All About the Benjamins

The book is thicker than a Bible that has the original Greek, the translation, and commentary all packed into one.  It’s called the Great Deformation and I’m not going to read it.  It was in the library at work and it seemed like the kind of reading you might want to do if you are writing about the end of the world.  Except that it isn’t.  Surely no point takes 712 ages to make.

Besides.  I’m about full up of outrage.

From what I did read, the book is complaining about the divorce from the gold standard, corporate bailouts via TARP, printing money, the Fed…Basically, what we have isn’t pure capitalism (duh) and this is outrageous.  Nothing is real and it is the end of the world.

Which has the ring of truth to it, but fails to take the argument to its full and logical conclusion: money is a social construct.  Value is a social construct.  If we had all agreed that a tree was an acceptable denomination and a real standard of what a man was worth, Donald Trump would be telling us he owned more trees than any other mofo on the planet.

We’re in a play that isn’t a play, fighting on stage with no audience, using weapons that draw blood from people who don’t get back up when assaulted, fighting over bright pink monopoly cash.  It only means what we say it means.  We’ve all agreed that these things are real: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, Benjamins…  but they are only real because we say they are real.

Not that I know what to replace it with.  We all know I love my house and I’d have something to say to anyone who tried to take it from me.  But I got that house because my mom traded time at work for symbols of value, which she traded for different symbols of value, which turned into more symbols of value in the stock market.  And then she died and those symbols came to me through no merit of my own.  Without ever touching anything, I signed a couple of papers and those arbitrary symbols turned into a house, which I, in turn, trade my time for new symbols which get turned over to the bank for the privilege of the various and assorted things that go wrong when you own a house from 1955.

I love my house.  I really do.  I’m sorry for talking bad about it.  It ought to be proud that it’s still standing 70 years later.

Anyway, it’s absurd.  As is only getting worked up about one aspect of a ridiculous system without getting worked up about the whole.  As is getting worked up at all.

So what do you do?  One of the maddening things about media is that they pile on all of this anxiety–both sides are guilty of this–without providing anything to do about it, which tends to foment impotent rage.  Impotent rage eventually finds an outlet and that’s never good (see Fox News, white supremacists, comment sections, etc).  There’s no need for it…  Take the liberty of laughing.  The emperor has no clothes, but he’s the emperor…  Dethroning one emperor only brings on another.  The far-sighted ones go for benevolence.  I mean, no one is going to overthrow Queen Elizabeth for being malevolent.  Maybe for being too expensive, but not for being a murderous tyrant.  The Royals might lose their jobs at some point, but not their heads.

There are times when revolt is required.  A successful coup against Hitler would have been nice.  But here in the US?  Meh.  (I’d be less meh were we to have a President Trump… viva la revolucion?)

The system is bogus, but it is only vaguely relevant.  What matters?  Love.  Family, lovers, friends.  Making someone smile.  Touch.  Community.  Kindness.  A bogus system doesn’t keep you from showing up.  From trying.  It doesn’t stop you refusing anything predicated on the suffering of another.  It doesn’t keep you from making your corner of the world better/kinder/more welcoming.  Money is only a stand in for time, and you don’t need a Benjamin to add value to the world with your time.

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All About the Benjamins

Working Stiffs

Ratwell and I talk about everything.  Sometimes this is plot points, sometimes this is Game of Thrones, sometimes this is the big, scary, unknown future.  At least I’m scared.  Ratwell is optimistic.  I recently came across this article in The Atlantic about guaranteed basic income and what the world would look like if everyone had basic housing and nutrition needs taken care of.  In other words, what would you do if you didn’t have to work?  Not “I just won the lottery” not working, but kind of like life on unemployment not working.  Personally, I’d make the argument (as I did nearly 10 years ago) that we already have a system sort of like this in place.  We don’t call it guaranteed basic income, but if you play the game and get your student loans in exchange for a higher degree like a good citizen, chances are you’re going to find a job.  It might not be fulfilling, it might not be exciting.  You may not even be doing work that needs to be done.  Indeed I’m convinced that there is significantly less real work to be done than there are people who need jobs, but it is in everyone’s best interest if we keep employment levels up because bored employees who are scared someone is going to find out that they’re functionally useless spend a lot of money to assuage their fears.

So it more or less works out.  We keep up appearances, we participate in the social agreement that things are better like this than they are under some other construct because yay capitalism.  We take loads of antidepressants to make up for the fact that we’re living lives that are in complete opposition to our biological, emotional, and social needs, and somehow this is better than what it would be like under some other construct wherein people could add value to society irrespective of whether or not the value was determined in terms of profitability.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we tackled the things that need to be done instead of the things that we get paid to be done?  No one needs another commercial to sell them on Depends.  If you need Depends, you don’t need a commercial to convince you that you need them.  And you aren’t going to run out and buy Depends if you don’t need them just because you saw a commercial for the new Depends that fit more like cotton drawers.  Lets turn all the depends advertising people towards literacy efforts.  The tampon people too, while we are at it.  I’m sure we could put the viagra actors to better use.

