Comparing the Elites and the Masses: A Chinese Perspective

I just got a post from the Daily Kos, which I just looked at more carefully, and noticed it was a “Classic Post” from like a year ago. I felt kind of gypped, but it’s still pretty revealing, and not merely in the way that everyone would expect.

Of course each side is looking out for their own self-interest. I mean, as one of the bottom ten percent in the US (bottom fifty percent globally) I’m all for wage fairness, narrowing the income gap, better health care and education, etc. because I basically can’t afford it. And if you’re in the top ten percent of income earners or top ten percent of the wealthiest, of course you don’t want to be taxed to death. Look on whom the government spends your money! Scum like me, essentially. I apologize that I’m not better looking.

Adam Sandler in "50 First Dates"

Adam Sandler in “50 First Dates”

Hobbit and I sometimes daydream, “What would happen if we suddenly became rich? If (miraculously) I published a book that would propel us out of impecuniosity (it’s a word, look it up) into affluence. We often fear that our values would change. I tease her that I’d buy a sports car (probably a motorcycle) and chase after (and obtain) young pretty women who of course admire me for my writing ability (and not the sudden change in my financial portfolio). She scoffs and sneers at my pipedreams. She tells me she dreams of travel and good food. Obviously Hobbit’s dreams are more realistic, prosaic, and actually obtainable. I think Hobbit also dreams of sleeping (even) more each day if that’s possible—Koala-Hobbit hybrid that she is, but that’s a post for another day.

See the resemblance?

See the resemblance?

I’d like to think that I’d use any largesse I’d gained to advocate for those progressive ideals that I value so highly, but who knows? I believe one thing: I couldn’t handle the responsibility of enormous wealth. Possessing massive wealth, it’s a full-time job guarding and perpetually trying to increase one’s dragon hoard. I would not want that job. I wonder how hard it is for regular folk who find themselves catapulted into unimaginable prosperity, people like J.K. Rowling or Bill Gates or that Facebook guy (sorry, I’m too lazy to look up his name).

That FB guy

That FB guy

I mention Rowling because once I did catch an interview with her about her abnormal and phenomenal success. She remarked that she had forgotten what the value of things were. Buying a necklace for something like $25K or $50K had no meaning any longer. She even said sometimes she could not decide if it was a reasonable purchase or not and because of that abstained from buying anything. To buy or not to buy that piece of five cent bubblegum? That is the question. She also mentioned how generous she was with donations until she realized she was getting rooked by scalawags and petty conmen. (Loathsome, right?) Now she has a professional company manage her charity because an average human being could not possibly sift through all of the human misery and chicanery and pinpoint the real from the sham. She is by all accounts a wonderful generous person who does engage in honest unselfish philanthropy (as opposed to philanthropy as a form of self-aggrandizement), exactly the kind of person you’d expect to have written those marvelous engaging accounts of Harry P and the gang. She’s not Mitt Romney in other words. (Yeah! I said it!)

In this light, I was surprised to see that 17% of the elite in the Daily Kos article actually agreed that the government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich. Seventeen percent! Almost twenty, almost a fifth. I don’t know. I was surprised by that.

As someone who does receive better than average pay (compared to the average CHINESE worker only) I often take taxis to get around. This is a source of constant and unrelenting agony and argument. Hobbit accuses me of being an Elitist for taking taxis everywhere and I accuse her of being a Peasant for insisting on taking the bus (those grotesque filthy pollution-belching monstrosities where one is manhandled like a piece of beef on sale and where one can be spat upon (albeit unintentionally) by old men with lung diseases from years of exposure to particulate matter from the coal-burning energy plants). Yes, I insist on taxis. But I do occasionally have funny or interesting conversations with the taxi drivers. Taxi drivers being a good gauge of how the masses feel about a given subject. So there is that.

