Saturday, February 8, 2014

Busting through the fog

Over 10 years ago, David Brooks, conservative NYTimes columnist, wrote a piece called, "The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Interest".  It's a great piece that I've had it highlighted on the front page since I started the blog.

I thought about it based on a couple of things I've came across recently. Brooks wrote:

If you earn $125,000 a year and live in Manhattan, certainly, you are surrounded by things you cannot afford. You have to walk by those buildings on Central Park West with the 2,500-square-foot apartments that are empty three-quarters of the year because their evil owners are mostly living at their other houses in L.A.
But if you are a middle-class person in most of America, you are not brought into incessant contact with things you can't afford. There aren't Lexus dealerships on every corner. There are no snooty restaurants with water sommeliers to help you sort though the bottled eau selections. You can afford most of the things at Wal-Mart or Kohl's and the occasional meal at the Macaroni Grill. Moreover, it would be socially unacceptable for you to pull up to church in a Jaguar or to hire a caterer for your dinner party anyway. So you are not plagued by a nagging feeling of doing without.
Many Americans admire the rich.
They don't see society as a conflict zone between the rich and poor. It's taboo to say in a democratic culture, but do you think a nation that watches Katie Couric in the morning, Tom Hanks in the evening and Michael Jordan on weekends harbors deep animosity toward the affluent?
A really smart "facebook friend" (meaning we know each other, haven't seen each other in ages, don't have each others phone numbers, etc., I'm sure ya get the point) recently posted this -
From an email to a friend of mine, in which we were talking about social media: "Basically, too many people with a megaphone makes me feel icky and overloaded and out of step."
She went on to make a really astute comment about the self-righteousness of posters on social media, which was a bit odd because I've recently done a couple post on self-righteousness as well.  But, this first observation, "...too many people with a megaphone makes me feel icky and overloaded and out of step."  led me back to the David Brooks piece.  Historically. Brooks was right, we haven't harbored "animosity toward the affluent"... but is that changing?  People rarely post things to their facebook page or twitter where they say, "hubby's cheating on me with hairdresser, 6 months late on the credit card bill, or look at this picture of me! I've gained 20lbs and haven't brushed my hair all weekend!."  No, they usually post about how great things are going, their new loves, recent vacations, cute kids and puppies, new jobs, etc.  And I wonder how many of us, this sunshine slash horseshit, it makes feel "icky... and out of step"?

The other piece that made me reflect on Brook's 10 year old observation was the spill of 82 million ton's of coal ash in the Dan River by Duke Energy.
Yes, Duke's spin machine is on high gear, trying to pull folks strings - but, my instinct is that fewer are buying it.  Fewer believe that Duke Energy is sorry, or will fix the issue "no matter the cost".  They remember the recent stories about Freedom Industries who polluted the water in WV and within days filed bankruptcy and said, "catch us if you can".  The CEO's of these companies who's oil rigs explode and damage the Gulf, or damage the water in WV or the Dan River, don't feel bad enough to sell their Escalade, or their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes.  They just feel bad that they might lose that next bonus.

Perhaps, just perhaps, my instinct is right and  the bright sunny (or most likely delusional) folks on facebook, along with the obvious company spin machines after disasters, and the trickle of stories about the record profits of companies but lower wages of average folks, is starting to reach the hearts of people.  Maybe we'll edge out of the foggy world that Brooks accurately described, and people will stop admiring the rich, and start really looking hard at how that got that way.  Do you make your money off the misery of others?  Are you a slumlord renting folks property you wouldn't want your kids staying in?  Are you peddling merchandise that you aren't really sure works?  If so, maybe one day soon, your world will change.

No comments: