Philosophy Political Economy

Furrows of Worry

How we trade truth for belief for money

Home is where the heart is, so you’re never really homeless. This cliche might be mustered up by some average passerby, one whose heart is not frozen by the coldness of economic analysis. It implies at least that he or she is reassuring someone that life is not hopeless. And it’s true. Buddha was homeless. Jesus was homeless. From them both, great expansive hearts continue to fill humanity with hope. The question isn’t whether or not the cliche is true — it most definitely is true.

The heartless, callous finance-driven individual dwells in the coldness of economic figures and corporate centers. Once the cocaine has zapped every final serotonin receptor, nothing but the cheap thrill of winning can sustain life. This has become the sad stereotype of Wall Street, its bankers and brokers. The banker may have a beautiful home, in fact, could own dozens of properties — of which several sit vacant while that homeless person sleeps with one eye open to protect their meager belongings — but the wealthy individual whose heart has stopped beating for the sake of humanity and only beats for money, surely that person is not even at home in their body. They might as well be homeless, for their suffering is vast.

A friend of mine who lived through America’s cultural revolution in the 60’s recollects a time when the word “homeless” wasn’t common. The guy who slept under the bridge was referred to as “the guy who sleeps under the bridge.” America’s pioneers were homeless according to the logic we use today. We admit that the natives rightfully owned the land then. But now, it belongs to the myriad individual property owners, and a piece of that is owned by the government. If you want to pioneer land or sleep under a bridge, good luck. Terms like “illegal campsite” or “no-sit no-lie zone” have sprung from homelessness with much controversy. These terms are coined between myriad government officials and business associations.

To re-remember a time when America was populated by wilderness and low-impact natives, and anyone could legally camp anywhere so long as they didn’t hurt anyone, steal anything, or damage the terrain — as recently as the nineteenth century — stirs in me a frustration so deep that I can only assume that therein festering is a fractured aspect of my humanity that has been subverted and repressed every day for the benefit of an economic structure.

My life is not about waking up and rolling with nature’s punches, yet there is no greater truth than such an existence. The heavy east coast ice storms of 2014-2015 brought down winter quarterly earnings nationwide, which could be felt in European markets, and in Asian manufacturing. Nature conquers all. But my truth isn’t developed from being with natural processes, it is developed from how I earn my living, from being economic data.

Re-remembering ancient civilization also points to awkward terms given to our generation, like “earn a living.” That is a strange kind of notion, when you posit humanity as a creature of Earth. You are born to an inalienable right to exist, to live. Your instincts kick in and you earn life every day just by living. Only, my instincts are funneled through markets; they are directed not discovered.

I have to raise money to buy a farm to grow food and build a house, I cannot just find a plot, grow the food, and squat. Something feels instinctually wrong, or at least interrupted about earning a living versus simply living. My gut says, I’m alive already, my heart says, all beings deserve life, while my mind says, Earth provides for me endlessly, yet somebody has hijacked the means to my own existence.

Mind-Warping Inequality

Present-day democratic-capitalism grew out of the bondage of feudalism and the incestuous royal families of ancient history. The capitalist social order redistributes food and clothing far more efficiently, and although it struggles with homelessness, the standard of living generally is quite high for the average person. But there is a way that history repeats itself. There appears today a long-term trend in democratic-capitalism to gobble up the resources for the sake of a super-minority of people. There might be a coercion of the people to will themselves into bondage economically.

A few passages from Frank J. Lysy, Ph.D, Economist and blogger, clearly describe the gravity of wealth disparity.

Average real incomes of the bottom 90% of households have fallen by 5% in real terms since 1980, while the real incomes of the top 0.01% have grown by 325%. Per capita growth in GDP since 1980 has been similar to what it was before. The problem, rather, is the distribution of the gains from that growth, which has become terribly skewed.

Chart courtesy of An Economic Sense blog
Chart courtesy of An Economic Sense blog, Frank J. Lysy

The rich got far richer in the period since 1980, while not just the poor but even those making up fully 90% of the population, got poorer.

American Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for 2013 was $49,469. This means that the average economic output of each citizen is about $50K. In other words, the average person spent that much money. It is a basic way of assessing what every person’s share of the economy is. This includes babies who cannot own or transfer property. So a household of four is, according to macroeconomics, worth $200K per year, and growing by hopefully 3% per year, but usually less.

Because at least 90% of households spend less than $50K annually, there is a small group at the top who makes up for their dismal output. $200K households are in the top 2% whereas millionaires make up the 1% and billionaires the .01%. They own and spend vastly more than the bottom 90% who earn and spend closer to $25K per year per household. That might be one night’s dinner budget for the 1% who attend Clinton fundraisers.

