Ready, Aim….

Sharon July 30th, 2008

Barbara Ehrenreich has a wonderful essay on the way we’re turning on ourselves in response to the financial crisis – and how we should be turning our anger outwards.  She’s right – and it isn’t just suicide.  Depression, domestic violence, child abuse – all of these are on the rise, and in large part due to the fact that people are poorer, scared and frustrated.  Ehrenreich writes of the move to respond to the financial bad news by destroying yourself that we’re aiming in the wrong direction:

“Dry your eyes, already: Death is an effective remedy for debt, along with anything else that may be bothering you too. And try to think of it too from a lofty, corner-office, perspective: If you can’t pay your debts or afford to play your role as a consumer, and if, in addition — like an ever-rising number of Americans — you’re no longer needed at the workplace, then there’s no further point to your existence. I’m not saying that the creditors, the bankers and the mortgage companies actually want you dead, but in a culture where one’s credit rating is routinely held up as a three-digit measure of personal self-worth, the correct response to insoluble debt is in fact, “Just shoot me!”

The alternative is to value yourself more than any amount of money and turn the guns, metaphorically speaking, in the other direction. It wasn’t God, or some abstract economic climate change, that caused the credit crisis. Actual humans — often masked as financial institutions — did that, (and you can find a convenient list of names in Nomi Prins’s article in the current issue of Mother Jones.) Most of them, except for a tiny few facing trials, are still high rollers, fattening themselves on the blood and tears of ordinary debtors. I know it’s so 1930s, but may I suggest a march on Wall Street?”

And may I hear an amen?  I’m with Ehrenreich here – we’ve all been taught to be ashamed of poverty, that we’re in charge of our own destiny, and thus, if we are poor, we’ve failed.  This, of course is a lie – but a terribly potent one, one with the power to hurt us very badly – as long as we let it.

It is time and past time to stop buying that lie, to get angry and turn our anger towards the places we can make a difference.  For example, right now, our future is being stolen from us as the Fed and other government agencies pour billions of dollars – billions that might have been spent on food aid, hunger relief, reinsulation of millions of homes, renewable energy applications for schools and hospitals – into Wall Street, into an economy that is collapsing anyway.  Our money, and our future is being treated as so much garbage.  And we are permitting it.

In his book _The People’s History of the Twentieth Century_, Howard Zinn speculates that in fact, the New Deal wasn’t so much a response to the desperation of the American people during the Depression, but a response to the sheer success of collective action by ordinary people.  Labor Unions and organized resistance to foreclosures and evictions became so powerful, so dangerous to institutional powers, that government response was in part motivated by the recognition that their power was *GOING TO GO AWAY PERMANENTLY* because people realized – oh wait, we don’t have to let them take our homes away, or treat us like slaves.  That is, the Depression brought great suffering – but it also brought the recognition that the only solution to that suffering lay in the hands of ordinary people.  This is no less true now than then, although it is sometimes hard to see or remember.

Or think, for example, about the tremendous energies used by Southern slave owners to prevent slave rebellions.  The prohibitions against reading and writing, the hideous punishments of failed ones, all of this was used to convince slaves that they could not win – even though there’s an excellent chance they could have, had enough rebelled.  Deep at the heart of slavery and every kind of repression is the knowledge that if enough people care enough, are angry enough, are willing enough to sacrifice for something better, all the slave owners and entrenched powers are doomed.  All it takes is enough “no”s.

On the same day I read Ehrenreich’s article, I got an email from a man who said:

 ”I’m getting ready for climate change and peak oil. I’m working with my community.  I’m preparing personally. I know I’m doing the right thing by reading and learning and teaching others.  But I can’t shake this feeling of sadness.  When my daughter was born, 6 years ago, I was so excited, so filled with hopes and dreams for her.  Now, as I learn more about the world, I feel like all my dreams have died, and my hopes are being reduced to ‘I hope my daughter gets to live in a world that isn’t too brutal and inhumane’ or ‘I hope even though there might not be enough resources to go around that she gets some.’  I don’t like the dreamless person I’m becoming.  How do I find something to hope for, to dream of, that isn’t the bare minimum of survival?”

It was an email I didn’t quite know how to answer when I first got it, and the gentleman kindly gave me permission to think about it and print an answer here.  But now, I think I do have a kind of an answer. 

