Our Hollow-hearted Neighborhood
A 65 year old man lives near me. Physically fit and socially active, he is able to live independently. He has lived in his home for 26 years and has earned his living through a specialized trade. Business has been steady for him for most of his time as a craftsman, until a few years back. Since that time, he has struggled to make ends meet. He has been, as far as I can tell, mostly generous with his neighbors and his church community. What he lacks in intellectual volume, he makes up for in heart dimensions. (I have only known him for a couple of years, so I cannot determine if his intellectual capacity has been diminished over time by aging, lack of mental exercise, or exposure to toxic chemicals in his trade.) As he struggled to pay his bills over the last several years, he began to fall behind in payments. His church community did not help him. God didn’t give him a stipend either (jest). Desperation coupled with a lack of awareness about modern tactics to exploit people like him, he fell for one of those infamous “you won the lottery, but must pay us to claim your prize” scams. I tried to warn him after he had already invested money from himself and his family who found the scam credible. Ultimately, it was revealed that it was indeed a scam, and he was not able to recover the money. His relationship with his family was severed by them (in their anger over their losses), and so he was left to his own devices.
His house went into auction, he was scraping up any jobs he could get, and finally his truck broke. The damage was around $6000 to repair. He had no money left, had a terrible credit score, and was not able to get himself out from under his mounting debt. An eviction notice appeared one day, and he tried to work with a lawyer to stay in his home. A few weeks later, the sheriff came to tell him he needed to vacate the house. The sheriff also explained that many scam artists are targeting victims to pay them for legal work to save their homes, when in fact they are just exploiting the homeowners’ ignorance and distress.
I wish I could help him, but I have a house full of roommates and there is no space to accommodate another person. I am also looking for work/income, so helping him financially is not an option either. Instead, I just watch the savagery of our economic system twist itself ever tighter around his neck with his gasps for help going unanswered. I realize my activism efforts won’t help him or anyone in the immediate future, but I hope that they will help future generations.
Proponents of our current system would like to argue that it is his fault for not being smart enough, for not saving enough, for not being skilled enough to pick up other work, and for being too generous when he should not have been. Our economic regime is a game that everyone must play because there is “no alternative” to the “free” market. Just like in sports, some people play well and excel, while others are less adept (at that particular game) so they either get shunted to the side or develop their skills somewhere else. Non-athletes may not be admitted to the top tier of sports teams, but they do not have their means of life cut off. In our economic regime, your access to life resources depends on how well you play the game. Losing is synonymous with death. It is the ultimate penalty.
When you can use the lens of an anthropologist, the game is revealed for what it is: brutal, competitive, uncompassionate, and entirely unmoored from the “life ground”. The savagery of cultures from the past seems not so ancient when properly juxtaposed to our current economic system.
What if I proposed that all access to means of life was determined by one’s ability to throw a discus? The further you could throw it, the more resources you got. Those who had less genetic power to grow their muscles would be starved, which would then make them even less likely to grow muscles. Their spiral of downgraded access would leave a trail of misery until their deaths. Such an economic system seems so ridiculous to us now, but after generations, it would seem inherent to our culture. Justifications would arise for why the system must be preserved and how it is “fair.” Revolution would be too radical and upsetting; besides, everyone had a fair chance to develop their discus throwing skills. The anthropologist would see the system for what it was: an arbitrary system of rules that leads to great abundance for some, but leaves many destitute. The anthropologist would have no existing prejudice about the “deserved” nature of those with muscles and discus throwing abilities. It would appear to be exceedingly contrived and divorced from its purpose to provide people with access to life-advancing resources.
So, while humans struggle to find their bearings in understanding our global dehumanizing economic paradigm of money-for-more-money, my neighbor gets tossed out of his home into the hollow-hearted social body. I do not know what will happen to him and try to not speculate much. And while my neighbor’s situation forms part of my local perspective, there is the reminder that his proliferation of despair is more benign than those who struggle to get enough calories and clean water every day.
There should be enough examples to provide the coup de grace to this barbaric social system, which dictates the prescriptions and proscriptions for resource allocation. Without the correct diagnosis, uneducated prescriptions will merely modify the system’s disease pattern instead of resolving it. Awaken your inner anthropologist as the first step.