Monday, April 11, 2011

More (Hopefully) Brief Observations on the Current Scene/////

There is some problem with this website where my paragraph divisions are not always being saved or honored or what have you and I cannot figure out why. So in case it doesn't work the slanting lines represent where paragraph breaks are supposed to be./////

I spent a not insignificant part of my day today trying to remember the word "corroborate". This sort of thing happens all the time now. This incident ended happily in that the word came to me about 30 minutes after I gave up trying to think of it, but increasingly that which I am looking for, often so far even having a sense of its syllabic and musical relation to the other words I intend to use it with, does not come. I seem to be reverting, as most people seem to as they age, to only really possessing the vocabulary I had when I was 14, which is about the time I set out consciously to improve it. Evidently you can improve it somewhat during your late teens and twenties for the sake of establishing your place in life, but then around 35, being, like physical attractiveness, presumably no longer needed, it begins to atrophy./////

Before I go on I thought I should address an objection which sometimes is brought up when taxation of the wealthy is under discussion, that being the global society argument, wherein I am (hypothetically) asked if I would be willing to see my own standard of living suffer to redistribute wealth to the masses of the third world, and, if not, how that is any different from the situation the Forbes 400 is in in relation to me. I of course have not yet assimilated fully to the globalist outlook that the people out on the frontiers of current thought and perception move in so easily, so this is to me like the argument that even though I live in a region of the world where the number of children under 18 is declining considerably (N.H-Maine-Vermont-Massachusetts-Upstate N.Y.; if you throw in Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes which adjoin these states the decline is even more dramatic, and over an enormous expanse of territory) I should have myself refrained from having more than one preferably, and more than two absolutely, because in Yemen and Niger the birth rate is still around 8 children per woman and the resources are not present there to support them all. Regarding the original question however, while I would not be willing to adjust my standard of living to slums of Rio levels, I would certainly be able to live, and it could be argued that I have lived, easily enough at a considerably lower level of material consumption, as could many Americans. A great deal of our overconsumption and constant need to be generating money is built into the system and is largely unavoidable compared to many countries that get by on more modest GDPs. I have written many times on this site that I was quite happy when I lived in Prague with its per capita income of $6,000 a year, and I certainly did not have or spend much more than that. Of course the price scale for things like housing and food was commensurate with the local incomes, and the offerings in the market meager compared with advance economies, but I at least found these limitations not unbearable. Other goods and services such as heating, public transportation, health care, and education were heavily subsidized by the government, doubtless at far cheaper rates than is or could be done here, and apart from the upper ends of our population providing as good or better quality as similar efforts achieve in the United States./////

Indeed, the major obstacle that the United States faces in convincing its people to give up anything for any kind of common good is the absolute horror people have of losing whatever precious amount of social status they can lay claim to having, because they cannot count on the general tenor of life at any level of the pyramid beneath their own (which is frequently unsatisfactory enough) to be bearable. In Prague and similar expat locales and in certain other places of refuge, such as graduate school, reduced circumstances are more bearable to intelligent people mainly because there is still a critical mass of people there of comparable intelligence at a similar level of income and consequently interesting and accessible social and cultural opportunities. This has never been the case in mainstream American life however and only seems to be getting worse./////

The two rackets--the Scylla and Charybdis, if you will--that are currently getting the most blame for the current demolition of the former American middle class, are the costs of Health Care and education, which of course in almost every other advanced country are heavily subsidized, if not administered, by the government. Having worked in the health care industry and long followed the world of academia with longing eyes from afar, I can tell you that the executives and administrators and other top professionals in both hold a similar view where the public is concerned. Both regard having a plan in place to pay for their services should be after food and maybe clothing (your house is seen as something you could transfer into cash to give to them) the number one financial priority any person has. Health care executives affect astonishment that more people haven't stashed away a couple hundred grand at least to deal with unforeseen medical expenses in old age. Personally, I would prefer that both of these enterprises be considered as public goods with broadly agreed upon standards governing accessibility and restrictions to accessibility, because I think these would be indicators of a more coherent and politically healthier society, which is the main problem of course underlying almost every issue in American life today. Of course there would be some limitations compared to what is available now, though if you are below the 80th or so percentile of wealth, do not have extraordinary health issues, and are not a hypochondriac, I do not see that such limitations would be likely to affect the typical consumer much. I actually have thought for a long time that we would eventually move back more in that directions, but now I am not so sure. I do not see how either can survive in its current form either however./////

Other problems that are underscored, which I don't have time to expand on this week: the disparity of pay, as well as opportunity for any advancement or even wage increases, between the ever-shrinking numbers of decent to high-paying jobs and the mass of dead end jobs, and how this distorts both civil society and the economy, and is almost certainly unsustainable; entrepreneurship as an increasingly unrealistic solution given the numbers of underemployed and deeply indebted people and the size of the market in which entrepreneurs have to compete; the problem of what to do with all the unemployable liberal arts graduates who imagine themselves (incorrectly) to belong to some kind of intellectual/professional class, a topic especially dear to me. I know there is a movement to try to direct these mush headed people (at least the male contigent of them) into more masculine pursuits, which are also seen as needed and in short supply in our civic and economic life--the military, plumbing, carpentry, oil-drilling, engineering maybe if they have legitimate academic aptitude--where they can be productive, useful, strong members of society and leaders in their homes and communities, instead of the effeminate, cowardly, useless parasites we are all so familiar with in our own time./////

Our standard, and overly literary, narrative of childhood, largely English in origin though with a dose of good old irreverent common sense Americanism (think Tom Sawyer or Penrod) mixed in, wherein childhood is a largely whimsical time to wander freely about the streets or fields or riding the trains taking in life, finding wonder in some of it, perhaps picking up some useful skills and knowledge by the by, in the worst case scenario honing one's sensitivity in preparation for an adult life as an author, is, it is implied in so many words, outdated, and is getting us clobbered in this new age by the likes of the tiger mother and the ferociously developed quantitatitive abilities of the technology overclass and their offspring. I'll have to expand on this another time too.

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