THE WEEK IN GREED #1: The Quality of Owning

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Because of flaws in my character that I am helpless to correct, I spent some minutes last week watching a clip on the BDM[1] of folks cheering the eventual Republican nominee for President, Willard Mitt Romney. Romney had just won another primary. The crowd began chanting Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! I wondered if they felt self-conscious, like extras on a movie set. Or whether some of them felt a spontaneous sense of joy and urgency about Mitt Romney and what that would be like. When the ancients speak of “spiritual dislocation” is this what they mean?

That sounds cruel, but I don’t want to be cruel. There’s enough of that in the cultural bloodstream. I’m genuinely curious. So if any Mitt Romney supporters read this I’d love to hear what it feels like for you, especially if you’ve ever chanted Mitt.

I myself sort of feel for Romney. He keeps having to claim it wasn’t his idea to run for President over and over, which sounds disingenuous, and not just because Romney lacks the gift of sounding genuine. Consider his biography. He was born into tremendous wealth and ambition. His father was Governor of Michigan and ran for President. His mother ran for Senate. It’s not exactly subtle.

Mostly, when I see Romney, I think about this passage from The Grapes of Wrath:

“If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into ‘I,’ and cuts you off forever from the ‘we’.”

***

I think about this insight not just in relation to Romney, but in relation to the manner in which we, as a people, think about and discuss politics.

There is almost no explicit discussion of governance, of the policies advocated by the candidates in question and the practical implications of those policies upon what the Founding Fathers (and later Steinbeck) referred to as the we. Politics, in other words, has become divorced from morality.

It’s become fashionable to blame this on the “media.” But our Fourth Estate, with a few exceptions[2], operates not at the behest of a creed or corporate sponsor, but simply by the rules of late-model capitalism: to mint profit. If they treat politics as a form of athletic combat, focusing on the polls score and trash talk, if they maroon their coverage a sea of celebrity gossip, it is only because we pay them to do so. They are merely the lens through which we choose to gaze.

***

So that’s what the WiG (The Week in Greed) is up against: our own willingness to think like owners, to be frozen into a suicidal self-regard, to ignore the moral outcomes of our electoral decisions.

It will also endeavor to cut through some of the more egregious bullshit that passes for coverage. Yes, I’m going to have to listen to NPR. (But only in the car, honest!)

A few days ago, for example, on Talk of the Nation, the host asked why the Republican candidates who stood no chance of winning the nomination were staying in the race. The expert panel droned politely. Nobody mentioned that running for President has become a lucrative job for political wash-ups, or that presidential candidates are, almost by definition, monsters of narcissism.

***

A few obvious questions:

*Will WiG (The Week in Greed) be following the campaigns on, like, a bus or something?

No. Current funding levels do not accommodate such coverage. Nor would I seek to compete with professionals such as David Foster Wallace or Stephen Elliott. This is more like an armchair psychoanalysis of the process.

*So you won’t have any “access” to the candidates?

No. But I would argue that the candidates, in an existential sense, have no access to themselves. I will therefore, on occasion, fabricate interviews with them.

*Will the WiG be related to the various Rumpus lamentations?

Only in the sense that they come from the same HQ of despair.

*But won’t the WiG have a liberal bias?

It will have a bias against greed, self-deception, disregard for the truth, and the more poignant instances of projection. Plenty of liberals indulge in these vices. I’m one of them.

*Can I send hate mail?

Totally. Direct vitriol to stevealmondjoy AT gmail.com.

*Will you be writing stoned?

Yes.

***

What else?

From time to time I will print items that strike me as particularly revealing of the current cultural climate. Here is an example. It is a letter to the editor by a man named John Anthony that appeared in Metro, the free daily distributed around subway stations in various major American cities.

Obama must be a sociopath

In my opinion, Obama is steeped in a repressed anger stemming from his dysfunctional childhood that was forged in the flames of elitist, anarchical and militant ideologies and manifested in a thirst for control and revenge. Look up “antisocial personality disorder” – I strongly believe we have elected a full-blown sociopath to the presidency. His polished charm, fluid deception, Olympian conceit, pedantic admonishings, fragile ego and rat-quick temper are signs of a seriously disturbed man. In this light, his actions are understandable, even logical. He’s angry and now he’s getting even.

The letter is dated April 10, 2009. That is, three months after Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

***

Something tells me Mr. John Anthony was not one of those folks chanting Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! a few days ago. (I see him more as a Ron Paul guy.) But he’s just as American as the rest of us. He’s part of the we.

Next stop: South Carolina, birthplace of the war of Northern Aggression.


[1] Broken Dream Machine aka “The Internet”

[2]Fox News pushes corporate interests that mimic the Republican agenda. But its content is essentially psychological. It’s Sesame Street for the aggrieved. It works because there are millions of aging white people in this country who enjoy feeling ripped off.


Steve Almond's new book Against Football will be out just in time for the NFL season. Gulp. More from this author →