“What are you doing these days?”
That’s a typical bridge into conversation, in America. It usually means “where are you working now?”
Surely, most folks don’t even expect a detailed answer. It’s sort of like saying, “How are you?” Most people are surprised if you actually tell them.
Yet “what are you doing” seems to address our American need to define ourselves by task. In a country founded by Puritans (whose idle hands were the devil’s tool), this makes sense.
Sure, every human spirit needs a purpose. Yet our busy, busy, buuuusy lives in America have always been synonymous with success. So in essence, we ask one another: “How successful have you been?”
Think about that.
In the USA, the predominant Capitalist buy-spend country on earth, we have been born and raised in a culture that defines our predominant social connection by outward actions—our job, how much money we make, what we have achieved.
We are trained to stay on the surface of our lives, and lead forward with our shiniest of attributes, all hold-overs from a conquest culture, whose social definitions were based on the amount of gold in the chest, or the amount of fat (or not) on the belly.
Then came Covid. The emergency brake was
pulled on the entire world, and our “run-run-run” culture was stopped abruptly in its tracks.
People had time to evaluate the amount of frenetic energy they were pouring into their lives, and realized that it was not necessarily amounting to success, but stress, and restricted family time. In general, it was movement, for only the sake of movement, to make one feel busy, ergo—“successful”.
After the Great Resignation of 2021, as people recognized that living smaller and more simply meant living happier and more relaxed, the American business corridor cracked their fists onto the table, decrying a “lazy population” that “refused to work.” In actuality, once stepping off of the nonsensical conveyor belt, and the barely-human demands of “downsizing”, the American populace recognized that working a service job for $4.25 an hour plus tips to make up wages, at three different locations, 14 hours a day—was a little rough.
Once given time to slow down and evaluate the quality of life, Americans everywhere, whether in blue collar or top executive positions, recognized a resounding common fact:
The United States has priced-out its residents.
Families everywhere sat down with their checkbooks and bank accounts, recognizing, on an hourly basis, how much time is spent out of the house, versus how many expenses were coming in. Average families with two working parents were scarcely home. And still, living on credit, with bills piling up, for basic things like groceries, utilities, and gasoline.
Countless articles in 2021 across national periodicals covered this phenomenon; that once Americans actually had time to breathe, they realized that the business and economic system they strived to be part of, keeps moving the goalpost.
And the faster middle-America catches up, the more the goalpost is moved.
Pre-Covid rents were rising, now astronomical in many places. Pre-Covid home prices were borderline ridiculous in normal parts of the country, and are now generally out of reach.
Voices of disconnect rose, blaming this President or that President, because that’s a much safer and more convenient way to channel one’s discontent in a country that is shifting faster than anyone can afford to maintain.
Yet the fact is, it is greed that has moved this goalpost; the millionaire is a passé status. It’s “billionaire” that now dominates the headlines. Billions or bust, say corporations everywhere.
A billion dollars looks like this:
It’s a nonsensical amount of zeroes, which draws to it astronomical amounts of interest, even in the lowest yielding accounts.
The gold rush for billionaire status is on, and companies and corporations across the globe can feel the pinch for cash.
We all must remember that billionaires simply don’t happen. They accrue their wealth from each one of us, $.50 and one dollar at a time, until we all fund parts of literally, billions of dollars. That seems to be an acceptable practice in business.
However, as a country, if we all decided to donate a dollar, or $.50, or $10, to a common pot in government, that would be equally distributed amongst income challenged people all the way to the middle class, those same aspiring billionaires cry “Socialism!”
Why do you suppose they care, about $.50 here, and a dollar there?
Why do you suppose they do not want a system that would allow Americans to not only buy their widgets, however give that same $.50 or dollar, to someone who may truly need it, because the $4.25 an hour wage, plus tips, is getting that server’s family evicted along with their three children?
Your $.50, and my $.50 deeply matters to these billionaires. Because we literally make or break their billions, one tank of gas at a time. One pair of Nikes at a time. One iPhone at a time. One $.99 Apple App subscription
You see, if corporate culture can’t demonize giving that same $.50 to someone who could truly benefit from it, instead of giving it to them, then their billionaire status may slip. They may be relegated to having only $100 million in holdings, instead of 5 billion. And in the desperate, collapsing corporate culture, who lunches on avarice and washes it down with a shifting goalpost—.50 is everything.
There’s a grand brainwashing that’s happened in America, that started with the glamorization of Western expansion (which in reality was a bunch of starving European settlers and Native American genocide), to the “American Dream”, which thrives on the annihilation of the extended family model, to promoting the ego of the self-sustaining nuclear family.
The shift to nuclear family was important to American commerce, as instead of a family home or family car being passed down from generation to generation, “success” and “responsibility” was suddenly about owning multiple homes, and several cars.
