Monday, November 14, 2005

Poor versus Impoverished

I guess I opened a bit of a can of worms with my $Voting With Our Dollars$ post, so I might as well pour all the worms out on the shore and let the hooks fall where they may.

Open discussion is a good thing and I know everyone has their own opinion, but I live in a country where, presently, the dominant players (Republican & Democrat alike), have no trouble promoting similar agendas through the many supportive media outlets owned by their corporate benefactors, while most real opposition or dissent is no longer aired in the mainstream free-press of this democracy of ours.

So if we really believe in freedom of thought, freedom of ideas, I suppose it's still OK for me to air some of my thoughts here, and I hope I don't lose friends over it.

Here goes...

Being poor and being impoverished are, to me, two different things.

When I was young we were very poor but I never felt impoverished until my family moved up to the middle class.

My single-parent grandmother, on my mother's side, died young in 1952 leaving my mother & father to raise 4 extra children in addition to our own growing family (2 boys at the time & a girl on the way).

My mother received Social Security checks for each of her siblings (I recently saw some of those old SS stubs and I think she was getting $8 a month per kid).

In the rural San Fernando Vally of 1952, eight of us lived happily in a two-bedroom duplex converted from an old chicken coop, but we had room, miles and miles of open land all around us to roam and explore, and the magical beauty of nature for inspiration.

Most of our clothes and household items came from the Salvation Army Thrift Store but everyone else in our community shopped there too, so who cared?

My dad usually had work and my mom even owned a $25 Ford Model A with a rumble seat that we tooled around the dirt roads in when we could keep it patched up enough to run.

But we all had fun, my aunts & uncles, who had literally become my brothers & sisters, were older and played ukeleles and sang old-time songs out under a shade tree, we built huge forts from the straw bales stacked by the thousands on the big farm across the street, we were poor, and we knew that, but we weren't impoverished and we didn't have snobby neighbors, television or celebrity worship to tell us we were.

After the "good jobs" moved in, and we became part of the new middle class, after the fields were replaced with tract-house boxes and asphalt, after we traded our rented chicken coop for ownership of one of those stucco boxes, and bought ourselves a late model Oldsmobile and a boat, after our real lives were traded for jobs, & stuff, is when I began feeling impoverished.

My parents grew busier & more stressed trying keep up with the Joneses of the new world materializing around them, a world where money & possessions became more important than people. Every time a neighbor got a new gadget we had to have one too, hula-hoops, garbage disposals, power mowers, color TVs, and the more crap we got the more we wanted. Meanwhile the rewarding livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, craftsmen and skilled laborers were disappearing, replaced by mindless never going anywhere service jobs for the masses of consumers being bred & groomed for the New World Economy.

Mom & dad divorced and my diabetic father, having lost his family, drank himself to death at the age of 36 leaving me without a dad as I entered adolescence on the ever-meaner streets.

My mother is proud, she would never collect welfare, so she just went to work and we became latchkey kids roaming the streets and fending for ourselves.

All the while growth, growth, growth was becoming the buzzword of a nation of TV Zombies, brainwashed in a media blitz of Madison Avenue bullshit designed to enrich Wall Street hustlers and the companies they pimp for, and suddenly, the rampant growth of a cancer cell became our new model of how communities should evolve and function.

And so we were transformed, within a few decades, from a mostly rural self-reliant people, into a nation of commuting suburbanite dependent consumers, relying on our jobs in the aircraft plants, the auto-assembly lines, the post offices, chemical plants, supermarkets, fast-food joints & shopping malls.

We started moving our factories overseas so the remainder of Americas skilled workers could compete for wages & benefits against Third World laborers, and then came up with big box retailing which culminated in Wal-Mart who've driven thousands of mom & pop stores and even whole towns out of business.

The new jobs took more mothers out of the home because young couples could no longer afford rent on one income, these new jobs that didn't pay enough, even with two adults working, to cover rent, food & child care expenses.

So people by the hoards turned to welfare & food stamps, but believe me when I say I’m not defending unwieldy, unworkable bureaucratic social programs, especially when they're intentionally designed that way to make them as useless as possible (i.e. the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits for Seniors-what a load of undecipherable gibberish!).

