Thoughts of the 99th Percent, or Rich People Aren’t So Scary

I think I’ve finally got my head wrapped around how I feel about the Occupy movement.  It’s fairly straightforward, but I’m going to wax on a bit anyway.

I’m not afraid of rich people.  I’m not angry at rich people.  I do not care that I’m in the 99th percentile for income, and would have to more than double my income to hit the next tier.  I lack fiscal agoraphobia, so seeing how very far away the ceiling is doesn’t phase me.  My problem with wealth distribution in this country is not that some people have way too much.  I’m a materialist; I like things.  I wouldn’t mind having way too much.  My problem is something else entirely.

I’m frightened of poor people.

Oakland, specifically, terrifies me.  Not because poor people are bad, or evil, or inherently any one thing.  Poor people, like people who aren’t poor, run the whole gamut of character traits, talents, values and priorities.  The only thing you can say about poor people, as a category, is that they’re poor.  They have less to lose than I do.  They have less reason to be invested in society, less reason to value their community, less inherent risk for anti-social behavior.  I’m not going to smash windows and loot things just because I’m angry. I can probably buy the things I’d want to steal, probably enjoy the store the windows belong to, so the risk of jail is not remotely worth it.  The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work out that way for somebody with little, or nothing.  And that’s why poor people are scary; sometimes it makes sense for them to break stuff and I can’t blame them.

The 2010 poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,314.  That’s about what I was salaried at for my first real job, when I was 16.  Sixteen.  The official poverty rate for 2010 was 15.1 percent.  Or 46.5 million people.  At sixteen, I was doing better than 46.5 million people.  Keep that in mind for a bit.

After the first police raid in Oakland, there was a lot of, “Well, you know, Oakland.  They riot over the drop of a hat.”  Well, you know, Oakland.  I would, too.  Their community doesn’t work.  Their social structures are at war with them.  What’s to value?  The fact that the vast majority of the violence has been police-on-protester has me wondering how on Earth somebody boxed up Madison’s reality distortion field and smuggled it across the country.

I cannot figure out why anybody thinks teargassing a mob of people with nothing to lose is a good idea.  Between that and things like this, I vaguely want to run through the streets screaming, “Jesus Christ, do you know nothing about the French revolution?  Why are you taunting the angry masses?”

My home has been burgled twice in the last five years.  My roommate’s car has been broken into.  There are more bums in downtown Madison than there were when I moved here.  Every time I go back to my old stomping grounds in Chicago, where I knew all the regular homeless people and panhandlers on sight, there are more and more new faces.  They’re younger.  They don’t look like drunks and addicts, yet.

Having a class of people for whom society doesn’t work is already having a negative impact on my quality of life.  I understand the apparent pettiness of this particular whine, but think about it.  Being a bum sucks.  This is patently obvious and nobody is going to disagree with that.  But nobody but the bums care about the life of a bum.  Being in a society that breeds bums sucks for everybody, because while being a bum sucks, the problems entangled in the existence of bums suck for everybody.

Having super rich people over me isn’t scary, and I don’t buy that it is inherently harmful to me.*  But having super poor people under me gets me nothing, and takes away a lot in terms of personal security and quality of life.  Not to mention that while I don’t feel faint while look up at the ceiling, it’s a whole other story when I stare down into a yawning pit below.  Safety net, please.  I’m just a tad nervous about falling, and the hands reaching up for me are disconcerting.

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