Less and less have I run into the American-hater: “America is an imperialist country! America bullies China!” More often I run into the China-basher: “China is backwards. Our people are uncivilized. Our government is corrupt.” Of course being a card-carrying paranoiac, I never readily agree. He could be a government spy trying to get me to reveal my status as a US mole. Rather, I begin a lecture on history, that time is required for education to penetrate into the countryside, into the mass of people, so that they don’t expectorate mucus on your shoes (hawk up a loogie) or hurl trash from the window of speeding vehicles, with wanton abandon, onto your bare head. If the people are uncivilized, it’s mostly because they haven’t been taught differently and have been living in a system susceptible to corruption and chaos. Hard to be like the Dalai Lama when you have to elbow your way through hundreds of your brother and sister comrades in order to secure a rail ticket to visit your sick, elderly parents during Spring Festival.

The drivers shrug indicating, “maybe,” and some even wrinkle their noses in disdain and disagreement.

It’s amazing how many drivers open up to me and speak ill of their compatriots. They themselves are not erudite paragons of the educational system either. The government is feckless or worse, guilty of malfeasance. The laobaixing, the masses, are stupid and brutish. And the Elite, why, they just don’t care. When touching upon the elite, a proud light shines in their eyes. The Chinese grab onto stories of wealthy entrepreneurs and nouveau riche like a drowning man onto a lifeboat. They mythologize the newly affluent. They must have superhuman powers to have skyrocketed from the morass of crushing indigence and ignorance into the gleaming city of Asgardian opulence. They deserve their riches (while we must not). There’s not a lot of time to parse arguments on a fifteen-, twenty-minute cab ride, so I just shrug too and say “maybe,” but my nose more often than not wrinkles in disagreement.

Asgard will one day be overrun with China's nouveau riche!

Asgard will one day be overrun with China’s nouveau riche!

One thing, they always speak of their children, hoping against hope that their children will have it better. Always they touch upon the perennial theme of trying to make enough so that their only sons and daughters will have a good life. Not just a better life, but a good one. Marry well. Have a plump child, that grandson or granddaughter, their reward for working all hours of the day to give their children a better education, a chance for a better life.

I am always touched by such comments. The Chinese have this palpable and impressive and Godzilla-sized love for their children. Yeah yeah, we all love our kids (even our step-kids). But, the Chinese seem to be the outlier on this collective attribute of the walking-talking mammal. And despite being such an avowed misanthrope, I have a damnable sentimental streak that marvels at it. Still, my point here is how tough the Chinese criticize themselves in view of growing disparity between the rich and the poor and yet espouse and, I firmly believe, evince such a human and noble theme of wishing and working to obtain the best for their progeny. They will do most anything to insure the prosperity of their children.

Godzilla and his son

Godzilla and his son

American society is a bit different, a bit more like shove your kids out of the nest, and let them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Being an American, I tend to agree with this way of thinking, of parenting (leading to numerous conflicts between Hobbit and me about her son). It’s a bit Conan, I’ll admit, but my god is less the warm fuzzy Christian god (or Buddhist, if you prefer) and more like the black-maned barbarian’s deity. Crom was a god whose attention you’d best eschew lest he hurl thunderbolts or war-hammers or something at your head. Best to rely on your own strong arm and your own shaft of bloody nocked steel. Self-reliance. Toughness. That’s what’s needed. But if you’re not Conan, a kind of legendary physical phenom with uncanny wolf-like instincts that allowed him to get the upper hand on scholarly sorcerers and influential noblemen and noblewomen, if you’re like me, a ShFUBPS—short/fat/ugly/brown/poor/stupid—or worse if you ARE me…well…. Me needs all the help Me can get! I will never win my own kingdom one day, but more likely will fade into ignominious obscurity (perhaps I won’t even have the distinction of ignominy) like the other billions of talking apes in our communal past.

My favorite Frazetta painting of ALL TIME.

My favorite Frazetta painting of ALL TIME.

There's Conan and then there's me: Latin version of GC. Represent!

There’s Conan and then there’s me: Latin version of GC. Represent!

No, I need a Chinese family to back me up, prop me up, and thrust me out of poverty and into a better life. Sadly, it’s too late for that and I think deservedly so. Still, I would be better off not being fabulously rich and would much rather sink back into the collective mud of oblivion than become one of the Waltons or worse one of those egregious Koch brothers. I’m sure they would agree too.

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