99-to-1: Who Would Take Those Odds?
The slogan "We Are the 99 Percent" and recent Congressional actions have often made me think about Charles Dickens' England and other literary pieces set in that time. Apparently I am not alone. A Newsweek article titled "Rich America, Poor America" has done the same thing, justifying my comparisons by making comparisons of its own.
In his article, published on January 23rd of this year, Niall Ferguson writes, "A poor kid in America now has about the same chance of becoming a rich grown-up as in socially rigid England." He quips, "It looks like Downton Abbey has come to downtown U.S.A." I may not have watched this show, but even I know from a separate article in US Magazine that Maggie Smith plays Dowager Countess of Grantham and says things like "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class." Obviously there's some class warfare taking place or being referenced in passing, not unlike the accusations that are flying around here on Wall Street, Congress, and beyond. Ferguson also quotes the former British PM Benjamin Disreali, who had described the rich and poor as "two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they are dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws." This sounds more like the humorous culture clash between scholarship student Haruhi Fujioka and the elite Ouran High School Host Club boys, but in real life it is hardly as entertaining.
Disraeli was quoted from 1845, putting it right smack in the middle of Charles Dickens' lifetime (1812 - 1870) and as such is often referred to as "Dickensian England." What famous work of his comes to mind most often when thinking of our current plight? A Christmas Carol, of course, to name just one. Those with the power to do so must look out for those less fortunate than themselves, not take advantage of their position. What's lacking in the hearts of many nowadays is compassion. Compassion is a two-way street, so both the haves and have nots must understand that beneath it all, everyone is human and deserves to be treated fairly and with kindness. Otherwise, we get something along the lines of Sweeney Todd, for when the title character loses his mind with rage he decides that everyone deserves death either because they deserve it or because they would be better off (compare this with Christmas Carol's Scrooge, who, at the opposite end of the scale, doesn't care if people die since he'd rather the surplus population be decreased). In 1846, wherein the play is set, there is indeed "no place like London" to see such cruelty and desperation on display.
The slip of paper in my fortune cookie a couple weeks ago read, "Education will never be as expensive as ignorance." The truth is, however, that college is very expensive, and the debt lasts a really long time, especially now that employment is scarce even with a degree (insert "It Sucks to Be Me" rant here). Ferguson also discusses Charles Murray's Coming Apart, which describes the rich elites also being "over-educated snobs." Just as not all rich people are snobs, neither are all smart people. Also, it doesn't take a high degree to be a good human being who is willing to help others. Nobody should get greedy, neither the rich, nor the poor, nor the educated, nor the uneducated. Everyone can stand to be a better person, but we're too preoccupied being so darn angry at each other and our current condition and too distracted by trying to solve problems of lesser importance (such as the corporately-funded government extraditing and imprisoning people on trumped-up charges of alleged copyright infringement, but that's a hub for another day).