Where kitchen bowls and utensils and mixers and wooden spoons were once shared by multiple family members, now each nuclear family was encouraged to buy the latest, the greatest, the most plastic and most disposable home wares possible; the best American-purchased-from China products, that a person could ever dream of!
Post-WWII America was crying for local money to be poured into the economy, and “the nuclear family” was born. The 1960’s-80’s cemented the American need for “stuff”, and here we are, a throw-away culture.
The use-once culture.
Now, a couple of decades into the 21st-century, our earth is moaning under the weight of our plastic pollution. Our seas are choking up, wrapping marine life in discarded or lost plastic nets.
The race to become billionaire, and the unaware masses supporting the billionaires $.50 at a time, then blindly chew through resources on the planet, whose resources are finite.
Since the 1970s, climate scientists have been ringing their hands attempting to produce to world governments documentation that outlines how important it is that we stop burning through water, land, soil, and food, as if it will always be there. As if nothing changes.
Small steps have been made, like large chain restaurants replacing Styrofoam with paper containers, or plastic straws with paper straws. Yet all of that paper comes from trees, cut down, removing oxygen from the air, on a planet whose air is becoming more and more polluted on a regular basis.
It’s no wonder the pollution persist, as we mow down forest after forest in the Amazon (the world’s air filter) to make way for cheap, steroid-plumped cattle yards, because we all need a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder, apparently.
Because $1 million is no longer enough. $100 million is no longer enough. Just like McDonald’s, billions and billions served into bank accounts is the litmus for success, in the 21st-century.
Unlike many, I personally do not believe that money is evil. Money is simply an energy. We can do anything we wish with it. It can be a tool for building schools and hospitals. It can be a tool that ruins peoples lives by building a chemical plant on a river that soils the water supply. Money is not the issue.
The hearts of human beings is the issue.
The conscience level of human beings is the issue. Or, the lack thereof.
And simply raising our fists and shaking them at the “billionaire class“ serves no other purpose than a basic tricep workout.
Because at the end of the day, we are the billionaire makers.
If we wish to shake our fist a big money, shake your fist at the person in the mirror.
Pay attention to where $.99 at a time, on your mobile phone, it’s being deposited every month.
It becomes ludicrous, thinking that money is the problem. Money is not the problem. The idea that we withhold money from people, livable wages for services rendered, so that corporations may make billions instead of hundreds of millions, is nonsensical; Dr. Seuss numbers, a billiondy-trilliondy-zilliondy dollars.
I’m always amused by the battle cry of those who claim that starting off an individual at a living wage is “pampering them”, or somehow unfair to those who have worked at a company for years, and earned their pay raises. Why not start off with a living wage, and adjust everyone’s wages accordingly, in higher position brackets? Everyone wins. (Except the bazilliondy-catrilliondy-aires.)
I’m especially amused by the aforementioned narrative when observing that the “cost of living goalpost” in America is being moved father away, and was moving previous to even Covid.
If Americans make more money, they spend more money. That’s really good for the economy. Most socioeconomically challenged classes, as well as the middle class, and even the upper middle class, have been trained by our capitalist nuclear-family culture for generations, to “buy stuff“ in order to separate themselves from the classes beneath them.
The middle class is an enormous consumer of “stuff”.
Where as nearly 100% of middle class American wages are going for basics like rent, mortgages, utilities, insurance, phone service, food prices, gas prices, and maybe a few things like clothes for the kids, there’s not a lot of big screen TVs making their way to truck beds in the WalMart parking lot.
There aren’t a lot of extra clothes flying off the rack.
There aren’t many new cars driving away.
And when they are, and those purchases are happening, their happening with cash. Because in America, in 2022, you’re either a billionaire, or a pauper on paper.
Most of America is financially struggling. Prices are rising at an unprecedented speed. Though oil prices have dropped, the oil companies refuse to lower the gas prices, extending only pennies of discount at a time to consumers, as they now clear record profits, because of the skyrocketing price of oil previously.
As long as we keep paying, America, corporations will keep hiking the bill. And we are trained to buy, buy, buy, so we will find a way to work that extra job, to keep purchasing.
And the corporations will keep jacking up the prices.
It’s an insidious cycle in which we fail to see our own key participation. We are literally stitching together this FrankenEconomy, a monster made from compulsive, addictive spending—and the bloat of unyielding inflation.
Soon, we’ll be living out a scene in Hunger Games, with the Capitol full of those who have, and the outlying provinces full of those who have not.
If you think this is simply a dramatic example, I suggest you drive around any major US city, where the class divisions are literally visible.
I also suggest you speak to that family with three kids, who may own that five or six bedroom home on the edge of your town, that same family that you may think is financially doing very well.
What you’ll find is that though the family may be drawing in $150-$200,000 a year, with 3+ kids, they’re living paycheck to paycheck. They’re living on credit. Not because they’re lazy, with both mom and dad working 40+ hours a week. Not because they don’t know how to manage their money, as mom and dad have done their best to have retirement accounts, yet they cannot contribute the full amount, because they need that money to pay the bills.
