Imaginary Brazilian Revolution

Brazil is a state of carefree serenity. Brazil is attained by forsaking sanity.

Return . . . I will . . . to old . . . Brazil.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fear of Prosperity

I'm probably never going to be more than middle class or upper middle class. But relative to how I grew up that's rich. My family wasn't super poor. We never went hungry and we always had our home. Also, fortunately, we lived in a suburb with quality public schools and no crime or violence to speak of. So it's not like I've had huge obstacles to overcome on my way to an advanced degree (if I ever finish). But my parents struggled. I remember government cheese, food stamps, and not wanting to ask for new shoes because of the stress that the extra $15 expense would be. So I'm gonna feel pretty wealthy if I ever become financially secure. And that's what has motivated me to work hard. I fear poverty. But I also find that I fear wealth.

Something somebody said somewhere has me thinking about the downsides to wealth. I don't know for sure since I've never been wealthy but it seems to me that wealth can be downright pernicious. It can put people's moral compass completely out of whack so that they end up doing crazy things like wasting money that could be used to do good. Some of the things that some rich people do just make my head spin.

It's easy to point up at rich people and accuse them of immorally using their money, but then I, a poor student supporting a family with a stipend and student loans, think about the completely unnecessary things that I do with money (DSL, cable, golf, Netflix) and wonder if I'm any better than the rich guy who spends hundreds of dollars on things as ephemeral as 750 ml of a beverage and fish eggs. Probably not. Same sin, different magnitude.

So I guess I don't need to fear wealth because it would make me use money in irresponsible, immoral ways. I already do that. The bad thing is that I don't really want to stop. I don't feel to badly about it. Maybe I should.

I tell myself, and I really believe, that if I ever have extra money I won't use it in silly ways. I'll make sure my family is secure and then look outward to do the most good I can do. I won't buy ridiculous cars or expensive jewelry etc. But who knows? Maybe I would indulge in that kind of stuff.

But that's not what I fear the most. I fear wealth less for its effect on me than on my kids. I don't want them to feel entitled to anything. I want them to have to work for what they get, to learn to go without, to suffer a little bit. I want this because that's the experience that I had and I'm grateful for it, even if it was a bit painful at the time.

There may also be a shade of classism in my fear of wealth. I'm trying not to indulge these feelings because I think they're prideful and destructive, but I find that I hold people's wealth against them. As if their prosperity has robbed them of the character-building experiences that I and other less priviledged people had. My classist tendencies also manifest themselves in the pride that I take in being the son of a janitor. Why do I think this stuff matters? And why do I fear that my kids' growing up relatively priviledged would be to their detriment?

I don't know. But I think it's worth fighting these thoughts.


At 4/14/2006 12:33 PM, Blogger Standard Chuck said...

The work you do today corresponds to the events of your future: with hard work today, you reap the benefits of possibly having a conundrum with your spoiled children. However, isn't that ability to NOT worry about money, that material security, that drives you to work so hard? Don't you work hard to keep your family from ever experiencing true poverty?

The biggest problem lies in your own value judgement (bias) about wealth. You think that having money will make one less inclined to possess a work ethic. I can tell you about many people who are dirt poor who are a sieve when it comes to cash. Don't you see that all you can do is try to instill some better version of your values in your children through example and your words, but then the rest is up to change/providence? So...end result of this argument: don't worry, make money, eat some cavier, kick some back to your church, and be happy with your progress.

I just reread this, and what I wrote is convoluted. What I really wanted to say is stop crying, you big baby, and go buy a really, really, really big flat screen TV with an awesome sound system, and invite your buddies (namely me) over to watch, like, all the Delta Force movies.


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