One of the criticisms levelled at my end of (the relocalizers, permaculturists, sustainability crew) is that we’re unrealistic, utopian, that we don’t fully grasp how hard it will be to simply keep alive, and now we’re shooting at making things better?!?  And there’s almost certainly some truth to that criticism – as there is to all potent critiques.  And lord knows, as a recent Onion Headline (“Small, Dedicated Group of Concerned Citizens Fails to Change World”) points up, it is easy to get a little too fuzzy and cute about empowerment and imagine that simply by reducing the scale of some things while fundraising and putting up the right bumperstickers that we’ll magically make all the entrenched powers go away.

But while they are pretty good at ignoring or subverting small groups of concerned citizens, the old adage about coyotes (that they are more scared of you than you are of them) rather applies to politicians, corporations and other entrenched powers when faced with big groups of pissed off people.  Want proof?  Look at history – at the number of times angry groups of people have changed societies quite rapidly and radically.  It happens all the time.  It isn’t happening yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. 

So as I cast about for answers to what my correspondent can dream for his children, and I for mine,  I found this – a dream of anger, used wisely.  A world in which today’s parents,  and all today’s grownups have the courage to get angry, and use the power they have.  In which they have the ability to see what is possible, and to take in a host of ways as much power as they can for ordinary people.  As institutions and politicians and corporations are more and more proved utterly unequal to the task of meeting our needs, we can open our eyes and see that we can meet them – or we can withdraw our support and tolerance from those institutions until serve us, rather than forcing us to serve them.

 Then I can dream of two things for my boys, and for his daughter.  First, that they will grow up uncowed by those powers – aware that they only seem distant and immovable.  And also that they will know that their anger and passion are powerful enough to take an imperfect, warmer, depleted world, and find a kind of sufficiency within it – with enough left over for dreams for the next generation.

 Sharon
 

43 Responses to “Ready, Aim….”

  1. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Ready, Aim…. Barbara Ehrenreich has a wonderful essay on the way we’re turning on ourselves in response to the financial crisis – and how we should be turning our anger outwards. She’s right – and it isn’t just suicide. Depression, domestic violence, child abuse – all of these are on the rise, and in large part due to the fact that people are poorer, scared and frustrated. Ehrenreich writes of the move to respond to the financial bad news by destroying yourself that we’re aiming in the wrong direction: Staying Alive: LOOKING AT THINGS July 30th, 2008 [...]

  2. cb says:

    The new mantra in my family when we say goodbye to one another is “Remeber, bullies are cowards!”

    My granddaughter has a toy cash register and the other day I heard her making anouncements about specials at “her” grocery store. “And,” said she, “we never never never report your purchases to the government. At the end of the day, we total up our sales and that is all the government learns from us!”

    Who would have ever believed what we are now required….required….to teach our children?

    And I would like to have a word with all of the people in the security line at the airport that stood and watched while the old man with a pin in his knee, was made to drop his pants. That should have been the line in the sand. What have we become?

  3. Meadowlark says:

    …It wasn’t God, or some abstract economic climate change, that caused the credit crisis. Actual humans — often masked as financial institutions — did that…

    I usually agree with your posts. Not this time. Yes, it was actual humans, but pointing the finger at “the big bullies” doesn’t negate personal responsibility. If I chose to spend because the commercial told me I was worthless without the product, that is MY fault. If I chose to use credit to keep up with the Jones’ – again, MY fault.

    Part of why we are in this predicament is the lack, nay, the REFUSAL to take personal responsibility for our choices.

    Now, if you have medical debt, I’m not talking that. But you took our a home loan that is now going to foreclose because you got an adjustable rate mortgage and it has reset? Gee, I read every word of my contract, didn’t you? You owe a ton on your credit cards? Um, stop spending.

    Much of it really is as simplistic as that.

    Yes, the government as it exists today SUCKS. And since we have “bread and circuses”, most sheeple will just watch their rights trickle away. But make no mistake, your debt is your choice. I can’t imagine why people would want to put “their lives” in the hands of an entity that can’t even take care of itself.
    -just my two cents

  4. Meadowlark says:

    CB – We say “Watch out for stupid people”. Much easier to say to teenage drivers than “be safe” to which they always reply “I AM”.

  5. Ann Nonymouse says:

    Meadowlark- so- if I con you- and take all your money, because I tricked you, and you trusted me- that’s really all your fault.

