ANY SON-OF-A-BITCH

Posted in Rants on November 7th, 2011 by Ed

This is one of my favorite passages from anything written in the English language, in this case The Grapes of Wrath:

"Well, I was there. They wasn't no agitators. What they call reds. What the hell is these reds anyways?"

Timothy scraped a little hill level in the bottom of tile ditch. The sun made his white bristle beard shine. "They's a lot a fellas wanta know what reds is." He laughed. "One of our boys foun' out." He patted the piled earth gently with his shovel. "Fella named Hines-got 'bout thirty thousan' acres, peaches and grapes-got a cannery an' a winery. Well, he's all a time talkin' about 'them goddamn reds.' 'Goddamn reds is drivin' the country to ruin,' he says, an" 'We got to drive these here red bastards out.' Well, they were a young fella jus' come out west here, an' he's listenin' one day. He kinda scratched his head an' he says, 'Mr. Hines, I ain't been here long. What is these goddamn reds?' Well, sir, Hines says, 'A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five!' Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an' he scratches his head, an' he says, 'Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain't a son-of-a-bitch, but if that's what a red is-why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever'body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we're all reds.'" Timothy drove his shovel along the ditch bottom, and the solid earth shone where the shovel cut it.

Tom laughed. "Me too, I guess."

This is illustrative of a very important hill on the rhetorical battleground in modern politics, the idea that self-interest is good for some people (say, high income earners who don't like paying taxes) but evil when pursued by others (say, people living hand-to-mouth). We are inundated with this message by our media and political elites. Banks have a right to make a profit; people who want to retire at a semi-reasonable age and perhaps collect a few Social Security checks are unreasonably greedy. CEOs must be rewarded with outsized compensation packages; workers must be Reasonable and understand that wages have to fall. Shareholders deserve a return on their investment; those greedy bastard teachers are destroying the country with their incessant demand for a 2% cost of living raise.

If you pay attention you will be floored by how often you hear expressions of condemnation or surprise because some individual or group is logically defending its own interests. Look at the salary those lazy UAW bastards want! Look at all these hippie protesters demanding more, more, more! Look at these old geezers complaining about Medicare cuts! Look at how Joe leaves work every day at 5:00 on the dot…it's almost like he doesn't want to work uncompensated overtime! The problem with the world these days is that everyone wants to work as little as possible rather than as hard as they can!

This is little more than a symptom of the market-as-religion mantra – that you and I can't make any demands about our salary, working conditions, and so on because they are set by The Market. Mortals must not distort The Market by trying to get anything more than what the company feels like paying. When The Market decides that you no longer get vacation days or health insurance you are a greedy SOB for trying to hang on to them. A normal person would just accept that with a big smile and keep working harder, according to the David Brookses of the world.

In reality, any rational person would defend his or her own interests in this situation. If Social Security was the most bankrupt, lavish, excessive pension system on the planet, it would still make perfect sense for seniors to try to prevent cuts to it. It benefits them. Why would they give it up without a fight? That would make no sense whatsoever. It doesn't imply that they're right or that Social Security (in that hypothetical) is a well designed system, but from the individual beneficiary's perspective it makes perfect sense to fight any attempt at cuts.

I make it a habit to answer rhetorical questions of this type. When someone asks, "Can you believe that these UAW guys want to get paid to not work?" I respond with a hearty, "Of course. That sounds awesome." This type of response is not only irritating but also completely honest. What in the world could be better than getting paid to not work? If someone offered to pay you to not work, you would throw your back out jumping at the opportunity. While that is the unassailable truth, you won't find many water cooler blowhards, media personalities, or comment trolls willing to admit it in the "OK for me, but not for thee" society we have built for ourselves in the past thirty years.