The world is a dark and scary place for many of us right now. A virus is spreading exponentially among us. We are seeing news of deaths daily. The number is always rising. We are afraid of dying from this. We are afraid of infecting someone else. We are afraid of infecting our loved ones. We are afraid to sacrifice our hard-won civil rights. We are unable to trust our leadership. We are a deeply divided country. And there is no doubt; we are in trouble. All of us.
I have cause for despair. My income is gone until, at least, June 15, assuming I can work in May. I will certainly be facing difficult times. I have cause to fear.
What I don’t have, as it turns out, is time to fear. For all the ugliness and horror in the air around me, I see more love than I have in a long time. I see people helping each other. Artists are giving away their services because, honestly, they are, for me, essential. People are continuing to go to work and stock the shelves, check out your groceries, and let you be pissed at them because they’re out of toilet paper, which is certainly the fault of the woman who is literally risking her life and the lives of her loved ones to make sure you can get whatever it is they still have for sale. I see neighbors reaching out to help one another. I see people loving each other and coming together by staying apart.
There is much to debate about what we should have done, and when we should have done it, and from where the virus came, and whose fault, if anyone’s, this is. We can argue over over reacting. We can debate whether the economy is worth the lives of the 1 or 2, or, depending on whose estimates you’re hearing, 5% of the population that dies so that others can live and the money keeps moving. They were going to die anyway. They might as well do it now and reduce the surplus population. We have to save The Economy.
I take issue with that. I’m happy to have a minority point of view. Others who have a different one can teach me. I’m always willing to learn. With that disclaimer, I’m diving in, but very briefly. Why is this form of The Economy so valuable? Is it really the only kind we can have?
I want to start with what I believe is the function of any economy. It turns out humans do best when we work together. This began with forming tribes to help with hunting. It continues from there. We build villages. This is my village. It’s not yours. My town. My county. My state. My country.
The function of the economy is to allow us to trade our talents and work together to create the best world we can. We have chosen to use an item we have simply all agreed has value. A bottle of water has more actual value than a hundred dollar bill, absent this social agreement for which most of us never signed up, and to which we certainly didn’t give our consent freely. Without the fact that everyone is willing to trade many bottles of water for this printed object, it’s just a printed object. I can’t eat it. I can’t drink it. I can’t make my crops grow better with it. I could, in an emergency, use it to replace the toilet paper that is actually worth more than the hundred dollars. TP provides a necessary function. We all have to wipe our asses. Yes, even in social isolation.
The Economy, as it stands now, is fulfilling its purpose exceptionally well for some Americans, and, in fact, for some citizens of the world, but it is failing entirely for others. The number it fails is much higher than the number it serves. Listen to any Bernie Sanders clip of more than 3 minutes. He’ll certainly give you the numbers. And they will probably be accurate.
Why do we work? Some of us do it because we are fulfilling a lifelong dream. We are pursuing careers that test our skills, cause us to grow, and make us feel valued, respected, and properly compensated. We have enough to live, and we are making a difference by doing what we do. I believe those in this category would go on doing precisely what we’re doing without these printed items. We would continue because it makes us happy. So long as we can live a decent life doing what we do, we will go on doing it.
Some of us work because if we don’t, we have nowhere to live. We’re not fulfilling a lifelong dream. We’re selling DirecTV to unsuspecting old women on the phone. We’re dealing with drug addicts who park in front of the Circle K we’re working alone at 2 in the morning, and we’re wondering if they will wake up and take the needles out of their arms before the police arrive. A video camera records us when we go out for a cigarette. If this group could live a decent life without doing this, many of us would quit doing it. We would spend their lives creating podcasts, or writing, or singing, or painting, or playing video games (my former partner make money doing this, so you can’t say it’s not a profession anymore!), or researching something, or… whatever it is that we would really like to do if you would leave us alone and let us do it. And… there would be some people who would continue doing those jobs because we enjoy them. The work is necessary… well… I wouldn’t cry if DirecTV never sold another cable package, but, I suppose there are those who need it and value it, so… we’ll let it go. We certainly need someone to work in Circle K and at the grocery store and Amazon and all sorts of other places that pay very little for what we have now learned is “essential” work.
Some of us work because we are only as valuable as the money we make, and money should be gained only by hard work. Hard work, for us, is a value in and of itself. It’s a sign of being a good person. We’re contributing to society. We’re taking care of ourselves. We’re not asking anyone else for help. We earn our place in this economy. We’re proud of what we’ve earned. We have a right to be.
But, what would it be like without these printed objects? We would still have exactly the same resources we do now. We could go on living in our perfect economy in precisely the same way.
No… We can’t. No one will work anymore.
There’s an interesting point. You mean, in our perfect economy we work only because we’re afraid of not doing it? Just as there were some slaves who were treated better than others, based on their perceived performance and value to the slaver, there are some of us who are treated as more valuable than others. And you remember how slavery was… you know… wrong? Yeah, well, it still is.
When you make us work only by threatening us with doom if we don’t, we are slaves. We have no physical chains. We are not whipped, at least not legally. We don’t face the physical horrors that slaves did. But, we are functioning under threat just as surely as if we had masters. If you are not a holder of many of these printed items, you are not allowed a place to sleep, food to eat, medical care, or a cellphone. Not even a flip phone. Sometimes you can be afforded a night or two in a homeless shelter, if you are willing to follow their orders, or a jail cell if you’re not. I don’t think anyone would argue that a jail cell represents freedom. This is a form of slavery. It is only slightly less brutal. And it is determined by printed objects whose only value is our agreement to their value.
I’m not going to design a whole new world for you. But, I would like you to think a little while about how the world would exist if we decided that money no longer had value. Would we be able to exist? Would we be able to function?
I think we would, but this is the time to examine what value we place on our economy. I hope we’ll use this time to consider changing our world.
For the first time, we are realizing that poverty is bad. More and more people are tumbling into it, and now that there are enough of us, Congress has decided to act. Are we doing it correctly? Ask me a year from now. I don’t know yet.
This time is economically frightening, but it’s personally gratifying.
I’m seeing kindness pouring out around me. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll notice our logo has changed. I got a painting from an artist friend of mine, Michelle Sylvester, who is as isolated as the rest of us. She’s a teacher. She has time on her hands now, and this was her way of helping. It was good for her. It’s good for me.
I have a couple of friends working on recording a song I desperately need for what I hoped would be tonight’s episode. My friends are doing it to help out.
Another friend, whose father is a bit of a philanthropist, brought over some groceries and left them outside my door. I had some cases of regular Pepsi Amazon had mistakenly sent us a couple of months ago, and I set those outside the door so she could donate them to someone who could use them. (I’m diabetic, one of my roommates has a heart condition that prohibits caffeine, and the other one just won’t drink Pepsi, so… we’re thrilled someone else can get some use out of it.) She included some cash with the burritos, and it will do so much for helping us through just a little while longer.
Another friend sent us some dinners from Home Fresh. We can’t afford those even when we have our regular incomes.
I have a friend who checks on me every day. (We’re supposed to check up on old people you know.)
I see people saying kind things on Facebook. I see people understanding we’re all in this together.
I hope when this is over we’re all still here. I hope all of our loved ones will still be with us. And I hope we learn enough to keep this from happening anymore.
If nothing else, perhaps we will finally, finally learn there is no Them. We are all Us.