    Cool.

    You’ve never been sick either; or had someone in your family dying, with no money for medical care. Good for you.

  6. Shamba says:

    db, there is absolutely no reason that old man should have dropped his trousers in public!! those TSA agents should be stripped naked in public for what they did! If they were worried about surgical implants, they could have taken him to a private area to check out his knees. lot of joint replacement people fly all the time, I’m one of them.

    I fly more than once a year with a hip replacement and always set off the alarms. I tell them I hae a hip replacement and they do want me to been patted down, I’m female by the way, and they sometimes look inside my bags but I don’t have a real problem with it. I’ve never had to be searched more than that but if I was I’d ask for a private area and of course, get a female TSA agent.

    I know that this searching of older people who don’t have anyone with them to defenct or be their advocate is a problem in a lot of airports.

    hceers
    shamba

  7. equa yona says:

    Anonymous: be fair, Meadowlark excluded medical debt from her critique. Read the posts before shooting.

  8. equa yona says:

    Great post Sharon. Made me think of the scene from Grapes of Wrath where Pa Joad wants to shoot the guy driving the bulldozer. Time to break out the metaphorical shotguns.

  9. Robyn M. says:

    @Meadowlark–

    Actually, it really was the financial institutions, in conjunction (collusion?) with the government that did this. The stunning array of new financial instruments that have been created over the past couple of decades–none of which *any* homebuyer has *any* knowledge of, or power to influence–have brought most of this about (wikipedia “CDOs” and “CDSs” for some fun late-night reading). Pair it with the constant chipping away of all the regulations put in place after the last Depression (the Glass-Steagall Act), which had been designed to prevent another depression, and you’ve got… well… our current situation. The housing bubble itself was very much a creation of Greenspan–he even admitted it. So the banks created monstrous financial devices, outside our control, which are falling apart all around them, and now we have to pay for it (woo-hoo, Open Window at the Treasury Loan Department for all failing mortgage institutions!). Sorry, but this just is *not* our fault or the complete fault of our dumb decisions, though those played a role–it’s the fault of the institutions who created the situation.

    Sure, some people took out boneheaded loans. And others didn’t. And some were operating on the assumption, true for decades, that the economy would keep growing and that incomes would keep rising–especially if you’ve got a good job–so there’s nothing to worry about with ARMs. And some people are undereducated and couldn’t make it through the 80 pages worth of legalese involved in a mortgage if they tried, and actually *trusted* their lending agent (on the foolish assumption that it’s not in the lending agent’s best interest to give you a bad loan on which you’ll default–but then, that’s where all those lovely CDOs and CDSs come in!) And some have spent their money responsibly and tried to save, but have gotten smacked down by any number of events–not just illnesses, but unexpected job losses, wage cuts, and the like. This whole event is complex, and it’s full of smart failures and cringing idiots and *stunning* bank stoopidity and everything in between. But I’m glad you feel in the position to throw stones at others.

    @Sharon–
    Thank you for this post. I’m deeply distressed by the moral worth our society has attached to making/having wealth. It’s been used for decades (centuries?) to justify hideous treatment of the poor because, hey, they must deserve it, right? *sigh* Maybe someday we’ll break that particular ideology; but given various attitudes I’ve seen around, I don’t think it’ll be soon.

  10. David says:

    As institutions and politicians and corporations are more and more proved utterly unequal to the task of meeting our needs, we can open our eyes and see that we can meet them – or we can withdraw our support and tolerance from those institutions until serve us, rather than forcing us to serve them.

    From your lips to G-d’s ears.

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  11. Greenpa says:

    Ah, Sharon. You do realize, if you weren’t already on the Homland Securty wat ch list you- we- are now. :-)

    Beware of calls for action- somebody could take you up on it. And you could get swept up; so so easily. Life-consuming passions here. And rightly so.

    Yes, I agree. In fact I called for marches on Wall Street some weeks ago- and meant it. The placards should read “Murderers” I said. I was talking about food speculators- but it’s the same people; the same money.

    Meanwhile. Our congress just passed a lovely bill giving them everything- authorization for up to $800 Billion just to support Freddy and Fannie. With almost no squawks of protest. All that money to “help homeowners” – will be paid to? The banks. And who decides who gets the aid? The banks. Seriously stinky stuff.

    One point were some headway might be made, I think. The CEO of Fannie Mae “earned” something like $18 Million last year- not including bonuses.

