Surviving the Money-Changers

eRobin, operating under the unlikely pseudonym ‘Lionel’ for reasons even she doesn’t understand, left this perceptive observation in Comments: ‘It’s amazing how easy it is to control the public with some confusing number talk delivered in a calm voice.’

Indeed it is.

I hate to say it but it’s particularly easy to fool us low-income folk about money because we never really had any practice with it. We get suckered into The Dream they sell us by treating everybody who doesn’t have his/her own house as somehow less than human–we all want people to think we’re human and we’ll do whatever it takes–and once we’re in they deliberately make it confusing, deliberately tell us lies they later claim they didn’t tell us, and generally treat us like marks. Most of us don’t know any better and we fall for the line and before we know it we’re up to our eyeballs in debt. At one time or another, everybody I know down here has either gone into bankruptcy or avoided it only by paying every spare penny they made and everything they could beg or borrow for a period of years to get out of it–including me. I’m not stupid but I fell for it same as everybody else, and for the same reasons–I didn’t want people to think of me as ‘poor’ and I wanted what everybody said I was supposed to want.

By the time Bush I left office, I owed almost $11,000–not a gigantic amount of money but even so it took 4 full years to pay it back. After that, I swore off credit cards and anything I couldn’t pay cash for. Well, the car is gone, my tv is secondhand, the VCR is 10 years old and I don’t have a DVD player, I buy most of my clothes at thrift shops and secondhand stores. I look OK but I look poor and I don’t give a damn any more.

And the funny thing is that I don’t miss all that junk I used to buy. I don’t miss the car, I don’t miss being able to watch television (I have one but where I live the signals from tv stations are blocked by hills and I don’t have the money to spend $60-70/month for cable), I don’t miss shopping, I don’t miss having expensive clothes and new furniture every few years and a house I have to worry about.

Part of that is that humans adjust to whatever circumstances they find themselves in, but the other part is what I’ve finally discovered–rip those things away and you find out what your life is really about. They weren’t ‘necessary’ to it, they were distractions from it. I was so focused on trying to be ‘middle-class’–or pretend I was–that I sacrificed everything i really wanted, everything I really was, for the money chase. Which never, btw, worked. The best I ever did was lower-middle-class and it was such a battle that after 5 years of it I was burnt like an old cinder.

I’ve watched a lot of us get caught like rabbits in that trap, usually when we’re young and optimistic about how much better everything is going to get.Then it doesn’t get better or it gets worse and our debts pile up and after years of them badgering us, hounding us, making us empty promises and telling us outright lies in order to trick us into buying more and more stuff, the wolves show their teeth as they land on the backs of our necks and start chewing, crying, ‘It’s not our fault–you shouldn’t have bought so much.’

So now, I don’t. So don’t a lot of others of us old enough to have been caught in the squeeze at least once. Around me I see an economy of cash and barter–an underground economy almost–that deliberately excludes credit cards. We’ll still go into debt over a house–that will be the last dream to die–but we’re buying cheaper cars, paying for them with cash or trading something else for them, buying fewer goodies and taking fewer chances than 10 years ago. Either we’re learning or the economy has gotten so bad we don’t have any choice.

I think it’s a little of both, and I find that encouraging. We’re rabbits and we make much tougher targets when we’re avoiding the wolves than when we sidle up to them all innocent and ask them if they’ll show us their molars. I’m hoping that lesson stays learnt.

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