Money for Nothing

December 26, 2012 § 11 Comments

Thank you, Michael Moore.  Thank you for saying much of what I’ve been thinking for the last week in this article you wrote, but haven’t gotten my act together enough to write myself.   I think you got the racial analysis wrong, but I love the rest of it.  Thanks for admitting that the NRA’s justification that the only one who stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun has merit.  That even with the best of precautions and intentions, these tragedies will continue to happen.  Thanks for pointing out that what’s missing in our society has a lot to do with the way we view one another and our responsibilities towards others.  “That other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other” and we seem to resist that line of thinking when it comes to national policy is a powerful and profound suggestion.

Thank you, Chris Cataudella.  Thank you for writing from a gun enthusiast’s perspective about practical ways to averting another atrocity like the Newtown shooting from happening again (and for canceling your NRA membership.)  Thanks for suggesting that gun owners should be required to have safes, and offer proof of proper storage of those guns.  Thanks for offering up the common sense ideas of linking mental health databases with ATF computers and including more thorough checks of anyone applying for a gun permit.  A national licensing fee for gun owners is also logical.  I’d go a step further to say that anyone with permits should have to re-apply annually, with that thorough check performed each time.

I’ve been troubled by, among other things, the rash of “Don’t Blame-itis” I see.  “Don’t Blame Gun Owners.”  “Don’t blame Autistic people.”  “Don’t blame the mentally ill.”  (As a side-note, I never understood the “Don’t Blame Me – I voted for Bush!” bumper stickers.  Why would I place responsibility for my misfortunes on someone who voted opposite me and lost?)  I understand everyone’s knee-jerk defensive reactions to the Newtown shooting, but submit that I empathize much more strongly with the “Don’t blame Autistic people” than the “Don’t Blame Gun Owners” side.  Historically, mentally ill people have been much more systematically abused and ignored as a group than, say, gun owners have.

I’d like to offer a shift in thinking, though.  As I’ve mentioned to my kids (not often enough, I’m afraid) – when your impulse is to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” change the word “fault” to “responsibility.”  Was what happened my “fault?”  Maybe not.  Was what happened my “responsibility?”  Sometimes.  Did I do everything reasonably possible to carry out my responsibility?  Often, I’m afraid, no.

American society could use a cleanse – a detox, so to speak.  Just like junk food is poison for the body, and linked to many physical problems, I consider much of what is in the world of media to be poison for the mind.  Intellectual, emotional junk food.  Too much of it wreaks havoc on our society’s mental well-being.  Just because “Toddlers and Tiaras” is on television, doesn’t mean it should be watched.  Just because “Grand Theft Auto” is available for purchase, doesn’t mean it should be bought.  Just because a six-year-old trauma victim can be interviewed, doesn’t mean he should be interviewed.  Part of the benefit of a physical cleanse is that it shakes up our systems and resets our metabolism.  I can’t think of anything America’s collective psyche needs more.

I’m a big fan of thinking outside the box.  What hit home with me most in Michael Moore’s piece (and I disagree with a lot of what he writes) is his take on poverty.  Not to channel Karl Marx or anything, but maybe we DO need an updated, less flawed version of the Communist-like vision.  I’m not proposing a thought control/conform or die mentality, but more national introspection about how and why the wage gap in America is so obscene.  Let’s take a look at the major things – necessities – in our society that are grossly exploited and perversely for-profit ventures.  Education.  Health Insurance.  Medicine.  Food production.  Pharmaceuticals.  Information dissemination.  Access to these things should be a given in our society, advanced as we claim to be.  Access to healthy versions of all of these things should be the floor, not the ceiling.

I’m, of course, at a loss as to how these things can be accomplished in a country as large and complex as ours.  How do we keep our rights AND our children safe?  How do we reconcile the backbone of our country (“Anyone can make it!”) with it’s heart (“Everyone SHOULD make it”?)  How do we dictate the appropriate limits on technology and the free market?  How can we exhibit patience and foresight needed to determine whether a discovery should be implemented just because it can be?  My father once wrote, “technology advances faster than our wisdom in knowing how to use it.”  How can we counteract that self-destuctive societal tendency?

I think we should be willing to consider ANYTHING to be on the table for discussion, from the micro to the macro, regarding where we go from here.

Remember how Warren Buffett suggested we balance the budget?  Make members of Congress ineligible for re-election if they don’t.  Beautiful.  Simple.  I love ideas like this that shake up the status quo.  So to address poverty, is it possible to require that a CEO’s salary is directly proportional to his or her lowest wage earner’s?  As the CEO’s salary goes up, so must his or her workers’?  CEOs whose profits exceed a certain reasonable amount are required to contribute financially to the education of its workforce?  Boards of Directors must distribute bonuses to its lowest wage earners first before anyone else?  From the bottom up rather than the top down?  This applies to every field from textbooks to stocks to food production to technology.  Might mediocrity be rewarded in such a set-up?  Yes.  But one thing we also know from experience is that obscene wealth of the few rarely translates into well-being of the rest.  What can we do to make the mentality of James Senigal (CEO of Costco) more prevalent than the Walton (owners of Wal-Mart) family’s?