    Pretty clearly- he took money out of the business that he shouldn’t have. The money was not in fact there. That’s why the taxpayers are having to bail them out.

    Shouldn’t he give that money back? And take a little pay cut- at least down to what the President of the USA makes? (a measly $550k, last I knew).

    Nobody in Congress is saying that – but we taxpayers are the ones footing the bill. There’s a point we could make- and it would be very very hard to argue against it. There’s billions in “aid” right there; waiting to be claimed.

    So we could add that to the signs; when we march- with our pitchforks (cardboard, so the cops can’t complain) – “Murderers!” and “Give Our Money BACK!”

    Oh, that would be fun.

  12. jerah says:

    Meadowlark, I do agree that taking out an ARM is irresponsible. I would never do it. But then, I’m really careful about debt and think everyone else should be too. Not very many people agree with that these days, it’s true. That needs to be fixed. It’s going to be a painful process to do so.

    But it’s not just people with mortgages who are getting hurt by this thing (and by “this thing”, I’m excluding peak oil – everyone’s going to get hurt by that, I’m just talking about the credit/mortgage crisis).

    Tons of people have invested in 401Ks. The stock market is taking a beating because the banks are taking a beating and the credit markets are taking a beating. Personally, I don’t give a damn if Bear Stearns implodes. But I do care if my relatives can no longer retire when they thought they could because their retirement 401Ks have lost a quarter of their value. I do care that my parents might be upside down on their mortgage soon, with no hope of selling their house and moving closer to where I live, as they had been planning to. I do care that municipalities and universities and student loan originators are deep in crisis right now, trying to figure out how they’ll keep the garbage trucks running and the research labs funded and the student loan system working so people who can’t afford to pay for college in cash can get college degrees.

    It’s a bigger issue than just the subprime mortgages defaulting, for sure.

    And I entirely agree with you, Sharon, people should be mad, very mad. But TPTB are aware of what’s going on, too. Not to be a total paranoid freak, but has anyone been following what’s been going on in terms of civil liberties in this country recently? I have some really frightening stories from the anti-war protests that happened here in NYC a few years ago.

    The Posse Comitatus Act has been repealed. Just think, that act was passed in 1878, and we’ve never before seen a need to repeal it. The Government can now deploy American troops on American soil for the purposes of law enforcement. That’s insane. That fact means that we are no longer the country that we used to be. We’re not going to have an armed revolution, or any kind of taking to the streets, that isn’t very, very violent and violently repressed.

    I do think people should be angry. I also think it can’t just be the people. We need some lawmakers and influential people on our side too. Otherwise this story will not end well.

  13. Meadowlark says:

    Jerah,
    Civil liberties is a topic of major controversy in our house. One person is willing to give up much in order to be “safe”, the other wants to give up hardly anything and take their chances.

    I did sound harsh. I know. I apologize. I know I have some major issues with debt and blaming others. That said, (I soooo should keep my mouth shut and stay off the watch list that someone I know quite intimately probably has access to) I am beyond blaming the government. Like it will change anything?? We have given up everything for (there’s that phrase again) bread and circuses and I don’t see that changing.

    Look at what a little, tiny drop in the bucket we are here. Miniscule, even. What should we do about the other 80% that doesn’t care. Or worse, the 10% like me that cares but hasn’t made a single decent effort to fix things? Oh sure, I tried to track what they were doing in Congress, but got so brain-dead that I gave up. I wrote to some legislators and what happened? Nothing. What did I expect? Change?

    And I do not believe that the other party will be any better. Different, yes. (thank goodness) But better? No. They’re politicians and they’re part of a large movement that we will not change.

    Sorry Sharon. I’ll be quiet. I’m just sick to death of this system and our complacency.

  14. Robyn M. says:

    The Posse Comitatus Act has been repealed. Just think, that act was passed in 1878, and we’ve never before seen a need to repeal it. The Government can now deploy American troops on American soil for the purposes of law enforcement.

    This puts me in mind of the following quotation:

    “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

    – Admiral Adama, “Battlestar Galactica”, Original Miniseries, SciFi Channel

    Now, I ask you–if the writers of a scifi show can figure this out, WHAT is the holdup for the rest of us?! (And don’t mistake me, I love scifi.)

