I’ve started to consider the fact that there may be some twisted truth to the simplistic political canard of “The Politics of Envy.” The American Dream (the myth that anyone in the US can be wealthy if he or she works hard and is patient) is so much a part of the collective consciousness of the American psyche – both individually and socially – that there is certainly a bit of affection for the things that the wealthy have.
But that leads more often to citizens buying crap we don’t need in order to be more like them, even when we’re sacrificing the things we DO need. It leads to rampant and bloody materialism, which only feeds into the hands of the capitalist power structure here. And that, in turn, not only makes them more wealthy, but it leaves those of us in the lower strata with that much more of a high ladder to climb up.
We are entrapped hostages who want nothing more than to be loved by our kidnappers.
So woe to her who suggests that maybe the wealthy should carry a fair share of the burden of carrying a structure wherein they derive their strength – thereby equalizing the structure just a bit.
In Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton tries to answer why, if wealth distribution is so off the charts, more poor Americans aren’t considering wealth redistribution**:
The expansion of consumer credit in the United States has allowed middle class and poor Americans to live beyond their means, masking their lack of wealth by increasing their debt. We might think that people who have “zero net worth” have nothing. But in fact, having zero net worth increasingly means owning a lot (cars, televisions, even houses) – but also owing a lot. As a result people with zero net worth, and even negative net worth, can still feel that they are living the American dream, doing “better” than their parents did while keeping up with the Joneses.
Second, poorer Americans’ belief in social mobility – despite strong evidence of its rarity – causes negative reactions to policies that would seem to benefit them, like raising taxes on those who earn and own a lot more. Why would the poor oppose taxes on the wealthy? Because many believe that they, or at least their children, will eventually be wealthy, voting for taxes on the rich may feel like voting for taxes on themselves. As a result, even the word “redistribution” has negative connotations.
Well, “redistribution” is also shied from because of the whole “Redistribution means Communist!” meme going around the last seventy years or so. But I wanna pull out a truth that has gained some traction recently: The American Dream is a fallacy. It’s a red herring. It’s the idea that, “YOU TOO CAN BE AN ULTRATRILLIONAIRE IF YOU JUST WORK HARD ENOUGH!” The Joe The Plumber-line of economic political reasoning.
And if you dare question the Dream, you will be branded as a communist. Or as someone starting a class war. It may even be suggested that you, gasp!, hate the rich.
I really don’t hate the rich. In some ways I pity them. In many ways they’re just as much victims of their trappings as the rest of us are. In other ways, the rest of us are the ones suffering under their trappings, chafing under the handcuffs, wasting away in the corner of captivity.
But many of us don’t seem to mind. Because, you see, our captors love us! ( ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ) It says so in the American Dream.
We devour and are bombarded by propaganda in the guise of glossy full-page magazine ads, id-directed commercials, and product-endorsed movies and television shows that convince us of the exact products we need in order to be just like the Elite Class.
It’s such a barrage that we are not aware that our behavior and attitudes are so heavily influenced. We get lost in the oceans of illusions of reality shows about uberwealthy parasites who have no interest but to live in the utmost luxury built on others’ sweat and broken skin.
We buy expensive rims, we engorge on the biggest, flattest-screened tv’s, we upgrade our iPods/iPads/iPhones, smart phones every other month. We bury ourselves in boxes and boxes of appliances we never use, simply because they look like something our richer neighbors would have in their kitchens. We’ll spend thousands on the newest games, hair do’s, tennies. We dig our selves deep into our jobs, find ourselves lacking and depressed, and try to climb out by spending hundreds of dollars on designer clothes in a single afternoon. Hundreds of dollars we put on credit because we don’t really have it, though we think we do.
In order to keep up our Jones with the Jones’ and hold back the roving tides of shame and humiliation, the middle and working classes, when we can, spend more than we can afford to. We are mentally affected to splurge in order to be like our captors.
And we defend multi-millionaires and billionaires who’s only interest in us is how to use us to garner more millions upon billions. To our detriment.
**He means the other way around. We already have income and wealth redistribution, from the lower and middle classes to the upper classes.