THE SHOW GOES ON! That will be the call to action in the coming weeks.
Re-open the economy, they'll say... The show MUST go on.
Our government having botched the containment of the virus due to arrogance, greed, and mistruth – the hallmarks of this administration – will now need to pivot to “saving the economy.” Well, let me save you the suspense: they will not be able to save the economy. And what has always been the true worst-case-scenario will become a reality, projected death tolls and models aside, tens of thousands of needless deaths will occur. People that should not have died, will die due to the prioritizing of corporate interests over the public interest (that is the worst-case scenario). That much so far, is an undeniable fact. Someone you know will probably die from this episode and the blood will be on the hands of those who willfully ignored scientific fact. But I am not writing to dish out blame. Instead, I want my friends, family and enemies to truly confront the gravity of the situation. It is my humble opinion, that there is entirely too much optimism going around. And the unwarranted optimism is really akin to the myth of the dodo bird burying its head in the sand. We are living through a time of mass delusion. Full stop.
But whether we acknowledge reality now or later doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the music has actually stopped. And when the moment of truth arrives for each of us, the silence will be deafening. America is not invincible. We are not spared calamity by our dogmatic belief that things are always upward & onward – our can-do-attitude; our extreme and faux patriotism; our need for Saviors, our trust in fiat currency; our belief in American exceptionalism – this level of bull-headedness has finally met its match in Covid-19. The health crisis isn’t just a two month stay-at-home order it is an inflection point in the trajectory of our great democratic experiment. Which way we go from here is impossible to predict. But I’d like to offer my speculation.
First, as a society, we are divided in every conceivable way. The fabric of community, tolerance and brotherhood has been completely torn. And who will sew us back together? Donald J. Trump, not likely. But the social divide is just the start. We are deeply divided in economic ways too. I would go so far as to say that a caste system exists in America. Far from the idea of freedom for all, eh? And roughly, there are four castes:
The first is a subset of our country that I’ll label, the destitute. These folks have no property, no economic base and have given up on the treadmill of competition entirely. They barter between themselves in a sort of Lord of the Flies scenario and are content to pursue their “happiness” in relatively obscene ways when compared to the general public. But do not doubt for a moment the size and variety of these people. They number in the millions and are found in every city of America; each having arrived to his/her place of destitution in an entirely unique way. Keep in mind that our country prides itself in being the most advanced nation in the world, and yet, millions of people on American soil live no better than folks from a couple hundred years ago. Progress has not spread itself equally among all. Bringing us to the next caste, the laborers.
For all the vitriol and hatred that this nation reserves for the ideas of Karl Marx, in the final analysis, it seems that some of his ideas have proven true. Capitalism over time concentrates wealth and the means of production in the hands of few, so naturally, more and more people will be extorted to keep this unnatural system in balance. In broad terms, the working-class are subjugated to the needs of industry. They are not allowed “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as our founding documents dreamed. Instead, they are contained in a devious bubble of minimum wages, indebtedness, diminished unionization and some flavor of dogma. The laboring class cannot be allowed to move-on. And that is simply what the trends in America echo. By design, wages in this country have not increased in any meaningful way for decades. But wealth accumulation for corporate owners/shareholders has boomed. They’ve also been gifted less tax liabilities, less government regulation, and now, a pervading attitude spread by state propaganda and the lobbying industry that what is good for the corporation is also good for the average American. The extent of the deceit is mind-numbing in its audacity. All of this is quickly labeled and swept under the rug by simply calling it the “wealth gap.” But the implications of such a cruel society will eventually rock the foundations of the whole house. And if you deny the reality of all this, then it really isn’t a matter of my having to prove to you that the wealth gap exists. It is, however, a question of whether or not you are dependent on this system for your personal, egoic upkeep of superiority. In other words, if this system of inequality serves you, then real facts become mumbo jumbo concocted from radical leftists. Fortunately, facts remain facts. And happily, I can report that the day of reckoning has arrived. But I digress, moving onto the third caste: the high middle-class with sizeable earning power.
This third caste can also be described as the intelligentsia, if we are being optimistic about our future. But more pessimistically, we might call them the high middle-class. Why is the middle-class a negative term as it compares to the title of intelligentsia? Well, because American propaganda is so strong that once a person or family unit reaches this level of “success” they are deemed winners or as having arrived. Unfortunately, the pride of arrival too often morphs into an absolute loyalty to the system that knighted them. And a superiority complex ensues. These folks having reached respectability, acclaim and even honor in our society -- the successful entrepreneurs, engineers, bankers, lawyers, consultants and knowledge-economy workers -- forget the hundreds of graces, leg-ups, mini-miracles and sheer luck that helped them to arrive.
And so, the successful middle-class is in a difficult spot despite their ability to spend lavishly, travel frequently and buy nearly every form of pleasure and comfort. Because from a psychological perspective it is nearly impossible for them to condemn or to go-against their own state of affairs. Essentially, the middle class is educated enough to make money in an environment of predatory capitalism, but they are not yet sufficiently courageous to ask themselves about the underlying ethics of all their busy work. So that leaves us with a middle class that is capable of producing handsome financial gains for themselves but are totally incapable of producing improvements for those beneath them. They climb the ladder of success and then turn around and pull up the ladder by way of indifference. That is the net effect of their life’s work.