I worked for the Post Office for 30 years and had to deal with more than my share of nasty-tempered second and third generation drug-addict welfare mothers who thought the world owed them a living, and it sickened me. And I’ve also seen my share of poverty-stricken people splurging their checks on Las Vegas gambling trips and bigger TVs.

But these people didn’t invent the system they were born into, they are victims of legalized charlatans, hustlers & profiteers who rob the working class of their time & money, leave them with a worthless education, sell them a poison lifestyle of emptiness, train them for meaningless jobs to support that lifestyle, strip them of every shred of human dignity, and then encourage them to have children they can’t afford, or even care for, thus ensuring there will be plenty of new consumers and more cheap labor to fuel the GROWTH of the global economy, and now even the pensions and retirement benefits of employess who already devoted lifetimes of hard work are being taken away, while the government talks up Social Security reform (see privatization).

What can you make of a system that poisons the minds, bodies & lives of its citizens and then leaves them to rot?

Every day the gap widens between rich & poor, the middle class shrinks away as CEOs grow richer, building steel & glass towers to the sky, dumping toxic waste in our oceans, our air and our backyards, chemicals in our food & water, then bankrupting their corporations with over-ambitious hostile-takeovers and phony book-keeping, and then writing it all off so us working stiffs can pay for it, while we pay for the wars too, with our lives, and our children’s lives, and our hard-earned dollars.

There’s not enough money for health care, not enough money to stave off poverty, not enough money for education, not enough money for decent wages, not enough money for environmental protections, but there’s always plenty of money for war.

Criminals have stolen our planet and our lives and they’re selling it back to us at a very high premium indeed, and they will raise the stakes until there’s nothing left, if we let them.

Our tax dollars have murdered innocent people by the millions simply because they refuse to hand their land and their natural resources over to foreign business interests, so we send in the CIA to install a despot that will do it our way.

We’re told we must wage war to defend freedom and spread democracy around the world, but what we’re spreading isn’t freedom or democracy, what we’re spreading is the horrific tyranny of an all-consuming economic system which may eventually render our planet uninhabitable.

Being a citizen of the wealthiest nation in history (both in natural resources and material wealth) and watching that wealth squandered by a pitiful citizenry of brainwashed consumers, with few limits to their neediness, creates in me the

discomforting thought that I may belong to a species with a hopelessly impoverished spirit.

Being poor, I suppose, is a state of mind. A self-sufficient small-scale landholder may be penniless but still have peace of mind, where impoverishment, as I see it, is a state of existence where, upon separation from any meaningful livelihood, or sense of community, one’s mind, spirit and body are left with no real joy or hope.

Rights & Freedom?

There are no rights without responsibilities, and there is no freedom in subservience.

Well, I've got that off my chest, so maybe I can get back to some nice gardening & nature topics now!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheesh, Jim. If you lose some friends over what you've written here then they probably aren't the kind of people you want as friends anyway. I didn't see anything I could object to. KEEP THE FAITH!

4:27 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Jim, I agree with much, if not all, of what you wrote. I find it very easy to become cynical and frustrated by today's world. The problems are so large that I feel powerless to work for change. I find a sense of peace and hope in two things.

First, I live off the grid, do my own work, haul my water, have one car of necessity, live simple and try to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible. More important, I try to be a model and example to others. I want to show that it's possible to be happy and content without becoming addicted to corporate consumption.

Second, I try to find people like yourself because I learn, I'm encouraged and I get a sense of hope. A sense of community is essential. I'm not alone.

Personally, I'm not proud to be an American. The world is too large and we are too inter-dependent. I view myself as a citizen of the world who happens to live in the US.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks, & how's everything at Roundrock, time for me to check in there too.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I wonder-

Thanks for the nice comment you're absolutely right that we can't let the reality of our times poison our optimism, but we can't ignore the facts either, and so I only rant on occaision for a little therapeutic venting.

And maybe I'm just feeling a bit ornery on my 60th.

The environmentally friendly lifestyle you've conscientiously chosen is about as much as anyone can do to promote peace & sustainability in today's world.

People can't be forced into changing, it seems we almost need to be struck by lightning, and other peoples examples can often trigger a bolt in us.

...and I agree, I've always felt like a citizen of the world too.

And that community, locally & globally, includes a lot more than people.

Nice to have met you today.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Veronica said...

