I used to stand for something, but forgot what that could be… trading in my god for this one, and he signs his name with a capital G.
-Nine Inch Nails, “Capital G”
I’ve not written here in a long while for a reason. I’m trying to finish the final book of my series, a task I am failing in a most epic way. I am in a state where I can barely stand to open the file. Everything I write sounds awful to me when I reread it, so I’ve rewritten the same four or five chapters, I don’t know, ten or more times at this point. I’ve tried reading more fiction to stimulate my imagination, switching to more story-based video games and less strategy stuff, doing more yard work for exercise. I even got a new dog to replace the one who died last summer at only six years old (This wasn’t the only reason I got a new dog or even the most important one, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a factor. His name is Yoshi, by the way, and he’s wonderful). I’ve even gone back and reread the Lord of the Rings, one of my original sources of inspiration. Nothing seems to be working. So, my thinking now is maybe by writing something, anything, I’ll jog myself from my writer’s block.
I also haven’t been inspired to write about anything else. I don’t feel any need to write about the many typical subjects I enjoy, like sports, video games, music, etc. There are already so many excellent sources for those subjects, and most of them say more or less the same thing, that I don’t feel I’d be adding much by joining the chorus. If there is value in my writing, it lies in my unique perspective on life, in the oft discussed differences between myself and the vast majority of humanity. Today, I happened to be inspired by a video sent to me through email. It’s a little bit funny, a little bit angry, a little bit practical, and surprisingly enlightening. It reminds me of the comedy ranting of the late George Carlin, and the video contains a similar level of profanity, so you have been warned.
Like the aforementioned comedy of George Carlin, I find this profanity laced tirade both funny and at the same time profound. It makes one laugh, and also makes one think, and both of those things are good, and hard to accomplish.
I’ll briefly summarize for those who couldn’t take the profanity or the thick New York accent. He’s basically saying that, yes, he’s grateful for the $1200 stimulus checks, and it will help, but he’s also saying that it’s not nearly enough to keep a lot of people going. He particularly dislikes the notion of mortgage payment ‘furloughs’ which he explains are agreements to delay payment for a month, or in this case, three months. However, he points out that at the end of the three month furlough, all the money that was delayed is due at that point, immediately. The problem seems obvious to any intelligent person, and he says as much in a much more animated way. How does one who has not been paid in three months suddenly come up with three months worth of mortgage payments. This is a problem the average fifth grader could identify. It sure would be helpful if our government had some kind of, you know, plan to get people through this without massive bankruptcies, foreclosures, homelessness.
What’s funny is he’s only suggesting extending mortgages so people don’t get dumped on with several months payment due at one time. He’s not even suggesting that *gasp* the banks actually forfeit a couple months of mortgage payment income for the greater good of our nation, nevermind that’s exactly what every American under a quarantine or stay at home order is doing. He’s just asking the banks to delay payments for a while and not ask for a lump sum whenever the crisis has passed, but even that seems to be a bridge too far. God forbid the banks lose money for any reason or even *zomgz* go bankrupt. We can’t have that, now can we. It would be a travesty of epic scale. Worse than nuclear war or the zombie apocalypse. People wouldn’t know what to do. We’d all be wandering the streets in a daze because of the lack of billionaires and banks to guide us. Where would we be without mortgage based securities, amortization tables, or compound interest. Civilization would come to an end and we’d all be eating rat meat over garbage cans within three months, so whatever we do, let’s make sure the banks don’t lose money.
I have to wonder when we got to the point where we prioritized bank profits over everything else. It wasn’t in 1929, when banks were allowed to fail and many did. It certainly wasn’t in the 1933, when we passed the law that created the FDIC to ensure the savings of bank customers, not owners, would be protected if a bank failed. It wasn’t during the rest of the 1930’s, when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms focused on building up our infrastructure and putting people to work, not bank profits. It certainly wasn’t during World War II, when businesses and private citizens alike worked together and sacrificed together to win a global war. It wasn’t even like this in 1985, a time when every town had its own independent bank or credit union, and most of them were small enough nobody cared if a few stupid ones overextended themselves, and that rarely happened.
Yet, here we are, the same place we were in 2008. The government bailed out the banks, and like the spoiled children of overly permissive parents, they learned nothing. A relatively small disturbance, part of the economy, not the whole economy, shutting down for a couple months sends them to the verge of bankruptcy. We can’t possibly suggest the banks forgo a few months of profits, or even delay them. Just asking them to wait three months is nearly too great a burden to bear. Nobody outside of crazy people on the Internet (and maybe Bernie Sanders, the patron saint of crazy people on the Internet), would dare suggest that loan payments be partially forgiven.
