Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vessels and Vessels

 All metaphors eventually leak. They leak when we use them beyond their capacity to describe the reality to which they've introduced us.

 Last week I wrote to the parish I serve about the connectedness of our Outreach Committee's giving. I bragged 10% of our budget is spent on outreach and I celebrated that each ministry we support has a connection to us.

 Later that day I saw some fairly recent data on how the average American's income compares to the incomes of all the others inhabiting "this fragile, our island home."

 This was the most impressive piece of what I read and shared on Facebook. Those of us with incomes at or above $50,000 are in the top 1% in the world. 

 This hits in an interesting way because our own current U.S. political news has repeatedly named the "1%" as being a socioeconomic group that doesn't include me or most of those I call "us."

 It is a matter of perspective.

 And here's the rub; ours is the perspective that needs addressing just as much or more than the view held by the American 1%. But they are "on top" of us and everyone else on the planet and so do not have the luxury of thinking that someone above them is preventing some positive outcome meant for them.

 I do not say this to vilify them. Granted many of them are fairly recent new-comers to that "club." Some have moved into membership by way of modern legislation to help "the economy" using economic theories known best by metaphors like "trickle-down" or "rising tide."

 Nonetheless, they are not compelled to consider a complicity of which they could claim to have been ignorant.  I am.

 They have known where they stand in the stratified world of incomes ever since they arrived. We are the ones who can rightly claim surprise at the Credit Suisse report.  We are the ones who can say we thought the changes were going to benefit everyone.  That's how "trickle down" and "rising tide" were portrayed to us.

 But we can't stop there. As disappointed as we may be in our current state we cannot deny that it could be worse and it IS worse for most of the planet already.

 Making our situation even more difficult to acknowledge is the way in which the newest members of the 1% came to their positions.  Some knew ahead of time, some were the ones who sold the metaphors, but all advanced when what we described with those unfortunate metaphors allowed practices and gained results the metaphors failed to describe.

 "Trickle down" failed by not identifying the "vessels" first to receive the inflows made by reducing taxes "at the top." The metaphor works if those at the top retained the same amounts and allowed what first flowed to them to actually trickle-down.

 Some saw that the opening the tax changes created would just as much provide the moment and the means to increase the size of the vessels -- cisterns? -- at the top of the flow.

 Rising tide was also a lie.  It led us to believe all our vessels -- the boat kind -- were free to float.  It did not accurately describe the mooring and anchorage of poverty or the dangers inherent when one's vessel is the smallest or most porous in the harbor.

 So what do we do now that those above us have carved out a space distancing even us from those below with benefits so little that we enjoy less or at least no more discretion over our expenses than before the tide supposedly rose?

 So much income has been redistributed to the top, the majority of us can no longer consume enough thus to rise the tide and stimulate the economy like in the good old days before these bad vessel metaphors.  

 Some could say we are complicit in our ignorance and that even though surprised we bear a responsibility to turn and face those below us and do more than cry "it's not my fault" or "we're doing the best we can."

 Again not vilify but to clarify: doesn't the response we are being called to make include addressing the realities our metaphors hid regardless of who is responsible for the hiding?

 Only some, say .001%(?) really are to blame.  But aren't all of us in the world's 1% living at someone else's expense whether we were fooled into it or not?

No comments: