by Jack Bragen

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]oney may not buy happiness, yet there must be a reason why Americans of all backgrounds and ethnicities want it so badly that they will do almost anything to get more of it — including participating in a humiliating “reality show” or working for many years on that perfect singing voice or upon some invention.
Even worse, money often drives people to betray their consciences and to do criminal acts that harm others. The lust for the dollar can drive humans to commit completely debased acts. Corporations are formed so that people can commit injustices and even break the law without liability to themselves; the consequences of these acts are sustained by the corporate entity. Corporate law says it’s all fair when you’re in the quest for money.
Money itself is just money. It has no inherent moral, or other value. If you say, “Money is the root of all evil” you are misquoting the Bible. The correct statement is: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Our society has turned this truth upside down so that the having and seeking of wealth is now perceived as godlike. Not having it is considered a sign of weakness and bad character.
Society has made poverty a sin. Poor people are automatically stereotyped as having an inferior, criminal and crude category of personhood. This is not accurate. These misconceptions are the result of moneyism, a form of bigotry that pervades society.
When you are poor, you have fewer choices in life. You may be stuck living in a poor and dangerous neighborhood. You will not be able to buy a new car and, in fact, may be stuck taking a bus. You will not be able to afford good, nutritious food. You may not have access to good medical and dental care. When you lack income, you are subject to physical suffering that the rich don’t have to deal with.
When people are poor, every day can be a struggle to survive. This is something I don’t know much about because I have always had either family who could help me, or else I have had public benefits to live on, and in some instances I have been able to work to support myself. I have not lacked some type of income except for a couple of rare instances in my life.
Yet I have sometimes lived alongside poor, or otherwise down-and-out people. In my late twenties and early thirties, I lived at a place called “Riverhouse,” which was an apartment complex intended for senior and disabled people. My experiences at this place left me a changed man. I spent time with some people who were dying, others who were previously homeless, others with disabilities similar to mine.
The population was diverse. Riverhouse was a melting pot for many who would be considered “misfits.” I made friends there. Friendship comes more easily among the “down and out,” compared to those more fortunate who tend to put up more of a social barrier.
I had a friend who was an athlete, a runner, a man who ran several miles each day. He also was dying of AIDS. I would sit with him or stand in the hallway, and I would share some of my strange theories with him about self-healing. He articulated that what I was trying to do could be called, “Mind over matter.”
He was very sick toward the end, and the illness had disfigured his face. And then, when this man was close to death, new medicines became available. It was close, but he pulled through. Last I heard, he had moved to Florida.
The book called The Secret has gained tremendous popularity. It is a source of false hope that has attracted millions of participants. The concept isn’t new: “You can control your reality with your mind…” or something equivalent to that.
As I got older, I’ve discovered it is a falsehood, a lie, that you can control your reality by thinking. There is no free lunch in this universe. It is easy for us to be fooled by our minds in that way, and this is because of how our minds are constructed. Our minds have a limited connection to the outside world and are prone to feeding on their own outputs. Our minds often take our final conclusions and use them as our basic assumptions. This is why people get fooled by their own minds, without requiring the help of anyone else.
Yogis and Zen masters may be fond of touting poverty as a virtue. Relinquishing the emotional need for money will make a person happier. However, some amount of money is needed if a person is to be fed, clothed, and/or sheltered. This is just how society operates.
And, by the way, some of those “masters” have become world-famous, and I doubt that they have to live on a few hundred dollars a month. If they claim “poverty,” it simply means that they have put the wealth in the name of their organization, and not in their own name. They still inevitably will have some form of access to this wealth. They don’t look like they’re suffering from malnutrition.
Actual poverty isn’t a virtue, yet it isn’t a reflection of bad character, either. It is a circumstance, one that makes a person’s life much harder. People can become poor through a series of unfortunate circumstances, by having a disability that interferes with earning money, or by not being able to fit in with one’s peers.
It isn’t safe to assume that all poor people made themselves poor. Certainly, nonconformity, while touted in the hippie era as a good thing, today makes it much harder to live among others. Our culture has a very narrow range of behavior, speech and dress that are considered “normal.” If you stray too far from that, you are branded as a freak.
Not all persons find themselves able to fit this societal norm. It isn’t always a case of choosing to be different or to rebel. Conforming to society’s expectations just doesn’t work for everyone. When someone is like this, ironically they aren’t elevated to sainthood, which maybe they ought to be, considering the words of the masters. Instead, they are considered unsuccessful, dirty and ignorant.
People are often under the impression that they can discern someone’s intelligence by their appearance. People see others by their labels: “Homeless man,” “Psychotic person,” “Author,” “Urban Professional,” etc. All of these labels carry expectations as to appearance, speech, behavior, and income. Classism has taken over much of society.

“March” Drawing by Josh MacPhee See for art relating to social justice
“March” Drawing by Josh MacPhee
See for art relating to social justice


Meg Whitman: The Candidate of the Super-Rich

Editorial by Jack Bragen
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is clear that Meg Whitman is not shy about using her wealth to gain the advantage in the race for governor against Jerry Brown. She has been spending massive amounts of wealth for television advertisements that focus on Brown’s perceived weaknesses and is focusing less on what her plans would be. This is partly because Whitman will revert to the same old tired philosophy of cutting taxes on the rich as her proposed solution to California’s ills.
Meanwhile, Brown might have some genuine, thought-out ideas that would actually address California’s problems. However, Brown’s campaign is being drowned-out amidst the loud voices of massive television advertisements.
Whitman, just like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, boasts that she is immune to the “special interests” due to the fact that she is super-rich already. However, Governor Arnold has already proven the falsity of this idea, by cutting taxes on the super-rich and eliminating regulations that have been put in place to protect the public, in order to be popular with his buddies in the rich people’s club. Whitman would do more of the same.
Whitman wants to “fix education.” How does she intend to do that without spending money? The school system needs more funding, period. Making conditions harsher for the teachers is going to drive the remaining good instructors out of the field. It sounds to me like she plans to do that through creating a more punitive environment for teachers, in the name of creating incentives for performance.
If teachers are starving, they can’t teach. If the school lunch program is gone, students can’t learn on an empty stomach. If textbooks are ten years old, the school system resembles that of a Third World country. In fact, Whitman doesn’t have a clue as to how to fix education.
Whitman wants to “Eliminate all the welfare cases.” Her definition of welfare cases seems to include former government employees living on their hard-earned pensions. Whitman wants to raid the state’s pension system. This would leave millions of seniors, who have worked hard for the state for 30 or more years, in a destitute predicament.
She believes the welfare cases include disabled people, who for one reason or another, are unable to work full-time to support themselves. Not providing any safety net at all for disabled people is a harsh and cruel notion.
Meg Whitman wants to “cut spending,” which can only mean we will have fewer firefighters and police, fewer libraries, fewer school facilities, along with dilapidated roads, crumbling bridges, and more people without a way to provide for themselves.
Whitman wants to “lower taxes,” but I am certain this will be targeted toward the rich and super-rich, people in her circle with whom she wants to be popular. She already has stated that she wants to stimulate the economy with “targeted tax cuts.” This means tax cuts on big businesses. This is the same “trickle down” theory that Reagan sold us more than 30 years ago, now in new clothing.
We know that Meg Whitman has a talent and a desire to hoard massive amounts of wealth while those around her are starving. Will her term as governor demonstrate this much dispassion? Let’s hope we never find out.