“Look to Your Betters”

This morning I was discussing rich people with my husband; specifically the rich who own and race horses.  My husband likes to bet on the ponies.  A few times a year I join him in the action.  Yesterday was “The Breeders’ Cup” where rich people bring their best horses from all over the world to try and win gobs of money and get lots of prestige in a win or two.  One rich guy rented a whole 737 to transport just one horse.  This in the same week the satraps in Congress refused to extend the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program of 2009 aka food stamps for hungry people.

In yesterday’s comments there was a link to a video called “The Four Horseman”.  In it a scholar mentions that one of the marks of the end of empire is the raising up of the chef to celebrity status.  That happened in the Roman empire.  And yesterday, as I watched chef Bobby Flay interviewed about his race horse, I commented that the end might really be nigh.  I like Bobby Flay, by the way, and use a lot of his recipes.   He’s really good at what he does and came from the working class, so I’d rather see him with a fancy schmancy horse than some rich fracking heiress.  But the whole bread and circus aspect of it coupled with poor folks betting in the hopes of sitting in the box seats is just too much for me to enjoy the day.

 My rancher husband just scratches his head at me and says he doesn’t begrudge the rich guy his money.  He said that he must deserve it or have done something right.  And here is where I let out a large moan.  “Did you get a look at some of those owners?” I said.  “Some look like old money which means that one of their ancestors was a thieving capitalist pig like JP Morgan who sold faulty guns to the Union army and others actually look like they belong to some crime organization. They are all crooks, my love.”  He sighs, “You may be right”.

 So I wake up today and read Arthur Silber’s piece on how the “rich are much much better than everyone else”, don’t you know! Well that couldn’t be a more timely piece since my husband was buying into this malarkey except for my intervention.  The rich are better and the rest of us are slugs.  This also fits neatly into a piece by Montanan Diptherio on the Hindu Caste system and why we too have one here in the U.S. http://threadingthepearls.blogspot.com/2013/11/cooperatives-counteract-contemporary.html

 “Know your place” has been around for centuries, but resurfaced with a vengeance in the last thirty years in retaliation for the upstarts of the 1960s who dared to challenge the caste system.  With it came the marketing of knowing your place by imitating your betters. So “Look to your betters” for advice on clothes, food, wine and what is newsworthy, Silber points out. Actually the clothes part is where my husband has me beat as he is certainly no fashion horse.  And most of the time he takes the news with a grain of salt, so I was surprised when even he somewhat bought into the  “rich are better” meme.   It is an insidious invention and needs to be called out. Glad Silber did just that.

I had also been thinking about “Death of a Salesman” this morning also before reading Silber’s piece.  I looked at how some of the snazzier dressed people at the Breeders’ Cup were the trainers and their wives.  I thought about how Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart, both from modest upbringings, made their fortunes by making working class people able to dress and entertain like the rich polo playing yachting class.  Then I thought of Martha’s dad who I think was a salesman.  Which got me thinking about Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece “Death of a Salesman”.  Yes for a brief time we believed that “attention must be paid” to every type of American and every type of human.  We could see the inconsistencies of capitalism and that there was something wrong with the idea of some owner being paid more than a worker and being perceived as “better”.

And why did Willy and the rest of us have to work our asses of anyway? Screw productivity.  Productivity is a weasel word for making crap for somebody who calls himself the boss.  The anthropologist David Graeber wrote recently  that it is time to talk about real freedom and not just the free market idea of freedom of choice.  It’s time to talk again about creating a system where people have real autonomy to decide what they think is most important.  Time to “renegotiate labor” and only create things that are of value to humans and their planet.  With mutual aid and more equal distribution of our wealth, out “common” wealth, we could have 4 hour labor days and 4 day weeks and maybe even 5 month vacations.  Then all of us could go to the races and attend festivals.  It is with leisure that the workers have always invented the best stuff.  They make up new dances and invent things like rock and roll and bratwurst.  Leisure should not be the sole pleasure of one class in a caste system.  Because the rich just don’t know how to really do anything worthwhile with it.

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