As long as I’m throwing ideas out there, in addition to limits on perverse amounts of profit, I’d like to see a limit set on the media.  Is it possible to create a regulation wherein the media is not allowed to approach any crime or trauma victim under the age of 18 OR THEIR CARETAKERS for interviews until six months or a year after the event has taken place?  Can we limit our voyeuristic desire for every detail be transformed into protecting victims and privacy and acceptance of knowing just what we need to know?  Do we immediately need to know what a six-year-old heard and saw throughout these atrocious events?  No, we don’t.

Just like a kid’s not doing his homework or chores, we are a society that needs to accept responsibility for ourselves, and assume responsibility for others in order to grow up.  A step towards this goal might be to stop thinking in terms of what we have to lose, and start thinking in terms of what you have to GIVE.  If gun owners can cancel their NRA membership, and Michael Moore can parrot the NRA’s philosophy with a straight face, what do the rest of us have to offer?  Can we open our minds a little more?  Can we try to see another’s point of view?  Can we recognize value in those arguments with which we disagree?  These are not new suggestions – we hear them over and over again.  People young and old, however, need to hear messages repeatedly before they take hold.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to be told to initiate the sit-up movement with my abs before I actually internalized that one…)  I feel a lot like a kid lately.  I have a myriad of questions and not many answers.  On the other hand, the wisest, most mature people I’ve met are the ones who admit how little they know.  So, while I wouldn’t call myself wise, maybe I am growing up after all.  I hope the country grows up, too.


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§ 11 Responses to Money for Nothing

  • Joy Sharp says:

    You can’t legislate morality. Nor, in a free country, should you try.

  • Joy Sharp says:

    It is the tyranny of the majority from which we must protect the minority. Much of what you say is logical at step one, but disastrous to freedom at step three. People are dumb for watching dumb shows. Educate them. Don’t tell them they can’t watch it because you have decided it is not delivering a valuable or acceptable message. They have a right to be dumb…safe in the knowledge that their government will not force its idea of propriety upon them. News people are immoral to interview a six year old trauma victim. Don’t tell them they can’t produce it which, of course, is a solid taking away of freedom of speech. We are not a socialist republic. We are a representative democracy. Oftentimes, this leaves us with an ass standing up and saying something assanine. I, for one, would proudly fight to protect his right to do so.
    Our forefathers guaranteed freedom for us. I am ashamed we so readily offer up those freedoms in the name of what is claimed the common good. What if I wanted transfats in my fries? What if i wanted a 20 oz. soda pop? Nope. Bad for you. Freedom gone. What if I wanted plastic bags at the grocery store instead of having to schlep hateful tote bags with me? Nope. Bad for environment. Freedom gone. [Slurp sound] What if I wanted to target shoot at tin cans with my children like my dad did with me? Nope. Too dangerous. Freedom gone. Obviously, these examples are overstated but please, please, see the point. Protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority! Your piece illustrates an alarming willingness to give our government the right to impose one set of morals on all.

    • Joy – in which ways do you think I’m suggesting freedoms be given up? I’m not saying the 2nd Amendment should be repealed, or that these shows shouldn’t be on TV – I’m saying I wished there wasn’t an audience for them. I wish as a culture we were more discerning.

      And as for interviewing child trauma victims immediately, I think it is perverse that a network was penalized for the Janet Jackson nipple mishap, but a network shouldn’t be fined for shoving a microphone in the face of a six-year-old whose classmates were just shot multiple times.

  • Joy Sharp says:

    Your piece, to me, reads replete throughout with suggestion of the appropriateness of it. I could pick almost any sentence and point to something but I will pick only one, the one containing your main premise. “‘That other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other’ and we seem to resist that line of thinking when it comes to national policy is a profound and powerful suggestion.” Underpinning this quote are several incorrect assumptions. One is that if we do not feel it is GOVERNMENT’S role to see that we “take care of” each other, we are somehow people who do not care about others or feel a moral imperative to take care of others. Not so. far from it. In my opinion, PEOPLE should take care of each other. My national government should protect me from others harming me (criminal law) but has zero right to tell me what I must do to “help” others. I get to do it MY way, because I am entitled to that freedom. I do it in my neighborhood, my workplace, my friend circles, my church, through acts of generosity with my time, my labor, my energy, and my financial contributions. Most importantly, I do it voluntarily. These are causes I CHOOSE because I am as yet, free to do that. Many will choose not to help others. That is their right. My government’s responsibility is to protect that freedom and to keep its own ideas about morals from infringing on my right to practice my own beliefs. Without even realizing it, you are espousing government imposition of an established belief system, the very thing, or one of them, from which our forefathers guaranteed us freedom.
    I am out of patience typing another long reply on my phone, so I won’t go deep into the other incorrect assumptions underpinning your main idea. Suffice it to say that I stand proud to “resist” that line of thinking, and contend that my idea of freedom as a national policy, and education and strong morals as a personal policy, supports a vision of a country far more “civilized” than your approach could ever manufacture.

