No one can be rich unless they are richer than someone else. I can hope for health, longevity, happiness, serenity and good weather for myself and my kith and kin without wishing for someone else to be deprived of those things, but the instant I hope for wealth, I am hoping that someone else has less than I do. That’s what wealth is: having more than others. Which would be one thing if everybody had the basics – food, clothing, shelter, medical care – but everybody doesn’t. The way wealth is distributed in the USA – to say nothing of the rest of the world - means that some people will wear suits that cost $25,000, others will attempt to survive on that figure annually and others will die of malnutrition and/or easily treated diseases.
I cannot fathom that. If I was standing on a riverbank and a child was drowning, I would help that child. For me to just stand there would be the same as murder. The population of the USA in 2010, the most recent census, was 308,745,538, one-percent of which is approximately 3,087,455. So there are about three-million-eighty-seven-thousand-four-hundred-fifty-five people – the infamous 1% - who are, to continue the metaphor, standing on the riverbank watching millions of people, many of them children, drown in poverty. That makes Marie Antoinette look like Mother Teresa.
A person without a conscience is called a sociopath. That word usually conjures images of mass murders, but friends, all the killers on all the death rows in America combined don’t have half the blood on their hands as any one billionaire.
Capitalism is the theory that the desire to acquire more and more and more, at the expense of one’s neighbors, is the right and proper goal of every human being. According to this theory, the highest state anyone can aspire to is that of a shark during a feeding frenzy.
I think we can do better.
I should state right here that I am not a Socialist nor am I a Communist. I like owning stuff and I do not want the government to have any say in how I conduct my affairs. Anarchist theory can be thought-provoking, but where I live “anarchist” is short for “pot-smoking college kid with a trust fund who feels like annoying the ‘rents for a couple years” and I ain’t one. I like roads and utilities. I appreciate being able to mail things and put my trash out by the curb for someone to take away. The government does a lot of perfectly okay things, but I still don’t want them up in my business. I’m sure that has to do with my upbringing which was solidly lower-middle class and rabidly right-wing. My people will starve before they’ll drink the sweat off a workingman’s brow, as the saying goes. Shit, my old man was in Vietnam and his old man was at Guadalcanal and that means they earned their lifetime’s worth of government-subsidized healthcare, pinko. I gotta break off for a full disclosure moment:
The Spotted Opossum’s mommy and I broke up about a week after she got pregnant. In all honesty, I don’t know how the two of us got along long enough for her to get pregnant. I assume the Almighty wanted it to happen. Or something. Anyway, despite being no longer a couple and scarcely able to tolerate each other, we decided to live together for financial reasons and because it made baby-sharing easier. During the first year, when the wee’un was nursing, her mommy couldn’t work and my income was woefully insufficient so the mommy went out and got food stamps. We were also getting WIC stuff, which helped, but not much. Because we were living together, my income was taken into consideration, but I never went to the agency to fill out forms, stand in lines and be treated like a common parasite. The mommy did all that while I played with the baby. So, I can honestly say I’ve never taken any money from the government, but I certainly benefited from the fact that my daughter’s mother went down and got the help. After seven or eight months, she got a part-time job which pushed us up out of qualifying for anything
I told my dad that recently. He looked away, mumbled “Well, I’m not going to say anything about that” and generally acted like I done something terribly shameful, which is ridiculous since the amount of money we got during those seven or eight months was nowhere near the amount we’ve paid into the system. Hell, that’s why the system exists – for people like us, who work and pay taxes, but need a bit of help very rarely. I’m not a bit sorry we used food stamps to buy healthy, locally-grown produce at the farmer’s market.
I also must admit that the main reason I never went to the welfare office was pridefulness. The mommy asked me to go one time and I said no. I just couldn’t do it.
Anyway. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and I work. And I vote. But I do not want the government taking over everything. Deliver the mail, maintain the playgrounds where I take the girl, repave the roads every few years and otherwise leave me alone. Governments can’t make people care about each other. I’m not sure if any government has actually tried to do that, but they have tried to make people quit drinking, quit smoking marijuana, quit having sex in ways the Archbishop of Canterbury wouldn’t approve of and a lot of other dumb shit that was never going to work, so I can’t imagine they’d do any better at instilling a sense of empathy into people, which isn’t their job anyway. It’s religion’s job to make people care about each other and I firmly believe in ye olde walle of separation betwixt Church and State, though “church” and “religion” are not synonymous. You know what I mean.
“ Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:20. I quite the Bible more than other sources, because I’m more familiar with it than the Quran or Upanishads and I assume my readers are, too, not because I’m a Christian or intend to promote Christianity over any other path. But I digress.
Certainly, I want some security for myself and my child. I want food on the table – beans’n’rice, collard greens, peach cobbler, coffee for me and juice for the sprat – I want to be able to keep the truck running, pay the rent and get a new distortion pedal every so often. I may seize the opportunity to become a homeless, wandering mendicant later, but right now I’m firmly in the householder stage of life. I have responsibilities as well as desires and money is part of that picture, but not much money. I have lived my entire adult life on the poverty line. True – that wasn’t always voluntary. For a number of years, I poured money down my neck with one hand and shoved it up my nose with the other, but after I got straight I quickly came to the realization that, to quote Mohandas Gandhi, “Honesty is incompatible with amassing a large fortune.” He was a kind and gentle Mahatma and I’m not – I typically use stronger language. However, at this point I’d rather shift to how I live and how I would encourage others to live.
