Monday, June 8, 2015

“Don’t Enter Reality Without It!”

     I refer, of course, to the magnificent, fantastic, utterly indispensable:

Get Out Of Reality Free Card!

     It simply must exist! How else could we explain phenomena such as these:

     Remember Lilly the Human Train Wreck, the mentally ill feminist Tumblr blogger who filed a federal complaint against her university? She did not like being quoted on my blog:
     Check it out. He “wrote an article” on me. He victim blames me the entire time. He hates that I am bi. He thinks I’m insane since I have mental illnesses. We need to get him off the internet. This is his twitter. Please report him for harassing me!!! And report other abusive things he says to or about other people.

     I’m “harassing” her? By quoting her?

     Apparently, in the worldview of those who believe their words should carry no undesired consequences, being quoted is a felony. It should either be impossible, or should occasion severe punishment for the violator. But that’s not all the Card is good for:

     ONE late summer afternoon when I was 17, I went with my mother to the local bank, a long-defunct institution whose name I cannot remember, to apply for my first student loan. My mother co-signed. When we finished, the banker, a balding man in his late 50s, congratulated us, as if I had just won some kind of award rather than signed away my young life.

     By the end of my sophomore year at a small private liberal arts college, my mother and I had taken out a second loan, my father had declared bankruptcy and my parents had divorced. My mother could no longer afford the tuition that the student loans weren’t covering. I transferred to a state college in New Jersey, closer to home.

     Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

     I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans....

     Am I a deadbeat? In the eyes of the law I am. Indifferent to the claim that repaying student loans is the road to character? Yes. Blind to the reality of countless numbers of people struggling to repay their debts, no matter their circumstances, many worse than mine? My heart goes out to them. To my mind, they have learned to live with a social arrangement that is legal, but not moral.

     Maybe the problem was that I had reached beyond my lower-middle-class origins and taken out loans to attend a small private college to begin with. Maybe I should have stayed at a store called The Wild Pair, where I once had a nice stable job selling shoes after dropping out of the state college because I thought I deserved better, and naïvely tried to turn myself into a professional reader and writer on my own, without a college degree. I’d probably be district manager by now.

     Or maybe, after going back to school, I should have gone into finance, or some other lucrative career. Self-disgust and lifelong unhappiness, destroying a precious young life — all this is a small price to pay for meeting your student loan obligations.

     So the Card will absolve one from freely chosen material obligations too! Where can one apply for this marvel of modern life?

     Yes, you may well shudder.

     The remarkable thing about the above stories isn’t the whining demand to be excused from the foreseeable consequences of one’s freely chosen course. There’ve always been deadbeats, and a fair number of them whiners. No, what’s significant here is the aggressive counter-moralism: the strident proclamations that the laws of cause and effect woven into the very fabric of reality are somehow wrong.

     Whence cometh such notions? Who has been telling these...persons that what they want, no matter how absurd, is theirs by right, without let, hindrance, or consequences? More urgent still, who will discipline them for their follies? Will some sensible relative or friend take “Lilly” aside and tell her: “Look, you ninny, when you post statements on a public website, they’re susceptible to being quoted, and there’s nothing you can do about it” -- ? Will Lee Siegel, the author of the second quoted piece, be held to account, whether for his act of passive burglary by refusing to repay a freely contracted loan, or for denouncing the mechanism that allowed him to acquire a college degree?

     Commentators such as I, Stacy McCain, and Linda of Right As Usual can sift the ordure of modern life for such items so you can employ your time to better effect. We can point to the inevitable consequences of tolerating such scurrilities and plead with you to take appropriate action. We can’t do much more than that.

     The Card is the problem. A staggering number of pseudo-adults are waving it in our faces and demanding that we honor it...and owing to their well-intentioned but misguided acceptance of the contemporary conception of “tolerance,” quite a number of persons who should know better are doing so.

     Don’t kid yourself. The Card is seductive. If you were offered one, with a credible guarantee, perhaps backed by the force of the federal government, that it would be honored, you’d be tempted at the very least.

     Seemingly consequence-free freebies are like that.

     I have a personal story for you. It concerns a young woman of my acquaintance for whom I’ve come to have the highest respect. Let’s call her Jane.

     Jane works as a therapeutic masseuse. Her trade is very hard on her physically. She’s good at it – I can attest to her skills personally – but it causes her quite a lot of pain, owing to injuries she sustained some years ago. Yet she perseveres, because she, her husband (another therapist), and their young son badly want to own a home, a difficult hill to climb here on Long Island. They’ve been living with her in-laws while straining to save enough money for an adequate down payment.

     Jane has become quite valuable to me; her skills assuage several of my chronic pains. I only found out about her sufferings quite recently, and indirectly at that. When I discovered them I dithered over changing masseuses, but realized that that would achieve nothing. Jane’s services are in high demand, so some other old crank in a decaying body would take the slot I’d vacated.

     However, I have significant financial resources, and I wanted to do something to ease Jane’s burden. So I offered to help her with the down payment on a house.

