(This is long, but don't worry. I get to why the government shutdown is my fault).
Around thirty years ago now, I first discovered the works of Ayn Rand. Like most people who read her stuff, I started with the Fountainhead, and then dizzy from what was to me a new set of ideas about the world, I gulped down all of the rest of her fiction as fast as I could find and get my hand on it.
I've always been a junk food junkie. A day without chocolate is a day without happiness. A good vampire romance is always in order (a bad one will do in a pinch). Three pretty cheap cotton blouses are better (sometimes) than one high quality linen one. And at seventeen I was smarter than the average bear. I thought I was smarter than anyone I knew, but the truth is that I have several friends from that era that are probably smarter.
When Ayn Rand served up Objectivism to me on a silver platter, I gulped it down. By the time I was twenty I had probably read Atlas Shrugged over a dozen times. Including the totally story killing epic speech towards the end. I sometimes read just the speech.
Like chocolate, like vampire romance, like cheap cotton blouses, I simply couldn't resist. Here was a great big ball of philosophy that said that it was okay that I was smarter than everyone else, and that they all had to cater to me because of it.
You see, I grew up in a family where intelligence was not exactly valued, and traditional gender roles were valued. As a blazingly curious and intelligent girl for whom schools had to order special materials, I was pretty clearly a mold breaker. I thought Harrison Bergeron was the most amazing story ever. I read Flowers for Algernon and cried like my heart would break. In my fantasies, I was every one of Robert Heinlein's many beautiful, intelligent heroines.
I graduated from high school smack dab in the middle of the Reagan years. I saw no reason to vote until Bill Clinton was running, because “we” were winning, and when I did vote in 1992, I was one of those third party voters who “ruined everything”. In the interim I was married, had a baby, divorced, and survived and went to school by using food stamps, WIC and Medicaid (and for one brief, memorable month in 1990, cash assistance). You would think that I would feel guilty about using government programs but I (like Ayn Rand, unknown to me at the time) justified my usage of those programs in terms of being different, special, and entitled.
I again DIDN'T vote for Clinton in 1996 (again voting third party), but in the meantime I had moved and formed the relationship that would become my second, current, and final marriage. I had finished college with a degree in History (after becoming disgusted with the field of Education) and had fallen into a job that I ended up loving, working as a direct care staff person for people with developmental disabilities.
After college, I became a supervisor of direct care staff. An image kept floating through my mind, of the woman in one of Rand's books (I think it's The Fountainhead) who is dating (I think – it has been fifteen years since I've read any of her books, and I'd like to keep it that way) one of her cartoonishly evil bad guys for awhile, who was a social worker and was dour and unhappy.
Rand's explanation for this is that helping others is unnatural for people and doing so as a profession leads to misery. Yes, I'm oversimplifying. Yes, she would agree in aggregate with that statement.
By 1997 I was on the internet through a new job in a mutual fund company, one at which I was very good and was promoted four times in six years. And a job which I hated. By 1999 I had discovered alt.callahans, a pleasant little Place where people had rollicking good fights about all the good stuff (religion, politics, philosophy, art, puns) and shook hands afterwards.
The Place was simply infested with liberals. Keep in mind, I had not allowed myself to think too deeply about those bothersome premises in Rand's work and was still writing approving screeds about eliminating food stamps, the very same program that had allowed me to finish college and rapidly “pay back society” for my existence. And twenty years of budget cuts and re-prioritizing of government programs hadn't affected me any, except as it affected a couple of the 'marginally disabled' people I worked with who lost their benefits.
I had finished college before the cost of college began skyrocketing. I was working a job that allowed me to put a little money back every month and live comfortably, even with two children (one now in diapers). My health care (get this!) for a family of four cost only $50 per month, subsidized by my employer, and the total cost of my second pregnancy to me was $10. I got married, saved up and bought a house, and for a couple of years sent my oldest son to private school, before I decided it wasn't a good return on the investment.
I was a healthy twenty- and thirty- something woman with an amazing case of cognitive dissonance. Remember that Place on the internet? I would come home and tie up the phone lines (remember dial up? I do!) for hours having conversations and arguments there, defending my heroine fiercely, parroting her words and truly believing I was having original thoughts. But that infestation of liberals had an affect on me. I started questioning the premises.
I started with the one that I was special, different, superior to everyone else. It took years for my brain to catch up with what my heart already knew: That we all try our hardest in life, and whether we succeed or not, we are all equally valuable in terms of right to life and dignity, whether or not, at that or any point in our lives, we were able to provide a monetary value to the world.
I learned this from a huge young disabled man who was thrilled to have a 'worker' who treated him like he could learn things. I learned this from a disabled couple who overcame mutism, chronic disease, and gender identity issues to have a lasting and surpassing love. I learned this from three young men, two of whom had made horrifying and damaging mistakes in their lives, and one of whom took the blame for someone else's mistake, and yet formed fast friendships, learned from those mistakes, and build meaningful lives. I learned this from answering the phone and shareholder questions day after day, year after year, and hating the meaninglessness of the work and finding myself wondering why I was getting paid more to look after someone's money than someone's daughter or son.
In 2003 I had the second major accident in my life, the first being in 1987, when I was kicked in the head by a horse and ended up in ICU for three days (for which that eevil gubmint paid, by the way, as I was waiting tables at the time and had no insurance). This accident, a young woman pulled out in front of me when I had right of way, and totaled both cars. I had significant neck and back pain from the accident, pain that caused me to use FMLA on an intermittent basis as I went through physical therapy and pain management to “find a new normal”.