It’s interesting that nobody in the media seems to be making suggestions like this, or pointing out problems like these. I have not heard any politician calling for anything beyond the ‘furloughs’ mentioned in this gentleman’s rather justified rant. It’s not just impossible, it’s inconceivable, and yes, unlike Vizzini I know the meaning. It means we cannot even consider the possibility. The very idea is beyond us. Our thinking is now so constrained that anything that inconveniences the moneyed elite, the multinational corporations, the wall street banks, etc. is automatically out of consideration, and the strictest taboo. Trump may sit in the White House, and he is awful in a number of obvious ways, but he doesn’t really run the country. The ugly truth that nobody can quite grasp is that nobody runs it. We are living in a version of Orwell’s 1984. Granted, it is not as nasty, or ugly, or unpleasant, as what was written. Like many if not most fiction writers, Orwell resorts to hyperbole largely to prove a point, but a gilded cage is still a cage. Like a minimum security prison, it can seem fairly comfortable by some measures. Maybe that’s why we don’t easily make such a comparison? Still, like in that book, we feel powerless, and most of us, for all intents and purposes, are powerless, because nobody runs our civilization anymore. The system runs itself, and that system is driven by a word that starts with a G. It isn’t generally capitalized, maybe because nobody likes to acknowledge how much power it has over us, but it certainly has enough influence in our world to warrant it.
The title, by the way, comes from a song of the same name and the quote is part of the chorus. It’s a mildly political song by a band called Nine Inch Nails. They are a little bit too hardcore for my tastes usually. This song was actually one of their more radio friendly hits. There’s some profanity, but if you made it through the video, this shouldn’t bother you.
There was a small controversy when the song released over what the title, “Capital G” referred to. This was during the War in Iraq when George W Bush was president, and he was (arguably) even less popular then than our current president is now, so a lot of people speculated the Capital G referred to George Bush, but the songwriter, Trent Reznor, disputed the claim at the time. No, he was referring to the real driving force of our society, something bigger and more powerful than any one man, something with as much power and influence, and many would say more influence, than God Almighty. Reznor later clarified what should have been obvious from the lyrics.
I imagine anyone who knows the song or read the lyrics knows the answer at this point. It’s obvious when you think about it. It’s one of those things that, I suspect, makes people uncomfortable to talk about because in our society, it’s inescapable. It’s one of those things about life that we don’t particularly like, but accept because we can’t change it, or at least don’t know how. That’s not all we know. We know things used to be different, better in many ways. We can’t put our finger on what changed, or why, or when, or how we got to this point in history, but we know there was a time when “Capital G” didn’t run the whole country along with most of the world and everyone in it basically unchallenged.
The answer, of course, if it must be stated outright, is Greed. What drives banks to leverage themselves so aggressively to maximize profit rather than saving for crises such as the one we now find ourselves in? What leads to market speculation that creates bubbles, crashes, corrections, and recessions? What force ensures the most unscrupulous, the most covetous individuals in society receive the greatest rewards and accolades? What drives companies to replace American workers with cheap foreign labor, or even machines? When was it that this one force became so powerful that it fairly drowns out all other concerns?
If you’re waiting for me to provide an answer, you’ll be disappointed, because I have none. I can’t escape it either. I sell compatible printer cartridges, most of which are made by factories in China, (where unions and the businesses themselves are both ultimately run by the ruling party), or other foreign nations where labor is cheap and, by extension, disposable. The printer manufacturers use similar factories to make their own nearly identical cartridge, and then mark them up many hundreds of times above what it costs to make them, using legal devices like copyrights and patents to attempt (so far unsuccessfully) to monopolize the market for consumables like ink and toner then force consumers to pay whatever they decide to charge. I often say they could put me out of business tomorrow if they simply priced their consumables at a reasonable profit margin. They won’t, though. They’ll continue to try to use various forms of suggestion, coercion, and legal tactics, to discredit and force out compatibles, and compatible makers will continue to try to outmaneuver them, and I’ll continue to buy them from cheap foreign factories. I will rationalize that I’m saving my customers money, and that’s very true. I’m not making anything close to the fortunes that HP and Canon are making. It’s a good rationalization, but it’s still a rationalization. For whatever reason, this is what we’ve come to.
We’re all guilty, and we’re all innocent, but we’re not all equally so. As Spider-Man might suggest, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s up to those who have the power to be leaders, to at least try and rise above the system. Me, I’m nobody, just another peasant. Never aspired to be much else. Like my ranting video inspiration, I won’t be giving back the $1,200 stimulus check. I’ll take whatever I can get, just like everyone else, to get by as well as I can and I’ll help my family if and when needed. Maybe people who are much better off than me should do more. Maybe the banks should voluntarily forgo a few months profit for the good of the nation, but even if they can do that without going bankrupt, they won’t. They won’t do any more than they have to, no more than the government forces them to do, and that probably won’t be much at all. After this long post, I think we all know why.
We used to stand for something, now we’re on our hands and knees…