     She thanked me but declined the offer. “I have to do this myself” was all she said. I dropped the subject at once, and I think it was well that I did.

     Jane would refuse the Card. No barrage of seductive offers, whether snail-mail, email, or telephonic, could persuade her to accept one. She has a visceral understanding of personal responsibility. For some that comes from an innate sense for the laws of reality. Many others learn it only by trial and painful error – the consequences of their bad decisions.

     We need more Janes. We need to bludgeon the “Lillies” and the Lee Siegels with the consequences of their decisions until they shut up and slink away from sheer embarrassment...assuming they can feel that precious corrective to folly. With all levels of government actively colluding to give them a free ride at our expense, this will be difficult to say the least, but it’s morally imperative. Not to do so will empower them to seduce other susceptible young Americans into accepting the Card.

     Take away their Cards. The rest will follow.


Weetabix said...

I still remember the first time I heard a credit card offer on the radio that said, "You deserve the things you've always wanted!"

Really?! The Card is seductive but destructive of the holder and all those around him.

Anonymous said...

I love how this chick lays out hobbies versus vocation, in terms of her "useful" application versus "wasting a young life". How many of us have had the feeling that we're wasting our lives, young or otherwise, in keeping our nose to the grindstone, simply to pay our bills? This is why they call it "work". Because it's not a hobby, you don't have to love it, you don't even have to like it. You just have to do it, because that's what responsible people do. People who sit around all day and do exactly what they want to do are called bums.

Teri said...

We tried to get the city to let us move a replacement mobile onto a piece of property that we own. We talked to them about it before and get different answers every time. This time, we were told we could only replace it with the exact same 20' width as the old one, but their law won't allow less than a 24' wide trailer.

When my 24 year old step son learned of it, he said we should secede from the city. And he meant it. He thought we weren't trying hard enough, because we listened to what they told us. He is delusional, as other young people seem to be these days.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes catch bits of a t.v. show called (IIRC) American Greed. It's pretty much all about embezzlers and Ponzi schemers.
Generally, people are persuaded to invest with pyramid schemers based on claims about the return on those investments. The gist of the show, and of the law, is that the investors have been defrauded. That is, that a crime has been committed against them. The t.v. show emphasizes the unconscionable greed of the pyramid schemer, and encourages sympathy for "defrauded" investors. This attitude is mirrored by both the law and society in general, DESPITE the fact that losing all of one's investment IS the foreseeable consequence of investing with someone whose claims of ROI are extraordinarily unlikely if not flat-out impossible.

When Bernie Madoff "defrauded" his investors, much was made of the horrible consequences of MADOFF'S actions on these investors. Even though most of Madoff's investors were quite well-off to begin with, they represented a group of people who were (or should have been) more savvy investors than the average American, and most were not completely wiped out financially by the Madoff "fraud".

Perhaps most importantly, none of the investors, either on the t.v. show American Gree or ripped off by Madoff, were subsequently PROHIBITED BY LAW from declaring Bankruptcy.

For better or worse, society has deemed bankruptcy preferable to debtor's prisons. It is even one of the enumerated Constitutional powers of Congress to make laws regarding bankruptcies. Nevertheless, bankruptcy laws themselves are a form of theft -- allowing the borrower to avoid repayment to the creditor.

1. Under the logic of the post, should we not eliminate bankruptcy laws as a form of theft where individuals are "absolve(d) ... from freely chosen material obligations"?

2. Should we not also DE-criminalize Ponzi Schemes, as the investors in such have "freely chosen" that material risk?

3. Under the logic of the post, should we not also denigrate and label as "deadbeats", or "leeches", those who receive Social Security Retirement benefits, as well as Medicare?

4. If there is such a thing as "fraud", should it be relied upon to absolve the "defrauded" of their "freely chosen material obligations"?

5. Most importantly, have college students been defrauded? That is, have misrepresentations about the ROI of a college degree been made to students pre- or post- matriculation?
5(a). If no one has made such misrepresentations regarding the benefits vs. costs of college; is there rational justification for singling out college graduates as ineligible for the protection of bankruptcy laws?
5(b). If there have been misrepresentations (i.e. Fraud), who has made such misrepresentations? And, are some of those making such misrepresentations in positions of authority, undue influence, and control of the students PRIOR to enrollment?

Anonymous said...

"the strident proclamations that the laws of cause and effect woven into the very fabric of reality are somehow wrong."

Cause: I lie to you to get you to invest time and money with me.
Effect: You invest time and money with me (to your detriment).

Yup, nothing "wrong" there. Just the fabric of reality.

Manu said...

You may recall the story of my rental property, and the sequence of events which led to my handing it back to the bank. While I may use the excuse of being young and dumb when I purchased it, I do not misunderstand the nature of the wrong I committed.

I am a deadbeat. I did a great wrong, and did not properly think out the consequences of my action. If the author of that piece had said likewise, then I could offer a measure of sympathy and respect. We all make bad choices in life. Learning from them is part of being human.

But the author spins this as "it's not my fault." And that is denying the sin, denying the wrong, and refusing to learn from the mistake. It is a more grievous error than the original wrong.