Cather's "Paul's Case" ... and ours.

Cross-posted from Scarabus.

[Technical aside. I tried to include images here, but was unsuccessful. Admittedly, I'm more than a bit wine-befuddled. But (a) if you want to see the images, go to the source: Scarabus; (b) if you're experienced with "hreffing" off-site images with Scoop software, I hope you'll let me know. Sharing knowledge is good.

I've often wondered why most Americans aren't outraged and besieging Congress to change the laws that have created the extreme disparity between the very, very rich and the remaining 98% of us -- a disparity that's already obscene and growing more so every year.

Yes, I know that in part the public's bland acceptance is based on factors like Republican politicians' lying to them, right wing media's brainwashing them, and their having accepted the beliefs of Job's neighbors in the Old Testament story: that if you're prospering, it's because you're a good and virtuous person; if you're not prospering, perhaps unemployed or a victim of natural disaster, it's because you're neither a good nor a virtuous person.

[The best is yet to come! :-)]

But there's one common explanation I just can't accept. Question: Why don't they want the rich to be taxed reasonably or penalized for immoral and/or illegal behavior like sending American jobs to Asia just to squeeze out a little more profit, moving their corporate headquarters to, say, the Cayman Islands and their own cash to Switzerland so as to hide it from the IRS? Suggested explanation: They don't want the rich to be held to rigorous standards and regulations because they secretly, perhaps subconsciously, want to avoid such standards and regulations when they themselves become rich. How might that come about? Maybe by winning a huge payoff from some lottery like PowerBall?

This situation always reminds me of a passage in Willa Cather's 1906 short story Paul's Case. Paul's family lives in a working class neighborhood of row houses. He himself finds the circumstances loathsome and depressing, but his father and sisters are pretty content. (Mother died long before.)

The story is written in the third person, but the narrative sticks with Paul, and the narrator is privileged to know Paul's thoughts and feelings as well as his actions. Here's how the family spends a pleasant Sunday afternoon:


 The men on the steps -- all in their shirt sleeves, their vests unbuttoned -- sat with their legs well apart, their stomachs comfortably protruding, and talked of the prices of things, or told anecdotes of the sagacity of their various chiefs and overlords....



[A] young man was relating how his chief, now cruising in the Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business, arranging his office hours on his yacht just as though he were at home, and "knocking off work enough to keep two stenographers busy." [Paul's] father told, in turn, the plan his corporation was considering, of putting in an electric railway plant at Cairo. Paul snapped his teeth; he had an awful apprehension that they might spoil it all before he got there. Yet he rather liked to hear these legends of the iron kings, that were told and retold on Sundays and holidays; these stories of palaces in Venice, yachts on the Mediterranean, and high play at Monte Carlo appealed to his fancy, and he was interested in the triumphs of cash boys who had become famous, though he had no mind for the cash-boy stage.

The men sitting on the stoops identify with their employers, and take competitive pride in boasting of their respective employers' cleverness, hard work, success, and even their extravagantly "conspicuous consumption." They're proud, not of the hard, loyal work of themselves and those like them, but of the plutocrats who are lavishly spending the money earned through the labor and sweat of poorly compensated employees like them.

It took a graduated income tax, organization of labor, Social Security, etc. to improve the lot of the workers. Now the "teabaggers" -- manipulated by plutocrats like the Koch brothers, abetted by persons in Washington and statehouses around the country whose souls are in thrall to such plutocrats, and brainwashed by the plutocrats' private propaganda machine on television, radio, and print -- want to "take back America" ... or rather to "take America back"  -- back a full century to the time of this story.

There was no PowerBall in those days, of course, but the dream of sudden and unearned elevation to the ranks of the plutocratic exploiters was already operative: Paul, for example, "was interested in the triumphs of cash boys who had become famous, though he had no mind for the cash-boy stage."

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