Money and Time (2016May07)


Money

Friday, May 06, 2016                                               11:33 AM

America was relatively young and full of beans after the second World War—the middle class exploded, salaries climbed to the sky, and poverty reached a record low of 11% in 1974—a figure we haven’t seen since. My whole adult life has been witness to our economic decline—so I can easily understand people wanting to ‘go back’ to better times. But grow up, already—hey, I’d like to be twenty-one again, too—but that ain’t gonna happen. We call it the ‘past’ for a reason.

And America, having reached those historic highs by being America, is never going to recover that prosperity by undoing the social progress that is America’s defining feature. That’s a bill of goods being sold to us by the finger-pointers, who blame various groups for something that is systemic—the changes in global and domestic economy that have brought us to where we are now are not going to be fixed by targeting some ethnic or religious faction—and certainly not by blaming the poor.

Business used to be a social contract that included stockholder profits in the equation—it has been whittled down to where it now concerns itself solely with that one objective—and as always happens when greedy people oversimplify a situation, we are seeing a lot of dysfunction in business—especially in the area of employment. For one thing, nobody has had a raise since 1980. People don’t make money in America anymore—a few people own money, and the rest of us have to scramble for the scraps. You’re not gonna fix that by blaming the Mexicans—or the Chinese. You’re only going to fix that problem by returning to a world where employees matter to their employers.

And if America has let itself become too accepting of child-slave-labor products from overseas, we’re not going to fix that by importing that cold-blooded attitude back here to America. Businesses have been very eager to cancel their interests in North Carolina due to gender-rules in bathrooms—when are we going to stop importing goods from countries that treat their workers like serfs? It doesn’t help that our politicians spend more time and energy on rationalizing our dysfunctions than on finding solutions—but the real problem is that too few people have too much say, and those rich bastards have hearts of stone. The easy answer is just to kill all the rich people. Maybe after they spend a few days ducking bullets, they’d re-acquire some respect for the people that actually create their fortunes.

It’s a puzzle, alright—how can we keep getting new gadgets, new discoveries, new insights—and the result always turns out to be a bigger mess than we’ve ever had to deal with before? How can we have unheard-of productivity and at the same time suffer under unemployment and low wages? What the hell? Someone has rigged the table and we’re all getting taken.

Time

Thursday, May 05, 2016                                          11:37 AM

Our kids were born in the 1980s. I was born in 1956, my parents in the 1930s, my grandparents were born in the 1910s—we’ve been a very 20th century family for quite a while. Here we are, 16 years into the next millennium, and I’m about to become grandfather to our first 21st-century kid. To him or her, my entire century will be a vague notion in a schoolbook; I will be a strange, wrinkled old man; his or her world will be something I never fully understand.

You can see why people are so fascinated by stories of time-travel—time-travel isn’t that much different from a genie granting wishes—you can have whatever you want, but the genie will put a fatal twist on it that you didn’t see coming. Time is such a troublemaker that even if we could jump around in it, we would still have problems with it.

My biggest problem with time is that time only goes quickly by when I’m happy. What’s with that? What evolutionary advantage is there in losing track of time when you’re happy? Maybe it’s our bodies saying to us, “Well, there’s no danger here—don’t pay any attention.” If danger can heighten our awareness, then perhaps happiness does the opposite. Maybe that’s why orgasms are so brief—it’s Mother Nature getting us back in the game, so we don’t get eaten in the afterglow. Happiness is a blank space to our instincts, and they just shut down until we return to the drudgery of survival. And perhaps that’s why an old codger like myself is mistrustful of happiness—we are at our most vulnerable when happiness turns off our alarm system. Perhaps that’s why the Puritans were so dead set against being happy—it has similarities to intoxication.

Then again, I have to wonder why I’m so afraid of being vulnerable—I made it sixty whole years without ever having to use a gun or a knife—or even my fists. It reminds me of how bad my fear of dogs once was, without ever being bitten—there was a mean dog on our street, but it never bit me—it just strained against its chain, making the most angry barks and growls. I think I was frightened by its display of viciousness—it obviously wanted to confront something. Also, I think people treated their dogs worse back then—mean dogs don’t come out of a vacuum—they are a reflection of their owners. I was no less afraid of people—they had more bark to them, back then, as well.

Nowadays, fear grows and grows—and it has less cause than ever. I go through night-terrors and anxiety attacks without any reason—I’d be more comfortable with actual dangers—at least those can be faced down. This vague, unfocused terror is a thing unto itself—it just is—what do you do with that shit?

Lesley Stahl has come out with a new book, “Becoming Grandma”, about the wonders of being a grandmother—she claims there is an actual biochemical change in a person who is granted a grandchild—I hope she’s right. Claire and I are fairly dancing with anticipation. And time bustles on.

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