Homelessness & Security
For a time I worked in downtown Dallas at Urban Market, a little grocery store designed to cater to those that were expected to move downtown for all the advantages of an urban lifestyle. The housing market dropped out before construction had finished retrofitting the buildings for residences. As such, a sizable percentage of our customer base was transient, both downtown employees (mainly AT&T and the Public Library) and the homeless. One man I met started in one category and ended in another.
I'm not sure how he knew I read science fiction. One day he passed through my checkout line and said, "I know of a book of fiction that defies categorization." I responded with, "Beyond post-singularity steampunk space opera, bildungsroman revenge fantasy, set inside a Big Dumb Object?*"
He blinked twice before saying, "Oh. I see you've read it."
Afterwards, he and I would chat, mainly about science fiction and occasionally banter over politics. I learned he was working part time doing some kind of semi-physical labor, after having spent a the last twenty years or so working in the financial sector. I wasn't surprised to learn that he counted himself politically as conservative and, before his recent employment and financial misadventures, distrusted the assorted safety nets backed by progressives and attacked by conservatives. He was beginning to analyze those programs closer, this time as someone on the inside, and said he now understood why we had them. He now believed that the cost to modern society would be greater, both financial and esthetically, if we didn't have something in place.
He only came through UM for a year, and up until recently I wondered what had happened to him. Back in March I ceased wondering. He was riding the same DART bus passing through old East Dallas. his appearance was dishevelled and seemed to have some form of OCD, maybe. His hand shot up in the air as if in a wave every other street the bus passed by. I began talking to him, just to determine that it was the same man. He seemed startled to see me, or maybe embarrassed or surprised that I recognized him, but, yeah, it was the same man. And we talked, both then and the next couple of times I saw him on that bus, and I will share with you the knowledge I craved after seeing him after a year or so and seeing the changes with him. What caused his fall, I wondered. Not, how he became poor and homeless, after living a nice upper middleclass life, but, how he fell to looking as if he couldn't take care of himself. The answer falls thus...
He believed the definition and the truisms. He believed that becoming poor was a punishment, not by God, but by the Invisible Hand of the Market, and that he made the mistake that led to his fall and he couldn't be redeemed. He also believed that there would always be work, a job, something he could do to keep a roof over his head, to keep body and soul together, and since he couldn't find the job, that he fell into homeless and poverty, either the system failed or he failed, and he believed in the US, capitalism, and free enterprise. All of these equaled SECURITY!
"There is no security in this world, and only damned fools and mice think so."
Most people I know at least give lip service to those ideas. They are a modern Texas cultural shibboleth and taboo. It's how we tell members of our tribe from those who aren't, how we know who we can trust. But "poor", "rich", "USA", "capitalism", "security" all depend on the definitions given to them. Whoever controls the definitions that everyone agrees to controls how we think about them. If you invest too much of your self worth, your value, in modern day game society rules and definitions, you as well could easily fall victim to them.
There is no security, no guarantee of the value of the US dollar (or, indeed, any nation's currency), none of that. no guarantee of a "job" by the modern definition of same. Sometimes to make a little money (object of value used in trade for goods, services, or other objects of value), you have to make your own, you have to have the wit to see the opportunity, or the gift of gab to create the opportunity. But our schools do not teach any of this, instead focusing on the party line of creating cogs for the machine and that machine will not last forever.
All too often I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness for saying this, and concerned that I appear to be Loughner style insane to most of you.
*Karl Schoeder's Sun of Suns. Good book. Read it.