Ranticue II, Aprilcot 9, 41 A.B.
One of the oddest things I've seen in the last ten years is the mental jujitsu performed by those who "dare" to assault so-called political correctness.
No performance of Chinese acrobats has surprised me more than the way some Americans have gleefully taken to assaulting manners, kindness, empathy, and concern while magically contorting that assault into a defense of freedom of speech and thought.
Their bald-faced boldness and subtle inanity give me the strength I need to continue the economically incorrect rant I started yesterday....
We have a drug czar, you know (General Barry McCaffrey), and periodically I hear him on TV attacking crack, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.
But I've never once heard him knock what seems to be the most widespread and addictive drug of all - money.
When we're not dreaming of it or doing all sorts of unsavory, soul-killing things to get it, we seem preoccupied with those who have the most.
Newspapers regularly list the top grossing Hollywood films rather than the most uplifting or the most intellectually challenging.
Magazines regularly give us lists of the wealthiest people on earth rather than the kindest or most creative.
And we don't think it odd at all that politicians are photographed in fund-raising den after fund-raising den, coast to coast, and almost never in a library or a moment of genuine reflection....
It's more than a simple case of addiction denial.
It's more like a Cult of Wealth in which those who question the irrational assumptions at its root are branded Communists or Instigators of Class Warfare or simply UnAmerican and driven from the tent.
How I sometimes wish it were otherwise, especially during election years.
How I would love to hear a panelist ask the debating candidates in the fall a simple question:
"If you were president and had to choose between wrecking the U.S. economy and wrecking the global biosphere, which one would you choose?"
I'm sure there are actually several good answers to that question, but I really don't expect to ever hear a single one of them....
Psychological studies seem to indicate that there's little correlation between wealth and human happiness.
Even winners of the biggest lottery prizes tend to return to their "natural" level of happiness within a year of their sudden good fortune.
Some are actually destroyed by that "good" fortune.
Why, then, this continuing lust for wealth?
Has the infusion of great wealth into sports and the media in recent decades given us better athletes, better actors, better musicians, better anchormen?
Do fortunes derived from the "irrational exuberance" of the stock market or from Internet companies that have never made a profit reinforce positive or negative behaviors and beliefs?
Do fortunes derived from the ability to sink a basket or the chance selection of 6 numbers between 1 and 44 teach us anything good about the universe at all?
Whatever its source, it seems that wealth tends to magnify the personality traits of the person who has it.
And it seems there always comes a point where the over-magnification of negative personality traits by excessive wealth inevitably proves harmful to the country as a whole.
How odd to think that we have term limits in place so that no president - not even another Lincoln or Jefferson - can become too powerful (or his/her inevitable failings too ingrained in our national life) but that we have no limits on the wealth one individual might acquire or exercise the powers of....
How odd to hear so many bitch about congressional pay raises and the price of a postage stamp, and so few bitch about the far greater costs associated with CEOs and other corporate executives who cost us far more and so often perform far less socially useful functions.
It's not as if we all aren't paying for those corporate salaries exactly as we pay taxes, after all.
It's just that those costs are carefully hidden away instead of clearly indicated in a corner of every product that we buy after rather arbitrarily being declared a "private" rather than "public" matter....
Great wealth is unnatural.
As much as some enjoy to rant and rave against far less obviously unnatural acts in other areas of life, it's really amazing that this obvious charge isn't made more often.
I mean, have you ever heard of an ant or a squirrel that has monopolized an area's food supplies and forced all the other ants or squirrels to come begging for their sustenance?
Have you ever heard of another species on earth which routinely strives to accumulate far more than it can possibly use in a million lifetimes?
Chipmunks and shrews might seem comically obsessive in this regard, but only because there are natural limits to the damage their obsession can cause.
A successfully accumulative Godzilla would be a far less amusing monstrosity no matter how perfectly coifed he might appear in his digitally-enhanced PR photos....
Once again, it seems as if a characteristic that once served an obvious function in the quest for survival at an earlier stage of life has become severely counterproductive now that conditions have changed.
The adrenaline-powered fight-or-flight response that made sense in a world of tigers and wooden clubs does not make sense in a world of dense urban populations, Uzis, and nuclear weapons.
The impulse to run around collecting as many acorns as possible before the winter snows set in makes sense for small mammals living in primordial forests. It is a far less admirable quality in an allegedly 21st century man who already has the equivalent of the gross national product of Spain tucked into his back pocket....