  15. M says:

    I just wanted to pop in and give you all a link you might find interesting in light on today’s topic of discussion:

    http://www.campaignforliberty.com/mission/

    Please join us! There is hope for America!

    BTW, I love your blog, Sharon. You get me in trouble with my husband all the time! I blame all my crazy ideas on you and we move on! ;-)

  16. Rosa says:

    Robyn – comfort?

    I’ll tell you, I learned almost ten years ago that the really important organizing work in this country should be done from inside a jail.

    But I’m not doing it. Jail is a bad place to be. And boy am I glad I didn’t get stuck there back in that pre-911 time when things weren’t as bad as they are now.

    Now, if we hadn’t been able to track down photos that the cops hadn’t seized, I might have gone to prison. And probably it would have been really good for me (assuming I wasn’t raped, or given murderously bad medical care, or given birth chained to a bed and had my child sold – er, adopted – before my release date).

    But no way in hell I’m doing it voluntarily. I’m not a saint (or even a civil-disobedience nun)

  17. Rebecca says:

    Amen Sharon.

    Equa wrote: “Time to break out the metaphorical shotguns.”

    Sadly, its not just metaphorical shotguns anymore. Or has anyone heard of the UU church shooting last weekend? He blamed liberals for his problems. As things get worse, more and more people are going to go off the deep end and look to take out their frustration on the ones who caused their problems. Unfortunately, they won’t always find the right ones.

  18. Rebecca says:

    Robyn, scifi and fantasy writers seem to have an uncanny habit of doing things like that. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen it many, many times. I think its quite interesting.

  19. Hummingbird says:

    Wonderful post, Sharon! You have nailed it. I too was struck by Zinn’s insight into why the America I grew up in had such a wonderful prosperous middle class with nice homes and good jobs and prospects of sending their children to college. Any why, once the “communist threat” had been neutralized, they could immediately set about destroying the power they had reluctantly granted to the people to organize at their jobs and at the ballot box to better their lives.

    Like Rebecca I see that people are becoming increasingly violent in their frustration, but turning on one another rather than on those who are ruining their hopes and lives.

    This time the powerful are better prepared. They have gained control of the means of communication and use it to sow distrust of liberals, unions, environmentalists, community organizers, and anyone who might channel their frustration in more constructive ways. As Greenpa said, that’s how you get labelled a terrorist.

    I don’t have an answer, but you, Sharon, are using the power that you have in a positive way. People hear you, they listen. They talk to their neighbors and relatives. Maybe that’s how it will start. An army of people starting to take responsibility for their food and water and then for their neighbors and their communities.

    Keep trying, we are listening. And we are probably on the watch list with you.

  20. Greenpa says:

    Meadowlark- ah- frustration, and anger. It means your brain isn’t dead, I think. Please try to not get stuck there, though- it can eat you up.

    We ARE tiny here. But while the Onion’s story about “small dedicated group fails to change world” – is amusing- the fact is there are numerous examples where “small dedicated group SUCCEEDS” – is also true. Women’s suffrage. Abolition. Temperance- for a spectacular example of idiotic good intentions succeeding in spite of everything.

    And I agree that our national governments are a mess. Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” comes to mind.

    But we do still have considerable personal, and local freedom. We need to use it while we can. The best example out there at the moment I think is Rob Hopkins “Transition” movement; look what he’s managed to accomplish, with just quiet “we need to do something” talk! Somerset! Of course- as one of the commenters notes- this can easily be “just talk” for many of those involved; still it’s real progress getting such a local government body to sign off on ANY of this stuff.

    Hang in there. Anger can be useful; and can change things. When you get frustrated and feel like nothing is going to change- just remember how much HAS changed in the past. Change is inevitable, indeed. But whose hands are going to be on the steering wheel?

  21. Greenpa says:

    ok, a little humor- of the gallows type- this is apropos of not much, except to illustrate the current governmental mess; I just tripped over it, and it cracked me up; I need to share it! Fired by MN, Hired by HSA

    Good for eye-rolls, and painful laughter.

