Monday, January 3, 2011

America's Stockholm Syndrome

A question commonly pondered among my friends is, “Why do so many people in southwest Missouri, whom we know are not wealthy, so strongly support a system that shifts what little wealth they have to people who already have a lot more?”

One person might answer. “It’s because they don’t understand. Every time somebody says ‘taxes’ they are conditioned to say ‘evil’. Every time somebody says ‘liberal’ they are conditioned to say ‘taxes’. Ultimately, then, when somebody says tax the wealthy, they think – tax equals liberal equals evil.”

Another might say, “It’s because they are conditioned not to analyze things. They believe their duty is to get in line and not ask questions.”

Others think that as long as the nation is happy with its TV, couch and car there is little incentive to change.

Bob Burnett, a writer from Berkeley, CA, recently published an article (OpEdNews 12/28/10) that offered a very interesting theory on the question. He began with a famous old Groucho Marx story about a man who goes to a psychiatrist to ask what he can do for his brother who thinks he’s a chicken. The psychiatrist said, “Why don’t you just tell him the truth?” “I would,” the man replied, “but we need the eggs.”

America’s problem, Burnett asserts, is that we are all convinced that we need the eggs the top 1% supposedly lay for us, so we are willing to follow the right wing line and give them all the tax breaks they need. The problem, though, is that someone saying he’s a chicken doesn’t mean he’ll ever lay any eggs.

Take a good hard look. When was the last time that tax break laid any beneficial eggs for us? Did the tax break they’ve had for ten years keep us in jobs or help keep the deficit down?

Burnett likens the situation to Stockholm Syndrome, a condition by which hostages come to admire their captors and adopt their point of view. “Government is the problem” has been hammered into our heads so well and often that even the poor have come to believe their best interest is in a rich man’s pocketbook, but does the ability of the rich to buy luxury items really enrich the rest of us? Too many of us seem to believe that their lives won’t be as good if Donald Trump can’t have all the yachts he wants. Too many seem to believe that if they just hold their mouth right they might get to have all they want, too.

As Burnett asserts, “Not only are we not angry at the rich, we want to be like them!”

But that’s where the line gets drawn. I don’t want to be like them, and neither do most of the “evil” liberals I know. We want to live comfortably in a world where each of us strives to ensure that neither he nor his neighbor is deprived of work, shelter, health care or dignity. How evil we must be.