Everything that I have which can be obtained used, I got used. Buying secondhand stuff means paying less, boycotting big companies and recycling. It also means getting really cool shit that you wouldn’t be able to get any other way. My three previously-owned, acoustic Hondo guitars together cost less than one new Fender acoustic. My three previously-owned electric Hondo guitars cost less than one new Squire. I’ve also got a Hondo bass and Hondo mandolin, and a fiddle, tenor banjo, another bass, a mountain dulcimer, Melodihorn, a trumpet, a baritone ukulele, a handful of assorted standard-size ukes and another handful of assorted harmonicas, drums, fifes, jew-harps and errata, all of which has been used in BDSR. Then there’re the suitcases full of pedals, the four-track and the laptop, all used. Cables are hard to find used, but I have salvaged some from dumpsters. The previous owner of my boots not only had my weird size - 9EE – but my blood type – O+. It was written in Sharpie on the sides, I assume in case he got hit, he wanted the medics to know. My apartment is full of books, very few of which I bought new – maybe one-percent, probably less. Relying on used bookstores, thriftstores and the free book stand downtown means only reading what God or the Fates put out, which is pretty interesting stuff. Friends tell me they’re reading some novel by some bestselling author and I tell them about whatever theological, mythological, anthropological, archeological or simply illogical book I’m in the midst of. Right now it’s The Mythology Of North America, by John Bierhorst. I’ve got books on every kind of art and/or craft, biographies of Saints, books of quotations, histories of European powers, fakebooks, instructional books for several instruments – Mel Bay and Earl Scruggs – books on many major movements in the visual arts, dirty limericks, Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, Norse sagas, the first ten Foxfire books …sometimes I look around and think, “Jesus Christ, did I read all these books?” Yes, mostly. Some of it is reference material and I have yet to be moved to slog through the Old Testament. I encourage everybody to read and to read what appears. It’s far more interesting and educational than just getting paperback novels. My .410/.22 came down my father’s side of the family – I admit it, I bought the recurve bow new. It’s damn hard to find a used recurve bow – used compound bows are around, but I’m in it for the zen, not to kill deer. Some art supplies have to be new: paper, watercolor pencils, Micron 005 pens; but a lot can be obtained at thriftstores or the dumpster behind the art building at the local college, and a lot of art supplies can be gotten at hardware stores for a fraction. I shared studio space with a woman a year or so ago, one of those bored, drunk wives who dabble in abstract paintings between cheating on their husbands, not with me by the way. She was crazy wasteful with her supplies and I scored a pile of stuff from her trash. My little red truck is a ’91 model, five-speed, runs like a top and has the stock cassette player. Cassettes are like books – free or less than a dollar and fantastically various. I’m not going into the passenger-side-floor tape collection now because I want to save it for deeper treatment. I bought the little red truck from the daughter of the original owner. I knew him well, her a bit better, and they maintained it damn well. Kurt Vonnegut said something someplace about how everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance and I wish I could quote and cite it because it hit home with me, but I dunno where it is. Hocus Pocus, maybe. Mother Night. Bluebeard. Slapstick. One of ‘em. Maintenance is important. I expect to give the truck to my daughter some day. My daughter also expects me to give her the truck some day. I also have an ’03 Nissan, but I was coerced into that purchase by a scabrous little harpy. I don’t love the car and will get rid of it a.s.a.p. And then there’s the bric-a-brac. I come from a long line of hoarders and collectors and I don’t try hard to fight it, though there’s certainly less now than there was before I had to move eight times in four years. Ceramic skulls, real skulls – mostly does, but also a couple bucks, ram, cow, cats, coyote, rabbit, groundhog, squirrel, some I’m not sure about – feathers, fat Buddhas, porcelain fish, antique bottles – some of them filled with bird bones, dryer lint, hair, snailshells and several with teeth – odd rocks, religious icons, a piece of rusty metal that makes me think of a pug-nosed shark, weird tools, old tobacco tins, bookends that are monkeys holding human skulls and sitting atop books by Darwin, bullet casings, marbles, old cast-iron banks, a marble bust of Ho Chi Minh, that handmade statue of a two-headed horse and so on. All of the art on the walls are original pieces, either by my friends or myself. The point is – I’ve got a bunch of stuff, none of it status-oriented, all of it pretty funky and interesting and I’m fucking poor as a church mouse. Ha! Did I leave out clothes? Thiftstore duds, all the way.
There is enough stuff in the world for everybody to have plenty. The old labor battlecry was “Seize the means of production.” Feh. Cease the means of production is more like it. Stop making new stuff. Stop buying new stuff. If I thought I was influencing a large audience, I might tone it down, but since I can’t imagine that’s true, I might as well go all out and encourage both of you to live the way I do, which is pretty damn good living on very little income.
Actually, I’m unemployed now, so no income. My job wasn’t satisfying and I’d gotten into the black with a fair amount of room, so I quit. Jobs aren’t hard to come by and that one wasn’t great anyway. More time for doodling, vision questing, recording, drinking coffee at the coffeeshop downtown where they don’t charge me, fundraising for charitable organizations local and global, strange movies about cannibalism, meditation, sleeping, archery, dumpster diving, staring off into space, wandering around in the woods, talking to people, writing about how fucked-up the capitalist system is and how insanely devoid of humanity rich people must be, exploring the forgotten spaces and abandoned houses around town, hoping for health, longevity, happiness, serenity and good weather for my kith and kin, hugging trees, sewing, foraging, putting things in bottles and, most importantly, having imaginary pie-cake with the Spotted Opossum and her assortment of babies.
Have a nice day at work tomorrow.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.