17 June 2011

"the rich are different from you and me"

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, from a short story called “Rich Boy

Michigan's poor communities get around $7,000 US dollars each year to educate a child - about $400 less next year than last - but as the video above notes, it costs way more than that to educate a rich kid. The school in the video is where billionaire Michigan governor Rick ("I sold Gateway computers to a foreign country and wiped out thousands of American jobs") Snyder sends his daughter. So committed is he to this school that he has refused to move anywhere near Michigan's capital city - where schools blowing $20-$25,000 per student per year are hard to find.

Rick Snyder isn't just a pig - that's not news - he's the classic rich American leader, from Bill Gates to Barack Obama, who is absolutely sure that their children are incapable of surviving unless they receive far more support and resources than poor kids or even middle class kids get.

And maybe they're right, because few of the poor can manage to grow up as dumb or as anti-social as rich kids. I mean, I was a cop in Brooklyn and The Bronx in the 1980s but I never met anyone as immoral - as willing to hurt people for their own profit - than the rich who lead the United States and United Kingdom. People who steal? Who on the mean streets of The Bronx could compare with the folks at Goldman-Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, AIG, or Bank of America? Hurt people and lie about it? What street thug could possibly match up with George W. Bush? Kick a homeless person and steal from them at the same time? Can't match what David Cameron or Paul Ryan do.

Scott Fitzgerald, the ultimate chronicler of America's myth of opportunity, knew this absolutely. There are criminals in The Great Gatsby, but all are more moral, more educated, and better societal actors than Tom and Daisy Buchanan.
"The Green Light turns into our greatest illusion, covering our difficulties, permitting us to take evil steps with no guilt, hiding our daimonic capcities and our problems by its profligate promises, and destroying our values en route.  The Green Light is the Promised Land myth siring Horatio Alger... Gatsby's tragic flaw was that he took his dream -- the American Dream -- for reality..." - Rollo May quoted by Joseph Campbell
But as I say this I must recall that, "that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that [I’ve] had." That I had the advantages of growing up pretty poor, with six people living in about 600 square feet, so, unlike Rick Snyder's daughter, or Bill Gates, I needed to learn how to get along with people. That I had the advantage of growing up needing to learn to get the things I needed myself, and how to take care of the people around me. That I had the advantage of needing to learn how to entertain myself. That I had the advantage of being quickly forced to learn how to collaborate, solve problems, and communicate.

Poor kids grow up with those skills, which are the real skills of life. Rich kids too often don't. So it, perhaps, is no surprise that it costs three to five times as much per year to educate rich kids. I just wish Greenhills School, and Sidwell-Friends, et al, would do a better job. Hell, give 'em the money if they can limit some of the damage their graduates wreak upon the world. Because, as we continuously learn, the costs of the misbehavior of the rich and powerful are far, far greater than anything the poor can manage.
“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
- Ira Socol


Tomaz Lasic said...

It's the smugness, let alone the 'naturalness' that gets you with these bastards.

With great authors lending you/us a voice, here's C S Lewis's classic complementing your excellent post Ira:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

—C. S. Lewis

Take care and give a damn. Eternally.


David Deubelbeiss said...


Thanks for voicing this in only the way you can. Compulsory reading for all educators that still believe that schooling is about something more than getting grades.

What gets my goat is that the poor do buy into the "the rich are entitled" (read different) argument. The do buy into so much. But perhaps that's makes them better and is the salvation...... but I'm still annoyed that "rich" has to be the standard of so many "poor". We are all "Willie Loman's" in a way. And not even good ones.