This past weekend, my son suggested to me that I change my appearance. He knows that I intensely dislike for things always to be the same, including the way I look and dress. Every year, I cycle through stages of being clean-shaven, having a short, trimmed beard, or sometimes sporting a moustache alone. I have never wanted to get so attached to my face or my general appearance that I would break into hives at the mere consideration of changing something about it.
Last night, I told him that I had forgotten what he had suggested, exactly, for me to do to change my appearance. He started to speak, took and closer look at me, and said: "You've already done it. When did you do it?"
I did 'it' Monday night. I shaved most of my beard away, so that I now have a sort of moustache/goatee combination that appears to be more popular these days than a full beard.
My point? We all see each other and everything around us in ways that reflect our experiences, our prejudices, and our expectations. My son is used to seeing me in a certain way, and even if I change my appearance, it doesn't immediately register. My wife has yet to notice. No-one in my office has clued in either.
That is the way we are. We hear something, read something, are taught something, and if it resonates or rings true with us at that moment, based on our experiences to date, it becomes our dogma. Everything we do, everything we think, everything we say, forever after, is at risk of being coloured by our resultant preconceptions. We could, of course, open our minds and more carefully consider things, based on more than what simply amounts to our prejudices, but that would be unusual. Most people simply do not let themselves be influenced by anything that doesn't coincide with their world view and their core philosophy.
In this post, I want to dwell on some things brought up by Chani and Bellezza and others in the comments section of my last post. I am going to meander around considerably, as I try to address things, so I hope you will be patient and come along for the ride.
One of the things Chani said in a comment was: "I think I might be hearing some white male privilege here and need to challenge it. " Let's deal with that first.
Anyone who has been around here for a while knows more about me, probably, than they ever wanted to know. I am a firm believer that we are, at least in part, the sum total of our experiences, so I have discussed my history, in various contexts, several times. I don't want to rehash my entire history again, so I'll just outline the basics. When my family came to Canada in 1949, we spent our first Canadian winter in an uninsulated chicken coop in Barrhead, Alberta. My father always worked as a labourer, my mother worked as a charwoman until it was no longer necessary. I got my first job at age 12, by lying about my age. I worked every summer after that, and took several years off school to work as well. I have worked with pick and shovel. I worked in a rubber factory, where the average temperature was 115 degrees Fahrenheit because of the steam used to press and mold the gaskets I helped make. I worked in a paper factory and in a furniture factory. I drove a dump truck and a cement truck. Then, I started my business and worked even harder. I worked very, very hard to get to where I am, and earned every penny. Privilege played no part in what I might have achieved.
Have I known adversity as an adult? I lost everything I owned, except for the clothes on my back and some personal effects, twice. Does that count?
It is very easy for people to point at the 'rich' or at those 'greedy capitalist pigs,' or at 'predatory environments,' and to place all the blame there. Most people who drop in to visit this blog, in all fairness, don't generalize that way, but many other people do. So, let's discuss those greedy capitalist pigs, shall we?
I am a capitalist. I am a real capitalist. I don't support corporate subsidies, legislative protection, or artificial monopolies created by limiting competition. Sink or swim. My money, my brains, my sweat. If I lose, I lose nothing that belongs to you or anyone else. If I win, I win nothing that belongs to you or to anyone else. Real capitalism does not exist any more in North America. It hasn't existed for decades.
Am I a greedy capitalist pig? I am no more greedy than you, or you or you. More than money, I want to be able to live my life on my terms. I want nothing from anyone except to be left alone. I could make a lot more money, start more businesses, and keep on trying to expand my sphere of influence. I don't. Why not? For decades, the frustration of trying to get anything done while dealing with layers of bureaucratic interference, ridiculously high taxes, and much other nonsense, makes the cost of empire-building too high. So I don't do it. My piece of mind is more important to me. Sure, I do some things like the development in Panama I share with some partners, but I consider that fun. And there are fewer interfering bureaucrats there and taxation is much lower.
Is there anything wrong though with wanting more money? No. As long as money is earned honestly and fairly, there is nothing wrong with wanting more of it. I don't begrudge Warren Buffet or Bill Gates their billions. I get along just fine with what I have. To me, envy has always been the equivalent of a cardinal sin. Envious people are the world's equivalent of a jealous spouse. Ever had one of those? You will understand then what I mean. These people want to pull everyone down to the same level. I want to pull everyone up to the same level. That is a big difference.
Are there greedy capitalist pigs? Sure there are. My definition of greed is not that you might wish more of something (like money) but that you are willing to do anything to get it. Get the distinction? When you look at that little twist, then it becomes apparent that what ails the world is not at all people wanting more of anything, but what they are willing to do to achieve their wishes.
I have met business people like that, individuals who would sell their mother for a dollar, take advantage of their employees, lie, steal, cheat, and seek special favours from their political buddies to enshrine their positions in their field. I can't stand people like that.
I have met welfare recipients like that too. They were willing to lie, steal, cheat, and seek special favours from politicians to ensure that they maintain their status and have a permanent meal ticket. I have met tenants like that. They were willing to lie, steal, cheat, and seek special favours from politicians to avoid personal responsibility and to take advantage of landlords. I owned a bunch of rental buildings with my wife, years ago. I don't any longer. Why not? The deck was stacked. Landlords are perceived as evil, scheming, cheating bastards who take advantage of poor, helpless, tenants. So what if some tenants don't pay their rent or damage the premises? It's not their fault. It is society's fault, in some perverse way that I still can't understand, and if tenants skip without paying their rent, it is because they can't help it. Landlords should just suck it up and stop being so greedy. The fact that landlords have mortgages, taxes, utilities and whatever else to pay is irrelevant. Tenants = good. Landlords = bad. End of story. At least that is what many people want us to believe.
Are landlords greedy and dishonest? Sure, some are. But, I have met many more dishonest tenants than dishonest landlords. Why? Because there are more tenants than landlords. It is that simple.
What I am getting at here is that there are crooks everywhere. I am willing to wager that the percentage of crooks in any field is roughly the same: doctors, lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, labourers, soccer moms, businesspeople and even the homeless. It doesn't have anything to do with what you do, but with what you are. It all boils down to values. If everyone in the world had values of personal responsibility, honesty, fairness, and compassion, the world would be a much better place.
Ah yes, compassion. That is what really concerns us in the dialogue we are having on this blog over the past week or so. Can someone who champions individual responsibility even understand the concept of compassion, much less actually practice it? I have stipulated a number of times in my posts that I have no problem helping those who truly need or deserve help. I would rather, though, that my financial help be completely voluntary and not stolen from me first via taxation. At least that way I could direct where the money is going and do my best to ensure that the administrators of the charities and social services are accountable and efficient. I just want to make sure that my dollars actually do some good.
I admire people who, against all odds, rise from adversity and improve their lives. Chani is one such person. Read her comments on my last post. Bellezza is such a person. Ditto. Penny is such a person. Read her blog. There are many others who see that things are not what they could or should be and then make the effort to do something about it. I salute all of them.
I recognize that some people cannot now, nor will they ever, be able to help and support themselves. They need our help. So, let's help them.
That is all I am trying to do with Walk the Talk. Like those I mentioned in the last paragraph, I too need your help. So, help me. Let's show the world that greedy capitalist pigs and everyone else can work together and do some good.