This is much of American life, because the goalpost in America, with “billionaire” now being the goal, is moved so far away from we kickers, that people are simply getting tired of playing the game.
In 2022, $100,000 a year barely supports a family of three, if that nuclear family is living the 1950s and 60s buy-it-and-throw-it-away lifestyle.
States like my home state of Montana, which was once fairly affordable in the outlying areas, now has unbelievably unrealistic socioeconomic conditions, with rents that beyond exceed local wages.
In fact, if any of you out there are watching Yellowstone, and are looking at Billings Montana as a destination to live (as it’s made several publications’ “most desirable city“ lists), you may want to think twice.
In Billings, you’re making “big money” if you’re making $15 an hour. Yet renting a two to three bedroom house is going to cost you around $2500 a month.
If you wish to be a commodity trader or financial assistant in Montana, the first basic test is $100, where you can take the same test for $40-$60, and both New York and California.
Sure, there’s no sales tax in Montana. Yet there is income tax, and property tax, and both will absolutely pop your eyeballs out with the bill that you’re handed, every year.
Gas is not the most expensive in the nation, because here in Billings we have three refineries close by. However, your groceries are going to cost you, especially your produce, trucked all the way in from other warmer growing parts of the country.
And, no one really wants to pay taxes here, so our poor police force and our firefighters are understaffed and underfunded. Therefore, crime in Billings tends to run a bit rampant for a town this size, parked at about 125,000 people.
Montana is a perfect snapshot of American avarice; with a high wage here at $15 an hour, the state is priced for billionaires. Why? Because billionaires are buying the state. (And then complaining, because no one is here to serve them coffee, or a breakfast, or work at the Starbucks, or work at the gas station chains they just purchased,
In fact, Montanas are moving out of Montana, as the Old West goalpost is pushed too far back into the sunset. A very dear friend of ours, who lived in Bozeman for a big part of the 22 years of his life in Montana, recently moved to St. Louis, to drop his rent down to about 1/4 of what it was in Bozeman, for a very cute apartment that was nearly twice as big; where wages are higher, restaurants are more plentiful.
Another longtime friend of mine, along with her wife, left Billings, Montana and moved to Ohio, where the sale of their cozy single-story two-bedroom home, plus a very small single-story guest house, net them a beautiful, sprawling two-story historical home with a big, beautiful yard, and gorgeous old fireplace—for roughly half the money.
This observation is not intended to be a doom-saying sermon, yet a call to pay attention to what is happening with our $.50 purchases, one degree at a time, as America is boiled in our own consumer juices.
Again, I’m not anti-money. I’m not even anti-consumerism. I’m all for free enterprise (I, myself, am a career entrepreneur). I’m just not for sociopathic greed.
I like my “stuff“ like any other American. I am not always the best at remembering to bring my own cloth grocery sacks to the store, and my wife makes sure to remind me about all the sea life that is dying, when I have to put the groceries in plastic bags if they’re out of paper.
Though the environment is extremely important to me, I look out into my driveway, and there is parked a Jeep Rubicon, so we can traverse the winters, as well as some rugged land we own on the backside of the Beartooths. That is not a super gas efficient vehicle. It’s not a guzzler, at four cylinders, yet it’s not electric. Since I live in a town that’s not very big, I don’t end up driving that vehicle around town as much as I would, as if I lived in a large sprawling city like Los Angeles.
We all can choose where we put our $.50.
I make these points because in many ways, I myself am an average American consumer, every day attempting to break the consumerist habit, and recognizing how I’m being nickeled and dimed into poverty, while my state, and my country, is bought out from underneath my boots.
And next time you see those bumper sticker memes all across social media, claiming that “people are lazy”, that they “don’t want to work”, or whatever the mythology is that’s attached to some 1885 version of Western expansion, spouted off by some potbellied oil magnate squinting over his monocle and chewing on his spitty cigar—remember that that is a marketing narrative, planted politically so that every working American is busy hissing at their neighbor, instead of un-electing the Congress people who are claiming that the money that you have earned, and put into your own Social Security account, is now “Socialism”—because they want to spend your hard-earned money to fund their government projects.
And they don’t want you to notice.
So they’re pointing the fingers at the brown-skinned person next to you, claiming they’re taking your job for pennies on the dollar, and that those brown-skinned people are the problem.
It’s not only sociopathic, it’s cowardly. And it’s inhumane.
So before you pass those “lazy” memes, you may want to be aware that you’re being manipulated by a billionaire culture that wants your attention away from the fact that you work like a dog, to fund them, convinced that your “busy” is synonymous with success, all while overpaying at the register.
There’s enough money to go around. There’s just not enough awareness, behind the money.
Only you and I can change that.