When I lived in France, I never felt poor, even though I never earned very much money. I felt like my life was focused on creativity, on being an artist, then a parent,on living the life I wanted to live. I had to live very frugally in order to accomplish this, and I owned almost nothing, but I had my freedom to live my purpose as an artist, and that is more valuable than money.
Since my return to the United States, I have learned that the value which governs all in America is that money is more important than people. The pursuit of money in order to just get by takes almost all of my time and energy. I try not to give up hope, to find happiness in the small and simple joys, but to be truthful, I rarely feel fully joyful and alive anymore. I still live frugally, but I don’t enjoy the freedoms that were possible in France. My life in France was a simple one, and I didn’t have many comforts at all. I guess I do have more physical comforts here in the U.S., but I would rather have free time to pursue my interests and to develop my talents.
Repeatedly I have heard comments from a variety of people in the U.S. which criticize low income people. The stereotype that poor people are lazy, exploit the government, are irresponsible, is a common one. From the wealthy to the not so wealthy, these criticisms are widespread, even though those who criticize may have little experience with poverty or people who struggle to make ends meet. The truth is that most poor people work multiple jobs or low paying jobs with few to no benefits. Many poor people have college degree and large student loans and other debts. To be deprived of dignity in addition to working thankless jobs is a sad state of affairs.
The reason for this brief post, is however, to comment on a strange irony. The same people who criticize the existence of a welfare system for the most vulnerable members of our society have absolutely no problem with the concept of subsidizing the wealthy and the uber-wealthy. In the last 12 years, I have never heard a single person condemn the fact that we taxpayers are subsidizing billionaires, corporate CEOs and their corporations, including banks, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, Big Ag, and the like.
The fact that these billionaires are manipulative, dishonest, and irresponsible never seems to come up in conversation. No one shames them or says that the billionaires should pay us back for bailing them out or for subsidizing their ridiculously wasteful and self-centered attitudes and ways of life.We pave the way for the rich to live their extravagant lifestyles and we seem to think that this is perfectly fine! In what Universe should the wealthy be subsidized by the working classes? I believe the fundamental human truth behind this irony is that we wish we could emulate the rich and powerful and live the way they do. We shame the poor because we are close to them, and we fear falling into that abyss. Shame and fear are never far apart. This is how and why people can admire those whose behavior is the most shameful.
Americans freely criticize Communist and Socialist political systems, but the truth be told, our Capitalist system is equally corrupt and defective. It only allows a small minority to thrive, while the remainder of citizens toil to just get by. Communism and Capitalism are exactly the same, because in both systems, the essential dignity of all human beings and our individual purposes are not celebrated.
Every human being yearns for the freedom to express his or her individual voice and talents and to serve other humans using those talents. This is the expression of true freedom. To be, to become who we were meant to be. Not to work long hours for someone else in order to eek out an existence or to buy goods and services. In America, only a select few pursue their talents, many in view of achieving celebrity and wealth.
It is my hope that one day humans will understand that there will always be people who seek out power and wealth, but that the rest of us do not have to be controlled by those people. We do not have to serve the wealthy; we can choose another way. To me, the ultimate happiness would be to serve the greater good of myself and of all people, of all animals, of the planet itself. My idealist self dreams of a society that allows each and every one of us to discover our talents and develop them, not for profit, but for the joy of sharing. We each need a certain number of resources, no more, to live happily.
What to do about those who want to hoard resources and those who live to control others? I don’t have an answer to this question. I suppose that the power hungry are also a part of Nature, and they reflect our territorial ape ancestors, the chimpanzees. To maintain freedom, humans need to mature individually and collectively. I do believe that the majority always must remain vigilant to curb the greed, to make sure that power hungry stay within bounds. Freedom is always an uneasy balance, and there will never be an ideal society. The dream is still worth dreaming. The dream being love, dignity, to live as a creator of one’s destiny, and to co-create with others. This is the life of joy and not of drudgery. It is not about luxury and comfort. It is about being truly alive.