  • Joy Sharp says:

    My apologies for the vehemence of my replies. I just do not understand how we came to this point in our society. From several steps back, it seems so clearly a wrongful taking. And nobody is noticing.

  • Vehemence is welcome. Respectful disagreement is also welcome. I am more than willing to admit there might be flaws in my argument, and I’m more than happy to underline the strengths of yours – of which there are many. Are you willing to adopt the same mindset? This, in my mind, is essential to progress.

    Furthermore, I don’t think you really grasped that I admit I’m at a loss as to how to proceed, and am willing to discuss any and all ideas, and it was in that spirit I threw out the ideas I did. I am attempting to think outside the box, to stretch my mind and my heart in as many ways as possible to understand what can be done about some of what is so terribly, terribly wrong in our society. I believe it IS possible to take steps towards a more fair distribution of wealth, education, health care and security without becoming the 1950s Soviet Union.

    I’m happy to continue the conversation if you are, as I have many questions and there’s a lot to discuss in what you wrote. Fair warning, though, that I will contend the lines between national and personal policy regarding freedom, education, and morality are not as clearly delineated in a “civilized” country as you insist they are.

    • Joy Sharp says:

      Sure, I am. And given the fifty plus years of slow erosion of personal values, shepherded in by Oprah-deep philosophers declaring all “judgment” of individuals by individuals not just wrong but evil and biased, it is the natural next step. Sometimes people do really awful things. I could make a pretty strong argument that that mother as good as shot those children herself when she gave her mentally deficient son not only access to guns but target practice as well. And i do not know whether “mentally deficient” is now also no longer a politically correct way to refer to a person who does not have a working conscience. But isn’t it interesting that my expression of opinion is hemmed in by such a concern? And of course that’s an accurate description, but accuracy is neither here nor there any more. But nobody is going to solidly blame the mother – you are not free to have that opinion or, at least, not to say it out loud…very unacceptable to judge her…makes a person very unpopular to use the words “should” and “shouldn’t”…much safer to chirp in that guns were too easily available, mental health care was inadequate, that she tried hard, that she had difficulties, that the system failed her. To my way of thinking, that is the one-inch-deep way to view and explain what happened. It is like blaming the car, or the alcohol, or the insurance companies who do not pay for rehab, when a drunk driver kills someone. Why do we desperately try to attribute motive to inanimate objects rather than to the actors? Because we can’t stand “judging” people. How exactly IS profit “perverse”? Is it perverse if it employs thousands thereby putting food on tables, clothes on backs? There is nothing that any amount of profit did, or does, or feels, or means. It is an inanimate. Judge the person for what he or she does with the profit. And Sam Walton single-handedly saved millions of poor people billions of dollars, and gave them access to items previously unaffordable. Today Wal-Mart employs over 1.5 million (actually, i think it is more like 1.8), and they do it in some of the very poorest rural towns across middle America and in many other countries. When I worked there, in management at the Bentonville, Arkansas corporte headquarters, they drilled it into our heads that our customer was the person who, at the end of the week, would miss three dollars from his wallet if it wasn’t there. Sam Walton was extremely caring, and he built his company to fill needs of the less fortunate in our society. People line up over night when we open a distribution center so they can apply for one of the 900+ jobs it brings and which are higher paying than any other blue collar jobs in these towns. People are wrong about Wal-Mart. But that’s very unpopular to say on the east coast…very unpopular, because it does not fit our vision of the perfect company providing what we have come to think of as acceptable healthcare benefits (yes, it does) or acceptable opportunity for women (yes, it does). Sam Walton did an awful lot more taking care of needy people than any professional athlete or actor ever did…i would venture to bet he did more even than all of them combined. Anyway, my point is that it is inappropriate to blame profit, regardless of the amount. Blame the person who DOES something perverse with it. The free enterprise system brought our nation unfathomable wealth, not only in terms of money but also in better quality of life through better health care, and it perpetuates through continued creation of more and higher paying jobs. Some people will always have more…some “deserve” it, others less so. Equalization through redistribution is a terrible goal. It is the one-inch-deep explanation of the real problem and it kills the proverbial goose.

