Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Of survival and spaghetti

I often wonder how many of America's problems would disappear if so many of us weren't in survival mode all the time.

Desperation is a bitch. It aggravates all of the worst aspects of human nature: greed, arrogance, competition and all of their inbred cousins. It makes people toss aside any principles they may have just so they can get by for a little longer. It's as if the majority of us are drug addicts jonesing hard for something we can't afford, and didn't begin taking voluntarily to begin with.

There will always be greedy people. I get that. But we're also a country that makes people greedy. It's a different kind of greed than the kind that drives ambitious people to grab the brass ring — this kind arises from the uncertainty of not knowing what the future will hold. Financial security is increasingly a luxury enjoyed by fewer and fewer people, and it's hardly a straight function of merit or hard work.

Of course, a lot of politicians and business leaders absolutely love this situation. They want job-seekers who are too much in a pickle to be picky. They want people too hungry to reconsider their anger at unions, minorities and Democrats, or to redirect that anger to where it truly belongs. It keeps them in power, which emboldens them to continue to make hard work not pay off, which keeps the vicious cycle going.

I once worked a physically demanding job that had virtually no perks, apart from dropping to 144 cut pounds. On Thanksgiving Day, though, they fed us all spaghetti. Really savory spaghetti. I remember thinking that it made me like the job a lot more. Once I finished eating, I was happy and reinvigorated. The meal was a minor perk and probably not especially costly to the company, but it had a huge impact on me. Of course, once it was gone and didn't return, the dreariness and low pay of the job came right back, and I noticed the contrast. I left soon thereafter.

If I'd never eaten that spaghetti, I probably would have trudged along like nothing was amiss, and accepted my lot. I may not have realized that every job doesn't have to suck every day, and I would have learned to live with that. The true villains in this country don't want people to feel entitled to comfort on the job or job security, because that would raise their sense of self-worth. And self-worth isn't conducive to the de facto feudalism rampant in many American industries. Poor, hungry and desperate people don't think big-picture or long-term; they want, and need, instant gratification. Give them enough nutrition, and they start thinking more critically about their own value. 

Instead, Americans are brainwashed with endless bluster about how the problem isn't with those people, it's with ourselves. We aren't working hard enough. We're pansies. Life is a bloodsport and anyone who disagrees is a gun-grabber. So take one, or a million, for the team.

A nation that increases access to deadly weapons while simultaneously cutting back their rights as workers has a serious problem. Yesterday, we had another mass shooting on the same day one state began to allow concealed-carry and another introduced right-to-work. Healthy people don't shoot up malls. Healthy nations don't legislate harder lives for employees. Healthy societies don't make a good-paying job and decent health care pipe dreams. 

We are not healthy; we're starving. And spaghetti is not on the menu.

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