17 January 2008

How sweet it (relatively) is

"And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6.8).

I was listening to Limbaugh on Tuesday (call it a weakness). One of his callers berated him for being shielded by his wealth from the difficulties that "normal" people experience. And because Limbaugh is thus shielded he doesn't understand these difficulties. I don't know if that's true, but so what if it is? What if, due to his wealth-shield, Limbaugh doesn't understand the difficulties? The idea seemed to be that if Limbaugh wasn't wealthy, wasn't shielded from the difficulties that normal people deal face, then his views of distributionist economic policies would change.

In other words, if Limbaugh and his ilk didn't have wealth then they'd accept the proposition that the wealth of others should be distributed to them. Never mind that the issue, an ethical one and not an economic one, is whether wealth should be taken from those who have it and given to those who don't have it, on the mere grounds that those who have it have it (and don't really need all of it anyway) and those who don't have it don't have it (and need it).

Wealth -- quite a concept. But what is it?

To some of those who don't have it, it's something that others unfairly have and which must be fairly distributed to those who unfairly have not. What a bunch of wussies we've become.

I have been watching the CBS mini-series, "Comanche Moon." In Tuesday night's installment, a woman (one of many) was gang-raped in the middle of the street by five Comanches (right there in the middle of Austin, Texas) during a Camanche raid. Another woman, a wealthy woman (Inez Scull), was safe, firing at the Comanches from the safety of the balconey of her mansion. Wealth certainly shielded Inez from the difficulties of the normal women down on the street. (But on the other hand, Maggie, the town prostitute, was safe under a smokehouse. Go figure.)

It's difficult not to think about history when watching or reading historical fiction. It is also difficult not to compare and contrast our present "difficulties" with those of our ancestors (whether they are ancestors biologically, or culturally). Those ancestors populated the old west, with no garauntee of life, much less food, shelter, or even health care. Those ancestors pushed west knowing full well the dangers they faced. Women knew they could be gang raped by indians. Men knew their wives could be raped, their children kidnapped, themselves killed (scalped first, no doubt). Still they pushed west.

One could argue (with some justification, perhaps) that what propelled them forward -- what made them think these dangers worth facing -- was greed, greed for free land from the federal government. (But then land that costs you -- or could potentially cost you -- your life and the lives or virtue of your loved ones is hardly free. (I paid money for my land. Keeping it probably won't cost me my life, or my wife her virtue. Who would you rather be?) Not only that, but the only garauntee was the land, if you could settle it, not a living. That, you had to provide for yourself and as many children as you and your wife produced. No food stamps. No rent controls. No health care. No neighborhood watch. People for whom "foreclosure" meant "death". But I digress.)

Now, we have food stamps. We have government programs intended to bring about the day when every American can own his own home. When we lose our homes, we look to government. Natural disasters that our ancestors had to deal with in many cases alone (or in voluntary association with others) are now the government's responsibility. When we lose our jobs, we look to government. And God help the politician who talks about doing away with any of these programs.

I have heard that if you have your food in your refridgerator (not to mention your pantry), keep your clothes in a closet, have a bathroom inside your house, and a roof over your head where you sleep at night you have more than 75% of the world's population. If you have money in a bank account, a little bit in your wallet, and a little dish at home where you keep your spare change at the end of the day, then you have it better than 70% of the world's population. That's right. You're in the top 30% of the world's population. And I think it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of the world's population live on less than $2 per day. Two dollars. Per day. Less than.

Pop quiz: What's the price of gasoline?

And yet, none of this (i.e., how much most of us have, even without healthcare and home ownership; how relatively good most of us have it, even the poor) will prevent us from voting for the man or woman -- or being tempted to vote for the man or woman -- who will promise to do wonderful things for us with other peoples' money, the man or woman who will promise somehow to give us even more than we have (compared to the other 70-75 percent of the world's population). Because, just like any other rich guy, we...want...more...and more.

For politicians wealth, like race, is a sort of philosopher's stone, able to turn covetousness, discontent, and fear into political gold in no time.

Every election season I can't help wondering what elections in this country would look like if we knew just how much even many of the poor among us really have. I can't help wondering what elections would look like if we had no fear of death, or foreclosure, and things like that. Not because those things could never happen, but because we recognize that those things have plagued humans for as long as there has been written history -- and probably longer. And when those things happen to us nothing really unusual is happening.

Who would you vote for if you weren't afraid of those things?

I find myself hoping that the people living on less than two dollars per day don't know how much we whine about how awful we have it.

It's more than just a little embarrassing.

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About Me

James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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