The young man sitting in front of me reclined his seat with such force I nearly lost my teeth. When I asked him very politely to recline gently, he refused. He told me that he could not think of any reason why he should.
Now, had this been Delta I would have expected such rudeness but Virgin America? No, not here, not on my countryman Richard Branson’s airline.
It is exactly this attitude of entitlement that has turned the great United States into a third world nation run by arrogant, corrupt, entitled politicians/bankers with little consideration for each other or anyone else. The attitude of indifference politicians have for the people percolates throughout the nation.
The man who rammed his seat into me might have said, very simply, “Oh I’m sorry, I should have considered that.“
All would have been well.
That’s what we would have done. The British. We apologize immediately when we know we are wrong. This young, foolish man decided, at the point of enquiry, to attack me. A very silly thing to do as I am now jamming my knees into the back of his seat.
There is a notion that any apology, owning up, making amends etc. is a sign of weakness and it pervades American culture. The stress this self-righteousness causes and ignorance it generates shortens lives (Americans statistically live less years than anywhere else in the developed world). It keeps them poor and makes people across the world uniformly hate them.
I moved to the USA for a reason-I believed that one could be truly free. Sadly, I don’t believe that any more. What changed my mind? Hurricane Katrina changed my mind when I heard how folks treated one another-the government ignoring the devastation. The Bailout changed my mind when I saw that the Wall Street elite would never be punished for their mindless avarice but instead became richer and more entrenched. Lastly, the attitude of those around me who blame the unemployed for unemployment, the homeless for being homeless, who don’t see the benefits of socialized medicine, who ignore how many children are being killed not only in places like Afghanistan but also in their own country due to poor health care and nutrition.
The young man sitting in the seat in front of me had no idea that he represents to me everything that is bad about this great country. That he would inspire an essay that will ultimately embrace the socialist thinkers of my youth.
I am proud to come from a country that may (or may not) pay higher taxes yet one can get free healthcare, an education and rely on those about you to give a damn.
What happened to America? What happened to the America I aspired to? Did it even ever exist? Was the Brady Bunch a myth?
It breaks my heart to see that today whole families are now in homeless shelters. The soup lines of the 1930’s have been replaced with food stamps. The evidence of extreme poverty is merely disguised. Even my Russian taxi driver noted just how many homeless people there were on the streets of LA-yet, even here amongst the homeless exists a dumbfounding arrogance.
A friend of mine devoted his holiday to helping the homeless by working a homeless shelter and delivering blankets to those who lived on the streets. He reported that occasionally the poor would throw back the blankets and demand money, they would say, “We don’t want blankets, we want money.” The same people would insult and degrade the people who doled out free food.
Poverty and homelessness does not necessarily engender humility. Why should it? Perhaps when a man loses everything he only then begins to fight for his life. I imagined, incorrectly as it turns out, that there was a community of homeless on skid row helping one another to survive. Just as I naively thought that there would be a community of actors helping each other in Hollywood.
Hasn’t history taught us that when we work together we can overcome adversity? Ah, history-another American casualty.
I have, of late, started to think of myself as an old fashioned socialist. Like Michael Foot or Tony Benn. I have been remembering their rhetoric and rereading what they believed. I read and I believe Tony Benn. I trust him.
Five questions Benn insists should be asked of any powerful person: What power have you got? Where did you get it? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?
I remember when I was 13 years old my stepfather mocking a badge I wore that said solidarity with the miners. He accused me of not knowing what the badge really meant. He was right, I didn’t really know. I wanted to know. All I knew absolutely was that there seemed to be some unfairness in the world and it needed to be addressed. I saw that there were people, unlike my stepfather, who refused to believe in absolutes, who understood the world to be more convoluted, complicated, chaotic than I had been taught.
So, my solar energy investment is just not an investment in me but in the planet. The goats eating the brush for the well-being of the environment. Pumping spring water into the vegetable garden to benefit us all.
The psyche of the British has been unmistakably molded by years of thrift after the Second World War. We have a desire to make do and mend, to bargain hunt, to work an allotment, restraint. Frugality is still perceived as a virtue.
The people of Great Britain, France and Germany all live with elements of socialism that run hand in hand with capitalism. I can assure you that the sort of socialism we in Europe live with works.
What in capitalism is ever ‘too big to fail’? When did it become ‘socialist’ to care about our fellow man?
In a country that routinely says it devotes itself to Jesus where is that Christian teaching evident?
The airplane is getting bumpy and hopefully the silly boy in front of me will have gone to sleep. I am going to forgive him. That’s what I do-I forgive. I can’t imagine him being able to do the same any time soon.