"But what if the man has earned the equivalent of the gross national product of Spain fair and square?"
Come on - no one person can legitimately earn more than 200,000 times what the average American does, year after year after year after year.
And if you think that the guy responsible for a product like Windows really is entitled to that much money, than what about the guy who invented the flush toilet? Penicillin? Soap? Radio? How much of a royalty does simple logic and justice demand that we pay the descendants of the inventor of the wheel or the pencil or a thousand other things at least as important as Windows in our lives?
We wouldn't be able to afford to wake up in the morning....
"But the alternative is limits on freedom!"
There are all sorts of limits on freedom that we accept every day. Many of those limits have far less obvious justification than the limits I suggest are necessary here.
How bizarre to realize that an "evil" kid who phones in a phony bomb threat to his school can be sent to prison for a very long time but an "astute" businessman who threatens to destroy that same school's budget by moving his company's headquarters overseas unless he gets a massive tax abatement can be rewarded with a huge rise in his company's stock price....
Just because someone has the physical strength to pick a person up and throw him or her around doesn't mean he has the freedom and the right to do so.
Why should different rules applies to those with the economic strength to do the same thing?
"If you put limits on entrepreneurs, we'll have less of them and suffer as a consequence."
If an entrepreneur can't be enticed to work for the betterment of society in exchange for a maximum yearly income of, say, $10 million a year, he or she is value blind and needs immediate medical attention - not idolization.
We wouldn't tolerate our kids demanding a billion-dollar- a-year allowance for taking out the trash. Why do we tolerate the equivalent behavior in so-called adults who won't even send us a birthday card, let alone support us in our old age?
"But entrepreneurs are our salvation and deserve all the money and power they can get."
Get real. I'm tired of hearing stories about how some guy had a golden meteorite fall at his feet and now he's walking around presenting himself as God's Chosen.
And I'm offended by the notion that a person's "net worth" in practice can boil down to a function of the size of the world's population at the time he or she happens to be living. If Bill Gates was selling Windows in a world of a million people, he'd have far less money and power than he has in this world of 6 billion. If things aren't changed, someday we might have a world of 60 billion people - and a guy with 10 times the money and power of Gates. Is this really what we want? Would that really be the best possible outcome imaginable?
"So you'd impose a $10 million a year income cap?"
Something like that.
And I'd also have the government recognize something I call Intrinsic Rights.
Intrinsic Rights would belong to the creator of a work or the inventor of a product and could never be sold. The creator might be able to sell 90-95% of his or her rights, but the remaining 5-10% would be intrinsically his or hers so that, no matter what, someone like Gates couldn't come along and screw them out of all the profits generated by their genius. The original creator/inventor would be forever guaranteed at least some of the rewards society sees fit to bestow on their work.
"But companies would be far less likely to buy a creative work or invention if you place limits on the rights they can buy."
Yes, well, I think the greater danger is that artists and inventors will refuse to create at all in a world or a society that can so callously and completely rip them off.
After watching "The Pirates of Silicon Valley," I'd rather burn everything I've ever written than have someone as soulless as Gates acquire the rights to it and inadvertently help him expand his wealth and power in any way, to any extent whatsoever.
And not that you asked, but I'd also create an official catalog of National and International Treasures. These Treasures would be protected by law much like Yellowstone Park. A Van Gogh painting, for example, would be protected so that no one could buy it for, say $100 million, then cut it up into 1000 little pieces and sell each for $1 million merely because it makes such great business sense. A Living National Treasure like Buster Keaton or Eugene O'Neill wouldn't be permitted to go bankrupt, be forgotten, or die in poverty or obscurity.
And because economic diversity is as important to a nation's health as biological diversity is to the health of the biosphere, I think it would also be a good idea to require the filing of Social Impact Statements prior to major changes like the hostile take-over of a thriving company/capitalist ecosystem or the introduction of a Wal-Mart predator into the economic waters of a pristine community.
Ok, ok - I' dreaming now.
But isn't it a much nicer dream than "I want to grind everyone else into the ground and be King of the World"?
Back To The Start Of This Rant
As A Small, One Neuron Idea Nestled
Next To A Small Babbling Blood Stream
Forward To The Government-Mandated
Break-Up Of This Monopolistic
Train Of Thought
(©Now with luck and pluck by Dan "Horatio" Birtcher)