Last night I babysat my friend’s daughters for a couple of hours. They’re 3 and 5 and they were fine. We had supper, we chitchatted, and they watched some Angelina Ballerina while I endured being in the same room as some Angelina Ballerina. Afterwards they fussed about bedtime, as little kids do, but they went. No problem.
The only dustup came when it was time to feed their dog. They suddenly decided they both wanted to do this and when the little one beat the older one to it, the older one yelled and cried. I reached into myself and found the parenting spark within, comforting the older one by saying, “Oh for goodness’ sake, this is not worth crying about.” Somehow she didn’t see reason here and continued to be upset for a few minutes. The younger one, seemingly sort of upset on her sister’s behalf, then said, “It’s just putting food in the bowl, it’s not even that fun.” I again pulled out my parenting skills to say, “And yet, you were ready to scream about it too. One way or another one of you was going to scream over putting dog food in a bowl.” Thankfully, they both found this funny and that was the end of that.
It reminded me of a scene from the show Louie, starring comedian Louis CK, which we’ve watched a few seasons of. It’s a great show, full of humor and pathos and embarrassing moments and little gems. In the scene I was reminded of, Louis is dealing with a similar moment, in which one of his daughters got a “mango popsicle” and the other one didn’t, because there’s only one. Here’s a lousy video of the scene:
Louis’ lesson ends with this, which recently showed up in Tumblr’s favorite format, the animated gif with subtitles:
I reblogged that because I understand the sentiment with which it’s intended and like that, but then I realized no, that’s not always correct.
Yes, life isn’t fair. Yes, sometimes someone gets a mango popsicle and you don’t or someone feeds the dog twice in a day and you don’t get to do it at all or whatever, and you just have to suck it up and move on. But there is definitely a time when you look into your neighbor’s bowl and complain if they have more, and that’s if you have none and have been told — by them, probably — that there isn’t any to be had and you just need to do without, despite their heaping bowlful.
That’s the state we’re in with bullshit austerity policies and a “post-employment” economy. There’s a small group of people who have spent the last couple of decades rigging the game for themselves, taking all there is to take, and leaving only scraps behind. Even when they screwed up and needed to be bailed out, the responsibility was not on them, but on the rest of us, to make sure they didn’t have to suffer for their mistakes. That was a little embarrassing for them, to be sure, but they’ve dusted themselves off and are back to telling us that they deserve it all because they work ever so hard, unlike those parasites who are unemployed because 2,000 jobs were cut in one day and the lucky remaining few workers were told they just need to work harder and longer now.
And those same “lucky” ones love the idea that you don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl except to make sure they have enough because they’re doing very well, thank you for asking, and oh, I can’t really see your bowl from up here, but I’m sure it’s fine.
Or worse, you’re one of the saps who isn’t one of those lucky few but has been brainwashed by them, who looks in her neighbor’s bowl and complains that they have anything at all because she doesn’t feel they’ve earned it. Like complaining that they got a carrot for nothing and you had to pay for your meal and that’s not fair even if you don’t need or even want that carrot. It certainly must amuse those lucky ones to see us shmoes screaming over a goddamn carrot. Kind of like those two little girls fighting over feeding the dog.
I’ve gotten off track here, I think.
My point is, sure, I know what Louis CK is saying there, and for the most part, he’s right. But like a lot of lessons, there’s a point where it no longer applies. Under no circumstances should we simply accept that sometimes someone gets all of the money and the rest of us simply have to make do. It is right and proper to complain about unfairness that is pervasive and institutionalized. I don’t want to see Louis CK’s point generalized to become yet another nagging voice urging us to normalize the current economic system an accept it as “the way things are”. No, don’t cause a ruckus over momentary instances of injustice like feeding the dog or a mango popsicle, but by all means shout out loud over someone who regularly gets all the mango popsicles and…uh…dog-feeding opportunities and just tells you there’s simply not anything left over for you. As my pal Kurt Ralske says, “You have to get your anger over eventually, but I think it’s good to get to the point when you can be angry. I’ve spent a lot of my time suppressing my anger, cos I thought it was a waste of time. And OK it is, if you’re just angry that someone’s standing on your foot. But if somebody’s been standing on you all your life then it’s really good.”