The return of feudalism

I’m sitting in Palo Alto, watching the goings on on a Sunday evening in the middle of a three day weekend. In the time I’ve spent here, I’ve been noticing more and more homeless in this relatively well-off community. They congregate at a couple churches on Hamilton that offer refuge. Here on Emerson, there is one old man wearing a blue sweatshirt proclaiming that he has driven the Alaska Highway, and black sweatpants. He is forever tugging up and at the waist on his sweatpants. Mentally ill, he limps up and down the block, involuntarily making a spectacle of himself.

At school, this is my quarter to finish up general education requirements. Among the classes I’m taking is US History from 1877. So far it has largely been about the rise of corporate power, something Charles Reich also wrote of in his book, The Greening of America. The professor says a recurring theme will be a contest between the ideas of trickle-down and what I’ll term a “rising tide.” Trickle-down, of course, is the notion that by helping the rich, they will invest more, creating jobs and thus opportunity for the poor. Others respond that this has never worked and that it is better to assist the poor, for as the old saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It is a contest between those who blame the poor for their moral failings and those who criticize the rich for their arrogance; where corporations regard workers as expendable, even a hard worker can face misfortune.

Here on the streets of a well off suburb, I see the effects. A pair of girls giggle and point; they cross the street to avoid the man tugging on his black sweatpants. I am reminded of how the conservative icon, Ronald Reagan, then-governor of California, closed the mental institutions, turning these people loose upon the streets. The conservative morality makes no allowance for sickness or misfortune. Each person’s fate is in his own hands; all have opportunity, and any failure to overcome circumstances is a moral failure.

Over an hour has passed since I began to write this entry. The man in the blue sweatshirt and the black sweatpants walks past me again. A couple approaches from the other direction; he says something unintelligible and they avoid eye contact–she looks to me for visual relief. Morality indeed.

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