To Hell with Everyone Else

If you view yourself as one of John Wayne’s characters, a rugged individualist who has made your way in life – all on your own – then you should stop reading this post right now.  It’ll probably just piss you off.

America: The Land of Opportunity

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Republican platform is the notion that hard work, big dreaming, and rule-following are all that is required to succeed.

“Every voter will be asked to choose between the chronic high unemployment and the unsustainable debt produced by a big government entitlement society, or a positive, optimistic view of an opportunity society, where any American who works hard, dreams big and follows the rules can achieve anything he or she wants.”  2012 REPUBLICAN PLATFORM: PREAMBLE

This is a myth.

It’s merely a good starting point that sets the limit of the things that are within our control.  Let’s start with dreaming big.  People have this one pretty much covered.  After all, who ever dreams small?  The challenge begins when we try to turn those big dreams into reality.  We work hard, but before we do, we must also be diligent in our studies to prepare ourselves before entering the work force.  And as we all know, all schools are equally effective in preparing our children for the challenges that lay before them.  Right?

I know a lot of people who work hard – harder than me.  They work long hours at thankless jobs for meager wages.  They find that the pursuit of their dreams has to take a back-seat to their pursuit of survival.  Following the rules may seem like a given, except when one considers that the rules are severely skewed to benefit the wealthy.

Picking Winners and Losers

Republicans demand smaller government.  They say that it’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.  This may make sense to you if you’re hearing it in a fifth grade civics class, but it does not work in practice.  Winners and losers are picked all of the time, and it’s no great feat to predict who will win and who will lose.

Greedy bankers who concoct malicious schemes to defraud their investors receive bailouts, while their customers and everyone else who is affected by the blow to the economy that they caused are left to fend for themselves.  Wars are started by the rich, but body counts are usually tallied from among the poor.  Individual freedoms are trumpeted as coming from God, except, that is, for the reproductive rights of women.  If you’re rich, your tax rate will be less than that of the poor or middle class because the system is rigged in your favor.  We need to look no further than the capital gains tax, where investment income is taxed at a lesser rate than salaries, to see that the fix is in.  This system does not reward hard work.

Daily Kos Headline, by Meteor Blades, July 3, 2012

I saw a tweet yesterday that read, “None of the employees at Wal-Mart have ever told me that they were working their way through college.”  I doubt that the tweeter ever asked any of the employees, but more importantly, the inference is that people who work in these types of jobs lack the drive to do better.  This is a common perception among many on the Right, even though it contradicts the whole “work hard and succeed” paradigm.

If hard work were truly valued in our society, the battles over raising the minimum wage would not be as hard-fought by Republicans as they always are.  Of course, the fallback position to the argument is “then get a better job”.  That simplistic approach to solving the problem can only be uttered by those who have no idea what they are talking about.

The Bootstrap Philosophy

It’s an attractive idea.

We’d all like to think of ourselves as bootstrappers – facing all of life’s obstacles with a self-reliant mindset and an endless supply of drive and determination.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I’m no different, as this is how I view myself.  How else could we take credit for our accomplishments?

But the bootstrapping philosophy is incomplete.  It presumes that outside influences like the economy, systemic imbalances, biases or every kind, and even bad luck can always be overcome with the proper application of elbow grease.

I wonder how bootstrapping enables you to find a job during an economic downturn when the job market dries up?  Can you work hard if you can’t find work?

You may possess the requisite drive, follow all of the rules, and dream of a better tomorrow and still find yourself in a bad situation.  If I’m describing you, none of this leads me to believe that you are unimaginative, worthless, or a drag on society because I do not follow the teachings of the GOP.  You’re still my neighbor, my compatriot, and most of all, a living-breathing human being.

You are not supposed to be discarded.

If I am not describing you, then I wish you continued good fortune because things have a way of changing – and not always for the better. Never look down on your neighbor or believe yourself to be immune, because you are not.  Please remember this if you ever feel the urge to dishonestly recast paid-into benefits, like Social Security and unemployment insurance, as government handouts.

You’re not doing anyone, including yourself, any favors if you do.

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Ray Colon

He works with numbers for a living, but don't judge - boring accountants need love too. His blog has no niche (unless writing about things that are important to him is a niche). Some folks cringe when he gets “all political” on them, but he does it anyway when he's in that kind of mood. Sometimes, he writes something nice about someone, but you shouldn't get used to that. His first book, the one he hasn't written yet, is not available on Amazon. Subscribe to Ray's Blog via RSS  or Email.

