Thoughts on People and Myths
I've spent a few years in the Realm of the People. During those years, I've learned that not everything is as it appears. Part of the cacaphony bellowing from the media are myths that affect our lives. They are so powerful they influence us even though they contradict reality. I believe recognizing the influence of these myths may help us improve the way we relate to each other; in a word, our politics. But, in attempting to understand them, we must avoid the notion that they are always created with malevolent intent. Sometimes, they're not.
When we are poor, we have hopes and dreams. They inspire us, they give purpose to our lives. Our joy is more in the striving than in the accomplishment. We all know the stereotype of the 'starving artist'. It may be a stereotype, but there's a grain of truth behind it.
It is the ability to create that brings joy. It's the creation that's the reward. Although its an annual battle and the work is hard, there is great pleasure in a good crop of beans, or corn, or wheat. When they're harvested, we have a sense of accomplishment and the comfort of a period of security.
When we become affluent, our car - which was once a means of conveyance - becomes a symbol of our status. Our house becomes a badge of our success. Our lives come to be marked by the number of badges we exhibit. Our work, which was once a source of occasional frustration and frequent joy, becomes drudgery, endured for the sake of showing more badges.
There has to be a reason why The Great Depression, which was a period of pervasive poverty was marked by such upbeat songs as
I got plenty of nothing And nothing's plenty for me I got no car - got no mule I got no misery Folks with plenty of plenty They've got a lock on the door Afraid somebody's gonna rob 'em While they're out amaking more - what for?
I can't give you anything but love, baby That's the only thing I've plenty of, baby Dream a while, scheme a while You're sure to find Happiness and I guess All those things you've always pined for
Got no diamonds, got no pearls Still I think I'm a lucky girl I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night Got no mansion, got no yacht Still I'm happy with what I've got I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night Sunshine gives me a lovely day Moonlight gives me the Milky Way Got no checkbooks, got no banks Still I'd like to express my thanks I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night And with the sun in the morning And the moon in the evening, I'm alright Got no silver, got no gold What I've got can't be bought or sold I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night Sunshine gives me a lovely day Moonlight gives me the Milky Way Got no heirlooms for my kin Made no will but when I cash in I'll leave the sun in the morning and the moon at night And with the sun in the morning And the moon in the evening, they're alright
Every morning, every evening Ain't we got fun Not much money, Oh but honey Ain't we got fun The rent's unpaid dear We haven't a bus But smiles were made dear For people like us In the winter, in the Summer Don't we have fun Times are bum and getting bummer Still we have fun There's nothing surer The rich get rich and the poor get children In the meantime, in between time Ain't we got fun
You may not be able to appreciate those lyrics without their melodies that still ring in my mind, but maybe, if you can imagine being out of work with no hope of getting a job, often dependent on the largesse of friends and relatives just to survive, you might get a glimmer. The point is, we humans have an ability to accept what is and make the best of it - and that ability is the springboard from which other myths can be launched.
The relationships that underlie human happiness are so deep, so complex that it's difficult to get a handle on them. The music of the Depression years was inspirational. The war generated its own kind of music, some martial, some nationalistic, some the blues of loneliness. In the period after the war, the music slowly took on a different tone. It lost its suggestion of personal joy. As our circumstances improved, we found that acquisition seemed important. Individuals bought homes and cars, and used them to show how successful they were. But not everyone could "keep up with the Jones" and, for them, unhappiness ensued.
At the same time, the rapid growth and spread of communication media fostered the mushrooming of marketing, which, in the ensuing 50 years, was able to completely divorce price from cost. This phenomenon feasted on the growing acquisitiveness. Sneakers, which once cost less than a dollar, sold for prices well over $100.00 a pair.
The Great Depression spawned the Swing era, which was decidedly upbeat. People with nothing found joy in hope. Could their music suggest that affluence has an adverse effect? No, that's too simplistic, but somewhere in there lays the germ of an important idea.
Somewhere in the midst of all this bustle and noise, we may be getting a clue that affluence is not the answer, but what can we learn from our experiences? How can we use our knowledge to create a better society. That may be a question worth pursuing.
If you think about your acquaintances and friends, you'll find the influence of a manipulative media has created innumerable tentacles of habit and belief that have a firm grip on their minds. They have, for example, a firm belief that their political system is democratic, yet the only way they can participate in it is by choosing from options offered them by a small group of elites.
Academics are slowly coming to realize that the United States is more an oligarchy than a democracy, but it will take time to loosen the grip of the democracy myth on the people. While, once, it was to our personal advantage to turn a blind eye to our own poverty, we must learn that it's not wise to blind ourselves to our status as subjects of the elites that control our government.