  22. Lisa Z says:

    Oh, Greenpa, I just saw that article in the Mpls. Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com. Ack! It should come as no surprise…

  23. Sharon says:

    Hi Everyone – Meadowlark, I hope you won’t be quiet – remember, I’m not the government – I like dissent ;-) . And it isn’t that I totally disagree with you at all – it is that I think about it this way. Here is the individual consumer, holding one end of a long rope over a vast, deep muddy sea. And we say “Ok, you are responsible for your end….100% personally responsible.” And then we allow, on the end, vast forces – corporations with thousands of people trying to figure out how to misrepresent and encourage people to spend money and make choices that are good for the economy and not them, a government that mostly wants to keep its entrenched power, again by getting as many people as possible to do what best encourages their power. And they are all pulling on the other end.

    What’s remarkable is that some of us ever do realize that we can drop the rope and walk away, or get other people to help hold up our end. Because we’re not told that that’s a choice – and from very early we’re taught not to recognize our full range of choices – our choices are what we’re given. And if you aren’t lucky enough to have been unusually bright, or have critical parents or find a good teacher who was interested in you – you probably don’t know how to figure out a new set of chocies.

    It is simultaneously testament to how very powerful we are that so many people do resist, dissent, figure out other choices, and a testament to how very powerful the other end of the line is that so many of us end up drowning in the mud. There is absolutely personal responsibility here – but the contest is not equal – it isn’t two people testing their moral or personal strength – all the power is lined up on one side, and unless you can figure out an alternative, or are unusually strong, it is easy to end up in the muck.

    I simply don’t think it is fair to line up a guy who barely made it through high school, who desperately wanted to own a piece of property because he really believed all that American dream stuff, and because people called his house daily saying they could put him in a house, if he’d sign this stuff – against corporations that had hundreds of people figuring out how to get him to sign. It isn’t that he couldn’t have resisted – plenty did. But again, we’re talking about bullies, and unequal fights, and in unequal matches, more often than not, the loser is the person with less power.

    So no, I don’t think that everyone is absolved of responsibility – merely that more responsibility lies with the people who consciously did this – and those who are, without our consent, rapidly turning our government into their private cash cow, bailing out CEOs and corporations and their high level executives while the rest of us get screwed. This winter, when people are freezing to death in their homes, the executives who drove our economy into the ground will still be driving around. And the only way the system gets more equitable, is that at a minimum, we don’t participate, and ideally, we start training our metaphoric guns and our anger at them.

    Sharon

  24. Student says:

    On the bad-loan issue, here is one example In 2004 I went to a mortgage specialist to determine what kind of loan I qualified for. I wanted to buy a small house, but had little money for a down payment. I had good credit, however, and a secure, if mediocre-paying job. This was his proposal – an interest-only 100% loan. No money down, none of my payments would go to the principal, only to the interest.

    He explained that houses in this area (midwest) had been appreciating 5-9% a year and I could count on selling my house in five years with a profit. It would be like renting, but I’d make money. He made it sound so reasonable – this was creative financing…

    I actually considered it. Rent money is wasted -here my home would be making money for me over the years. If I lost my job or wanted to move, I’d just sell with a profit. So what did it matter that no money went to the principal?

    That little voice inside (you know- the one you ignore at your peril) said NO. It just didn’t seem to make sense – it was wrong to borrow money and only pay interest. I told him thanks, but no thanks, and I decided to keep renting. If I had taken the loan, what kind of a mess might I be in now?

    The reason I mention this is that I could easily have done it. I am not an ignorant person. I thought this mortgage broker was honest and I so wanted my own home. What looked to be good advice then – I’m sure many people took out these loans – would look foolish now.

    There must be thousands of stories similar to mine out there. I was fortunate that I have learned – the hard way – to be inner directed rather than outer directed…

  25. Greenpa says:

    Student- excellent story. And you make the point well- those guys are trained to CON- they lie, mostly knowingly, sometime because they have been conned into themselves. But there’s a liar up there somewhere. It’s a trap- and perfectly good people can fall into traps.

  26. MEA says:

    I have a lot of trouble with blaming the victim. In the dark ages, when I did work in Trenton, one of my clients was a 24 year old women, with mental handicaps: among other things she couldn’t find the house she lived in while walking down the street. She had 5 living children. The eldest was 14 — that child’s father was the mother’s uncle. Another child was fathered by her brother when she was 16. When I took her and the youngest child to register for Head Start and it became apparent that no one in the family would help her get the child to school (the woman couldn’t manage buses on her own, and would get lost if she tried to walk) , one of the social workers said words to the effect that if the woman didn’t take some responsibility for her kids, she didn’t deserve to have a place in the Head Start program. I thought that was pretty harsh — given the fact that she couldn’t read, write or tell time (and seem unable to learn how to) the fact she keep her children clothed and fed seemed to me to be taking responsibilty as far as she could.