For example, they might say (and even I have said) this product or service is helping Americans or mankind by improving POS systems (point-of-sales systems), so the net result is a new start-up company that claims they've created a more efficient way of safely moving money from my bank account to that of the corporation. And who can argue with them? They have indeed created a POS – a piece of shit – because they’ve improved the mechanisms of predatory capitalism, but they have not improved or changed the underlying disfunction of our society.
Of course, everything is an evolution and after the pains of living through multiple dead ends, we might someday arrive at a brave new idea. But geez, this constant need to re-create the wheel for profits' sake, is a lengthy and unnecessary process at this point. Try simpler questions on for size: how do we make outcomes more equitable for all in our society? How do we create more health, happiness and abundance? These are not the first questions of our modern-day capitalists (or elected officials). Our favorite capitalists, maybe a Jeff Bezos, mostly seem to care about questions like how little can we pay in taxes or are there taxpayer subsidies/incentives for my operations? These are modern-day robber barons; their empire is sustained by the sweat of millions beneath them. And the high middle-class is happy to perpetuate this system because they are paid well; they receive large salaries of $250,000, and maybe they even get carrots, uh-I-mean compensation, in the form of unvested stock, year-end bonuses, and lavish perks/parties. The Roaring 20’s seem to have just ended in 2020. With so much to lose, are we really to believe that these successful and well-adjusted citizens of the middle-class are going to buck the system? No. They simply have too much of their livelihood at stake to question the status quo, let alone tug at its shirt. And in the face of corporate behemoths, we all ultimately conclude that we are powerless before them. Like a small pup that nibbles at the feet of its master, an inconvenience not long endured because the pup is so easily punted. Such is the conundrum of the comfortable middle class.
But then there is the possibility that this same group might also awaken and come to represent the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia is distinct in that they’ve learned enough to make a living in the present environment, but they’ve also cultivated self-doubt. And with doubt, comes questioning. So naturally, they extend their self-doubt to everything else – the corporation included. And where does that leave them, the questioning minority? It leaves them as outcasts, or sometimes as actors, moving through the world observing absurdity after absurdity. Simply trying not to be stomped out. But at some point, they begin to quietly whisper to themselves: there has to be a better way. And only they can ask the question because the destitute have already given up the fight; the laborers are drowning in survival; and the high middle-class is busy indulging themselves at false summits.
So finally, we arrive at the final caste: the ultra-rich. Admittedly, I don’t have much insight into this category. I’ve met a handful of billionaires, have broken bread with a few, and all-in-all it seems to me that they are superbly aware of the lopsidedness of the system. They studied the system as a doctor might study human anatomy. They know where to push the system for their desired effects; the entire setup serves them very well. And if history has taught us anything, it is that power is not easily given up. In fact, power seems to be the world’s most dangerous drug because it creates an insatiable appetite for more power. Why? I have spiritual theories for that, but those are beyond the scope of this essay. So, without going too deep into the ultra-rich let us be satisfied for now with the four categories that I have proposed and move on to the larger theme running through all of this.
The current crisis is not just a pandemic, it is also an implosion of the entire schema that I’ve just described. The news won’t talk about it; the Federal Reserve will keep printing money and buying every bad-loan out there, and the Trump administration will say, with tears in their eyes, that the economy is going to come roaring back! It won’t. We are in this for the long haul and it will be a trail of tears before it is a homecoming.
And so, in the coming months expect the Federal government and private enterprises to throw everything at the economic implosion set-off by the invasion of Coronavirus. They will throw money into the hands of the consumer as fast as conceivably possible to resuscitate the cold corpse lying before them. This cold body has arrived before the “peak” of Covid-19 fatalities, and it is the corpse of the American economy and the global hegemony that it once sustained. Despite the mass confusion, there is one conclusion that to my mind has become an undeniable fact: we will not be going back to how things were. Pandora has been let out of the box; the music has stopped; the jig is up!
But time will reveal all. And so, I started this long argument with the words: THE SHOW GOES ON! And that is the hope, wish, and dream of nearly every American, but the objective reality is quite different. No matter how much we may want the old show to resume -- it is over. Like going to the Opera house, we just assume that this is a brief intermission, but we don’t realize that there is a fire raging in the basement and the Theater Director is already back-stage, atop a chair, fixing a noose round his neck...
My hope is that people don’t lull themselves into a deeper slumber if this reality becomes too hard to bear. Things will get much worse before they get better.
It is a new day. It is a whole new world. Let’s choose better.
Wishing you love and health,
P.S. Admittedly, I have a bias. I desperately want the world to move into a more humane state of affairs, and so, a part of me realizes that I am in danger of over-estimating the present circumstances. But in the end, I believe my assessment to be more rational than wishful.