My mom, who's 91, has taken to responding to any news about the economy with "I lived through one Depression, I don't want to have to live through another one." This is my mother's version of being "on edge." Another exchange we've been having on a variety of subjects since I was a kid:
Me: Don't worry about it.
Mom: I am not WORRIED!
In our family admitting you're worried about anything has always been kryptonite. You could suggest that another family member was "concerned." You could tactfully suggest that you "knew they'd been thinking" about something. But none of us was ever "worried," let alone "upset" ("I am not UPSET, you're upset!) or, heaven forbid, "mad." ("I am not MAD, etc.) "Worry" was something you did about other people but never mentioned unless frigid with fear and/or rage, as in (calmly, but shaking) "I'm WORRIED about you!"
Naturally, viewed from 100 miles up and in purely anthropoligical terms, we are the most worried, upset and mad people you'll ever want to meet. We do nothing but worry, then escalate and repeat -- our family has rarely, if ever made a rational decision about anything. But for some reason admitting to worry is a major lapse in character. It flies in the face of our image of ourselves as tough, ready for anything, our course resolutely set against the prevailing winds. Foolhardy we may be, but brave -- considering our handicaps in wealth and upbringing -- brave as can be.
This attitude plays very well for my mother. Having grown up during the Depression, she is someone who can, for example, take a patch of barren and rocky soil and bring forth food (I have the photos of our first house around 1957 to prove it, but I can't get them to embed here.) My mom can also take a pile of drapes and bring forth clothes -- nice clothes -- much like Hattie McDaniel (everybody always forgets it wasn't Scarlett who sewed that green velvet gown out of Miss Ellen's portieres, she just ordered Mammy to do it) or Julie Andrews. In fact, my mother's (self-taught) ability to sew paid the bills...in fact, it's still paying them.
She remembered the other day that she got her first Social Security card in 1936 -- that's the first year after "Roosevelt brought in the Social Security." Though of course my mother didn't spend her whole life sewing -- a skill that has devolved from necessity to honorable labor to soul destroying work that people do in sweatshops, work that now even the Chinese are "outsourcing" to places like Bangladesh -- because she was banking on Social Security. She did it because it was an alternative to "worry." She did it because she was brave. And along the way created a lot of food and flowers and clothes -- and drapes.
Lately, worry is the reason -- and seemingly an acceptable reason, a "good" reason clucked and nodded over by the pundits on their 24 hour cluckfests -- for just about everything. Call it whatever you want -- fear, uncertainty, being "upset" -- it's the undercurrent and the backbeat of everybody's excuses for all sorts of bad behaviour. The reason corporations and wealthy folks are sitting on mountains of cash instead of hiring people? Uncertainty. Someone in a Burqa gets on your plane. Don't you have a perfect right to be worried, and upset, and afraid and downright hysterical until somebody does something to get that someone who's dressed differently than you off your plane? You and your buddies blow all your money in Vegas so Steve Wynn has to fire everybody who works there in order to make you whole again...and then has to keep firing people and lowering the wages of the people who still work for him and close the schools their children go to and disable all the smoke and fire alarms and stop maintaing his buildings until you feel everyone has sacrificed enough to make you less "uncertain" about losing any more money so you'll come back and gamble again...though of course why would you want to gamble there once he's let everything go to hell in a handbasket, you might as well go to Macau, much nicer for the smartest guys in the room...wait, that wouldn't happen...
The surprising thing is that nobody seems to be at all ashamed of letting worry -- "uncertainty" -- rule their lives, tank the economy and discriminate against people who are by and large just like them. Not many of us -- certainly not the rich and mighty -- deny it or ignore it and move forward, facing into the prevailing winds. They leverage it to get more "certainty" for themselves.
I know my mom is grateful for her Social Security check, and for the pension check she earned sewing clothes for rich ladies for 30 years. I'm not sure if she feels "entitled" to those checks -- though since she's paid into them for 30 years I would imagine she feels as deserving of them as any other kind of insurance she pays for -- you wouldn't think people would begrudge her or anyone else that, would you? At age 91 you would think she might feel "entitled" to some kind of certainty, but she's got far too much sense for that -- the most you can do in her position and at her age is keep on denying you're worried about the future and find a way to keep moving forward.
The people who really feel "entitled" to certainty seem to be the people who are holding the economy and the country hostage to their own very specific uncertainty about the future. What if their huge profits, giant fortunes, 4 or 5 houses were reduced by half, what then? Once you've got something, it's hard to give it up whether you deserve it or not. Funny how that kind of hardship is okay for people who definetly have very little, but not for people who maybe have too much.
Certainty is pretty much only something you expect when you've gotten used to the game being rigged in your favor and have decided that self-evident savvy -- your ability to rig the game is what you're contributing to the whole: your example, your ability to slap your name on things which attest to your superiority, generosity even. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" aren't natural rights to be nurtured and protected. They're something you hand out or do not hand out depending upon who you think is deserving.
The kind of genuine uncertainty which frankly concerns me most is the kind that people feel when they know the game is rigged against them, when their hard work buys them no security at all and when what little security they have can be so easily taken away in the name of providing "certainty" to people who already have so much and feel so entitled to it...sometimes are even certain that G0d -- whom I am consistently surprised to find is such a micro-manager considering his vast resources -- has given them these things personally and of course, has decided that others are not so deserving.
But I am not WORRIED!