And remember, this is per person, so if a baby is spending $50K, then it has a very rich mommy. When counting GDP per capita, corporations are not included as people, on the principle that all money flows through households and individuals at some point. So we break it down by citizen.

In America, it costs about $2.5K to $25K per year to house one person with standard accommodations, with San Francisco or New York representing the top end of that spectrum. 30% of Americans, however, earn under $15K per year, total. That means that almost 100 million workers in America see homelessness as a potential threat. This may be why about a third of Millennials (aged 18-34) today remain dependent on their family. There is no room for savings and retirement security. Without SNAP, housing, and health care programs, this population would slip into homelessness with every food and rent hike or health emergency.

On a given month on any given night, in America, nearly 600,000 people will go to sleep without a bed of their own. It would cost less than $9 billion to provide every one of them with up to $15K toward housing costs for a full year. All the world’s corporations together hold $2 trillion in offshore accounts. Were that redistributed $10 billion at a time on an annual basis, homelessness would be eliminated forever. It is simply not a question of how to resolve poverty. It is obvious. It is a question of belief that poverty must exist for the sake of an economic structure.

In consideration of the logic of this capitalist-democracy, and the requirement of hoarding money to exist as a human being under capitalist-democracy, or at least to exist under a roof with food on the table, then it seems absolutely necessary for there to be some kind of redistribution, because the Earth did not stop providing the means for food and shelter, only the economy did. Workforce participation and homeownership rates are now at record lows. Wages for those who are working have effectively decreased while corporations hoard money offshore.

The problem is obvious when we’re simply out on the street, taking walks in the city, especially in Portland. The perception is clear that there is more homeless than ever. But, homelessness declined by 13,344 people (2%) in 2014, and nationally by 11% (72,718 people) since 2007, according to the Federal HUD Report of 2014. The prison population has also decreased in recent years. That is why public perception is so strange.

Worth noting, about 1.4 million veterans are also considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, or exist in dismal living conditions in overcrowded, substandard housing, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Veterans are well known for suffering from PTSD and social isolation in a country that no longer honors them.

Recently when visiting a place called Taft House, I recognized some “homeless” faces, but also I realized my false assumption that anyone dirty and shouting on the street was homeless. Here, a building houses those people at no charge, yet they still walk out in a near-psychotic state and beg for change or hustle their food benefits. They know no other way of life. They are damaged, deeply fragmented individuals. They may be drug addicts, ex-convicts, or veterans. Taft House manages their lives but does not interfere and so there are many people who are not homeless living in abject poverty.

As I have discussed before, that between 1945-1976, the tax-rate on the 1% dropped from about 90% to about 70%, and then from 1980-1990, that rate plummeted to about 30%. Despite Obama, that number is about the same. This economic tool, taxation of the super-wealthy, was an important disincentive for anyone to accumulate vast wealth, pursue senseless profits at the expense of economic stability, and most importantly, it enabled financial redistribution programs.

Fractured Individuals

The notion of perfect reciprocation is more or less unseen in humanity, at least since the advent of government. As recently as the 20th Century, modern man continued discovering prehistoric man in their native world. The northern Eskimo integrated fully into western life after Alaska was granted statehood. Tribes of Papua New Guinea were first discovered around that time, offering modern anthropologists the chance to see for real what man once was. In both of these examples, money had not yet entered the vocabulary of these people. Eskimos built their homes from ice temporarily and moved on — a semi-nomadic life of perpetual homelessness.

Only the fruits of the Earth had significant existential meaning for prehistoric people. Their truth was simple: interaction with nature was interaction with the totality, the universe. That interaction gave them their purpose in life, and all the meaning they needed.

Inuit Eskimo Family, 1928
Inuit Eskimo Family, 1928

While the Eskimo was quite preoccupied with survival, the Guinea tribes had more opportunity to build rituals and belief structures. Now that people have extraordinary resources that could alleviate unprecedented time to ponder and create beyond the means of survival, we have become more like the Eskimo, bound to the means of survival, to earning our existence.

There is this effect of psychological and cultural fracturing that accompanies indebtedness to the economic structure, and individualistic determination to achieve financial security. Throughout life, we are overwhelmingly distracted by popular culture, which has a whole set of technological products that if we do not own, we fall behind, and if we do not embody, we will not fit in.

There are so many people sharing Earth today, sharing essentially the same desires, dreams, ambitions, and everything else, yet the predominant western culture believes strongly in the individual. The individual is granted meaning in the relativity of truth — a concept that is taken for granted — but is Truth actually relative? The truth of what we need, the truth of our desires and sensations, these are universal, not relative.

