Saturday, February 13

Out of the Mouths of 87 Year-Olds

Mehdi Hasan:  "So, you're an optomist about the future?"

Noam Chomsky: "Look, you have two choices. You can say I'm a pessimist. Nothing's gonna work.  I'm giving up.  I'll help ensure that the worst will happen. Or, you can grasp on to the opportunities that do exist, the rays of hope that exist, and say well maybe we can make a better world.  Not much of a choice."

- Noam Chomsky interview, January 30, 2016, by Al Jezeera English

You may have to pump up the volume to hear Chomsky in this interview, and the slight strain is definitely worth the effort.  He has been a consistent voice for change throughout his long career as a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, logician, social critic, and political activist.  As a proponent of direct democracy, oriented toward the worker, he is considered by many as America's counterculture icon, and at 87, a dying breed of game changers. I agree 100% with his view that our only choice for survival is to make things better - for everyone, not just a select few.

A few years ago, I observed an acquaintance at his 65th birthday party.  For the first time in years, he looked forward to getting a medical check up, even if it turned up an ailment that needed to be fixed.  I recalled that he had been "retired" from his last job and had been "freelancing" ever since then.  Gainful employment is hard to find for anyone let alone a 60+ year old with a high school diploma.  He and his family called this celebration his Medicare Party.  He could now get government funded medical care, and just in the knick of time before everyone's savings were gone.

He had been in real estate sales, basically self-employed, and like most commissioned workers, he resented tax-and-spend Democrats. He voted Republican, working to save America from a government that wasted its capital on the lazy poor, the foolish elderly, the self destructive minorities, the baby killers. He even campaigned with his fellow realtors for both Bushes. He liked to provoke the two oldster, liberals in his sales office and debate the merits of social security and medicare with them. Both of them had spouses that collected fat paychecks and benefit packages so making a sale and then having taxes taken out did not infuriate them like it did everyone else.  They could afford to believe the hippie commune propaganda that Americans need to care for the less fortunate.

In 2008, the housing market died and he limped along, scrapping for financing, trying to flip a house or two on the side and going in the hole year after year.  He tried to sell insurance and that worked for a a couple of years and then he was offered early retirement two years before his sixty-fifth birthday, an offer he couldn't refuse.  Even then, he held on to the Republican ideology of cutting taxes, eliminating social security, getting rid of medicare, "thinning the herd" he used to call it. He continued to vote Republican because he couldn't stomach the opposition's acceptance of abortion and gay marriage.

"If it's every man, woman and child for himself in your Republican world, why do you care about individuals choosing abortion or gay marriage?" asked his mystified kids.  They had been helping out Dad financially for years now and suffered the consequences of Republican tax cuts and shredded safety nets that were designed to ease the burden for the middle class. They were working twelve hour days, having stay-cations, foregoing that new car, staying afloat by doing more with less. They understood that every citizen is vulnerable and community is needed to help the vulnerable.  They could not understand how a man, struggling to survive would revile the idea and reality of assistance.  

"You can't afford to be Republican," his daughter pointed out.  "People your age need government assistance otherwise your whole family will go broke.  Don't forget, you paid for social security and medicare when you were working.  We pay for it too.  These are not government handouts, Dad.  They are good programs that the people asked the government to put together to help out."        

Like a miracle, my acquaintance has grown more "liberal" as he gets older. He now begins political conversations with rages against those "tea party" destroyers who want to take away his Medicare and reduce his Social Security benefits and what about a freakin minimum wage for people trying to support their families.

I now realize that everyone becomes a Democrat once they collect Social Security and Medicare. Too bad these same "sink or swim" people don't realize sooner that we are all in this leaky lifeboat together and that we need to take care of ourselves and others in order to survive.  We really do not have a choice.