Umbilicus

There’s an organisation (whose name I’ve forgotten) doing the rounds with research-backed TED talks and whatever else… (can’t find ’em, my google-fu is weak today) about how societal ills correlate spectacularly well with the gap between the haves and the have-nots in any society.

Specifically, they conclude that  it doesn’t matter how rich or poor people are, (and by implication, where they are on the social pecking order)… it only really matters how BIG THE GAP is between the two extremes of rich and poor. When the gap is huge, as has rather become the case in most nations/cities/societies planet-wide, you can expect increases in crime, corruption, medical problems, mental illness, teenage pregnancies, you name it… basically just about every societal ill.

Half of the planet – let us call them group A – hears this and says,
“Well, DUH? How is this news?”.

The other half – let us call them group B – says,
“Er, not so fast? The real problem is the poverty end of things, not the gap per se. Poor people just end up with problems.”

Both groups can agree on one thing: that if you have any sort of spectrum of wellbeing at all you necessarily have a gap, and by dint of that, “THE POOR”. Whether those “poor” people are millionaires surrounded by insufferable trillionaires, or whether they are garbage-surfing grovellers surrounded by those who have found the day’s meal, their condition shall be perfectly irrelevant to the fact of the gap’s actual existence.

But after this common understanding, the two groups’ ideologies diverge rapidly. Group B doesn’t care about the consensus that poverty is a highly relative, subjective thing. For, since there will always be a ‘poor’ class, and since the lives of those poor people have, in fact, steadily improved over the eons (quality of life, life expectancy etc IN ABSOLUTE terms compared with the historical moving average) then we are doing rather well. Anything else is envy-laden hyperbole. “Why, we should be thanking the rich for all their capitalist activity: they are the reason there’s any sort of absolute improvement at all“. You can’t not give ’em that.

Group A on the other hand, has an almost existentialist belief that power laws must be fought, because the pressures they exert on those at the wrong end of the curve are too significant to ignore. It’s all RELATIVE for them: “Who cares if materially, I have more everyday conveniences than the previous generation? I still can’t get a job, afford a home or afford to look after my family, and I’m sinking in mortgage/student loan debt. So RELATIVELY speaking, I’m less well off. Any refusal to address these concerns is callous and immoral. We should be spanking the rich for all their capitalist activity: they are the reason there’s no relative improvement at all in quality of life“.

So. That a connection exists between the lot of the rich and the lot of the poor is patently clear to everyone who stops to ponder upon the distribution of wealth (or lack thereof). And whether the rich and poor like it or not, there is some shared umbilicus of fiscal inter-dependency at work. And *there’s* the rub:

Unless and until the so-called ‘top 1%’ build spaceships and zip off to another planet entirely, they’re stuck here with the unwashed masses. Sure, you can build all the gated communities you like, and keep all the guns you want in every nook and every cranny of your abode, and hire thugs and/or lawyers, buy your own island, buy government leverage, take bribes or cuts…

Or you can even be good… run some perfectly humanistic and environmentally friendly conglomerates and hire lots of people and pay everybody well… but unless you’re also planning on reaching escape velocity, know that you’re still stuck here with everyone else.

Same tiny l’il footprint of SHARED (remember that word?)  space, time, water, sand and air. Same l’il ball of fire to make everything liveable. The price of exclusivity (or is that recluse-ivity?) soars, eventually dwarfing THE GAP itself, and you’re still stuck here with the rest of us… each of our plebeian presences inconvenient and necessary at the same time. What then? I’m reminded of a line by Rorschach in Watchmen:

“None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. YOU’RE locked in here with ME.”

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