Thursday, April 12, 2007

Do greedy capitalist pigs have a warm and fuzzy side?

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.


  1. I am taking this opportunity to say that I agree with you for the most part ("There is no good reason, not a single reason, why people have to be poor, either here or anywhere else in the world."- there are places in the world and circumstances that create reasons,but...."For most of us, every action we take and every step we make, lead us to where we ultimately end up in life."- I agree), but feel frustrated and unable to adequately express myself.
    Yours truly,
    The Love Ranger

  2. Thanks for the post. I get some of your points. There is one thing I wanted to clarify though: When I said that you have experienced white male privilege, that isn't the same as economic privilege.

    In a culture where racism is institutionalized, as it is in much of north American culture, there are advantages you might have experienced that others would not, simply because of your race.

    That is what I meant.

    In many ways, I think economic poverty is very different than spiritual poverty.

    I live on a small income but in general feel quite wealthy. My basic needs are met. It all goes back to the world being quite often the way we perceive it. Not to go all Whitehead on you but in many ways, reality IS perception.

    In that regard, the solutions you are seeking more likely need to be addressed from a different angle entirely.

    It's not about how much money we have. Certainly basic needs must be met ~ but perhaps looking at the cultural edict that determines human value by material prosperity is the place to begin.



    (After five iterations of the "security word" stuff, I might be off the grid until after surgery. I simply can't read them and have to try too many times.)

  3. Luckyzmom: Thank you. The world is a frustrating place, for most of us. I feel helpless much of the time when I look around at how screwed up things are, and that generation after generation there is no improvement.

    Chani: Those damn security words are a pain, but without them we end up bombarded with spam comments.

    Sorry about the misunderstanding about economic vs. race privilege. Increasingly, it's the white males who are getting screwed, so as to 'balance the scales' in favour of women, gays, other races, etc. I don't like discrimination of any type, including reverse discrimination which is basically what is going on today.

    On the other hand, when we arrived in Canada, German immigrants after leaving erstwhile Nazi Germany, we were not exactly welcomed with open arms. Would things have been more difficult for me had I been other than a Caucasian male? Maybe. Maybe not.

    Becoming self-sufficient is something that is possible for anyone, regardless of race or predilection. All it takes is the will. My siblings and I were taught by our parents basically: "This is a land offering you opportunity to make something of yourself. Don't screw it up. And don't let us down by being other than fair, honest, and responsible. Make us proud." I am paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist of it.

    That would be good advice from any parent to any child.

  4. Chani: Another thing... I agree with you that material prosperity is not a prerequisite to happiness. I am no happier now than when I was dirt poor. But, I have always been happy by nature. I like that I can do things that I couldn't do if I had nothing, but to me the most important things are family, peace of mind, and being comfortable in my own skin.

  5. Are you familiar with Lee Kwan Yew? He built his social engineering campaign with the following primary statement: "Look after yourself, cultivate yourself. Look after your family. Look after your country. All is peaceful under heaven."

    The reason I quote this is because changing minds a use-of-language issue, too. How people respond to ideas is largely based on the way the ideas are presented.

    Saying to someone, "make something of yourself" implies that he or she is nothing to begin with.

    You see what I'm saying?

    I won't even bother going into the issue of pride. Geez, you'll ban me from your comment box. :)

    As for the issue of race, I think we are probably in agreement that racism is systemic in North American culture. (It's also something Thai culture needs to work on.. but that's another issue.. :) A person seeing you without knowing your background would likely afford you privileges that a Black man or even a Hispanic man might not get. It's just a fact of history.

    I was raised in a very privileged environment, as I may have mentioned. It was truly the gilded ghetto ~ and I spent all of my young years hearing how these people talk to each other, what they say. I'm familiar with privilege.

    If we really want to see people become self-sufficient, there needs to be a range of possibilities ~ and there also needs to be a change of heart.

    As for the security words, I don't have them and have had only one piece of spam since I began the blog. I'm not sure why some get it and others don't. My readership is not huge.. maybe that is what protects me. All I know for sure is that I can't read them.. not with double-vision. If it was a straightforward word, I wouldn't have any trouble but they are warped and often the letters are run together. My average is four tries for every comment.



