Monday, March 7, 2016

In A Just Universe We Are All Safe And Loved

But We Are Here


Yesterday a friend and I went to look at an assisted living community for her 86-year-old father. The facility's marketing person was friendly and low-keyed. The place itself was comfortable and clean; the average age of a resident was 83, and the men and women I saw seemed generally content and would easily engage with you if you stopped to talk with them. To live there in a small, one-bedroom apartment, would cost roughly $5,000 per month even without the range of assistance.

Later, my friend and I took a drive to another facility; it was a place her father could afford, but wouldn't feel comfortable in. She wanted to make a point about exclusivity. 

The place we went to was a 'community' run by a private corporation, like a suburb of single-story homes built within the past twenty years, all newer versions of the kind of GI-tract-style home built in 1948 which I had grown up in. It was on the top of a set of hills, surrounded by manicured lawns and trees, a cross between a park and a country club. 

We went into the community's main building, and walked through their dining area -- a broad room with tables and booths, actual silverware, fresh linen and bright napkins, good carpeting and dark, aged wood paneling; the place looked like the interior of a yacht club. The people in that room also seemed content, but in a different way -- they seemed dressed more formally for Sunday brunch than the people in the other facility; or, perhaps it was just me.

On the way out of the building, we stopped to look at an album with information about the residents -- "...after graduating from Stanford, he lived in London..." "was an officer in the U.S..." "...met his wife while working for the World Bank..." "...undergraduate degree at Yale...".  Most of the John Cheever short fiction I've ever read came to mind for a moment.

When we drove away, my friend said, "If you're accepted to live here, the entry fee is that you give the corporation who runs it about a million dollars. It's a loan -- they get to use that money for whatever they want. When you die, your heirs get the full sum back, but with no accrued interest.  And while you are living here, you pay about $10,000 a month for one of these homes. More, if you need assisted living," she said. "He could, but my father doesn't want to live in this kind of place."

"This is what the one-per-centers get at the end of their lives," she added. "And most of us won't even be able to afford the (first) place we looked at today."

I looked back at the place as we drove away -- at how clean, how quiet, orderly; how rich it seemed. It's one thing to intellectually consider how much better the Owners have it than the mass of the world's population. It's something else altogether to see it. 

I went away thinking about wealth, about inequity; about what Senator Sanders has been saying from The Stump, and the business-as-usual babble from Hillary The Inevitable ! I thought about things going on in the world outside Our Great Country, and about human suffering and history. 
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That led me to my usual blog-reading this morning, and I came across something that resonated.

One way or another, on a daily basis all of us struggle against the inane malestrom of useless human thought: con-artist commercialism, incoherence and illogic masquerading as clarity, and Exclusive and All-New ! that smothers human consciousness like a wet tarp. It does nothing to illuminate the landscape for other travelers or feed the soul.  And the Intertubes, a vast place, simply amplifies the prevalence of all of it (I'd include this blog in that list -- this is just a nighttime bus stop somewhere in the big middle of somewhere, or nowhere).

But -- one excellent thing about the Intertubes is, like other forms of communication, you may occasionally break out of the crazy Bardo-world of Amazon and Beyonce, CNN and Endless Living Through Twitting, and find yourself in a place where the sun is warm and the fields are green and open, the ocean is wide and blue, and people tell you the truth in complete sentences.

This bit of clear thinking (and you should read all of it), courtesy the Soul Of America, where there are cats.  I had to pass it along: Please consider.
If we had a society where everyone lived well whether they had a job or not, then we could make pure utilitarian arguments about employment. But when employment is required for people to be able to live decently, or even live at all, such arguments lead to treating huge masses of people as disposable, and consigning them to awful lives.

Again, this might be ok if we lived in a scarcity society, but we don’t. We produce enough food to feed everyone, we have the ability to house everyone, and so on... “Everyone should have a decent life, and that shouldn’t be contingent on whether they can make money for a billionaire.”

The economy and corporations exist to serve people, not the other way around. When they do not do so, the problem lies with them...

The core of any decent system of ethics, and thus of any political and economic order, is Kant’s maxim that people are ends, not means. When you forget that, you inevitably descend into monstrosity.

  --  Ian Welch, "Pure Utilitarianism and Capitalism"; Blog, March 5, 2016

MEHR, MIT ANGST AUS MITTELSTANDE: Rereading this post, I'm reminded how lucky we are to be able to focus on these kinds of issues, in a Western culture with cutting-edge technology. Which is another way of saying it reeks of middle-class stuff.  Guilty.
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