That's sort of how I feel, silent and big-eyed, as I drift in another alien (and I don't mean that in a bad way) environment this very different summer. First it was California, a vacation and retirement destination like my present stay on the Gulf Coast of Florida. CA is dry, but like wet FL has many Live Oak trees, lizards and palms; it also has very conspicuously gone far along the road the whole country is taking regarding income disparity. Like the passenger pigeon and bison in their millions, the middle class is cascading back into the lower classes while a few rise to breathe in the finer air of the 1%. While there is no state income tax in the Sunshine State, a punishingly large sales tax takes a bite out of the food and clothing purchases of those trying to live on what I've seen to be almost Third-World wages. One of the young aides at Plaza West Rehab Hospital, where I visit our father daily, told me she is on Medicaid. Meanwhile, the residents and visitors, almost all of them of the Greatest Generation, arrive in new Cadillacs and Lexuses (Dad's plain Camry sort of stands out). The very occasional offspring or grand-offspring zip by for a brief visit in 5- and 6-series BMWs. How would it be to be as sick and disabled as these patients, and not have any financial resources?
Just an observation. I'm not declaring class war on anyone; they used to beat and shoot the strikers who, back when, on either side of 1900, practiced that in their outrage, and what did that get them? An eight-hour day, it's true, but exactly the same level of income disparity in the 1920s as there is now. The intermittent light of progress seems like a candle in the wind, snuffed out sooner rather than later throughout history.
Progress is tripped up by the law of diminishing returns, even without knotheaded humanity doing its best to reverse or nullify it. An example in today's post at ww.hipcrime.blogspot.com provides a clear example (although a few seconds' recon would provide thousands more): a very costly refrigerator is now available that promises to cool room-temperature drinks in five minutes. We see all around us that the costs increase while the worthwhile benefits diminish. It's funny how complicated and overpriced improvements flood the market and our consciousness (through relentless advertising and promotion) while things that need serious attention aren't worked on. That's the supposed "rationality" and "efficiency" of the free market, folks. Expensive, short-lived toys we don't need but nothing we desperately do need.
Spending any time in an institution filled with (usually very elderly) people who aren't going to get better, and in fact have lives you would not take ten million dollars to trade for, makes one wonder about how the resources of the vast big business of medicine are allocated. Of course, it generates an inconceivable amount of money which rises, as always, to the top and like any institution perpetuates itself quite well. And that's all most of it does.
Seeing those people at the end of their lives makes you realize that our relationship to our (many!) material possessions should have been examined before we wasted so much time and energy accumulating them. Usually all the things you spent so much for, kept for so long, and valued for status or sentimental reasons, just become dead weight. It would have been better, in hindsight, to have traveled very lightly through life, enjoying what came your way, then passing it along, but seldom holding on to anything. How many suitcases have N. and I gone through, for example? Probably over twenty. One, maybe two, good quality ones would have done the job: too much is clearly never better, if you have any perspective.
And this year's model Cadillac SUV may make you think you have status among peers and their admiration, but that's as pointless as trying to impress your pet with your place in the human hierarchy. That dog or cat knows the only things that do matter: are you kind, do you have a heart?