  6. No, Chani, I am not familiar with Lee Kwan Yew, but I understand what you are saying. I did say though that I paraphrased my parents' admonishments to us. My parents simply meant that we could live a better life than they had had in Germany, Poland and Siberia, but it was up to us to get it, and not to expect others to give it to us.

    The world is not a perfect place and it will never be so. But, let's take a black youth from Brooklyn or from Atlanta as an example. Will he do better if he is encouraged to get an education, work hard, and aim for the stars, or if he is told that he will always be a victim and that no matter what he does he will never amount to anything, because the white man wants to keep him down. Three American writers I greatly respect are Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder and Walter Williams -- all black. Each would take offense if they were told that they couldn't compete with similarly qualified white men. If you aren't familiar with them, Google them. They make very interesting reads.

    And, Chani, just for you, I am going to try to do away with those security words again. Maybe the spammers will stay away this time.

  7. If ever you guys decide to write a book together, I'll be the first one to buy it. My thanks to both of you for offering some of the most fascinating dialogue I have read in years. It just doesn't get any better than this...

  8. I believe that if joy can be incorporated into self-sufficiency, many more people will be self-sufficient.

    The time I enjoyed most when I was working was when I accepted contracts. The independence was good and it prevented "corporate culture" issues.

    So... I still say use of language and change of heart would be the place to start. And there has to be more than just material prosperity as a gauge.

    So, when "aiming for the stars", what's the prize? Acculturation provides the answer to that.

    The primary thing, I would think, is that self-sufficiency brings choices. Choices are always good.

    Silly example.. but I think you get what I mean.

    I like Thomas Sowell, too. :)

    Thanks so much for getting rid of the security words. It's so frustrating to deal with them. I hope you don't get any spam.. at all. :)



  9. Caro: Interesting idea, that: a book made up of two people having a dialogue.. Hmmmm. Thanks for your kind words.

    Chani: I agree that much has to change. We might disagree on exactly what or how, but the core values people have has to be a significant factor. Without values, everything is done based on expediency and that is not enough.

  10. First, I want to say how much I enjoy your blog and the exchange of ideas and opinions that follows.

    Second, I would like being more involved in the conversations but seem to be able to express myself and my beliefs better on an artistic or verbal plane, so I read here every day but don't always write.

    And last, after reading this post I understand why you like "Atlas Shrugged" and "the Fountainhead." They are excellent books.

  11. Thanks, Pam: I have always enjoyed Ayn Rand, including her little book called "Anthem," a book I would often read when times were really, really tough and I needed a boost of spirit.

    It is nice that you enjoy coming here. I get much pleasure and a sense of tranquility when I see the beautifully serene art you produce on your site.

  12. I read the exchange between you and Chani with great interest, too. I don't feel that I can add anything of value, but I leave this bare comment like a calling card.

    I took the verification letters off my blog months ago and have not had a single piece of spam. Besides, if it appears, it's easy to delete.

  13. Sieg, I had to chime in here and hope you were not offended by some of my blog posts where I use the term "OMFR or Old-Money, Filthy-Rich". It seems pretty clear we're on the same wavelength as far as that seems to go. You don't appear to hold a high opine of them yourself.
    What it all boils down to is, those who work and produce get awfully sick and tired of looking around and seeing those who do not and will not filling their faces at their expense, then bitching about how we're not doing enough.
    Running a close second to "racism" as being the most overrated problem in Western Civilization is "economic disparity": If someone doesn't like being poor, living on the dole and not having much, they can get up off their broadening backsides and go to work, and I won't raise a finger to stop them. All too often, (alleged) poverty in the West is more a form of justice than a case of poor circumstance. The average "poor" American lives in a better home, drives a better car and eats far better than the average non-poor European or Asian! If you are lazy, dishonest and irresponsible, you are going to be poor, and stay that way until these habits change...It's that freaking simple. And you can whine and plead to politicians and the media, write blog posts and books about how "unfair" everyone else is for not kissing your a** and find all manner of religious ways of covering your bigotry, but in the end, what you receive is what you give out.
    You can only reap what you sew.

  14. No offense taken, Galt. To me everything boilds down to the simple fact that opportunity is everywhere. All you have to do is be open to it, take advantage of it, work hard, be frugal, be responsible, and everything will work out. That, unfortunately, is too much work for some. Bitching is a lot easier.