“I Got Mine”

Twice I’ve read this phrase just today [as I was writing: 22 June 2017]. I’ve got mine. It’s in reference to the Senate health care plan, the one Republican senators mean to pass to replace the Affordable Care Act.

What interests me about this phrase—I’ve got mine—is it’s something I used to say about some of the people I once worked with, back in the days when I worked in a corporate environment. In a Christian corporate environment, I should say. I was one of very few Democrats who worked at this company, and I came in for a lot of good-natured teasing.

(How did they know? You might well ask. I didn’t actually discuss my politics in the workplace. But people tend to make assumptions, and at this place, the assumption being made by most of these folks was that everyone working there thought like they did. Many Christians are conservative; I worked at a Christian company; ergo, I must be a conservative. But they knew I wasn’t because when someone made an assumption about me, I’d correct him: “Actually, not everyone thinks … [insert conservative belief here].” Something along those lines.)

As I say, though, those were different times than these, and I came in for a lot of good-natured teasing. (Although this was also the place a person younger than I shook a finger at me and said I couldn’t possibly be a Democrat and a Christian. It shocked me then and it shocks me now.) So I call it good-natured, I guess, because they did actually voice their opinions in my presence, and laughed (perhaps arrogantly) at mine.

But they felt very comfortable saying things about the poor and the disenfranchised—the less fortunate—that privately I found dismaying. I would listen to some of the things that came out of their mouths and just shake my head. I said nothing, of course. But to my friends I expressed shock, and for years I described it as the “I-got-mine attitude.”

I don’t like that attitude. It’s selfish, and it seems like it’s a tenet of the conservative world view. Author John Scalzi expresses it like this:

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “[Screw] you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum”—out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

Scalzi expresses another idea that I have remarked upon for 40+ years, ever since the time Bill Brock was running for reelection to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. His opponent was Jim Sasser, and about that campaign Wikipedia says:

Sasser[’s] … most effective campaign strategy was to emphasize how the affluent Brock, through skillful use of the tax code by his accountants, had been able to pay less than $2,000 in income taxes the previous year; an amount considerably less than that paid by many Tennesseans of far more modest means.

My then-husband and I were among that group of less-affluent Tennesseans; we had also paid about $2K in taxes that previous year. That campaign opened my eyes. It changed me (which brings me back to Scalzi’s comment). To wit: I don’t mind paying my fair share. Honestly, I don’t mind it at all. I don’t even think about it. I have a skillful accountant, too, but she’s a straight-arrow type, and neither of us is interested in gaming the tax code.

This attitude does not come from my beliefs as a Democrat; it comes from my beliefs as a human being. My taxes pay for infrastructure and schools and teachers, first-responders and the military, the clean air I breath (and on and on). I see these as good things, don’t you? And yet my evangelical Christian boss at this company used to give me such a hard time about this very thing. “You want to pay more taxes?” he’d say, in a dramatic tone of voice.

It’s a fundamental selfishness that I just don’t get:

Why can’t everybody be like me? I worked hard. I got mine; now you go get yours.

I just don’t know how to explain to another human being why he should care about other people. For Christians, in particular, it’s biblical; we are instructed to care for the poor, the widows and orphans. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (2:4 ESV). Jesus tells his followers that there will come a time when God rejects those who did not look to the interests of the less fortunate, saying,

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:42–43, 45 NIV, emphasis mine.)

So I remain puzzled. It seems there’s a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, in a community. My Irish husband tells me he has never once heard anyone in Ireland complain about that portion of their taxes which goes to pay for the basic health care for their fellow citizens. They don’t tuck their good fortune under their arms, while looking over their shoulders saying “I got mine, you get away from me.” That some folks would deny the social safety net for so many people … it demonstrates such a lack of empathy that it feels un-Christian and un-American to me. But what do I know?

Oh, the Joys of Travel!

Oh, the joys of travel! To feel the excitement of sudden departure, not always knowing whither. Surely you and I are in agreement about that. How often did my life seem concentrated in that single moment of departure. To travel far, far—and that first morning’s awakening under a new sky! And to find oneself in it—no, to discover more of oneself there. To experience there, too, where one has never been before,
one’s own continuity of being and, at the same time,
to feel that something in your heart, somehow indigenous to this new land,
is coming to life from the moment of your arrival.
You feel your blood infused with some new intelligence,
wondrously nourished by things you had no way of knowing.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to a friend, 3 February 1923

The Very Rich Are Different From You and Me*

It’s been an interesting season, don’t you think? Because some of our income comes from overseas, we (and by we I mean Gerry) watch the currency market. We watch the stock market in general too. It’s all connected. When the markets are down, we feel some concern.

Unlike, say, the wildly wealthy. (*The actual quote, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy,” begins with the words “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”)

In a Vanity Fair article I read a few months ago about a famous French interior designer** I found the following passage, which seemed revealing (and a little disconcerting). The journalist is accompanying the designer to a Paris furniture dealer. Here the designer finds a beautiful writing table—a bureau plat—from the twentieth century. The interviewer is shocked to learn the table costs $1 million.

Is it difficult to get a client to spend a million bucks on a bureau plat?, I ask as we speed to the next destination. “No, no, no,” he says offhandedly. “It’s not hard at all. They want the best quality.”

Recent global financial upheaval notwithstanding? “No, no, no,” he repeats. “It hasn’t changed anything.”

It’s something to think about, yes? When you’re saving for a special trip or worried about retirement, say.

I’ve never been particularly driven by money. My parents were working-class folks just one generation removed from the dirt farmers who were their forebears. I never expected to have much—and I didn’t even think of it in those terms. I just wanted to have a life: a husband, children, a home, a pet. I would work, hard, to maintain them. I didn’t expect it to be easy. And I didn’t aspire then or now to wealth. That I have everything I need and pretty much everything I want is a true blessing for which I am grateful every day.

But in these uncertain times, I think about this story, which surprised me in the moment. “No, no, no. [The recession] hasn’t changed anything [for the wealthy].” Whatever happens here in the next months and years, the very rich will not be affected the way you and I will. It’s certainly something for the constituency to think about.

** Me, I like to design my own interior. No million-dollar tables here though. 🙂

UPDATE: This is an interesting addendum. The Washington Post says “most Trump voters were not working class” folks. Chew on that while Congress lowers taxes for the wealthy.

 

May You Live in Interesting Times!

One looks for the good, I think. So recently some of us have been repeating that old saw, May you live in interesting times.

A Chinese curse, we’re told. Or a blessing. May you live in interesting times.

But … it’s not Chinese. 🙂

I know, I know, I’m a wet blanket about these things—but it’s what I do for a living. I’m an editor. I check things. Fortunately I didn’t have to do the footwork on this one: Garston O’Toole over at Quote Investigator has the straight poop:

The British statesman Joseph Chamberlain was the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and future diplomat Austen Chamberlain. As noted previously, Austen asserted in a 1936 speech that “living in interesting times” was considered to be a curse in Chinese culture. Curiously, Joseph [also] used the same distinctive phrase during addresses he delivered in 1898 and 1901.

There’s a lot more to read at QI, which traces usage of the phrase from 1898 right up to modern times. You can also read about it at Wikipedia.

Bottom line: You can’t blame the Chinese for this, friends! But may you have an interesting year nonetheless. 🙂