Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Workaday Anomie

So, I’m headed back to the weekday grind after our annual three-day weekend celebration of all things ‘Murica and I’m having my typical internal struggles readjusting from the insulated slack of domesticity to the raw, exposed tensions of public life in the Imperial City.

Everything is an irritating hindrance to me on these mornings: the firefighters goofing over lottery tickets as I wait behind them to buy my first cigarette of the day; the punitively exorbitant price of said cigarettes; the precarity of dodging auto traffic on my bike as I roll to the ‘L’ station; the young man, obviously homeless and troubled, who smells so bad I have to switch cars immediately; the lady playing games on her cell phone with the volume way up; the fact that I’m running late again, as usual; in sum, the typical garbage complaints that'll prompt me to vacillate between hating the world for creating these situations and blaming myself for some more or less obvious degree of complicity in them.

Each weekday morning kicks off another such round of mentally wrestling with and untangling these unwanted involvements in social dysfunction, until Friday rolls around again and I land on “Fuck it!” as the weekly provisional solution. And then I let everything else slack until next Monday morning, just trying to enjoy every minute I can with my wife and daughter before I have to go out and re-earn that modest privilege, time and time again.

I wish that I could just stay home and earn my family's bread as a writer or luthier or something autonomous, artisan and above all, home-based, and so now I write this down instead of percolating the Bad Thoughts to discharge, worthless, into the ether of Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda wishful thinking and social media.

So in the few hundred words and 15 minutes I have left on today's journey, let's talk about wishful thinking. Of all our savvy judgments about how others can manifest better success from their circumstances, or at least avert tragedies, it’s important to keep an internally clear view of the normative assumptions that (mis)inform those judgements.

Case in point: I was skimming through Reddit this morning (so there's a mistake on my part right off the bat) and came across an unfortunate story about a young man who was murdered and left his mother with over a quarter million dollars in student loan debt, which the State of New Jersey does not see fit to write down. The sad tale, as related in a Sacramento Bee article reprinted from NYT, was terrible enough in its own right, but the comments were just as exasperating. (Axiom: If you want to stay reasonably happy and sane in online discourse, never read the comments!) Indeed, it seemed that the more credit the commenters gave themselves for being rational and discerning, the more obtuse and purblind were their remarks.

For instance, several hollered “Misleading headline/clickbait!” -- never mind that the story’s particulars were every bit as depressing and systemically unjust as the copy editor’s gloss proclaimed. A handful more helpfully pointed out that since the mother had cosigned for her late son’s onerous and almost certainly insurmountable debt, that squared things just fine in their P's O.V.: because the Law is the Law and a Contract is a Contract, (in)human consequences be damned.

Also appearing: a small chorus berating the deceased as “stupid” for racking up such exorbitant debt, even by college tuition standards (“I only [sic] owed $30k when I graduated!”) -- again, assuming all other background elements were ethical & normative business-as-usual in the marketing and financing of higher ed degrees; no-siree-Bob, I didn't get taken because I got a scholarship/studied Engineering instead of Humanities/refi’d my loans and ate peanut butter for 10 years until I was debt-free/etc. How clever & enterprising, bully for you, society's "winners!"

So two things pop out as I review the general tenor of the blockheaded yes-buts that afford this sage audience the luxury of saying, Sorry, but life is unfair and that young man was a fool -- so just maybe Mom sorta deserves to live out her remaining years as a de facto debt slave, having raised a fool who not only spent more than anyone can reasonably afford on a college education but also managed to get himself killed before he could start earning anything near sufficient to redeem it.

First, all these sophomoric yokels are obviously grasping at any straw in this sorry tale that allows them to reassure themselves, “Nothing like that could ever happen to me or my family; I’m way too smart for that.” As if God, the Fates, or our nation’s all-powerful network of credit rating agencies and bill collectors give a withered fig how smart or hard-working or [insert laudable human quality] one happens to be, you stupid marks! We are nothing but numbers to them, a flock to be fleeced, and ‘there but for the grace of God’ go we all. If there is any real lesson to be gained from this unfortunate story, I think the OP’s implied point -- that we are ALL fucked by our country’s systematically predatory college financing debt-indenture racket -- easily withstands your parsimonious false moralizing. I mean, wow, if Nietzsche really thought the Christian culture of his day imbued a "slave morality" in the masses, he'd have been fucking blown away by the normalized deviance, internalized oppression, and craven boot-licking exhibited by this post-2008 American debtor class. Europeans of his day would've been rioting in the streets over such blatant and heartless depredations (some still do), while instead we proud, wise and free Americans respond with a collective shrug and say, "Meh, not my problem -- caveat emptor, dude!"

Second, I have to be wary of any inclination I might harbor to think that I’m more wise than these callous, narcissistic idiots. After all, I got taken for about $40k too, merit scholarship and all.

1 comment:

  1. I paid cash for the couple years of college I attended, I have no debt now but also no degree which is depressing since lately even administrative assistant jobs require a degree.

    You were dead on when you said "They make it so hard to do the right thing" in that parking lot at Xmas a couple years ago.

    Things keep getting harder for the majority of us and yet 50% of us act like it's deserved.