13 thoughts on “To Hell with Everyone Else”

  1. I’m not much into politics, so I hope I don’t miss the point again, lol!

    America used to be the land of opportunity, but the landscape has been decimated and a huge ecomoic and cultural shift is underway. I think anyone who can stay ahead of the curve will do alright, but most will get swept up into the tide of change.

    It won’t be long before so many are down on their luck, they soon realize they are in good company.

    I see a great levelling coming, so most of us will be falling prey to that feeling of irrelavence, precisely because there are so few opportunities now. Some people are just going to end up behind that rock and hard place a bit sooner – ahead of the poverty curve and lonesome until the crowds arrive.

    I’m bootstrapping it, and I’m very near my goal of achieving complete immunity to an economic downturn at the very least.

    I laugh ruefully though, because if it isn’t the economy, it’ll be something else that I didn’t see coming.

    I’m not missing the point of your inspiring and touching message. May no one fall into the trap of believing they are worthless. But again, many more are about to be in the same boat.

    Maybe then people can start helping each other, and prove that it’s people and not the government, that makes the country. We live in hope.

    Your blogs always give me food for thought.

    1. Hi Elysia,

      Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation. You haven’t missed the point (sorry if that seemed harsh when I commented last time). In fact, you’ve expanded on it. When I wrote this, I took the perspective of those who would view people who were in a difficult circumstance as somewhat less than, and not from the viewpoint of person being looked down upon, as you have. It would indeed be a terrible thing if more people fell “into the trap of believing they are worthless.”

      Because economies tend to be cyclical, I hold out hope for a turnaround. Unfortunately, determining the length of the cycle is always a crap shoot. It’s that in-between time that concerns me. The climb upwards, even when achieved, usually takes a lot longer than the drop.

      Like you, we should all be bootstrappers in our approach to life, but we should never assume that those who have stumbled are not.

      Good things can still happen in America. I just hope that the people who we elect to office understand that they are representing everyone’s interests and not just the interests of their contributors or the interests of the most extreme elements of their base.

  2. Hi Ray,

    A great post that should serve as an ever-present reminder to all who may read it that there but for the grace of God goes thee!

    I think we can get enough signatures to get your name on the ballot!

    What’aya say?


    1. Thanks, BJ,

      Amen to that.

      Me on the ballot? Thanks for the thought, but Heaven forbid! I’m a patient guy, but not patient enough to deal with all the “stuff” that comes with living that kind of public life.

  3. I wasn’t aware I was writing from the point of view of the one who is looked down upon. My inferiority complex must be showing.

    As for bootstrapping, it’s only necessary when you have to do it. I see no advantage in it if there is another way, but if no other way avails itself, then it’s bootstraps or bust!

    And sometimes, it’s both!

    So you either die trying, or you come out with some smarts.

    As for looking down on others, when I’m so busy trying to clean up my own act, there just isn’t time! (lol!)
    elysiafields recently posted..It’s A 5D World!My Profile

  4. Poignant, Ray. I’m in the category — work hard, very hard– and on the side, after mortgage, school fees. etc., I work on my passion, which is damn hard to have these days, in hopes of reinventing myself (again). I’ve have spent the last four years of my career at a start up that came oh so close to light off, in fact there about 10 missing pay checks … we are merged now, but it’s not a guaranteed win. I am struck by the comment about the Wal Mart worker. How would a person know why a person is working where they are working and what is driving them off hours. I’m sure many have dreams beyond where they are (self included here) and work where they must for reasons the outside world will never know. As always, Ray, well said.
    Brenda recently posted..No RegretsMy Profile

    1. Thanks Brenda,

      Geez, that’s a lot of uncertainty to deal with (the missing paychecks). To hang in through that kind of trouble and come out of the other side still standing is the work of a true believer. Congrats.

      The Walmart comment really bugged me too. It’s the kind of thing that people say without thinking. Comments like those feed into stereotypes and reveal the naivete of the speaker.

  5. I’m not very political, so I’m not even going there, but I guess my perspective is shaped by life, as is true with everyone else. That includes having lived in a third-world country, and I’m telling you, we have it easy, easy, easy in the U.S. Really. Even what we consider to be poverty here would be considered wealth so many places, so it is always a bit hard for me to consider how rough things are here, when they really aren’t. (And yes, I have lived through some tough times, but even those were easy compared to what I’ve seen living outside of the western world.) So that’s my first thought.

    My second one is that the post seems to be focused on jobs, rather than work. What I mean by that is that there is no reason to limit yourself based on whether or not you can get a job. Or whether or not you can get a good job. Neither my husband nor I have a job, and I have to say that I’m constantly amazed by the opportunities there are and the ways there are to bring in income. Easy, no. Fulfilling? Oh yeah.

