Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Squirrel Myth

Oh man. This is a hop, skip, and a jump away from becoming a political blog. I constantly find myself sitting down to write out thoughts I have, adjustments and reactions and metaphors that I come up with in my encounter with the world of politics and ideologies (typically via articles posted on Facebook, ha).

I was talking to someone I don't know very well about Ayn Rand, and he had this to say (edited for language but otherwise sic):

"Ayn Rand is definitely extreme! She is thought provoking and that is why I enjoyed the book. I do not agree with all her ideas.

I think Atlas Shrugged is about enabling. I do not think "man" is created equal. I'm not assigning value to one life versus another, just that we all struggle and excel at different things. Some of us are more industrious than others, smarter, sacrifice today for payoff tomorrow. Nature is structured to reward this, survival of the fittest. Species need this to remain healthy. The squirrel who is to lazy to gather nuts for the winter does not need to reproduce. If his industrious squirrel buddies lend a hand and help him out, he can make that many more lazy, baby squirrels. The lazy population could grow to threaten the industrious population/the species as a whole.Feeding lazy squirrels rewards negative behavior! Reinforcing and compounding the problem by increasing the likeliness of its occurrence.

Compassion is a powerful emotion! We can not sit idly by and watch starvation when we have a surplus of our own. It is in our own best interest to help other members of the species survive. We are so hard wired for this it hurts/(messes) with our sanity to not help/contribute if we can. What is the answer? Help out and create a cycle of supporting a noncontributing, dependent population. Remain cold and heartless?"

Well, here's my response.

The "lazy squirrel" story you're telling is a myth. It's a useful set of beliefs to keep wealthy squirrels (so called "industrious squirrels") from feeling guilty about the fact that their comfortable lifestyle is enjoyed not just in the face of, but quite literally at the expense of, starving and suffering squirrels the world over. It's a justification for actively fighting and ignoring your basic squirrel compassion.

It also helps to keep poor squirrels from blaming the right squirrels for the growing wage gap, unemployment rate, and the growing rate of poverty and homelessness.

Tell squirrels that if they're poor, it means they're lazy or dull or unlucky. Tell them that if they blame the system and the "industrious squirrels" it serves, it means they're bad, lazy squirrels who don't want to take accountability for their own failure. You can get quite a few extremely poor squirrels to look to blame everyone and everything else but the "industrious squirrels" that way, because no one wants to think of themselves as lazy or whiny.

Everyone is afraid they're not good enough, not bright or pretty or lucky enough. They're afraid their inherent inferiority is the reason why their hard work hasn't brought them a comfortable lifestyle like the "industrious squirrels" have. No one wants to be a "lazy squirrel." Some squirrels work hard their whole lives, and curse luck, and curse fate, and curse themselves that they never managed to turn their hard work into enough nuts to support their family. They keep their heads down and don't complain and think to themselves, "I'm not like these other squirrels, who are *actually* lazy. I'm an industrious squirrel, and any day now, I'm going to have the nuts to prove it."

And sure, some of them look around, see how dismal the options are, recognize the sizable obstacles in the way of squirrels like them ever having a lot of nuts, and they give up and let the system take care of them. But your average "lazy squirrel" works 2-4 jobs and/or overtime just to survive, thanks to union busting, minimum wage suppression, outsourcing, administrative pay inflation, predatory lending practices, irresponsible financial management by the "industrious squirrels."

Why do we think they're "industrious" again?...Oh, right! Because they have so many nuts. Squirrels never inherit nuts, do they?...or have a crazy stroke of luck that has nothing to do with hard work?...or steal a bunch of nuts by lying to lots of squirrels about the value of their investments? (...seriously, watch "Inside Job.")

Your "lazy squirrel" story just doesn't hold up to reality, my friend. But it's a handy tale for, say, trust fund squirrels, who are invested in believing it because they didn't actually *earn* anything they have (not in the sense that a squirrel with nothing would have to earn it), don't actually work hard now, and enjoy a lifestyle that essentially kills hundreds of children every day. That sounds like hyperbole, but think about it. There aren't unlimited resources in this world, which means that any resource used in one place is not available to be used in another place. When "industrious squirrels" throw fabulous parties that cost millions of dollars, those dollars are not going into the paychecks of sweatshop workers. They're not going towards feeding the starving, healing the ill. They're not saving hundreds of squirrel families from foreclosure. They're not going to the public school systems. Those dollars will not help victims of the wars the "industrious squirrels" found ways to profit from.

There is a global cache of resources. It is not unlimited. Taking more than your fair share is not a victimless crime or people wouldn't be *starving.* But hey. You're not the bad guy, you're the industrious squirrel. Those lazy squirrels need to stop whining about how many nuts you have and get their own nuts.

A lot of "industrious squirrels" actively work to defend the squirrel myth so that all of the "lazy squirrels" won't know who to blame for the nut shortages. Without misdirection, the abuses would quickly become clear; they're not subtle, after all. I mean, Citizens United? Totally unsubtle. So they misdirect the blame.

The squirrel myth is strong. Once you already assume (subconsciously) that squirrels who don't have a ton of nuts are pretty much lazy or otherwise inadequate and unworthy, it's easy to make everyone look down on the squirrels who have less nuts than they do--and at the very bottom of the food chain you typically find the squirrels who have benefited the least from the current system (i.e. the ones who have been so screwed over by the "industrious squirrels" that they know for a FACT that the "lazy squirrel" myth is a lie.) So whoever is attuned to the myth, that is, whoever believes that squirrels should stop trying to point to injustices in the system and pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get to work, those squirrels are already oriented to dislike and distrust squirrels who have less power than they do. (And to respect and trust and feel inferior to those who have more.)

So who do the "industrious squirrels" blame for social ills? The least powerful, of course, and the easiest to mark as "different" and/or "morally inferior." Immigrants. Single mothers. Squirrels of color.

This is pretty ingenious, actually, because the ones who have been screwed over by systemic oppression are the most likely to track down the "industrious squirrels" who stole all of the nuts right from under us, and come after them. They're the most likely to have intimate knowledge of the loopholes in the system that allow for abuses. They're the most likely to call for justice. In one fell swoop, the "industrious squirrels" keep the growing "lazy squirrel" population from figuring out the cause of the nut shortage, and get them to turn against the segment of their own ranks that is most likely to catch the perpetrators and rectify the injustice.

The bottom line is, it's not okay to spend millions and millions of dollars on big adult toys and playtime and fun and pretty things while people starve and suffer, and we need to stop acting like it is. It's not just the way things are--we *create* the way things are through our actions (and inaction). Until there is enough for all, extravagance is shameful, and tasteless, and sickening.
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