Wednesday, December 10, 2008

different from you and me

So, I've been thinking about the bonus John Thain isn't getting, all ten million dollars of it. That's a lot of money. How much? Well, it's more than the total of everything I will earn in my entire life. Ok? His one year bonus on this side, my entire lifetime earnings on that, his wins. And maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen anything in the news that this is going to beggar him: pull the kids out of school, sell the house and move into an apartment in Queens, anything like that. My guess is that losing out on more than my gross lifetime domestic product in a single year will have no more than a symbolic impact on him. And ya know something? There are people a lot richer than him.

It strikes me that when you have that much more - I mean, that much more - money, your experience of the world must be vastly different. First, there are a whole range of anxieties or frustrations aren't there when there is nothing that is too expensive for you. I certainly don't mean that the rich have no frustrations and no anxieties, of course they do. But the ones that occupied a lot of the emotionaly energy of the people I know even before the recession - can I afford my child's school, can I afford the right doctor or dentist or shrink, will I be able to retire, what would I really like to do if I didn't have to make money - just aren't on their radar. But more broadly - and tell me if I'm wrong - I imagine their entire interface with the world is different. The things they see and do on a daily basis, the people they talk to, the questions life poses them, to what extent do they live in the same world as I do?

It's this that I'm really wondering about - in a society as economically polarized as our is, to what extent is any kind of shared discourse possible? Perhaps our common humanity is enough to make our fundamental experience of life essentially similar, or perhaps the expereinces we share more powerful, more numerous, more important than the ones we don't, so that we really do inhabit the same common space. But I'm not so sure. Someone who has never had an empty cab pass him by or never had to teach his son how to behave with a policeman will never quite get the black experience, and unless it's brought to his attention won't even think about the fact - he won't even know how different his expereince of America is from that of his black neighbor. Americans who think of the police as their protectors and Americans who think of the police as a kind of occupying army or security guards hired to protect a party they're not invited to are not sharing a "commonwealth," let alone a political or cultural discourse. Mightn't vast wealth differences work the same way?

I don't know what the implications might be if I'm right, but because Americans are so hung about about class we haven't begun to talk about it. I think, perhaps, we should.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Yah, your words are true. But what strikes me is that there are three (at least) groups here. There's the divide between the extremely rich and those of us who worry "can I afford my child's school, can I afford the right doctor or dentist or shrink, will I be able to retire." But there's also an equal or, likely greater, divide between us and those who would never dare dream that their children would be in a school that has tuition (or school at all), for whom the questios is access to ANY doctor or dentist or shrink, and for whom retirement is not even a concept. Those of us in the middle of these extremes, it strikes me, are obliged to ponder the question in both directions.