Monday
Oct012012

Contemplating the Fear and Self-Loathing in the Fraying of the Middle Class American Safety Net

The quote below from Kurt Vonnegut is about the "poor" in America. You may have read it in the past. Read it again. Read it a second time.

How far is the "middle class" from a similar treatment today? The middle class are put upon a pedestal in America and told to take care of themselves, even as maneuvering is well-nigh to remove the safety net from under them. In the second decade of the twenty first century balancing our energies between work, relationships and money has become a high wire act for most of us. The underlying self-loathing arising out of fear of dropping into the "poor" drives many to a slow slide into distress. One way of dealing with stresses and strains that you experience on a daily basis is to begin a discovery of your own nature and the desires, fears and memories that drive you - so that you become self-sufficient in living simply with dignity and to stop believing in "many things that are obviously untrue" as Kurt Vonnegut says it so eloquently.

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.” — Kurt Vonnegut in "Slaughterhouse Five" (1969)

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.

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