Belief is definitely relative. I hold my religious beliefs, you yours, my political beliefs, you yours, and despite extraordinary crossover in the truths that each faction shares, there is constant tension between them, as mine versus yours. But Truth never fractures, beliefs do.

An individualistic society can get along amazingly with economic cooperation, but in truth, it isn’t getting along so well, judging from poverty rates and extreme senseless violence everywhere.

The truth is determined from the top down, so whatever the markets need, that becomes the truth. “There was a market collapse, many will go homeless.” Why exactly? Did the homes fall apart? Where people were living, did those grounds dissolve? The answer obviously is no, those homes are still there. But the market needs to sweep up those homes, that is why, to place them in rental-backed security investment packages, so that banks and investors can trade them. The vast many cooperate with this senseless economic need, but the truth is that nobody needs to go homeless, nobody needs to rent a home.

Recalibrating Humanity

By waking up five days a week and devoting oneself to being an engineer, being a stockbroker, a banker, a comedian, a barista or bartender — or any occupation that earns a living — the belief structure is developed. One can engulf many relative truths to keep aligned to the means of existence. I must drive a BMW to be taken seriously. Without a smart phone, I can’t keep in touch with friends. Without a computer, I cannot keep my job. Without debt, I cannot own my home. Without self-interest, I cannot earn a living. These beliefs are true but only relative to one’s personal outlook as it fits in the present social order.

A tree does not grow iPhones and there is no Facebook in nature, yet people had friends since ancient times; they managed to have relationships with human beings, eat, sleep, and entertain themselves. Humanity does not contain most of our assumptions neurologically built-in, the way we hold fear of wild animals. We develop our present-day conditioning to get along with capitalist material demands.

When material existence is not possible to achieve without earning the money to buy the food, shelter, and community that Earth once provided at no charge, then my individual truth will justify everything it takes to attain the security I need from money. My need for security builds a belief structure that overrides Truth.

I have experienced for myself Truth. You can, if you haven’t. You have, if you believed you hadn’t. And you didn’t if you believed you did. You know it when you feel it. You can deny, you can suppress, or you can build ideas and shrines around ideas, but none of that can alter Truth. Truth is constant, despite relativity, despite constant change in the universe.

Volcanoes destroyed wealthy civilizations. Earthquakes brought down vast structures, floods washed away entire communities; the laws of physics never stopped their effortless motion. Belief is the only thing relative and changing in the universe, but politicians champion their belief and require everything to conform around it for the sake of their government; the government for the sake of their economic models.

Man fights for life in the flooded streets of New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in Louisiana in this September 4, 2005 file photo. Photo by Robert Galbraith, Reuters, Newscom).
Man fights for life in the flooded streets of New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in Louisiana. September 4, 2005, photo by Robert Galbraith (Reuters, Newscom).

We share this one roof, Earth. That is the truth, not the various shades of the meaning of the word homeless, or the cliche even that home is where the heart is. One can observe this intellectually by imagining themselves in totally different circumstances, but can see it wholly by looking at oneself, by seeing the shackles of any belief structure. To survive, we must conform to the economic social order, but it does not bind our will power. If I have experienced existential Truth and observed the false economic structure and its origins, I could only do so by wanting to know what that festering fractured aspect of myself was.

Time gives the human being the conditions for belief through existence. In the process of living, belief is earned by experience. Coming into contact with Truth is an extraordinary experience that can demolish a belief instantaneously. Where there is material power, there must also be deception. A society that is concerned with Truth and everyone’s well-being without the financial motivation for relative truth or analytic belief structures, there is no opportunity for a community to share false beliefs.

The Fantasy Always Ends

Set aside the belief for a moment that capitalism brought us all these technological advances and remember that people did that. Capitalism is merely an idea, but the people will live on when the idea bursts. Stephen Hawking recently pointed out that with technological advancement, robots are not in themselves the thing to worry about. Capitalism will require vast wealth at the top, so the need for security robots should indeed scare people. But if everyone has automated food production, indestructible homes, and access to all of Earth’s endless resources, then all that material hoarding at the 0.1% becomes meaningless, and the only way for them to keep it is to control the technology. So in the face of endless abundance for humanity, the capitalist response is the same as usual: to economically control that abundance.

Perhaps nobody illustrates this philosophical quandary better than comedian, Bill Hicks.

The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly colored and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question: “Is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we kill those people.

“Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride! Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.”

It’s just a ride.

This concludes a three-part philosophical critique of capitalism. Please read the preceding work and review the source material from links provided below.

Illustration by Keylay Tukor

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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