Your wonderful thoughts provide much fuel for my mind, Jim. From my perspective, we people of this generation are probably smarter, but certainly none the wiser. We go everywhere faster, but we end up nowhere. We can conquer space, but can't seem to conquer our own lusts--let alone recognize that which is truly of utmost importance. I'm in awe of your heartfelt perception.

5:13 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

What can I say; you've pretty much summed it up, and very eloquently. It is hard not to despair at the state of things, but as you say, all I can do is live a lifestyle I believe in and hope that I can lead by example.

Thank you for sharing part of your life story as well.

7:07 AM  
Blogger dragonfly183 said...

Very well said Jim. i am am cutting and pasting your post onto a disk and I'm going to have Coyote read it.

9:40 AM  
Blogger the Contrary Goddess said...

I think that was beautiful. While you and I might debate a few points, more than likely we wouldn't bother. Although our discussions about the finer points would be enlightening.

And now I'll go see if my other comment on the other post is what stirred the kettle.

Much love.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Michael Lehet said...

Great post!

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


While it's true that one votes eleoquently with one's dollars, my LACK of dollars votes all the more loudly. You mentioned the frustration of not finding a 'none of the above' lever in the voting booth (lever now of days being an anachronism, of course). Voting dollars can elect candidate A or candidate B, but only NO dollars can elect 'none of the above'.

To the extent that I don't traffic in dollars, that I withdraw from the wagery/credit/consumerism scene, I cast a resounding no-confidence vote.

Compared to that, whatever I do or don't do in the voting booth is moot.

Politicians love the rich. And they love the poor as well. But when it comes to those who simply don't traffic in their coin, they pale and blanch and wet themselves.

From an Irish song:

"I once knew a man had plenty of gold
He knew another one had twenty times more
They're both on their backs now mid nettles and stones
So me first love in life is the pure whiskey-o."

But that's another vote entirely!

2:39 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

eleutheros--I get the feeling you'd be a hell of a lot of fun at an Irish jam session! It would be a privilege to get together and pick a few tunes some day. :)

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Deb, lass, you're on!

And there's always plenty craic to be sure.

But Minnesota! One of us or the other had better be playing a tune worth covering many a mile to hear.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Lené Gary said...

What a beautifully written, impassioned piece. It's not ornery, it's reality. At least that's what I think. I haven’t gotten to the posts that inspired this one, but I couldn’t leave this one to get there first. You had me glued to the screen. Thank you for speaking your mind and reminding us of the difference between being poor and being impoverished. I appreciate your honesty.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on! You touched on many of my own beliefs about the 'ills' of our society.
At times when I look at the big picture, it's overwhelming.. and disheartening. I try to do my own small part and it never seems to be enough. The only world that has ever made any sense to me at all is the natural world.. animals are great teachers, they never pretend to be anything except what they are.. they're true to their nature and I respect them for that. I feel a great sadness that future generations will not have that same solace.
This could easily turn into a rant of my own, so I'll quit now ;)

9:05 PM  
Blogger platespinner said...

Jim, You've told me about your childhood before, but this post really painted a picture for me. Thanks. Are you 60 already? Can't be. Love--N

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Jim!
I agree with all of it, especially:
"We’re told we must wage war to defend freedom and spread democracy around the world, but what we’re spreading isn’t freedom or democracy, what we’re spreading is the horrific tyranny of an all-consuming economic system which may eventually render our planet uninhabitable."

Thanks for sharing.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post!

1:17 PM  
Blogger tansy said...

so true...we are much richer when we have no money.

this post is excellent as always.

7:27 PM  
Blogger sunyata said...

Felt like I held my breath till your last wise word...
So true,
thank you.

6:46 AM  
Blogger ohthatdeb said...

Jim, it's astonishing to me that I have been looking for wisdom in the garden and keep finding it on the web! Thanks for this.

(deb and eleutheros -- if you two play real loud, can I sing along from Massachusetts?)

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. I, too, hope to leave just a small footprint on this beautiful, lonely orb.

Perhaps the biggest crime is that the resourcefulness we can find to wage war is lacking to resolve the many social problems - many of them issuing from those very wars.

Your disdain of the MSM is shared.

7:50 PM  
Blogger MomEtc. said...

Hi there.....this is the first time I've encountered your blog and I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with your post! I'll certainly be coming back to read your blog again!

2:40 PM  
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