I would write full time, and do a lot more to support my social network, and see my dad more.  My roommate would garden.  And sing.  And find a horse to be nice to.  And help AIDS researchers with their patents and legal issues.  The scientists that are researching new formulas for making foot padding for Nike shoes could instead spend their time solving global climate change.  Or turning all of the plastic floating around in the ocean into mobile resting spots for those poor polar bears that get stuck swimming in the ocean forever since there are no more icebergs to climb on and take a breather as they’re looking for dinner.  Think of all the money we’d save on antidepressants if we could pursue our purpose in life without worrying about whether or not it will pay enough to keep us in a house.  No one needs another 1.7M, 3,000 square foot monstrosity to live in with their 1.5 children and 3.5 cars.

It’s a real question: How much stuff would you give up to be happy?

Working Stiffs

What You Wish For

These grand thoughts seem to happen fairly regularly in the shower…  Seriously, before the invention of the shower, where did people go to have their grand thoughts?  It is entirely foofy, but I want to believe water is some superconductor between a body and the Universe.  I was standing there in the dark and I realized that I am the thing I wanted to be when I grew up.

It doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like.  At sixteen, I saw myself standing on a cliff in a black skirt on a walk with four dogs after a long day writing and teaching.  It doesn’t look like that.  There aren’t many cliffs in DC and I don’t wear black Stevie Nicks skirts to work most days.  My teaching duties are more “other duties as assigned” than they are classroom with chalk.

But I am a writer.  I write books, though that doesn’t pay me nearly enough to survive on.  I write reports – I’m currently up to my eyes in Ebloa, which I will wax eloquently about later.  And I only have one dog.  It isn’t the way I thought it would be – these things never are, but it *is* what I wished for.  After a fashion.  I’m incredibly lucky…  loads of people are still looking for where they belong, or making intolerable compromises.  There are things I don’t like about my work – I don’t like it when the experts come in and muck up the flow and rhythm of my paragraphs.  There is nothing about technical or scientific writing that says it can’t have a flow or that every sentence must start with “the.”  And I get frustrated when I can’t fix it because the expert on Ebola trumps the (more-or-less) expert on words.

So no, it isn’t perfect.  But perfect would be boring – we all need something to squawk about.  Still, it’s kinda sorta what I wished for…

What You Wish For

Exuberance

Mom had a dog.  This was my fault, because Exuberance was my dog first.  I got her in the months before the split with my ex-husband under the mis-guided assumption that our existing dog was lonely.  Springer Spaniels fall into two groups – bench bred and field bred.  Bench bred are designed for Westminster.  They are stockier and calmer.  Field bred are the dogs you take hunting with you, water dogs to get the ducks all excited so you can shoot them as they fly away.  Exuberance was a field bred springer with a rough start.  She was always hungry, always willing to eat whatever her nose led her to, whether it was in the garbage, on the counter, or behind a cupboard door.  She found her way to all of it.

In a way, she was a mistake.  I was on a wait-list to get her from the shelter, she’d look at you from behind the gate with these deep brown eyes that inspired a visceral need to save her.  Apparently, I’m not the only one it worked on, more or less.  But I’m the only one who kept her.  She was returned twice before me by well-meaning rescuers who weren’t prepared for, well, her exuberance.  But then I had her, all 17 lbs of her.  We crated her, but it was for hours that stretched too long when the commute was rotten.  And then he left and it was just too much.

So my mom inherited her.   They did well together.  She gave mom something to complain about, an excuse to talk to her neighbors, a reason to get outside and walk, a companion, a schedule.  Exuberance was allowed in a certain spot on the bed but only after 5 in the morning until mom woke up for real.  Exuberance calmed down eventually, but then mom moved from Michigan to Florida and the neighbor who took custody of Exuberance during the day, well he had a grandson who was besotted with Exuberance.  The grandson prayed for her every night, faithfully, and when mom moved, the grandson got the best thing ever: the grandson got Exuberance.  To be fair, Exuberance got an acre to run on and a boy to play with.

Two weeks before she died, mom was talking about getting another dog.  We talked at some length about this new dog business and I thought about how, were Exuberance still mom’s dog, I would have snuck her into the hospital so she could crawl in bed with mom and lick mom’s hand.  Mom would have liked that.  Mom really missed Exuberance, talked about how she wished she hadn’t let her go, cried a little.