    Now with that, I can’t allow myself to become complacent. Doesn’t mean I live in fear, but I do try to look ahead and plan and work hard in anticipation of the other shoe dropping. That does happen and has happened to me many times.

    I’m not sure if that makes me a bootstrapper or a realist or what. I do think I live more peacefully not worrying about whether or not the government will provide for me, since I really can’t control that.

    Instead, I try to focus on what I can control — like my husband and I bought a townhouse that was less than half of what the bank said we could afford. When we bought it, we said to each other, “If one of us lost our job, we could still make this house payment.” So when my husband lost his job, we still made our house payment. 3 years later, he still doesn’t have a job, and neither do I, and we’re still making the house payment.

    I’m not sure where that puts me. All I know is that I work hard and sleep well, and really don’t think a whole lot about what the government will or won’t do for me.
    Rebecca Livermore recently posted..What I Learned About Blogging From the Naked Men in the Trunk of My CarMy Profile

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Lot’s of juicy stuff here. 🙂

      I haven’t lived anywhere other than the U.S., but I have traveled to some of the countries to which you alluded. Undoubtedly, the depth of poverty that exists in some parts of the world would be intolerable to anyone accustomed to living in the States. There’s no comparison, but when I write about the implications of domestic policy on the lives of Americans it’s a comparison that falls outside of that scope.

      If you’re deriving income as a freelancer, that is certainly work but I would also consider that a job in this context if it is what you and your husband have opted to do. The major drawback to branching out on your own is that benefits are out of pocket. Yes, there are opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial spirit and skills that fit a niche, but that doesn’t address the social problems that many face when the economy tanks.

      I want to emphasize that I think that what you and your husband are doing is great. When I write these political posts I try to look at the bigger picture. What works for you may not work for everyone, and it is those for which it doesn’t work that I lend my voice.

      You definitely are a bootstrapper, as am I, as are lots of people. Drive and determination are prerequisites and I honestly believe that the majority of people possess these qualities. What bothers me is the GOP narrative that states that nothing else is required. I know you said that you’re not political, but we all are affected by the decisions that our elected officials make. When I speak of government, or you speak of what it “provides” we are viewing government’s role very differently. For me, the government is us. We contribute to its upkeep. The only question that remains is what should the government do with the money it collects? Help its citizens, wage war, bail out banks? There are lots of opinions on this and I tend to think that domestic spending makes the most sense for the most people.

      When my wife and I became homeowners in 1998, we took the same approach as your family — buying less than what we could afford at the time. We built our modest home while McMansions were going up everywhere, but we saw the excesses as a bad idea, so we said no to every enhancement idea that was presented. When the hard times came, the lower mortgage payment helped tremendously.

      Thanks for this great comment and your contribution to the conversation.

  6. Great conversation here, Ray.

    I think one big issue is entitlement, getting what you can out of the government, etc. I have had family members who were on welfare for years, with zero reason for them to not be working. Why does the government reward that type of behavior? I honestly don’t even understand how or why that is possible, and yet it is.

    I’ve offered work to people who have turned it down, because they would lose government benefits. Or they want to be paid under the table, which I won’t do.

    I do think there are times when people can really use a helping hand, but I see that as what should be a temporary thing. For instance, my son just got married. He works full time at $9 an hour. His wife is in school full time. I wouldn’t see anything wrong with something like food stamps for this particular season of life, because they are both working hard and trying to improve themselves. In my view, those are the types of situations where help makes sense, compared to my other relatives who rely completely on welfare and watch t.v. all day.

    Unfortunately, the government can’t seem to discern between the two, and some people who really need help may not get it, and others may sponge off the government for generations.

    When you think back to how things were before we had all of these programs, family and churches helped out their own. That makes a lot more sense to me, because then the people helping know the situation, and whether or not someone just won’t work or if there is true need. But I think we’ve gotten used to depending on the government to help others rather than doing it directly ourselves. (Though some people do, of course, but there generally isn’t a sense of being responsible for feeding your neighbor who is hungry.)

    I need to get to work now, but I just wanted to respond and say that I appreciate your heart and the conversation.
    Rebecca Livermore recently posted..Are You Bothered When People Blog Differently Than You?My Profile

    1. Hi Louise,

      If only life were that simple. We can all agree that working hard is a necessary first step, but my post went beyond that to take a look at how outside influences and the political climate impact our ability to make more. Thanks for commenting.

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