of the system etc, even as they criticise it (One of the most poignant things about the United States amazing strategic mis-steps in 2002-3 was the powerlessness of the eminence grise types (Brent Scowcroft etc) in trying to sway the Cheney-Bush administration. By the time you are wise enough to criticise the parameters of your system, you are retired, and can be ignored….
Thanks Eric and Dwight for your comments.
“Too busy striving.”
I’m afraid those at the top are little different too. They are powerless, at least the top level intermediaries, like Scowcroft, who are supposed to get the word down to the political class. Bush Cheney was a strange period when the veneer was lifted and some previously un-permitted leakage occurred. It was a little like seeing the “Man behind the curtain” both as a buffoon – a series of buffoons in echelon! – and also confirmation that there was someone back there pulling levers.
Since then this creepy disregard for their own veil has become the new normal. A sign of arrogance and supreme confidence that their spectacle is impregnable. Hmm, arrogance and supreme confidence…
These realizations should help us see the growing and inevitable irrelevancy of this great power elite. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, but we can’t look to them for any help, even for them to simply recognize their own best self-interest it seems.
This almost feels like the seeds of a fiction – new novel? – to dig into these wiles and mechanics of how the powerful self-justify their own self-interest, when the price of their keep on keeping on is the web of present life itself – including their own oxygen supply. It’s a long way to fall out of that loop, for anyone who even thought about breaking rank …
I ran across this – a 25-year-old well aware of the looming interlocked crises who wants to know what to do with his life – and was struck by he too feeling driven in his own ways to ‘speak truth to power’ when power isn’t listening, doesn’t with all its listening equipment have the equipment to listen:
That’s great that you caught that! I have been stabbing at a story centered on a guard and his prisoner. This has the same feel although not the same premise exactly. This time of transition is keeping me off balance regarding how to proceed with fiction. My orphan novels and stories demand attention, as does this immediate writing in blogs. I want to find the next novel and dive into it, but….
It hasn’t arrived yet. When it does, I think I’ll know it.
I saw that post also. I see this as the most important question we all face. That’s when I’m not doubting the premise that there are any questions worth sacrificing our lives to!