    If this woman signed a bit of paper to get her own house, I’d have a hard time holding her responsible.

    Obviously, not everyone who signed were as badly off as this woman. Some people took a risk hoping to get rich quick, some people thought, “I’ll figure it out when it get there,” but a lot of people didn’t have the judgement to figured out what was going on. I had no trouble understaing (back in the Dark Ages) my old fashioned, paper held by the insutute that issued it, mortage. But people with a lot more finaincial training than I have been fluxomed by some of the lanague on the exotics. And when the nice person who is helping you buy a house “explains” it (either lying or parrotting words he or she doesn’t understand) it seems harsh to blame you. When a working person reads all the literature given to them by RH, and responsiblity has money deducted to go into a pension account, and then that money is stolen, it seems unreasonable to blame then.

    It seems that the people who should be held accountable — those who knew exactly what they were doing when they pushed these “products” are excused by society for the very reasons that Sharon explains the poor are blamed — because beign rich is good, not just terms of nice for you, but Good in the moral sense.

    MEA

  27. Becky says:

    Thumbs up Student!

    I find stepping back and refocus does help as well.

    When we bought our house, things must have been a lot simpler. I don’t remember 80 pages.

    There were a few boxes across the top, things like Purchase price, # of monthly payments, $ amount of monthly payment, % interest rate = total $ amount when paid in full.

    The last box was the most important one for me. After all, I was expected to pay that much for my house!

    Whatever happened to simplicity?

  28. Meadowlark says:

    “And when the nice person who is helping you buy a house “explains” it (either lying or parrotting words he or she doesn’t understand) it seems harsh to blame you.”

    Perhaps we need to bring back training in “Caveat Emptor”. Why put your full trust in ANYBODY who stands to directly gain from the transaction? Who’s best interest do you think they have in mind?

    It’s like when the real estate agents here are quoted in the paper as industry experts and they say “Now is the best time to buy”. Um, what else do we think they’d say? If we don’t buy now, how will they make any money?

    The painfully honest person who will lose a sale to do the right thing is a rarity. Exceptions exist, but they either have a) another source of income or b) won’t be in that job much longer when the boss finds out.

    Sigh. It’s exhausting being a cynic. But it’s more exhausting fooling myself.

  29. MEA says:

    What skin is it off your nose if I want to feel sorry for people who were fleeced?

    It seems to me rather than feel the people who are out to trick people are in the wrong, you think the people they tricked were.

  30. Grandma Misi says:

    Meadowlark… and others, when I first read your post I found myself nodding my head and affirming your statements. But there were dozens of niggling inside voices saying “yeah, but…”
    I had to sit for awhile and think about those “buts”, and read some of the other comments to come to this conclusion.
    It’s all about education, formal somewhat, but informal (family/mentor) wise more so. I’m from the “Leave it to Beaver” generation – and I had a mother that irked me to no end due to the time she spent bent over her “books” working on her single-parent budget. Budget was a BIG word in our household. Personal Responsibility was too…
    BUT, (here we go) this next generation… they’ve spent more time watching buy-now, live-like-this TV, and other leisure pursuits, than the total hours of “schooling” in comparison. They’ve had less parenting and mentoring due to a preponderance of two-parent working households, etc.
    I guess my point is I’m wondering how many actually know the words, and more importantly understand the meaning of, “caveat emptor” ?
    Oops, I guess that’s what you said -
    ‘Perhaps we need to bring back training in “Caveat Emptor”.’
    ask them who Brittany is… or Miley… ask them what value is there in waiting to save and pay cash for something…
    when one is omniscient, omnipotent, and immortal paying $40.00 a month, for 25 years, totaling $1200 for $450 TV doesn’t seem like a bad deal.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love and admire my kids and grandkids, I know that all younger folks are not like this (Sharon for one!) and I know I’m oversimplifying – I’m just making some overall cultural observations.
    Things are truly different “these days” – no doubt about it!
    Grandma Misi, PNW

  31. nika says:

    Amen x10 .. anger pointed in the productive and appropriate direction is necessary for change and just to survive in the coming times.

    I suggest tho that this anger should be a nuanced and cultivated one (especially is we are passing it on to our children).