After three months of missing a substantial amount of work, the most time off I'd had since being on bed rest during the last months of my pregnancy with my youngest son, I realized how much I hated my job and wanted to do something different. My first thought was to return to my first love, teaching. The Kansas City school district had at that time a Fellowship program that would allow talented people who were interested in teaching to earn their Masters degree in Education while going to UMKC to earn their Master's Degree.
Unfortunately, my old hubris reared its ugly head and I under prepared for my demonstration lesson plan, and didn't make the cut. After pouting (I do that), I reviewed my life and realized I was happiest when working with people with developmental disabilities, so I applied to the Masters of Social Work program at UMKC, in that year still a newly accredited program and in fierce competition with its cross border rival KU for good candidates.
I waited for a response, and waited, and waited. One and a half weeks before the semester started, I called the department head and asked why I'd never heard anything back. She was startled. She'd sent me an email weeks ago. Of course. There it was, thoroughly caught in my spam filter. I quit my job without the requisite two weeks notice, figuring I'd never want to go back. I was right.
So, now I'm a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I provide therapy to people with and without insurance, with Medicaid and Medicare. I run my own business. I pay my taxes. I raised my kids to be decent citizens. How is this shutdown my fault?
Well, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a pretty good writer. And I write a lot. And back in those days, I papered the web with libertarian articles about the evils of government, written from premises I no longer believe, and incorporating both devastating logic, and just the right amount of emotional appeal to the 'better sort of person' to get people moving.
In other words, I was selling the shit the right wing is slinging decades ago. Some of those guys probably sucked it from my teats. I was that eager, bright kid with ambition and talent who set out to prove that government wasn't necessary – and I did it very well. Of COURSE I didn't do it by myself. I'm not delusional. I know I'm only a small fish in a big ocean.
But I was one of a pretty fierce school of fish, and I was a pretty determined swimmer. I poured poison in the well, along with others who did the same. I cast doubt on the very notion of good government. I didn't seek middle grounds and I was proudly anti-compromise. I did my dangedest to sway others to my point of view, with some success.
And it was this poison that we put in the well, the idea that compromise is weakness, that government “can't do anything right” because, like the people that form it, it's not perfect that have led us to this point. You can't have an effective government when a portion of it doesn't believe in government and is actively trying to destroy it.
You can't have an effective democratic republic when a portion of it considers compromise not only to be weakness, but to be actively evil. And that's what we have now, an entire generation that listened to people like me on the web, in the media, on the radio, and in their churches, people who said they were special and different than their neighbors, that they deserved more than their neighbors did and that (whether or not they had yet done it) they would be the movers and shakers.
They bought the idea of freedom without responsibility, individuality without community, and prosperity without government hook, line and sinker. They never realized, as they were spreading this lie, that they were being taken for saps, as I didn't. They never examined those premises close enough to realize that the Randian paradise that was being planned did not include them.
They never realized that their action was not only destroying their neighbors security and prosperity, but their own as well. Economics and politics are hard sciences. The preference is to use numbers to describe patterns, but many economists forget that their assumptions, like Rand's, leave out the human animal or idealize it beyond recognition.
Using the Platonic ideal of Man has gotten us such boondoggles as Marxism and the Bubble of the early 2000s. Assumptions that Man always acts on (or even knows!) his rational interest ignore great swaths of empirical evidence. And here we are now, with a small group of Republicans, mostly freshmen Congressmen, making kindling out of the bones of our country.
Still confident in that idea that they are a different, superior breed of human, they cannot see the conflagration they are building. Still swallowing invalid assumptions about the perfection of (some) humans and the ability of (enough) humans to make rational choices without a governmental structure that is designed to look at the long term and at the needs of the least powerful of its citizens, they are marching gleefully into the flames, taking us with them.
And on the 17th of October, 2013, things are going to get much, much worse than government shutdown, when the United States, the largest and wealthiest democracy on the planet, defaults on its debts due to a manufactured crisis pushed by that aforementioned cabal of True Believers.
I can't emphasize enough that this is not “politics as usual” and “both sides” are NOT “equally guilty”. This is a deliberate dismantling of the engine of government – without any plan to replace it in any real way. It is a catastrophe unraveling in slow motion and starting to roll down the hill, picking up speed as it gathers more and more consequences to itself.
As Neimoller famously noted, if we wait until its our turn to feel the effects of this government shutdown catastrophe, there may be no one left to save us. First the elderly and poor and disabled, the single mothers with their infants and children, the veterans injured in our endless wars. Then the minimum wage workers, the tradesmen squeaking by and working hard, wrecking their bodies in the process. The middle class in its vise grip as it watches the ground fall out from the edges of its once wide plateau will begin kicking and clawing for the base of the pyramid of wealth at the center of that plateau, not caring who gets kicked off, so long as its not them.
Inevitably, finally even the one percent will find their world crumbling as the broad societal structures that supports it decay and die. The four horseman are waiting in their stables, ready to unleash the superbugs, the world killer pollution, the radiation from improperly maintained nuclear facilites, the starvation from fields devastated by too much or too little rain, changing climate with no mercy for those glorified apes that changed it. Yeah, its time to stop this shit.
Actually, it was time yesterday, or the day before. But if we can thoroughly and completely rout not only the small cabal holding the House hostage, but their puppet masters in the corporate world, and the ideas that have been serving like a pretty curtain hiding the final act. I caused this, and you, and anyone else who didn't take the time and energy to figure out how messed up those premises were and didn't fight for a better world for all of us, and not just those of us who can afford the freight.
We let this happen, and we can turn it around. Start pushing.