Cleaning out mom’s house, we found a shock collar.  I didn’t want to write that down because I can talk about mom’s other failings more or less without shame, but I’m ashamed of that shock collar.  I had to go and look up the research – how awful is a shock collar on a dog that just can’t contain her joy?  Well, the findings are mixed.  The collar is no more effective at training a dog than consistent rewards.  Still, trainers and behaviorists use them, people that adore their dogs use them to address entrenched issues like incessant barking, and how much worse can it be than yelling at a dog (like mine) when you catch her marking territory inside the house?

Still, it’s kind of like everything else when it comes to mom.  These places where you can see the love on her, and not one of them is unmarred by *something.*  I guess you can say the same of me too.  In a quick tally of my accounts, there’s at least a little red in every column.  In taking ownership of the undeniable, this question follows: how is it that I find her red marks so hard to reconcile when I have them too?  The answer I’ve given over the years is that she never owned those debts, to keep the metaphor, and so the holes (to lose the metaphor) remained.  Her daughters patched over them as necessary, but she carried on as if they didn’t exist.  Miss Havisham admiring a rotten cake.

Nothing is simple here.  Nothing is easy.

Exuberance

Kachoozies

I am sick.  Not in the usual, slightly twisted and prone to making inappropriate jokes variety of sick, but in the mainlining lemon and honey in hot water kind of way.  This awful feeling in my throat hinted at its coming to stay as I crawled into bed.  By the time I woke up at 1:00 because I’d had so much water the day before, it had moved in like Aunt Marge and her brandy-drinking dog at Privet Drive.  (For you non-Harry Potter fans out there, the gist here is that my inflammatory guest refuses to be ignored.)  My glands are swollen, it hurts to swallow, and my head is throbbing.  Sneezing is agony.   It occurred to me that, were I gainfully employed in a full time, show up at the office kind of way, I would call in sick.  But the dogs still needed walking, and my office is in the next room…

With this auspicious beginning to a Monday, and spurred on by a friend who sent me this TechCrunch Article, I’m thinking about reinvention.  That thread is all tangled up with the recent Russell Brand brouhaha over global revolution and our good-for-enabling-billionaire-arseholes-but-not-much-else political class.  Mix in the snotty cloud that is interfering with my thinking and you come up with … not much.  An acute (if vague) sense that things can’t go on like this.  It isn’t exactly a utopia that I’m after, but that we’ve tried this grand experiment made up of:

  • Increasingly large distances between us and anything real
  • Rampant individualism which is just a nice way of saying profound isolation
  • Fear-mongering in the media because the fastest way to get someone to spend money is to introduce anxiety into the picture
  • Too much asking “how” instead of asking “why” or “is it sustainable”
  • Turning everything into a commodity and marginalizing anything that successfully resists
  • Divorcing work from meaning
  • Paying the people that add the least to society the most money and driving the people without whom our world would fall apart into near-poverty
  • Putting money ahead of just about every other value
  • Disposable everything
  • The systematic destruction of critical thinking skills because people who think are not so easily led
  • An education system built around compliance and memorizing instead of problem-solving and building capacity
  • The sale of our government to the highest bidder
  • Abdication of our duty to think through the second and third order effects

(I could go on) and the experiment has failed.  It’s failed miserably.  So maybe we need to come up with a new way of looking at things – something outside of the “isms” that insist there is one good answer and only one, which happens to be the one I’m espousing at any given minute.

Now I’m going to go sneeze some more.

 

Kachoozies

A Conundrum

There once was a man with regrets.  It came to pass that a charlatan visited his town and sold this man a broken time machine.  This man emptied out his savings account to purchase this broken time machine, knowing full well that it was broken.  The then devoted his life to putting money into that time machine and sending it backwards to the man he used to be.  He climbed the career ladder in one field, took a second job for the weekends and evenings, all so he could place a bi-weekly pile of cash into that broken time machine and press the “send” button.  Nothing left for rent, nothing to give to the electricity company, no retirement.  He exhausted himself every day, becoming thinner and thinner, starving himself gradually as he tried to make yesterday right.

Unfortunately,  the only thing that was accumulating was a new pile of yesterdays to try and fix.

His friends tried to tell him that, if he’d just focus on what could be done from where he was, he could have everything that he was hoping to gain by investing so heavily in yesterday’s regrets.

He nodded his head and kept piling up the cash for the broken time machine.

***

There is no moral to this story, by the way.  Except perhaps a warning: don’t put so much energy into what’s behind you that you have nothing left to invest in today.

 

 

A Conundrum

Balancing the Books

Months: 11
Percentage of the time you’ve been AWOL: 50%
Starting balance: Overflowing
Current balance: Empty
Days before the account gets closed: Indeterminate, but unlikely to be more than you can count on two hands.
Reasons why you shouldn’t let this happen: Measured in the millions
Odds that you’ll pull it out of the crapper: Not looking good

Balancing the Books