  • Jesus, Joy, come up for air. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.

    Where did I blame profit? I blame selfish, clueless, greedy, immoral people (no, they’re not all like that) for not doing enough good for the people who helped them achieve it.

    Where do I excuse Nancy Lanza? I’m the first to say she was very likely responsible, directly and indirectly, for what happened.

    Where do I advocate “equalization?” I advocate fairness and humanity towards those in need, which is NOT the same thing.

    Where on God’s Green Earth do I say this is something that should be done by the GOVERNMENT (which, by the way, is made up of PEOPLE)? Like you, it is my deepest wish that we restrain OURSELVES from creating an audience for trash and an appetite for train wrecks – in whatever form they may come. Unlike you, I believe sensitive and savvy government (made up of PEOPLE) can help us achieve these things when we fall short. Are we policing ourselves? Some of us are, but more of us can do better. Is government helping us? In some ways, yes, but in other ways it needs to do better.

    I know WalMart employs many, and has done very well by you and others. I also believe Sam Walton would know that his customers would miss three dollars from their wallets. I think overall, his way of doing business and treating his employees is part of what has created so damn many of those customers who would miss three dollars from their wallets. I don’t see why they’re mutually exclusive.

    I question if you really know me when you accuse me of shallow, one-inch deep thinking. It’s not in my nature to jump immediately to anger and blame and judgmental thinking. That doesn’t mean I eschew responsibility or don’t make judgements about right and wrong. It means I take in the problem and do my best to analyze and consider how to move forward. That’s all I’m doing here.

    Before you answer me with another tirade (the comments section is supposed to be about discussion, not monologue) consider your own thinking and ask yourself if all the accusations you’re hurling my way and assumptions you’ve made about my positions are fair and accurate.

    • Joy Sharp says:

      I know you to be a highly intelligent and deep thinker. I did not intend to direct my tirades at you, although I do see where I did a poor job of communicating that. Permit me, please, to try again. For many years, I have been worrying, and worrying, and worrying about the chipping away of freedom. I have never, before this, spoken out about it. As hard as this may be to see from your vantage point now, it was only because I DO know the caliber of your brain and of your heart that reading your piece upset me so much. I am sorry to have unleashed the sum total of my grief seemingly upon only you. My intention was to address the issue broadly, i.e., to direct my righteous indignation to the much broader issue, using examples from your piece, seeking answers from one of the only people on earth I trust would consider my points and look at it with intellectual honesty. In other words, only because it was you did I feel safe opining. When you mentioned limits on a CEO’s salary, and that “in addition to limits on perverse amounts of wealth” you would like to see limitations placed on the media, I assumed you meant the government would impose those limitations. Perhaps I jumped to the wrong conclusion. I do suspect we would disagree as to what amount and type of limitations would fairly warrant true worry about thought police.

      • Thanks for clarifying, and extremely deep thanks for the trust you put in me and my intellect. Seriously, Joy, that means so much to me. I truly believe we agree on many more things than we disagree. You’re so smart, and so much of what you say is true. One of the great limitations with written communication is that body language is missing, as is tone of voice. Guaranteed, over a cocktail, in Maple Lawn, this conversation would have felt very different to me. Speaking of which…we need to do that soon. xoxo

  • Chris C. says:

    Wow! This is really great! Joy, I don’t know you, but I know many people who share your thoughts and feelings, I among them. As we look around at the country as a whole, I want to throw my hands up and rip my hair out of my head as well.

    Where did it, if in fact it has, go wrong?

    Why do we feel the need to legislate things that should be common sense, i.e., a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, a homosexual’s choice to marry, or equal pay for the sexes?

    Why, on the other hand, do some feel a need to legislate the size of my soft drink? Or push a new mother to breast feed her child instead of opting for formula?

    Where IS the line drawn? Do we need to draw it?

    When does it become a matter of personal responsibility as opposed to having someone else’s will forced upon us?

    All good questions. None of which any of us will ever get to put our two cents in to anyone who may listen. Public opinion is controlled by the mass media, and policy changes are put in place though them before we ever get a chance to oppose it.

    Witness, for instance, the Sandy Hook tragedy. The media ran with the story of the shooter using an AR15 with a 30-round magazine. It has since become gospel. As it turns out, while Lanza did have the rifle, it never left the trunk of his car. But the message the media wanted to convey was out and absorbed by the public, and now those of us that own and enjoy these firearms are demonized by the like of Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Schumer.

    This country is in serious need of therapy itself. We have turned all our childhood monsters into cute and cuddly friends on sitcoms, and have desensitized the youth of this country with violent video games and movies that spill enough blood to flood the East River, and then wonder why our kids have no respect for life.

    Something is gonna give. I just hope it hasn’t already.

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