    It should not come from the ego, it should not be part of one’s identity and should not be used as sustenance, burning the soul to nubbins.

    It should be USED as a tool and with a sense of place and outward direction.

    It should not be used to dehumanize because we can only dehumanize others by dehumanizing ourselves on some level.

    The greatest gift we can give our sweet little children (mine are 2, 5, and 12) is a profoundly healthy sense of self that is NOT based on things but on the moment, living the now.

    Help them live their lives without the sense of loss that we perceive they must because its not a given that they should miss our consumerism driven society.

    I am in no way religious but think about the gift the FLDS and other primitivists have given their children – no TV, etc etc. (Tho I fear they have definitely left Eden on those counts).

    Think also about the freedoms our children might have post-collapse, that we do not have – no mortgages, no student loans, no credit ratings, that’s quite enough right there to dream about. There will be other challenges and we have no choice, if we chose to be survivors, but to skill-up and ALSO prepare the mind so that it is resilient in the face of massive change.

    We forget that we are dreamers who choose to dream and who have chosen to forget that we have chosen. The recursiveness of it is what makes it hard to see.

    (Please read James Carse’s “Finite and Infinite Games” before any of the other collapse books.)

    As we awaken, our pain is most acute as we thrash about in our bioreactors like Neo before he gets flushed out of the electric generating factory.

    We can chose to regret and thrash and pass that on to our kids or we can walk away from it, releasing the bonds of expectation and attachment.

    Nika
    http://www.peaknix.com

  32. Stephen says:

    “anger, used wisely” wisely: that’s the tricky part. Although I’m not against using it, keep in mind that there is the potential for things to get out of hand, with lots of people getting hurt. Of course, lots of people are getting hurt in our current system. I do think, though, that as economic conditions become more difficult, for more and more people, we are going to see some angry mobs. We may get some good out of it, but there will also be some victims.

  33. logspirit says:

    It seems these feared “parental” institutions will be going by the wayside too. Then who will we blame? Rebellion in such circumstances is self-immolation. We need a more mature view… to actually take responsibility for being the cause of our own global problems. Even serfs consume. Add it up and we use the lions share. Our real power is greater than threatening to be a mere institutional nightmare — we have the power to destroy ourselves, childishly. By now we have probably already passed the point of no return… for the great majority of humanity. If any survive the coming brutal catastrophe, they probably won’t be recognizable to us as the sort of people we’d normally socialize with.

  34. Meadowlark says:

    Stephen, Logspirit…
    So, I wonder if for what you seem to espouse, are you willing to die to save our earth?

    I have some major issues with people who talk about how “bad we are” yet aren’t willing to cap themselves.

    You can’t talk about “how bad we are” without being willing to STOP being a part of the problem.

    Or can you? Can you simply direct it at the NEXT generation?

  35. Hummingbird says:

    Yes.

  36. Sharon says:

    Meadowlark, this is think is logic chopping – I don’t think of anything in either post that suggests that a call to reduce one’s impact is self-evidently a call to reduce it to 0.

    Sharon

  37. frank says:

    i love the article, dont want to be a downer but, politicians do not hold the true power, we really cant be mad at them they really just give us what we want, we want electricity, they blow up mountains, we want gas, they get into wars, we want cars, lawnmowers,weedwhackers, chainsaws, motorcycles, jet skis, leaf blowers, four wheelers, they thwart action against global warming, we need food, they allow overfishing, over use of water resources, we want rich mahogony wood for our house, they support rain forest destruction, which also can be linked to we want to eat, beef is grown in slashed rainforests, we want cheap toys for our kids, so we import them from china, we want cheap everything, so they use child slave labor to make it for us…and the list goes on.

    so when you tell us to point our anger at a politician, you really should be pointing it at your neighbor and ourselves. true change will only come if the people choose to lead by example and live with less, now you try to tell someone they can do without something they had for years and they feel it is there god given right. believe me i have tried and its ugly. you cant change what doesnt want to change, it is easier to blame a politician than yourself though isnt it?

  38. Meadowlark says:

    I apologize. I re-read that last comment I wrote and was appalled at how angry I seem.

    I’ll blame it on the husband being gone for too long and go take a breather. I really do apologize… I’m not sure what I’m so angry about.

  39. Sharon says:

    Don’t worry about it, Meadowlark – we all have our days and our issues. Me too.

    Sharon

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